‘Iranian Barcelona’ tastes Fenerbahçe’s bitter fate
Report: Çınar Oskay – TEHRAN Photos: Sebati Karakurt
Tractor's supporters unfurl Turkish flags in matches and sport nationalist symbols, like Turkish nationalists' "gray wolf” gesture, as their nickname is the “red wolves.”Some 20,000 Iranian Azeri fans who we travelled with to Tehran from Tabriz just got carried away in the stands when Tractor Sazi Tabriz scored its third goal against Esteghlal on May 10.
In the stadium’s VIP section where we were hosted by officials on our tour of Iran to report about the country before the June 30 deadline for the nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers, we were able to hear the Azeri chants, which any Turk can understand: “Long live Azerbaijan; let those who do not want you to live, go blind!”
Tabriz is the capital of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and its red-and-white colored football club’s supporters unfurl Turkish flags in matches and sport nationalist symbols, like Turkey’s “gray wolf” gesture, as their nickname is the “red wolves.”
“Tabriz, Baku, Ankara. Persia is so far away to us,” they chant in rhyming Azeri words. Banners in the Tehran stadium read phrases like “How happy to be a Turk,” “Southern Azerbaijan is not Iran” and “Stop Persian fascism.”
The Azeris are actually the largest and the most adapted, peaceful minority in Iran. There are many Azeris in the top echelons of the government.
However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tehran decided to put Kurds between its own Azeris and the new Azerbaijan state. It also adopted repressive policies against Turkish culture.
Times change, though. In a Tabriz restaurant, there is an Azeri waitress speaking with an Istanbul-accent that she learned from Turkish television dramas. Modern Turkey has started to inspire them more than “the old Iran.”
The “cartoon crisis” in 2006, which was sparked when a pro-government newspaper drew Azeris as insects and the drying of Urumia Lake, are two reasons for recent problems between the two ethnicities. Tractor football matches, with its supporters’ fiery Azeri nationalism, is one such platform that irks the regime, like other nationalisms of Iran’s Kurds, Arabs and even “Persians.”
In Tehran, Tractor managed to beat Esteghlal 1-4. Winning against Naft Tehran in Tabriz at its last match May 15 would bring Tractor the first ever title in Persian Gulf Pro League, breaking the hegemony of Tehran and Isfahan.
In Turkey, Trabzonspor scored a similar feat by breaking the hegemony of Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş by winning the title in 1976.
However, Tractor this year added insult to injury on May 15. In its stadium, 80,000 fans, along with 22 million Azeris in Iran, started to celebrate ecstatically when the whistle blew for a draw in Tabriz, thinking that the title challenger Sepahan could also only manage a draw against mid-table Saipa.
As a result, Tractor could only be the runners-up this year, again, reminding Hürriyet correspondents of Fenerbahçe, instead of Trabzonspor.
Çınar Oskay was in the stadium in the last match of the Turkish league in 2010 when a wrong announcement triggered a mistaken celebration by Fenerbahçe fans who wrongly thought that they had won the title.