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The Story of 'Istanbul United': When Rival Ultras Unite

Interview with Kerem Gorbuz: Ultras and Revolution

Istanbul United, is an incredible film, depicting how the lines between football supporter, activist, and vandal can quickly become blurred. The film documents how the unification of supporters from Istanbul’s historically rivaled clubs, Besiktas, Fenerbahce, and Galatasaray served as an important counterweight to government overstepping its authority and abusing their power.

We caught up with one of the film’s main characters and Galatasaray supporter Kerem Gorbuz to learn about his experience throughout the protests, and following the film’s release...

How long have you been going to games?

I was originally taken by my father and uncle as a kid. When I came back to Istanbul for school I became active in the university based firm, and then in time I became a member of the proper Ultra Aslan. Back then there was less opposition between the Ultra Aslan so the University students would make the choreographies and things like that.

After a while of being in the firm how were you “promoted”?  

So in Turkish culture and the higherarchy of the stadium determines that in time you get more respect and become a more prominent member of the curve. Its not a change in role. Its more understanding and acceptance. I know I can get a seat when I want, or get a ticket that might be hard to find.

How did you get in contact with the film makers originally?

I knew a friend of Farid’s (the Co-Director) who is a hip-hop artist in Palestine, and he gave him my contact because at the time I was running a Hotel. They thought I was just a fan going to the games but when they met me I helped him find a way inside the higherarchy of the terraces.

What was you first impression of them?

They were very lucky to have come during Gezi because we were out there to express ourselves so we were happy to make our story known. Of course there were initial questions, for instance if they had come the year before, no one would have spoken to them. People have come here to make hooligan stories without learning about why we do what we do, so it was nice to find someone who supported this subculture. Supporters cuture is the essence of the game, and we know that with them we could finally have a movie that tells our story. Modern football is at odds with this subculture, and we need peole to tell our story properly.

What led to you joining the protest?

We went to the Galatasaray male basketball team’s league final game, and we heared the news that the government had been sacking the camps in Gezi park. I was not in Gezi because I was a Galatasaray fan, it had nothing to do with football or being a fan. I wasn’t even wearing colors. You can’t say that there were more fans of any team. Its not about who was better, if we need hero’s lets look at the young kids from poor neighborhoods who never had the chance to play football at all.

How was the film initially received?

Gezi is a very emotional moment so everyone wanted to see the movie that they shot in their mind.  But I think its an understanding of the movie… We know about Gezi, and for those outside it made some legitimate points. There was a sort of jelousy between the supporters groups in how they were perceived. Carsi, unlike the other supporters groups are easier to mobilize because they are all from one neighborhood. But there are no longer any real social distinctions between the supporters of the different Istanbul teams.

What did you take out of the experience of being in the protests?

The protest died because it wasn’t an organized movement, but on the otherhand you cant take to the streets everyday. Istanbul United worked in a way that everyone had a personal revolution inside them and were more willing to take initiative to question things. For the Ultras movement people really feel that there will soon no longer be possible to support with all the repression. In May we gathered with other supporters to boycott the electronic ticket which has created new solidarity amongst the fans.

Why did the Ultras have such an important role?

The problem with Gezi is that it was still a certain level of society. The Unions are largely in support of the government and so this essentially limits the movement. Istanbul’s stadiums have gotten more and more expensive and going to the games is a priviledged thing to do.  Even in the firms of the major clubs you rarely find someone who is really poor. Being a fan takes money and time which a poor person in Turkey cannot afford. The culture and the clubs and what they represent is changing. People want to see expensive players and menu’s at the stadium yet they complain about the prices.

How do you hope other supporters around the world will react to the movie?

I think it will change the way people see us. You only see a few guys in that movie so you cant represent a whole movement, but hope it inspires some people because the value of the friendship that we have on those terraces is important. Only on the terraces, despite our differences we can get along.

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