An incident involving Ankaragücü President Faruk Koca delivering a punch to referee Halil Umut Meler following a Turkish Super Lig game on Monday serves as a stark illustration of Turkey’s culture of impunity, shedding light on broader issues within the sporting realm and beyond, Turkish Minute reported.
Koca, a founder and former lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who left the official with a black eye, was arrested with two others involved in the incident on Tuesday. Koca was also expelled from the party.
The incident, which was described as “a vile attack” on Meler and all stakeholders of Turkish football by the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), sparked outrage on social media, with users alluding to other incidents in Turkey where impunity has come into play.
Many have argued that attacks on a relative of one of the victims of the Soma mining disaster in 2014 and on Turkey’s former main opposition party leader in 2019, in addition to violence targeting women and doctors, were also products of the same mentality.
Yusuf Yerkel, a former advisor to then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sparked outrage in May 2014 when he in front of the cameras kicked the relative of one of the 301 victims of a mining disaster during a visit to Soma in Manisa province. The man and others were protesting Erdoğan, whose policies they held responsible for the tragedy.
Former Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was physically attacked by a group of people in the Çubuk district of Ankara on April 22, 2019 as he was attending the funeral of a Turkish soldier who died in a skirmish with militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a deadly war against the Turkish state that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
While Yerkel faced no legal consequences for the attack, Osman Sarıgün, the man who punched Kılıçdaroğlu, received only a suspended sentence in 2022.
It is also common in Turkey for patients or their relatives to attack doctors, demanding to be treated immediately or holding them responsible for the death of a family member. Doctors frequently complain that the lack of punishment for assailants leads to more such attacks.
Victims of domestic violence also complain about widespread impunity enjoyed by offenders. Many women’s rights associations say that the lack of punishment for men who engage in violence towards women contributes to the normalization of violence, reinforcing it through both state policies and societal traditions.
“Kick, slap, punch, violence… Different assailants, same mentality!” a user of X, formerly known as Twitter, said, sharing photos from the attacks by Yerkel and Sarıgün.
“The people who threw punches at Kılıçdaroğlu and our doctors and … the person who punched H. Umut Meler have the same mentality. And the common environment they benefit from is [the culture of] impunity,” another X user said.
Hüsnü Bozkurt, a former MP from the CHP, stated that punching a referee is “unacceptable” and is a result of the climate created by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the last 20 years. He added that all forms of violence in the country have peaked in that period.
“The punch that landed on that referee is constantly landing on our entire nation. The fist hitting that referee’s face is the fist of the government’s power intoxication,” Mustafa Yeneroğlu, a former politician from the ruling AKP and current vice chair of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), said in a press statement in parliament on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Amedspor President Aziz Elaldı on Tuesday told the Artı Gerçek news website that if the necessary measures had been taken in the past regarding attacks on Amedspor, Koca wouldn’t have had the courage to engage in violence against a referee.
During the Ankaragücü-Amedspor match in Ankara on April 24, 2016, attackers, including Ankaragücü officials, brutally assaulted five Amedspor executives with wooden and metal bars. Amedspor executive Haldi Soran Mızrak was thrown down from a height of two and a half meters by the assailants. As a result of the attack, three Amedspor executives had broken noses, and one suffered a concussion.
Following the incident, the TFF imposed a penalty on Ankaragücü, consisting only of playing two matches without spectators at their home ground and two matches on neutral ground, along with a fine of TL 25,000 ($860).