Meeting Besiktas Carsi’s leader, Alen Markaryan, is a daunting prospect. The scene at his kebab restaurant in Besiktas on a recent September evening could be a set from The Sopranos: a dozen men sit around a table deep in heated conversation about football. No one else sits within earshot. They are the elite of the Besitkas Carsi leadership; dangerous men with violent pasts. Markaryan, dressed all in black, has a stare to match and is clearly someone not to be messed with. He is a revered figure among many Besiktas supporters, but crucially, hasn’t attended a game in months.
Markaryan has been criticised by some Carsi members for an article he wrote perceived as supportive of Erdogan’s government. For him, politics and football shouldn’t mix.
“The idea that Carsi was part of the Gezi protests was overdone. If you went to the park during the protests, you would have seen no Carsi group, no flags,” he said.
“All messages in our stadium are social messages – there is no place for politics in the stands.”
Further probing about the link between football and politics elicits only anger.
He takes my pen and draws a line across a page in my notebook. “I thought you came here to ask me about football? No more politics!” He gets up and returns to the table of dons.
Yet in Istanbul, football and politics are impossible to separate.
Stephen Starr for the National