I arrived to Istanbul last week to find the Turkish national soccer team engaged in a friendly match with the Honduran national soccer team. My first thought was that it had occurred to someone in the newly inaugurated Honduran administration of Pepe Lobo, product of last year’s coup d’état against Mel Zelaya, that friendly soccer games might be an effective way of boosting Honduras’ international image—an endeavor that would have been facilitated by the pro-coup orientation of the team’s owners as well as the fact that Turkey had been one of a smattering of countries to attend the Lobo inauguration.
Turkish attendance at such an event may seem counterintuitive given the current probe into purported coup plots against Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and continuing arrests of military and other officials. However, chances that Turkish coup plotters will learn from their Honduran counterparts diminish if we consider that the Turkish military sees itself as the safeguard of the state’s secular identity while the former head of the Honduran armed forces has claimed that the coup against Zelaya was part of God’s plan. Other differences between the two nations include that opponents of a coup in Turkey presumably do not have the following slogan at their disposal: “Haga patria, mate un turco”—“Do something patriotic, kill a Turk.”
This line, which occasionally appears in anti-coup graffiti around Honduras, is a result of resentment felt by some members of the population toward economic dominance by the country’s Arab and Jewish immigrants, who are often lumped into the category “Turks.” As for other groups lumped into this category, an acquaintance in the southwestern Turkish town of Fethiye recently informed me that Article 301 of the Turkish penal code criminalizing insults to Turkishness also covers insults to the republic’s individual ethnicities; his explanation for why the argument that Kurds do not want their own country does not qualify as an insult was that Kurdish aspirations to self-determination had been invented by the Turkish ultranationalist Ergenekon organization in order to provoke chaos and justify a military takeover of the country.
According to my acquaintance, the U.S. congressional conviction that there are continuing ethnic tensions between Turks and Armenians, as well—despite the so-called “soccer diplomacy” that began in September 2008 with Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s attendance at a match in Yerevan between the Armenian and Turkish national teams—is merely another form of imperialism. Imperialist criticisms had also been registered by the Honduran coup regime, which had accused the U.S. of interference in Honduran affairs by failing to blatantly praise the coup from the outset instead of offering feigned objections for a number of months; interference was less an issue when Honduras qualified for the World Cup thanks to a U.S. goal in the final seconds of the U.S.-Costa Rica match in October, a moment that was nonetheless commemorated in Honduras with T-shirts reading “Dios es catracho”—“God is Honduran.”