Prime minister orders probe into 'Gulenist' nature of football derby banner, which called on Galatasaray players to 'rise up' to the challenge
ISTANBUL, Turkey – Rocky Balboa was denounced as a possible Gulenist and a means for channelling "terrorist" propaganda after Turkey ordered a probe into Galatasaray football club for a huge banner of the fictional boxer unfurled during the country's fiercest derby.
Galatasaray fan group Ultraaslan displayed a huge banner of the "Italian Stallion" along with writing on either side which read: "Rise up. They look big because you are on your knees."
Rival Fenerbahce fans were quick to see a deep conspiracy in the banner and took to social media to call it Gulenist propaganda. This claim was quickly taken up by various pro-government Twitter accounts.
Labelling people as Gulenist in Turkey can have severe consequences for the accused. More than 50,000 people have been arrested on this charge.
A Gulenist is a follower of the US-based Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish authorities accuse of orchestrating last July's failed coup attempt.
On Monday the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, ordered an investigation and the sports minister said two chief investigators had been assigned to the case.
Among the initial reasons cited for calling the banner display Gulenist are that Rocky is from Pennsylvania, the same state where Gulen lives; and that the words "rise up" were a call to revolt, similar to a message released last week where Gulen recites part of a poem that calls on the Turkish province of Sakarya to "rise up".
It is also claimed that Gulenists are likening themselves to Rocky and see their failed coup attempt as the pummelling he often received before securing dramatic wins.
Syvester Stallone in his pomp as Rocky Balboa (supplied)
Galatasaray issued a statement on Monday and said all relevant permits for the banner had been obtained.
Ultraaslan, the fan group behind the banner, said the banner and writing were to reflect the club's dire situation for the last two years.
Sebahattin Sirin, one of the leaders of Ultraaslan, told the Turkish newspaper Aydinlik that "he stood behind" the banner and was unaware of any investigation but had seen the attacks on social media.
We worked for a month to prepare that banner
- Sebahattin Sirin, Ultraaslan
"We worked for a month to prepare that banner. Now they say that the words 'rise up' were a reference to that charlatan in Pennsylvania. It means he stole the words from us," Sirin was quoted as saying.
The Turkish football federation on Monday said the display of banners and allowing them into stadiums was not part of its remit.
Galatasaray fans launched a twitter hashtag #GalatasarayKenetleniyor (Galatasaray banding together) to protest the allegation.
Translation: The more you walk on us, the more we will trample you underfoot. Bring it on.
Translation: Galatasaray will bow to no one.
This is not the first time that Galatasaray finds itself implicated of links with the Gulen movement. Turkish authorities accused some of its former Turkey internationals, such as Hakan Sukur and Arif Erdem, of being devout followers.
Stallone posted a picture of the banner on Instagram (Reuters)
The club has since cut all ties with those players. In an interview on Monday the Galatasaray chairman, Dursun Ozbek, called Gulenists allegations against his club unacceptable.
"FETO (Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation] is a terror organisation with blood on its hands. Unfortunately, it has infiltrated some institutions in Turkey. Galatasaray has conducted the necessary clean-up regarding such infiltration," said Ozbek.
Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone who played the character of Rocky Balboa posted a picture of the banner from last weekend's Istanbul derby on his Instagram account – to the delight of many Galatasaray fans.
Galatasaray are currently top of the Turkish league. But the drama in the stands did little to inspire drama on the pitch - the game ended in a goalless draw.