ISTANBUL — The Turkish women’s national volleyball team received a boisterous welcome home Monday after winning the European Championship, as many hailed the hard-won title — the first ever for Turkey — as a symbol of women’s empowerment in a country often polarized between secular and Islamic worldviews.
A crowd of supporters carrying national flags and flowers, an army of press members and a band playing the team’s unofficial anthem — a folkloric tune known as “Erik Dali” (“Plum Branch”) — greeted the team also known as the Sultans of the Net as they arrived at an Istanbul airport.
Speaking at the airport, team captain Eda Erdem Dundar said they were proud to win the title as the country is celebrating the centennial of the foundation of the modern Turkish Republic.
“It’s incredibly empowering to see the country uniting behind us, people supporting us behind giant screens. We thank everybody a lot,” she told journalists.
The team defeated world champion Serbia 3-2 in the final match held in Brussels on Sunday.
People who gathered at parks in large cities across the country to watch the final enjoyed a collective and festive mood amid an acute cost-of-living crisis.
Their success was celebrated by almost all sides of Turkey’s political spectrum.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated the team in a phone call as the team celebrated their success after the match.
“I sincerely congratulate our National Women’s Volleyball Team — the Sultans of the Net — who make us all proud by becoming the 2023 CEV European Champions,” he later wrote on Twitter.
Later on Monday evening, thousands gathered at an outdoor Istanbul mall where players took to the stage to celebrate the victory with their supporters.
The team’s victory has been particularly hailed by the country’s secular segments who believe their lifestyle is under more pressure due to Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party.
Player Ebrar Karakurt, who has become a target of homophobic slurs by ultraconservatives, received huge applause as she took to the stage in Istanbul on Monday night.
The players also echoed the sentiment through messages paying tribute to women’s empowerment and the republic’s secular, Western-leaning founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
“As a Turkish woman, I am very proud to raise our flag on the centennial of our republic,” setter Cansu Ozbay said.
“We are the children of Ataturk,” Ilkin Aydin wrote on Twitter. “May this [win] be a gift to all our women, girls and everyone who still walks the path [of] Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.”
Ataturk, meaning “father of Turks,” became the republic’s first president after successfully leading the country’s war of independence following World War I.
The team, which also won the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League championship in July, will now prepare to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Source : Al-Monitor