Football, as a sport and a culture, is powerful. It can bring people from all walks of life, from all nationalities, together. Its power is fluid, it is exciting, and it is always changing. That’s what makes it beautiful. But that is also what makes it so very dangerous. As much as it can bring people together it can also tear people apart in the most savage of ways. For those who don’t know, a little background reading on Zvonimir Boban’s “kick that started the Yugoslav Wars in Maksimir Stadium” might be useful in the context of understanding this article:
Duke University has an interesting page here: http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/category/yugoslavia-2/
The Daily Mail’s article on a recent Serbia Vs. Croatia International: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2297037/Croatia-Serbia-clash-time-Yugoslav-war-1-500-police-deployed-despite-ban-away-fans.html
Images Courtesy of: http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/category/yugoslavia-2/ And http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2297037/Croatia-Serbia-clash-time-Yugoslav-war-1-500-police-deployed-despite-ban-away-fans.html
One need not go back to the break up of the Yugoslavia to see such displays, in fact we can even stay in the Balkans. The abandoned Serbia-Albania international in Belgrade on October 14 2014 served as yet another reminder of football’s ability to uncover and exacerbate the differences in divided societies.
It is because of the precedence such events provide that I am deeply scared about recent developments in Turkish football. Lets start with Gençlerbirliği’s shrewd chairman Ilhan Cavcav, the man who discovered former Chelsea and Real Madrid man Geremi Nijitap. On December 26 2014 Mr. Cavcav made a “bold” (in his own words) announcement, suggesting that the Turkish National Anthem should be forbidden before domestic matches and that it should only be played before international matches. For me—both as an American and a Turk—his announcement is anathema. After all, what would a baseball game be without the Star Spangled Banner? In America, of course, it is part of the pageantry. In Turkey it is, admittedly, different. As I outlined in my thesis, the national anthem came to be sung in Turkish stadia as a reaction to the Kurdish crisis in the mid 1990s when violent clashes between the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) and Turkish Army were at their height in the country’s southeast. And now Mr. Cavcav’s call stems from unfortunate developments in the same region of Turkey twenty years later.
His main qualm with the singing of the national anthem is seemingly logical, especially given the Balkan precedent:
“Gazetede okudum: İstiklal Marşımız’a ıslıklar çalınmış. Bu milletin bir evladı olarak, bu millet için çalışan ve uğraşan bir sanayici olarak yarın bir gün bu olayların çoğalması kargaşalara sebebiyet verebilir. Bu nedenle sayın Başbakanımız’ın talimat vererek İstiklal Marşımız’ı lig maçlarında yasaklaması gerekir” diye konuştu.
“I read in the papers that our National Anthem was whistled down. As a son of this nation, as an industrialist working and struggling for this nation one day these events could proliferate and cause major chaos. Therefore our esteemed President should give an order and forbid the National Anthem at [domestic] league matches.”
His fear may be grounded—but running away is never the solution when the consequences are so grave, so obvious. His team Gençlerbirliği were drawn in Group H of the Turkish cup along with Giresunspor, Konyaspor, and—most notably—Cizrespor. Cizrespor is the only team from Turkey’s amateur league to make it to the group stages of the Turkish Cup, but how they got there has been a lesson in the geopolitics of a nation and its football.
I visited Cizre back in 2009 during quieter times and I have no doubt that the city I visited then is not the same city today. A city of now almost 100,000 people, it was an important gateway to both Anatolia and Mesopotamia during the Abbasid period of Islamic history, situated on the crossroads of both regions. Today the city is situated where the volatile borders of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq meet. Cizre has a long and distinguished history, from its foundation by Noah to being the site of Alexander the Great’s crossing of the Tigris in 331 BC. Sadly, now the city is best known for being the site of violent clashes between the PKK and the Sunni Muslim Huda-Par group, related to Turkish Hezbullah, who have been emboldened by the actions of ISIS across the border in Syria’s Kobane. Since Kobane fell under ISIS’ attack in early October Turkey’s Kurds, enraged by Turkey’s ambivalence towards—and reluctance to resist—ISIS, have taken matters into their own hands and are actively fighting the Islamist militants. As a result the area has fallen in to chaos (three people were killed in fresh clashes December 27), a chaos that threatens the integrity of the Turkish state.
So back to the football. Cizrespor started their Turkish cup adventure on a clear late summer day on September 3, 2014 at the Yüksekova Şehir Stadium against Yüksekova Belediyespor in the first qualifying round. As a match between two teams from neighboring southeastern provinces—both without any representatives in the professional leagues—it was bound to be a grudge match, a grind-it-out kind of match. Indeed it was a tough victory for Cizrespor, who took the match 2-1 despite some tension between players during the match. But these two teams were from the same under-developed regions of Turkey, there was no underlying tension stemming from off the field matters. It all went off without a hitch.
Image Courtesy Of: http://haberciniz.biz/turkiye-kupasi-on-eleme-turu-3143353h.htm
Next up in the first round proper for Cizrespor was a trip to another neighboring province, this time Mardin, for a match against fellow Regional Amateur League side Mardinspor. No one knew what to expect, given that on February 2, 2014 a match between the same two sides (in Cizre) descended into violence following a 1-0 Cizrespor victory; 15 people—including one police officer—were wounded in the fighting that even a police presence of 700 could not prevent. But that match was an amateur match, no one heard too much about the events; such violence—even if not on that scale—happens often in tense amateur league encounters. But nothing untoward happened during their September 10 2014 encounter. After a pre-match meal where officials from both teams met to bury the hatchet and spread a message of peace and togetherness the match went off without any problems, even as Cizrespor humbled their hosts in a 1-4 victory. After the victory fans took to the streets in Cizre in celebration, escorting the team bus to the grounds with chants of “Cizrespor are the Champions!”. After all, the people of the region need all the cause for celebration they can get.
In the second round of the Turkish Cup the competition goes national and opponents are no longer from the same region. Cizrespor’s opponents in this round on September 24, 2014 would be Aydınspor 1923 from the Aegean province of Aydın some 1500 kilometers away—in Turkey, that distance spans two different worlds. The players of Aydınspor 1923 would soon learn that. Despite having a side valued at more than 4 times that of Cizrespor’s (1,300,000 Euro to 245,000 Euro) Aydınspor 1923 conceded two goals in the first six minutes and went down 3-1 on their visit to Cizre. Anyone looking at the team’s values would raise an eyebrow at the result; after the match a few Aydınspor 1923 players told their tale.
Aydınspor’s thirty two year old journeyman defender Aytek Aşıkoğlu has seen a lot in his time. Born in Istanbul, his career started at neighborhood team Gaziosmanpaşaspor in 2002 before taking him to Adanaspor, Gaziantepspor, Elazığspor, Boluspor, Kayseri Erciyesspor, Çaykur Rizespor, Göztepe (Izmir), and finally Aydınspor 1923. The teams span Turkey’s geography: Istanbul to the Mediterranean, the southeast to the Black Sea, Central Anatolia to the Aegean coast. But I am sure that none of that could have prepared him for what he lived through in Cizre on that September day. His Twitter posts tell a dark story:
“Şükurler olsun TÜRKİYE CUMHURİYETİ VATANDAŞIYIM şükürler olsun ATATÜRK’ÜN EVLADIYIM”
“Thankfully I am a CITIZEN OF THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY thankfully I AM A SON OF ATATÜRK”
“Bir tane Türk bayrağinın olmadığı, bizden başka kimsenin Türkçe konuşmadığı, İstiklal Marşımızı sadece bizim söyledigimiz bir yerde, Türkiye Kupası maçı oynadık. Tehditler içinde sözde stada girerken yediğimiz dayaklar arasında arama yapılmadan içeri alınan 5000 eli taşlı kişilerin içinde bazı arkadaşlarımızın haklı olarak oynamak istemediği, bazılarının ise korkudan elinin ayağının titrediği kupa maçı oynadık”
“In a place where there was not even one Turkish Flag, in a place where no one other than us spoke Turkish, in a place where only we sang our National Anthem, we played a Turkish Cup Match. We entered what was apparently a stadium among threats and beatings. In a place where 5000 people entered without any searches carrying sticks and stones in their hands, and where some of our friends rightfully didn’t want to play—where some where shaking from head to toe with fear—we played a cup match.”
“Kimse kusura bakmasın biz bugün burada kazansaydık maçtan sonra kimse sağ kalmazdi. Tek tesellim tekrardan ailemi görecek olmam”
“No one should think otherwise, if we had won here today no one would have come out OK. My only consolation is that I will see my family again.”
“Bazen nefes aldığına hayatta kaldığına şükredersin. İşte öyle bir gündü.”
“Sometimes in life you are thankful to even take a breath and still be living. This is one of those days”.
While his posts may be hyperbolic at times, his teammate Sezer Sezgin confirmed his reports via Twitter both before and after the match:
“Hoşgeldin yaptılar otobüsün camlarını indirdiler”
“They welcomed us by breaking the glass of our bus”
He went on to tag the Turkish Football Federation in a post to register his complaint with the situation:
“Bugün bizi futbol oynamamız için gönderdiğiniz stattan maçtan önce dayak ve tehdit, maçtan sonra da zırhlı araçlarla canımızı kurtardık”
“Today at the stadium you sent us into to play football there were pre-game beatings and threats, after the match we saved our lives with armored cars.”
The Caption Reads: “Buda cikisimiz mac sonu… Zırhlı aracın icinde … Tek sucumuz futbol oynamak…” (“And this is us leaving after the match…inside an armored car…our only crime was playing football”).
Aydınspor’s coach Akif Başaran also confirmed the events implying that his team lost on purpose—during a dinner served by the Cizre Chamber of Commerce the night before the match they were told to lose. Meanwhile the team’s vice president Erdal Karakavukoğlu added hyperbolically that, “it would have been impossible for even Real Madrid to win that day in Cizre”. Coach Başaran’s statement is below:
“Futbolcularıma maçı oynamazsak stattan çıkamayacağımızı söyledim. Zorla sahaya çıktılar, 3-1 yenilip canlarını kurtardılar. 42 yıldır futbolun içindeyim, böyle şeyler yaşamadım. Otelden stada eskortsuz ve korumasız olarak gittik. Ortalıkta ne polis, ne asker vardı. İçeri girerken bir futbolcumuzun boğazını sıktılar, bir diğerine tekme attılar. Doğru düzgün ısınmaya bile çıkamadık. Her şey kendiliğinden gelişti. Teknik direktör olarak oyuncuma yenilmesini söylemem mümkün değil. Ancak o anki psikolojisini anlamak lazım. Bu atmosferde hangi takım kazanmak için oynar? Nitekim ilk 7 dakikada 2 gol yedik tansiyon bir anda düştü, herkes rahatladı.”
“I told my players that if we don’t play we won’t be able to get out of the stadium. They went out and played under duress and lost 3-1 to save their lives. I have been in football for 42 years and have never lived through anything like this. We went from the hotel to the stadium with no escorts or protection; there were no police or soldiers anywhere. When we entered they grabbed the throat of one of my players and kicked another. We couldn’t even warm-up properly. Everything happened on by itself. As a coach it is impossible for me to tell my players to lose. But you have to understand the psychology at that moment. What team can play to win in such an atmosphere? Then we conceded two goals in the first seven [sic] minutes and the tension fell suddenly, everyone relaxed.”
On the Cizrespor side club spokesman İdris Bingöl rejected Aytek Aşıkoğlu’s Tweets. He responded to Fanatik.com.tr’s questions by saying:
“Aytek Aşıkoğlu’nun yazdıkları gerçeği yansıtmıyor. Cizre, futbol sevdalısı bir ilçedir. Böyle suçlamaların yapılmasının sebebi Kürt ili olmamız. Cizrespor, halkımızın ve Cizreli iş adamlarının sayesinde ayakta duran bir kulüp. Takımımız, ilçemizdeki gençlerin spor yapmasını teşvik ediyor. Gençlerimizi kahve köşelerinde oturmaktan kurtarıp spora yönlendirmeye çalışıyoruz…Maça çakmak, su şişesi, hatta poşet bile sokulmadı. Eli taşları kişilerin stada alındığı iddiası kesinlikle doğru değil. Kürt ili olduğumuz için böyle şeyler söyleniyor. Takımımızda 2. Lig ve 1. Lig tecrübesi bulunan iyi oyuncularımız var. Bugün de çok iyi oynadık ve kazandık. Sanırım Aydınsporlular amatör bir takıma yenilmeyi kaldıramadığı için böyle sözler sarf etti. Biz her şeye rağmen maçtan sonra Aydınspor’la yemek yedik ve onları öyle yolcu ettik” diye konuştu.
“What Aytek Aşıkoğlu wrote doesn’t reflect reality. Cizre is a district that loves football. The reason such allegations are being made is that we are a Kurdish province. Cizrespor exists because of the support of its people and Cizre’s businessmen. Our team encourages the youth in our district to play sports. We are trying to save our youth from sitting in coffee houses by directing them to sports instead…No lighters, water bottles, or even plastic bags where allowed into the stadium. The claim that people with stones in their hands were allowed into the stadium is certainly untrue. Things like this are being said because we are a Kurdish province. We have good players with first and second division experience on our team, and today we played very well and won. I think that Aydınspor[‘s players] are saying these types of things because they can’t accept having lost to an amateur team. Despite everything we ate a meal with Aydınspor after the match and sent them off.”
While I would like to believe Mr. Bingöl the photos tweeted by Aydınspor’s players tell a different story. While I would like to fault Aydınspor’s coach for bringing the game into disrepute—and implying that his side lost on purpose—I can’t imagine being a footballer playing in such an atmosphere either. But all of this took place in the second round of the Turkish cup, between an amateur side from southeast Turkey and a relatively unsupported second division team from Aegean Turkey. Again, not too many people—aside from football maniacs like me—heard of the events and life went on.
The next month, on October 28, 2014, Cizrespor hosted Göztepe (Izmir), one of Turkey’s most famous clubs and one with an international fan base. When the draw was made I was in London with my friend, himself a Göztepe fan from childhood, and told me with a straight face that “there is no way we will win in Cizre”. Well if he knew it, then why did the Turkish football federation not move the match to another city? It’s a good question—the kind that makes one ask “Do they want trouble?” We will never know that much, but after Göztepe’s 2-0 loss only 57 words were used in the match summary by Fanatik.com.tr—with no mention of the extracurricular events that took place…just the fact that fans were sitting on the stadium’s roof.
But it could never be covered up. As one of Turkey’s oldest—and biggest—clubs, any match involving Göztepe would become national news. And it did. Even CNN Turk—themselves famous for showing a penguin documentary during the Gezi protests—picked up the story. Unlike Aydınspor 1923, Göztepe got a police escort from the airport to the stadium. But the three armored busses and five armored cars couldn’t prevent the team bus from being stoned en route.
Unlike Aydınspor 1923, Göztepe was able to come out for warm-ups…under a rain of foreign objects hurled from the stands. It took Cizrespor president Salih Sefinç to calm the irate fans down himself. After the events during and after the Aydınspor 1923 match Cizrespor arranged for 1000 scarves with “Cizrespor-Göztepe” written on them to be put on the seats of the stadium in a bid to create a friendship between the clubs…the majority of these scarves were thrown onto the pitch. No one wanted them. And just like during the Aydınspor 1923 match, the Turkish National Anthem was whistled down:
In the 63rd minute Göztepe tried to take a corner kick and a tear gas bomb was thrown onto the pitch along with fireworks. The referee had to take the teams to the center of the field while the police tried to calm the situation down—how much they succeeded is questionable; the governors of Şırnak Province and Cizre District left early due to security concerns. After the final whistle hundreds of Cizrespor supporters staged a pitch invasion while their players helped their Göztepe counterparts to the locker rooms.
After the match an anonymous Göztepe player wrote his version of the events on one of Göztepe’s fan sites Goztepeliler.com, which was subsequently picked up by Turkish Eurosport. The title he chose, “Yesterday I saw that what was lost in Cizre was a country [more than a match]”, spoke volumes and became truly national news. I have attempted to translate some excerpts below:
“Dün oynadığımız Cizrespor – Göztepe Maçında, bir Maç’dan ziyade kaybedilenlerin çok daha fazla olduğunu gördük..
TFF’nin Ziraat TÜRKİYE Kupası adı verilen oragnizasyonda, kendi vatan ve topraklarımızda, zırhlı araçlar ve Toma’lar eşliğinde stada güclükle gelebiliyoruz.. Yol boyunca Takımımızı taşıyan Polis Araçlarına taşlar ve patlayıcı maddeler atılıyor.
Isınmak için sahaya çıkarken üzerimize atılan yabancı maddeler (Taş, Kremit, ses bombaları, havai fişekler) ve sahada kim oldukları belli olmayan onlarca insan, gerek ısınırken gerekse maç boyu sürekli tehditler savuran ama hiçbir şekilde sahaya girme izni olmayan sözde görevliler..
Armasından Türk Bayrağını çıkarmış olan Cizrespor Maçı öncesi atılan Terör örgütü sloganları ve hem Stad çalışanları hemde ordaki Cizreliler tarafından sabote edilen (okunmayan) Istiklal Marşımız..
Bütün bu olanları bilen gören ve protokolden sessizce izleyen, herşey cok normalmış gibi davranan, sözde devletimizin bir Valisi..
Maç boyunca tribünlerden ve tribünlerin çatısından sahaya atılan taşların ve yabancı maddelerin, Maç oynanırken sürekli sahaya giren görevliler tarafından toplanmaya çalışılması ve hakeminde buna sessiz kalması. Maçı uzatmaya taşımamak için verilen bir Penaltı ve hakeme ”neden Penaltı verdin” diye sorulduğunda, bende bilmiyorum diye alınan cevap.
Maç’dan önce ve Maç boyunca atılan tezahüratlarda bölücük ve terör örgütü propagandası olmasına rağmen hiçbir şekilde müdahale edilmemesi ”burası Kürdistan burdan cıkış yok” sesleri ve bunlar görülmesin, duyulmasın, bilinmesin diye Maçın Canlı yayınlanmak istenmemesi ve Canlı yayınlanmasına engel olunması..
Türkiye Futbol Federasyonu bunların hesabını kime ve nasıl verecek?
Dün Cizrede kaybedilen sadece bir Maç değildi.
Dün Cizrede kaybedilmek üzere olan bir vatan olduğunu gördüm, devletin hiçbir şekilde etkisi olmadığı bir bölgede vatanını korumak isteyen koca yürekli Polis ve Askerlerin olduğunu gördüm, o şartlarda Terör yuvası dönmüş mahallelerde kalbinde Türk Bayrağı taşıyan ve nöbet tutan Adam gibi Adamlar gördüm..
”Siz bizi düşünmeyin, sadece bu Maç’ı bizim için kazanın” diyen o Polislerimiz, hakkınızı helal edin..
“Yesterday’s Cizrespor-Göztepe match showed us that what was lost was much more than a match.
In an event the Turkish Football Federation calls the Ziraat TURKISH Cup we were barely able to make it to the stadium escorted by armored cars and riot control vehicles, in our own country and our own lands. All the way to the stadium the Police vehicles carrying our team were met with rocks and explosive materials.
We saw foreign objects (rocks, bricks, sound bombs, fireworks) thrown at us when we came out for warm ups and the unidentified tens of people on the field, those threatening us before and during the match, but who had no right to enter the field and were supposedly working [for the team]…
We saw a Cizrespor who took the Turkish Flag off of their jersey [NOTE: this is true, I have a Cizrespor jersey from my visit which has the Turkish Flag on it, the team’s current shirts do not have it] and the terrorist slogans being yelled, we saw our National Anthem sabotaged by the Cizre fans and stadium workers….
We saw a supposed governor from our country who also saw and knew all of these things but who chose to watch in silence and act as if everything was normal.
We saw the stones and objects being thrown from the stands before and during the match, we saw the fans continuously attempting to enter the field and the referee remaining silent. In order to not take the match to extra time a penalty was given and when the referee was asked ‘Why did you give that penalty?’ his answer was I don’t know either…
We saw the separatist and terrorist propaganda that was being yelled from the stands before and during the match that was not stopped at all; so that the sounds of “This is Kurdistan there is no way out” could not be heard, could not be seen, could not be known, the match was not recorded live…
How will the Turkish Football Federation answer this?
What was lost yesterday in Cizre was not just a match.
I saw that what was lost yesterday was a country. I saw an area where the state has no power whatsoever and where brave Police and Soldiers want to protect the state. I saw real men who carry the Turkish Flag in their hearts standing watch in neighborhoods that have become havens of terror.
Bless those Police who said “Don’t worry about us, just win this match for us”.
For anyone who has love for a country this is indeed a grizzly account of stadium terror in its worst form. Yet no one knows, as the player said the game was not televised live (when many such matches are). And as he also said, the match was not stopped despite the materials raining onto the field. In any other context, in any other place, the match most likely would have been abandoned. But it wasn’t.
Cizrespor’s officials responded to these allegations as well. President Salih Sefinç’s statement is below:
“28 Ekim 2014 tarihinde Türkiye’nin köklü kulüplerinden bir tanesi olan Göztepe ile Cizre’de bu güzel coğrafyada, güzel bir futbol müsabakası yaptık. Bana göre fair-play içerisinde geçen, karşı takımın yöneticileri ve futbolcuları ile Cizresporlu futbolcular ve yöneticileri açısından kardeşçe geçen bir müsabaka olmuştur. Derbi maçlarında çıkan olayların yüzde beşi kadar olayların yaşanmamasına rağmen bazı medya kuruluşu ve gazetelere bakıldığında kendilerine yakışmayan ve Cizre’yi hedef alan üsluplarla haber yazıldığı görülmüştür. Biz bu yazılanları gerçekten tasvip etmiyoruz. Cizrespor Yönetim Kurulu olarak spor anlamında doğudan batıya uzanan bir köprü olmak istiyoruz. İstanbul’daki bir takımımız Cizre’ye ya da Bursa’ya gidip güzel güzel futbolunu oynayacak. Bursa da gelip burada oynayacak. Bunun güzelliğini ancak bu şekilde yaşayabileceğiz. Batıdaki Türk kardeşlerimiz ile Doğuda yaşayan Kürt kardeşlerimiz arasında provokatörlük yapan ya da güzel olmayan, kendi üsluplarına yakışmayan şekilde yazı yazmak bence basın yayın kurallarına aykırı olan şeylerdir. Biz bunları tasvip etmiyor ve buna karşı olduğumuzu belirtmek istiyoruz”
“In Cizre on October 28, 2014 we played a beautiful football match in this beautiful geography with one of Turkish football’s most storied clubs, Göztepe. For me this match was played with Fair-Play and brotherhood between the Cizrespor players and officials and our opponent’s players and officials. Despite the fact that less than five percent of the things that happen in derby matches happened here some media outlets and papers wrote stories unbecoming of them and that target Cizre. We really don’t approve of these lies. As the Cizrespor Board of Directors we want to be a sporting bridge stretching from the east to the west. One of our teams from Istanbul can come to Cizre or Bursa and play football comfortably. Bursa will come and play here too. We can only realize this beautiful [thing] this way. I think that writing provocative things about our Turkish brothers in the west and our Kurdish brothers in the east, and writing unbecoming stories, is a violation of press and media rules. We do not approve of these things and want to make it clear that we are against them.”
Some of Mr. Sefinç’s comments are spot on. Sports should serve as a bridge between east and west, between Kurds and Turks, between under-developed and developed parts of nations. But not everyone thinks this way. Mr. Sefinç himself had to calm down his rowdy fans, so perhaps he would be better served to work on his own fans and community instead of targeting news outlets in a manner that only serves to fan the flames of mutual accusations.
So now we come to December 9, 2014 when Ilhan Cavcav’s Gençlerbirliği visited Cizre for their Turkish Cup group stage match. The team was again taken by armored car to the stadium. In an ironic coincidence, these were the same armored busses that took the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to Kobane in their fight against ISIS. This is, after all, a team from the Turkish top flight—their safety must be ensured!
Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27738366.asp#
The stadium was empty due to a stadium closure stemming from the events outlined above but…it didn’t change much. The Cizrespor fans watched from a concrete apartment block towering over the small stadium, yelling slogans for Kobane and even flying the flag of Kurdish Northern Iraq. And throughout the match firecrackers and fireworks were thrown onto the pitch.
The aftermath of Gençlerbirliği’s victory was predictable: pitched battles between Cizrespor’s citizens (I don’t know how many are “fans”) and the police. The Gençlerbirliği team were stranded in the stadium for almost an hour, while nearby schools had to be evacuated when children were affected by the tear gas drowning the streets.
Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27740633.asp#
The story of five matches in four months truly tells the story of a Turkey threatened to be ripped apart by the chaos engulfing its neighbors. It was enough for columnist Zafer Büyükavcı of the sports daily Fanatik to write a warning concerning these events: “Gentlemen are you aware: The country is slipping through our fingers.” Unfortunately his warning fell on deaf ears.
On December 24, 2014, Turkish giants Galatasaray visited the heart of Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, Diyarbakır, to face Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyespor in their Turkish Cup match-up. It shouldn’t have been an issue—Galatasaray voluntarily played the 2000 Turkish Cup Final in Diyarbakır and in my thesis I mentioned that PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan asked for a TV set in his prison cell to watch the 2000 UEFA Cup Final between Galatasaray and Arsenal since he is a Galatasaray fan. Galatasaray even chose to go to the hotel without an escort—Vice President Abdürrahim Albayrak said “The people’s team will go to the hotel among the people.”
Nothing happened around the hotel, until match day when a group of 10-15 people stoned the Galatasaray bus. Still, it wasn’t enough to ruin the friendly atmosphere. According to the Cumhuriyet article the differences couldn’t overcome a mutual distaste for industrial football, and signs were written in both languages:
“Kürdistan’da spor yarış değil kardeşliktir, Futbol sahada güzel borsada değil. TOKİ sizin stat bizim.”
“In Kurdistan sports aren’t a race they’re brotherhood. Football is good on the field not on the stock market. TOKI [NOTE: Turkey’s state run housing administration which builds most stadiums—see the construction and corruption scandals] your stadium is ours.”
But still the Turkish-Kurdish problem proved inescapable and the bad apples were out there at the match. Most fans were yelling for “Diyarbakırspor”—but the from the younger fans came “Amedspor” (the Kurdish and Syriac name of the city). In the 88th minute the match was stopped when a stone was thrown at one of the linesmen. And the fans still whistled down the national anthem. And the fans still yelled support for Kobane. And the Diyarbakır Büyüksehir Belediyespor President Ihsan Avcı—despite his expressing regret at the stonings–still said the team came out to not be “Diyarbakır’s” team but “Kurdistan’s” team: The people’s team.
The situation is fluid. But it is also dangerous, and that must be kept in mind. Torku Konyaspor, ahead of their upcoming match in Cizre, asked for it to be moved in the wake of the recent violence in Cizre (both related to sports and unrelated to sports). According to the Turkish Football Federation’s website there has been no change, the match will take place at 11:30am local time at the Cizre stadium. Regardless of what happens in relation to football I hope that the government realizes that what is happening in southeast Turkey today is very dangerous for Turkey’s future going into the New Year. They need only look west to the Balkans for an example of what could happen.
A few pictures of the dusty Cizre Sehir Stadium taken during my visit in May 2009: