Turkish sportswriter Özgün Keleşoğlu wrote an interesting piece on t24.com.tr regarding the use of military salutes by Turkish footballers in games against Kurdish teams. The phenomenon has caused disturbances in games before, such as between Bergamaspor and Vanspor in 2014 and Karşıyaka and Kurtalanspor in 2015. This gesture, when employed as a goal celebration, has heightened tensions between Kurds and Turks on the football pitch to such a degree that teams in Western Turkey even complained to the Turkish Football Federation in September 2015.
In this instance, Mr. Keleşoğlu was referring to former Fenerbahçe and current Başaksehirspor striker Semih Şentürk’s salute following an equalizer against Amedspor in the Turkish cup on 28 January 2016. Amedspor are from the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir; having changed their name to reflect the Kurdish name of their city, they have become a standard bearer for Kurdish identity in Turkey, a fact that has achieved greater importance as Kurdish areas have come under fire from security forces recently.
What stands out in Mr. Keleşoğlu’s piece is his criticism of the footballer’s—in this case Semih Şentürk’s—actions. For the writer the military salute is meant to show respect to those who have served their country with distinction (a fact that, according to Amedspor officials, would be lost on Mr. Şentürk. After the incident they tweeted that he did not complete his military service; he paid out of it). It is not to be used in order to insult or provoke a reaction. According to this definition, then, every footballer that has saluted in this manner during a match has done so with no knowledge of the salute’s true meaning. That is why Mr. Keleşoğlu urges Turkish football fans to not allow footballers to water down what it means to be a solider. In so doing, however, the author makes another important point. He describes footballers themselves as “nouveau-riche” and “disrespectful of their jobs”. To be honest, he is right. In the era of Industrial Football it has been easy come and easy go for many Turkish footballers. Once they see the money they seem to slacken off, and that is no model for any country’s sporting or civil life. I support Mr. Keleşoğlu for saying things that need to be said, since sport is often a reflection of the society it represents. I also echo his sentiments regarding the Turkish Cup match between Bursaspor and Amedspor scheduled for tomorrow. Bursaspor and Diyarbakirspor—the previous standard bearer for football in Turkey’s Kurdish regions—had a history of bad blood between them. Let us hope that, in the highly polarized climate that characterizes Turkey these days, no ugly incidents occur.