The Bursapor-Amedspor Turkish Cup match on 31 January, 2016 confirmed what many in Turkey feared. Amedspor’s surprising upset victory—1-2 to take them into the quarterfinal—was the biggest shock. What happened off the field, however, was sadly all too predictable.
While the away fans of Amedspor were not allowed into the stadium due to security concerns the match was still televised live on ATV, a channel known to be close to the ruling AKP government. During and after the match, fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with announcer Gökhan Telkenar. Among other things, he refused to refer to the Amedspor team by name. Instead, he called them “onlar”, or “them in Turkish”. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior by the employee of a national TV Channel only served to exacerbate the divide between Kurds and Turks that has recently been re-emphasized by the government, prompting some commentators to even speak of civil war.
As with most things in Turkish football, however, the entire situation was not without irony. An Tweet by Amedspor asked the rhetorical question “Bursa Takımında Türkiyeden sadece 2oyuncu var. Gerisi hepsi yabancı. Bizde Türkiyenin her halkından oyuncu var. Ama biz hainiz Bursa milli”/”On the Bursa team there are only two players from Turkey. Everyone else is foreign. On our team we have players from every group [of people] in Turkey. But we are the traitors and Bursa are national[ist]”. A cursory look at the line-up card confirms Amedspor’s assertions—at least as regards the starting XI. Bursaspor’s lineup boasted two Turks—Goalkeeper Mert Gunok and Forward Sercan Yildirim—while everyone else was non-Turkish: there was a Cameroonian, a Japanese, a Senegalese, an Australian, a Hungarian, a Slovak, and two Czechs. By contrast, third-tier Amedspor had a lineup of all Turkish nationals.
The founder of Amedspor’s fan group, Barikat, Bilal Akkalu had spoken before the match explaining the troubles his team faces during away matches. The home teams treat Amedspor as if they, in Mr. Akkalu’s words, “come from another country”. The divisive policies of the AKP government are swiftly manifesting themselves in Turkey’s most popular sport, football. Where the sport could once unite the country—such as during Galatasaray’s run to the 2000 UEFA Cup and Turkey’s international success during the 2002 World Cup and 2008 European Championships—the sport (with the aid of the government) is now becoming a forum for airing political differences predicated on ethnic lines. The process started during last year’s Turkish cup and, unfortunately, seems to be continuing. Let us hope that whichever team (and fans) Amedspor face in the quarterfinal round are more cognizant of the influence that football holds over the general populace. If sport can unite—rather than divide—let it be shown in the next round of matches. Otherwise, it will certainly be a difficult road ahead for both Amedspor and the Turkish nation.