Football. is Turkey’s most popular sport. But, with the ongoing clashes in the largely Kurdish southeast, the pitch is being invaded more and more frequently by politics.
Take Amedspor as an example. The third division club has had surprise success in the Ziraat Turkish Cup, beating Bursapor 2-1 to go through to the quarter finals and subsequently drawing 3-3 with Fenerbahçe in the first leg. Both are top-flight teams. Fenerbahçe, in particular, has not finished lower than fourth in the league in the past ten years and has won the title four times in that period.
Amedspor, it would seem at a glance, is flying high in the face of adversity.
Why is Amedspor important?
The club hails from Diyarbakir, the most-populous Kurdish city.
Ongoing clashes between government forces and Kurdish militants from the PKK party provoked the United Nations to intervene earlier this month (February, 2016).
Rights group Amnesty International reports 200,000 people have been put at risk because of security operations in the region.
Focus shifts from football
‘Don’t let children die’
The Fenerbahçe match could have been historic. But, instead of the 3-3 draw being the point to remember, the team, press and fans alike focussed, at least partially, on the conflict.
Ahead of the game, Amedspor players held up a banner reading:
“Don’t let children die, let them come to the match.” The words were a reference to the fighting in the region.
In its print version, the pro-government Star daily controversially blurred out the words on the Amedspor banner.
The paper reported the banner was being held without permission and said the team was opening itself up to disciplinary action by the Professional Football Discipline Committee (PFDK)
It included the full photograph in its online edition.
As the match kicked off, Amedspor’s players stood still facing the empty stands in a silent protest lasting almost a minute. Their opponents passed the ball among themselves and eventually kicked the ball out of play.
The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) had ordered the match to be played behind closed doors, without spectators. In addition, one of the Amedspor players had been slapped with a fine.
The TFF blamed “ideological propaganda” — reportedly displayed during the previous match against Bursapor — for the ban.
“Everywhere is resistance,” the fans chanted. It was, once again, a reference to the clashes in the south east.
Amedspur had to do without one of their star players. Deniz Naki was suspended for twelve games in addition to being fined TL 19,500 (almost 6,000 euros) for tweeting “unsporting” comments.
The German footballer dedicated the team’s recent success to Kurds killed by government forces. Naki is also accused of showing the tattoo on his forearm too frequently. It reads “Azadi,” or “Freedom” in Kurdish.
He reportedly said afterwards that he wouldn’t have changed anything, even if he’d been banned for 50 matches.