Amedspor, the Kurdish Conflict, and the Symbolic Power of Football

Source: ajanshaber

Source: ajanshaber

For some, football is just a game, a chance to enjoy some exciting competition and rally together with friends and other fans; for others, it is the voice of political resistance. There is likely nothing that illustrates the fascinating symbolic power of football more than the story of Amedspor and how a football team came to express some of the deepest and most desperate cries of a community for justice and freedom.

The story begins with the name ‘Amedspor’ itself. ‘Amed’ is the ancient pre-Turkic Kurdish name for the region today known as the province of Diyarbakır, in Turkey’s Southeast. Amed has a rich cultural and civilizational history dating back almost 10,000 years according to some estimates, and the region represents a deep source of pride for the Kurdish community and those who ascribe to the Kurdish identity. Today, Amed or Diyarbakır is considered the de facto social, political, and cultural capital of the Kurdish community in Turkey.

On July 7, the Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality Club held a General Assembly where voters unanimously decided that the club apply for the official name of the ‘Amed Sports Activities Club.’ In fact, the club had already been using the name ‘Amedspor’ since October 2014 however the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) did not accept the name change, fining the club 10,000 lira for using an unapproved name and jersey colours – yellow, red, and green; colours traditionally associated with Kurdistan. Amedspor continued to petition for approval by the TFF concerning the name change, but in what appeared to be a kind of bureaucratic manipulation, the TFF rejected their petition claiming that there was a already a team operating under the name ‘Amedspor.’ On July 7 of 2015, Amedspor decided to try their luck again however, using a legal loophole; and in August 2015, the TFF finally accepted their official name change as the ‘Amed Sports Activities Club.’

As it happens, exactly one month earlier to the day, as Amedspor voted on a new name, another vote was taking place that would set the tone of Kurdish-Turkish relations for the next 6 months; Turkey’s June 7 general parliamentary elections. In a surprising twist, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won 13% of the votes, passing the parliamentary threshold and gaining 80 new parliamentary seats. Among those shocked by the results was the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which suddenly found itself ousted from its comfortable position as the majority party. Kurdish politics now represented a major threat to the previously unchallenged power of the AKP.

The events that followed the June 7 elections led to the erosion and eventual collapse of the two year ceasefire in place between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) as well as the alienation of the Turkish public from the HDP. Accounts of what exactly lead to the collapse of the ceasefire differ widely. However, what remains clear is that animosity between Turkish and Kurdish society has only been growing over the past months.

Armed PKK members have created networks of barricades and trenches across Turkey’s south-east, portioning off regions under Kurdish self-rule. HDP offices have been raided, party members arrested and interrogated. Round-the-clock, month-long curfews have been enforced in cities across the south-east, claiming the lives of many, primarily Kurdish, civilians. Ordinary citizens and academics have been suspected of terrorism and taken into custody, simply for calling for an end to the violence and demanding peace negotiations. This is the political landscape in which Amedspor set out to compete in the 2015-2016 season.

The Ziraat Turkish Cup: Trouble from Day 1

The Ziraat Turkish Cup is Turkey’s national football competition, hosted since 1962 and currently with the participation of 158 football teams from across the country. The first round of 2015-2016 season kicked off on the 9th of September. Amedspor made its first appearance in the tournament in the second round of matches on September 22, facing Karaman Belediyespor. Amespor took the match with a score of 2-1, but the club’s celebration was short lived when a week later, the TFF announced that it would be fining the club 20,000 lira because its supporters had chanted “ideological propaganda” during the match.

Amedspor spokesperson Ekrem Yeşil reacted to the news stating that the fine was completely uncalled for, especially after the club’s first match and without any prior warning. Yeşil also dismissed the allegations of fans chanting ideological propaganda, stating: “That day our fans were only chanting in the spirit of the game and in a friendly manner.” Unfortunately for Amedspor and its fans, this early obstacle would only be the beginning of their trials in the cup.

And Then Cizre

Amedspor continued to do well in the tournament over the next four months. They won three of their matches and tied for four, slowly but steadily eluding elimination and progressing forward in the tournament. On January 28th, they were set to face the Istanbul-based team Medipol Başakşehir, and they would progress to the next round if they could manage a win or a tie.

While Diyarbakır’s football team was doing quite well in late January, the province of Diyarbakır itself was not. In the heart of metropolitan Diyarbakır, the ancient Sur district was undergoing over a month-long curfew. Schools and hospitals were shut down and life came to a standstill in many neighbourhoods. Thousands were fleeing their homes, hoping to escape the crippling curfews. Many civilians, trapped in their homes, struggled to survive with little access to food, water, and medical care, always awaiting a temporary curfew suspension on their street so they could either re-stock or flee.

To the Southeast of Diyarbakır, in a predominantly Kurdish province on the Iraq-Turkey-Syria border called Şırnak, an even more sinister situation was unfolding that would outrage the Kurdish community in Turkey. In the district of Cizre, on Saturday the 23rd, a group of around 30 civilians took cover from shelling in the basement of a building on Bostancı Avenue. Many of them were injured from gunfire, with little access to water and no medical care. Those same civilians are still awaiting medical attention 15 days later, and 7 of them have already lost their lives due to untreated injuries
The reasons for this delay in providing medical care have become a heated point of controversy. Government ambulances have been sent to the area countless times, always remaining 100 meters from the actual building before turning back for contentious reasons. Government sources claim that attendant ambulances have been forced to turn away due to PKK gunfire, while HDP deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız and his contacts have claimed ambulances have been turned away by government armoured vehicles camped outside the building.

The HDP deputies currently on a hunger strike in protest of the situation in Cizre released an audio recording of the last established contact with the injured civilians in the building last week. The recordings feature the voice of a hopeful man, Mehmet Yavuzer, who is being told that ambulances are on their way. However, before they arrive, Yavuzer notes that it appears a special unit police force has entered the building. And then we hear an explosion and chilling screams coming from the trapped civilians. In the final call, a panicked Yavuzer cries “We are trapped under debris! How can I explain it?” That was on January 30. The civilians in No. 23 Bostancı avenue have not been heard from since.

A Hard Week

Amedspor fans gathered in Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadium in Istanbul on January 28 with the events ongoing in Cizre and across Turkey’s south-east still fresh in their minds. Although the match ended with an uneventful 2-2 draw, managing to send Amedspor to the next round, the aftermath of the match is what drew everyone’s attention. During the match, Amedspor fans reportedly chanted slogans like “The resistance goes on, never give up!”; “Everywhere is resistance, everywhere is Cizre!”, and “Children shouldn’t die, Let them come to the match!” After the match, the police then reportedly “pounded” Amedspor supporters, taking 30 fans into custody. Six of those taken into custody were children.

After progressing on to the next round, Amedspor was set to face Bursaspor on January 31st. However, a day after the Başakşehir match, the Bursa Provincial Security Department announced that it would not be allowing Amedspor fans to enter the stadium.

Despite this setback, Amedspor faced Bursaspor on the evening of January 31. In a truly surprising outcome, Amedspor managed to beat Bursaspor 2-1, Bursaspor being a top division team in the Turkish Süper League. Despite not having any fans at the match, Amedspor supporters were ecstatic, especially in the club’s hometown of Diyarbakır. Thousands of supporters gathered in the Yenişehir district to watch the match together, and with the final whistle the crowd erupted into cheers and celebration. However, shortly after the celebrations began, police arrived on the scene and attempted to disperse the crowd with water cannons and tear gas.

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