Football, once again, had anticipated everything.
Diyarbakır, south-east Turkey, May 18, 2015: The apparent tranquility of a football match is suddenly interrupted. With just a few minutes left before the end of the match, the hosts of the beloved historic Diyarbakırspor (or rather, the team that took their place with the same name) hope to achieve promotion to the third division. That’s no small feat for a club that before collapsing and going bankrupt was playing with the big names in Turkey. The cheering is still the same, harsh and bordering on violence, always very hot: the red-greens are one step away from glory and see the end of the humiliating fourth division. So, for a contact that today we can safely define as non-existent, the referee decides to award a penalty kick to the visitors. Denizli BB, who had been struggling until then, had the chance of a lifetime in the 90th minute and took it, converting the penalty. About ten seconds pass, and the camp turns into hell.
An indistinct red-green mass spills onto the field, throwing seats, rocks, and any object within reach. The goal is clear: the Turkish referee ‘guilty’ of having favoured his Turkish rivals.
Yes, there is definitely something different from a ‘normal’ protest for a penalty kick. It is immediately evident that football is an excuse to vent an already present feeling of anger. Diyarbakır is the heart of Turkish Kurdistan , an area with a very strong linguistic identity and a tradition that is difficult to scratch. A century, the last one, spent between tensions and rifts: Diyarbakır – or rather Amed, as the locals call it – is the epicenter of all this, the cradle of a culture that is as unique and fascinating as it is discriminated against and fought. A battle that, until a few months ago, was fought only with words. For real: the other team in the city, Diyarbakır BB, wanted to change its name following the opinion of its fans. “We call our team Amedspor“, an eloquent chant that was rejected by the Turkish Federation. No Amedspor, at least for last season. But this story will have another ending, which we will find out shortly.
Because what happened at the end of May hides the symptoms of the most recent news events. It’s always like this in Turkey: football and politics are intertwined, touching and damaging each other.
And the revolt in Diyarbakırspor could only fuel a sense of widespread discontent in those areas of southeastern Turkey. Isolated, perhaps backward, so far removed from the pharaonic and modern projects of Istanbul, Bursa, Ankara and Izmir: those promises never kept on the creation of a local state, a utopia never forgotten by the locals.
Diyarbakırspor does not feel Turkish and launches the shocking proposal: to leave the Turkish Federation and create a Kurdish League, with Diyarbakır as its capital. That is, Amed.
At that point, Amedspor/Diyarbakır BB, the other club in the city and already in the third division for some time, intervened, winking at the city ‘cousins’ but coldly accepting the proposal. Here football takes a different path from the compactness of the red-yellow-green flags in the political field: the money from TV rights coming from Ankara is the master, at least for now, and the idea of the Kurdish league remains in the drawer. In addition, the Federation finally approves the name Amedspor Diyarbakır, an opening that gives confidence to the club registered in the third division. The team isolates itself from the most recent events and the proposal of its cousins from Diyarbakırspor, immediately starting the championship well. 3 points obtained in the first match, the goal is promotion to the second division.
It all sounds perfect, but it’s not perfect at all.
The Kurdish identity is as strong as ever, perhaps finally a reality after the reconquest of Kobane shortly after the border, in Syria. A siege that has done nothing but increase Kurdish hatred towards a Turkey that has remained observant, at least according to the opinion of the locals who have driven out ISIS. Those who have been ‘robbed’ of promotion at the last second, this is how they best describe the current moment in the Turkish south-east. Diyarbakırspor is sailing in very bad waters and it could not be otherwise. The proposal for a football split anticipated historical events. Because in the meantime the tension has shifted to the streets, with the PKK taking up arms again. And he shoots at the police, with a series of attacks that since August have canceled years of timid government overtures to restore a serene climate in the south-east of the country. Perhaps it was not possible: the memory of when Mustafa Kemal Pasa (known as Atatürk) passed through those lands, denying the dream of a Kurdish state, is still alive. Kurdistan remains a province, a mere peripheral area, from which Turkey recovers hydro-electric resources.
The huge dams installed by the government are now one of the main targets: the fallen are no longer making the news, while football (rightly) takes a back seat. The Turkish south-east remains isolated, as it has always been in sport (never a national triumph, not even in the cup).
Amedspor Diyarbakır and Diyarbakırspor have always dreamed, as have the locals. This is perhaps the real problem, when the reality is discovered.
So different, full of tensions, conflicts and identities that are sometimes incompatible. The Turks and the Kurds are facing each other again at the very moment when it seemed that an epochal turning point had arrived. A strong signal came from the last elections: the partial defeat of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party, with the HDP (pro-Kurdish peaceful party) managing to enter parliament gaining several votes even in very distant areas of Turkey. A historic feat, far greater than the Super Lig appearances recorded by Diyarbakırspor before sinking into the lower divisions. This is how football talk goes away, in a surreal atmosphere made unbreathable by the rearmament of the PKK.
Can football really have a future in such an area?
The hopes of wealth fueled by the cities of Gaziantep, the most south-easterly club in the entire Süper Lig, are represented by a new stadium under construction that wants to imitate the Allianz Arena in Munich.
Right there, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are born, our civilization was also born in some way.
Wonderful areas, where authentic gems such as the cities of Van and Mardin stand out, where now it is not possible to dream of a better future through football. And perhaps, come to think of it, it never was.