Attack on Amedspor: Why it is Bigger than Football
By Dr. Thoreau Redcrow
What do you call a country where athletes risk their life for competing on behalf of an occupied city?
To find the answer, we have the football match between Amedspor and Bursaspor on Sunday March 5th at Bursa Metropolitan Stadium (two hours south of Istanbul), which was yet another example of what it means to be a Kurd in Turkey. Amedspor, the team from the de-facto capital of Northern Kurdistan, Amed – the largest Kurdish-majority city in the world – is often vilified by fans of teams from Turkish cities. And in the latest instance, that was unfortunately no different.
It actually began the evening before the match, when Bursaspor fans spent Saturday night shooting fireworks at Amedspor’s hotel, while chanting “How happy is the one who says I am a Turk!” (Ne mutlu Türküm diyene!) This phrase comes from a 1933 Atatürk speech and came to fruition four years after its first utterance, when the Turkish military carried out the Dersim Genocide to emphasize the life-threating danger for anyone within Turkey who denies such alleged ‘happiness’.
This common nationalist propaganda slogan which can still be seen on billboards throughout Kurdish areas, perfectly embodies the psychologically alienating position of the Turkish state, where they not only oppress, kill, torture, and brutalize Kurds, but then force them to publicly recite how much they enjoy it, and are essentially thankful for their anguish. Following the chants, Bursaspor’s hooligan fans then ran around the city with the Turkish police’s blessing looking for any Kurdish fans of Amedspor to attack, which was a prelude to the match the following morning.
Fascism on Full Display
Then on Sunday, before the match even began, the vitriol and xenophobic sociopathology that is required to maintain Turkish ultra-nationalism was on full display. As Amedspor players attempted to enter the field for warmups under a line of police shields, rabid Bursaspor fans began to rain down fireworks, knives, bullets, rocks, batteries, and water bottles onto the pitch. This was accompanied by a cacophony of racist chants against Kurds throughout the stadium, and wolf salute hand gestures (which are illegal in France and Austria) representing the neo-fascist criminal Grey Wolves – best known for wanting to murder Kurds, Greeks, and Armenians.
Not to be outdone, Bursaspor players themselves then attacked Amedspor, almost as if to prove to the frothing at the mouth mob that they too endorsed the viciousness of their fan base. Keep in mind, that all of this had occurred before the Turkish national anthem was even played, which was a further indignity, when you consider that the Amedspor players (especially the Kurdish ones) were forced to stand and sing the song of a state whose official cruelty was literally on display as it was being sung. In fact, seeing the scene reminded me of Turkey’s notorious Diyarbakir Prison No. 5, where Kurdish prisoners in the 1980s and 90s were forced to bathe under a pipe spewing human excrement, before having to sing the Turkish national anthem. As Yahya, an inmate later remembered:
“In the mornings, they would force us to memorize some national anthems and songs and then chant them. They were punishing prisoners who were unable to achieve the task. However, we did not know how to memorize, because most of us did not know how to read or write in Turkish. So they would be beating and beating us.”
But back to the pitch and current crime scene, where it was Amedspor players being beaten this time. Once the match started, the hatred only ramped up even more. As Bursaspor fans then unfurled banners in the stands celebrating the JİTEM death squads of the late 1980’s, a Turkish deep state organization who murdered thousands of Kurds throughout cities like Amed with impunity. Of note, Arif Doğan, who admitted to founding JİTEM years later, recalled that he had a staff of 10,000 people for his assassination operations and paid them 3,000 Turkish lira for each murder. While, Tuncay Güney, a spy who infiltrated JİTEM alleges that alongside shooting people on the streets in broad daylight, they also murdered Kurds with acid and hid their bodies in wells belonging to the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAŞ).
But as if that was not enough, Bursaspor fans in the stands also had banners with the faces of the notorious MİT (Turkish Intelligence) assassin Mahmut Yıldırım – codenamed Yeşil (“Green” in Turkish), and Cem Ersever – a JİTEM commander who was going to confess to their crimes before he was assassinated by Yeşil in 1993. Next to the faces of these men was also the image of a white “Renault Toros” automobile, the Turkish version of the French Renault 12, which was the favored car of Turkish state assassins in the late 1980s-90s, when they were carrying out killing sprees throughout occupied Northern Kurdistan against Kurds demanding their human rights.
These disappearances in Kurdish areas became known as “white Taurus” (Beyaz Toros) incidents, because JİTEM and Gendarmerie intel agents would often place young Kurds into these vehicles and their families would never see them again. Relatedly, columnist Ahmet Ay later recalled how:
“In the late 80s, if I was late, my mother used to go to the balcony and see if there were any white Taurus cars on the street. Everybody knew a white Taurus was bad news, and JİTEM wasn’t trying to hide what it was doing.”
Over the years, some of the remains of those disappeared Kurds would appear in garbage cans and scattered through forests, but thousands have never been found to this day. In fact, there is a group called “The Saturday Mothers”, who gathered every weekend at noon from 1995-2021 (before they were banned by Erdoğan’s regime) in İstanbul’s Galatasaray district to demand justice in court and the remains of their murdered loved ones. One such mother Elmas Eren, pleaded: “I want my son’s bones, at least, to bury him properly and to visit his grave to pray for him.”
A Form of Collective Psychosis
So, this begs the question, why at a football match, are fans of the opposing team holding up images and glorifying a Turkish state death squad organization? A group who carried out over 5,000 unsolved killings of journalists, human rights defenders, intellectuals, and political activists – and according to the former chair of the Diyarbakır Bar Association Sezgin Tanrıkulu, made another 4,000-5,000 vanish by “disappearing” them. The answer is that most of those victims were Kurds, or in some cases allies of Kurds on the Turkish Left viewed as ‘traitors’ by the Turkish state. And since Amedspor plays for the occupied Kurdish city of Amed (called ‘Diyarbakir’ by the state occupying it), all of their players – whether Kurdish or not – are automatically viewed as enemies of Turkey and deserving of death.
In this way, the Bursaspor fans have done the world a small favor, as very rarely has the savage insanity and sadism of Turkish nationalism ever been so fully on display for the entire public, as in this case the orgiastic mob calling for violence from the stands had the audacity to film their assaults and post them all over social media. On these clips throughout twitter and elsewhere, videos emerged showing Bursaspor fans firing objects onto the field with slingshots and brutally beating a Kurdish man in the stands, as around a dozen fans all rushed to pummel him.
You also see clips from the game itself, where Amedspor players are repeatedly trying to kick the ball while being pelted with objects raining down on them. This caused Amedspor to later rhetorically ask, “Were our players supposed to die for the match to be halted?” In one instance, the Amedspor player attempting a corner kick tries to say that he is unable to do so because he is being hit with so many thrown objects, but the Bursaspor players angrily push him back towards the sideline, so the mob in the stands can have closer access to launch their projectiles. In another instance, the Amedspor goalkeeper Cantuğ Temel (who is actually Turkish), is struck in the back with something so hard that he falls to the ground—causing his teammates to run over to him—but even in that instance, his pain only excites the crowd even more as they begin to throw more objects and chant death to the “Kurdish team” who dared to exist in their stadium.
And that is the issue. The offense or ‘crime’ in these Bursaspor’s fans eyes was mere existence. They resent the fact that any Kurds exist at all in Amed, as if most of them had their way they would have all been liquidated through genocide like the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians were to create their false “Turkish unity” of one state, for one people, with one religion and language. And that is why this is not just a sports story, but an instructive lesson on what the Turkish state is to the majority of its 20+ million Kurds, who remain trapped under a regime and dictatorship that wants their assimilation or annihilation in equal measure.
Then, later, in the 81st minute, when Bursaspor scored a goal, five of their players ran to the sidelines and gave a military salute, a symbolic gesture which gained prominence throughout Turkey in 2019, when the Turkish national football team began saluting after goals to show their support for the invasion, occupation, and ethnic cleansing of Kurdish cities like Efrîn, Serê Kaniyê, and Girê Spî in Rojava.
Finally, after the match ended, Amedspor’s social media account described how a Bursaspor “private security supervisor and club security officer” plus “club staff and police officers” all attacked their players in the dressing room and corridor leading to it. So we see the full convergence of the angry mob calling for blood, with the organized structural apparatus which usually does the dirty work for them, as Amedspor players were not even safe from the police themselves. Or as a Kurdish man told me years ago after recounting two occasions when he was a child on his father’s bus, and Turkish agents shot a Kurd in the back of the head and slit another’s throat before showing a badge and calmly walking off, “Nobody tried to stop them as we knew you can’t report the police to the police.”
Following the match, Kurdish politicians, artists, and musicians all began to post images on social media of them wearing Amedspor jerseys, with the hashtag #Amedsporyalnızdeğildir (Amedspor is not alone), as they too realized this was not simply about a game of football, but a symbolic fault line on what it means to defiantly be a Kurd in today’s Turkey. For their part, the Kurdish-majority HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) released a statement proclaiming:
“We condemn the racist attacks against Amedspor in Bursa. The atmosphere in which the spirits of the murderers of the 1990s and the residues of JİTEM will neither prevent Amedspor, nor end the hope for peace. Those responsible must be held accountable before the law. We are the millions who will not kneel against fascism.”
The imprisoned HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş – whose photo of him and his wife wearing Amedspor jerseys was also going viral online – released remarks as well, where he told Amedspor players:
“You keep your head up as usual and play your amazing football. Leave the political extensions of the white Taurus to us. We did not surrender to their father’s fathers, and we will not bow down to their descendants!”
With regards to that political extension, the Diyarbakır Bar Association, filed a criminal complaint regarding the events in the match, stating that there were crimes of: “inciting or humiliating the public to hatred and hostility, intentionally endangering general security, and insulting abuse of office” – which actually is a perfect summary of the entire Erdoğan dictatorship over the last two decades in Turkey. Where he has continued the long tradition of cruelty against Kurdish citizens and arrested so many civil activists, journalists, and teachers that his corrupt construction contractors spent most of their time building new prisons. As a consequence, those same contractors then neglected the shoddy residential towers that now all lie as post-earthquake rubble-pile mass graves all across southeast Turkey (and Northern Kurdistan).
With regard to the earthquake, there was another glaring dichotomy at play as well with fans reactions on the football pitch. As a week before the Bursaspor attacks, fans attending the Besiktas versus Antalyaspor match, threw hundreds of stuffed animals onto the field, as a goodwill gesture of donations towards the recent earthquake victims. In this instance, fans of the home team Besiktas, were allowed to throw the donated toys and winter clothing onto the pitch at Istanbul’s Vodafone Park on the 4:17 mark of the game, a somber tribute to the early-morning time when the first earthquake struck on February 6th.
So, when the opposing team hailed from the Turkish-majority city of Antalya, fans threw teddy bears as signs of affection, but a week later when the team represented the Kurdish city of Amed, it was a hail of bottles, bullets, and knifes flying down towards the players. And in that, we see what many imprisoned Kurdish activists have often spoken of, that there are two “Turkeys” with an Apartheid-like system in place that views some children as disposable and more deserving of being kidnapped in a white car and shot in an empty field, rather than receiving a stuffed animal to comfort them.
The Symbolic Power
But this latest attack was unfortunately not even an isolated incident. As Amedspor players were attacked by Turkish nationalist fans of 1922 Konyaspor in 2017. Additionally, the history of Amedspor’s football club is one of repeated attacks by the Turkish state and TFF (Turkish Football Federation), because they are seen as a symbol of Kurdish aspirations for freedom. For instance, since 2015, Kurdistan flags have been banned from all of their matches, a fact which led five Kurds to be arrested in September 2022 for possessing one. In 2016, the TFF also banned former Amedspor player Deniz Naki for 12 games and fined him 19,500 Turkish liras for “ideological propaganda” after he posted a message on Facebook in tribute to those Kurds who resisted in Sur (central Amed) against the Turkish military’s attempts to ethnically cleanse and destroy the ancient city, writing:
“We dedicate this victory as a gift to those who have lost their lives and those wounded in the repression in our land which has lasted for more than 50 days. We as Amedspor have not bowed our heads and will not do so. We went on to the pitch with our belief in freedom and won.”
Turkish police also raided the Amedspor team offices under the claim that Naki may have sent the tweet from one of their computers. Which highlights another fact, namely the symbiotic unity between the Turkish state and their supposedly apolitical sporting federations, as Amedspor merchandise is often seized by Turkish police and their fans are legally banned from attending all away matches. Which causes the latest incident to come full circle. As during this time when Amedspor players were being pelted with debris, and Bursaspor fans were shouting for their death and mocking them with assassin images – their own fans were barred from being there in support.
In the same way that Turkey criminalizes any resistance to their oppression and genocidal policies against Kurds (which I have previously written about here and here), they also bar any outside moral support for Kurdish football clubs when they are under assault, based on the idea that even standing in solidarity with their victims is akin to a crime against the state. Which is all the more reason for every Kurd in Greater Kurdistan and throughout the diaspora to immediately go out and buy an Amedspor jersey and make them their new favorite team. Serhildan (uprising) has many forms, and in this case, it can begin with something as simple as a football uniform.
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