A football game which represented decades of rivalry, warfare and death for some fans, took place on Tuesday morning in the South East of Turkey.
Fenerbahçe, one of Turkey’s richest and most famous clubs, took to the field as clear favourites, despite losing Nani and Van Persie to injury. The Yellow Canaries who currently sit at the top of the Turkish Süper Lig, took on minnows, Amedspor in the First Leg of the Turkish Cup Quarter Final.
Their opponents, Amedspor, who currently sit in 8th place in the 2nd tier of Turkish football are the lowest ranked team remaining in the Turkish Cup. Having already overcome Süper Lig opposition in the form of İstanbul Başakşehir and Bursaspor, the underdogs are on an unlikely run in the Turkish Cup.
The game took place in Diyarbakır, the home of Amedspor, a mostly Kurdish team in a mostly Kurdish city. Diyarbakır is also unwillingly home to a two-month old war between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish military, with three killed elsewhere in the city on the day of the match.
Amedspor were without spectators and their star player, Deniz Naki, in a progression of disclipinary actions against the club. Whilst stadium bans in Turkey are common, a twelve match ban for ‘ideological propaganda’ is unheard of.
German-born Kurdish star midfielder, Deniz Naki, was suspended earlier this year after criticising military operations in a post on Facebook after their previous triumph against Süper Lig’s Bursaspor:[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#282828″ text=”#FFFFFF” width=”content” height=”auto” align=”center” size=”1″ quote=”We dedicate this victory as a gift to those who have lost their lives and those wounded in the repression our land has seen over the last 50 days. We at Amedspor have not bowed our heads and we will not do so. We went onto the pitch with our belief in freedom – and won.” cite=”Deniz Naki, Amedspor Midfielder” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]
It has become harder and harder for Amedspor fans to support a Kurdish football team without being labelled as Kurdish separatists, along with their stadium ban following ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ chants at previous matches.
The political unrest which the club have now slipped into, also had their offices raided by an anti-terror unit earlier this month, after supporters posted critical comments on social media.
The unfashionable underdog, Amedspor, are “treated like mortal enemies at every away game” says Bilal Akkulu, founder of the clubs fan group.
And the club could face further disciplinary action after their players came onto the pitch with a giant banner that read “Children shouldn’t die. They should come to the match”, as it was held without permission from the Turkish Football Federation.
For the first minute of the match, Amedspor players stood still, hands folded, in defiance whilst the Fenerbahce players idly passed the ball amongst themselves until they passed the ball out of bounds.
On the field, the teams were balanced, if not in experience and skills but in passion. The match tilted back and forth in both teams favour, as both teams took and squandered the lead to end in a 3-3 draw. The rivalry will recommence at the beginning of March when the teams meet in İstanbul for the second leg. The winner can look forward to a tie against Galatasaray or Akhisar Belediyespor in the Semi Final of the Turkish Cup.