Football diplomacy might have created miracles for tense relations between Turkey and Armenia, but the world’s most popular sport remains unhelpful when it comes to the Kurdish issue.
For the second time this month, Diyarbakırspor Chairman Çetin Sümer is seeking support to withdraw from the Turkcell Super League.
The withdrawal announcement came after the team’s 2-1 loss at Gaziantepspor. “We will not be on the pitch against Galatasaray next weekend,” Sümer told the Doğan news agency. The announcement came after an emergency board meeting late Sunday addressed offensive chanting by Gaziantepspor supporters and questioned decisions by referee Süleyman Abay.
Many ultra-nationalists in Turkey consider Diyarbakırspor, from the biggest city in southeastern Turkey, to represent the Kurds and, by extension, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The team and its supporters have on many occasions become targets of anti-Kurdish banners and chants.
In late September, Sümer mentioned withdrawal from the league after a game in Bursa where Diyarbakırspor players and fans were greeted with offensive chanting by Bursaspor fans. He later shook hands with Bursaspor Chairman İbrahim Yazıcı and held a joint press conference to reduce the tension.
“This is the second time we witnessed such strong offensive chants, following the game in Bursa,” Sümer told the NTV news channel Monday. “We reacted then, but the situation was pretty much the same in Antalya two weeks ago and today. This shows that no precautions have been taken. We were given promises when I made peace with the Bursaspor chairman despite fierce criticism in Diyarbakır, but none of those promises were kept.”
Not only was the offensive chanting not stopped, but also referees have been very negative toward the team since the game in Bursa, said Sümer, adding that the events have cause the Diyarbakırspor board to decide not to play against Galatasaray next weekend in a match scheduled in Diyarbakır.
“But the final decision will be made after we consult the non-governmental organizations in Diyarbakır,” said Sümer. “After all, this club does not belong to the board, it belongs to the city. But I think they will support the decision, because it makes sense to stay out of dirty games and dishonorable competition.”
Despite the chairman’s call for support, non-governmental organizations in Diyarbakır were critical of the decision Monday.
Raif Türk, chairman of Diyarbakır Industrialists’ Businessmen’s Association, or DİSİAD, told the Anatolia news agency the action might harm the Kurdish initiative.
Diyarbakır Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Galip Ensarioğlu said the protests against Diyarbakırspor are unacceptable, but the reaction should not be to withdraw. “The chairman and board members make great efforts for the team, which is why their reaction might be excessive,” he said. “But something must be done. Both the referees and football supporters of this country should act in a manner that will serve friendship and peace.”
Diyarbakırspor coach Ziya Doğan asked Sümer to reconsider the decision. “We must play against Galatasaray ... a loss by referee decision will result in deducting three points, which will not help the team.”
Doğan also said Gaziantepspor was a good host and that he did not hear any offensive chants.