Tensions in politics hit Diyarbakır pitch

Tensions in politics hit Diyarbakır pitch

Ali Kayalar
Tensions in politics hit Diyarbakır pitch

Fans hold joint Galatasaray and ‘Amedspor’ scarfs during a Ziraat Cup game between the two sides. DHA Photo

As the rivalry on the pitch heats up in the Ziraat Turkish Cup, a match between Istanbul giants Galatasaray and third-tier Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyespor witnessed unexpected tensions mirroring the country’s political fragilities.

It is no secret that Galatasaray receives sympathy from citizens of Diyarbakır, most of whom are Kurdish, largely because the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, said in a rare interview more than two decades ago that he was a Galatasaray fan.

“We love you, we love the one who loves you even more,” read a placard on the Galatasaray side of the tribunes, apparently addressed to Öcalan.

But neither the message, nor the remarks by Pervin Buldan, a Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy who frequently visits Öcalan as part of the ongoing peace talks, provided shelter for Galatasaray during the Dec. 23 match in Diyarbakır, which was won 4-1 by the visitors.

The initial strike came from a group that threw stones at the team bus before the match, although no players or staff were injured.

Police dispersed the crowd, using tear gas.

The Istanbul side was too strong for Diyarbakır Büyükşehir, but the home side fans’ anger marked the last minutes, as they again threw stones at the Galatasaray section of the stadium. Some entered the pitch as police again intervened in the clash that spread outside the stadium. One Galatasaray fan was injured in the head.

This was obviously not the HDP was looking for.

“It is known that Kurds support Galatasaray, but our hearts are with Diyarbakır for tonight’s game,” Buldan said in a pre-game social media posting.

“By the way, it is not Diyarbakır but Amedspor,” she said, referring to the name of the city in Kurdish. The club also changed its name from Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyespor to Amedspor in October.

Welcome messages
Gültan Kışanak, Diyarbakır’s co-mayor and a former HDP co-leader, said the city would embrace Galatasaray.

“Sport is gentleman-like, peaceful and doing good things together,” she said.

The government, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in particular, repeatedly accused the HDP of stirring up street violence related to the government’s perceived support for jihadists in Kobane in early October. Of the 40 people who were killed, however, some were gunned down, while others were beaten to death. 

A message from Öcalan calling for calm helped silence the streets after two days of clashes.

As the HDP urges the government to take bold steps in the Kurdish bid, the latter insists on “public order” as a condition for improvement.

While there has not been any large conflagration since the Oct. 6-7 violence, there continues to be violence and tension in Turkey’s southeast, punctuated most recently last week, when Diyarbakır police shot dead teenager Abdülkadir Çakmak in unclear circumstances.

Diyarbakır did not fail the test of patience during the match with Galatasaray as the violence did not grow, but the incidents suggested again that Kurdish politicians will have a difficult task in controlling the streets while continuing peace talks with the government.

Remarks displaying a harder line from senior PKK leaders in the mountains and in exile in Europe have also put a greater burden on HDP politicians as they try to balance solid defense with an efficient attack.