A Turkish soccer player from the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir was handed a 12-match suspension by the Turkish Football Federation for a Facebook post honoring the victims of government repression in the country’s southeastern region.
“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,” wrote the 26-year-old Amedspor midfielder, Deniz Naki, according to a Reuters translation. “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.”
In addition to a 12-match ban, he was fined about €7,000. The comments came at the end of a victorious eighth-finals of the National Cup against Bursaspor, a soccer club from the northwestern city of Bursa. The heavy penalty was preceded by a police raid on the headquarters of the Amedspor soccer club because of a tweet allegedly “glorifying terrorism.” (The Diyarbarkir clubs contested the raid, saying the message did not even come from the official profile.)
Naki is German by birth but is a Turkish citizen, according to the international soccer portal Transfermarkt. But Naki has always celebrated his Kurdish roots, a fact that has cost him more than jeers at away matches.
He began his career in Germany before signing with an Ankara soccer club on July 2013, playing with the team a little over a year. He didn’t leave because of his performance, however: While exiting the stadium on Nov. 2, 2014, he was beaten by three people who ordered him to leave the city or suffer a more persuasive beating the next time, according to testimony released by the Hurriyet Daily News. The motive? Not long before the assault, Naki had voiced his public support for the Kurdish resistance against the Islamic State in Kobane.
The sanctions against Naki, therefore, are purely political and yet another extension of the dirty war President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is waging against Kurdish civilians, who for the most part want to restart peace talks. In January, 27 soccer fans from different clubs expressed their support for a Diyarbakir teacher who called in to a live TV talk show and said, “Children should not be killed.” (The teacher is now under investigation.) They also voiced support for the group Academics for Peace, saying that “these lands and this ball represent the joy of living together, and we know that this joy can only be felt if there is peace.”
Naki’s statement is “not condoning or direct support of a Kurdish political party,” Ozlem Tanrikulu, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Information Office in Italy, told il manifesto. “They’re just the words of an athlete who lives in Diyarbakir, who trains amid the nightmare of curfew and the sound of explosions. As in the case of the arrested teachers, [government forces] intend to strike the active solidarity of civil society. Meanwhile in Cizre the indiscriminate bombing and curfews have continued for 70 days, causing already more than 80 deaths.”