Beşiktaş pays tribute to George Floyd, but Turkish football has its own problems with racism

The Turkish football club Beşiktaş has condemned racism in a tribute to George Floyd, an African-American man killed by police in the United States. 

The Istanbul-based club shared a video clip on Twitter of their players ‘taking the knee’ to spell out the letters “GF” - for George Floyd - on Thursday with the statement: “We stand for justice. #BlackLivesMatter”

Beşiktaş players, such Kevin Prince Boateng, also shared images and messages from their protest on Twitter.

Writing on the Turkish Football website, Emre Sarıgül pointed out that Beşiktaş has a history of anti-racist activism, as does its left-leaning fan group Çarşı – who also have posted recent messages in tribute to Floyd.

Other major Turkish clubs also posted tributes to Floyd. 

Unlike in much of Europe, racist incidents against black players are less common in Turkish football – although the Black Sea club Trabzonspor filed a complaint with police over racist social media posts directed at their Nigerian midfielder Jon Obi Mikel in February. 

Yet, while many have welcomed Turkish football’s show of solidarity with anti-racist activists in the United States, others have pointed out that Turkish football has its own problems with racism which are seldom addressed - notably against Kurdish clubs, players, and fans.

In February, Cizrespor - a football team from Cizre, Şırnak, one of Turkey’s biggest Kurdish-majority provinces, which plays in Turkish football’s fourth tier - announced it was withdrawing from the league, accusing the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) of racism, and complaining about persistent racist abuse by rival fans.

“Due to the injustices we have faced in our own stadium as well as at away games, due to the racist and nationalist behaviour of referees and with the decision of the president of our club, Maruf Sefinç, we will pull our team Cizrespor out of the league,” the club said in a statement. 

Cizrespor’s coach Metin Akpunar told Deutsche Welle in February that the club had been subjected to repeated verbal abuse by opposition fans, were likened to terrorists and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and subjected to ultranationalist chants such as: “Martyrs never die, the homeland will never be divided.” 

“In international football, black players are being subjected to racism but the racism in Turkey has reached a very violent point,” Akpunar said.

Last year, Cizrespor was forced to leave a stadium in the southern town of Serik in armoured vehicles provided by security forces due to the threat of violence from fans. Similar scenes occurred during a match in Bayburt in 2017, where at least four Cizrespor players were injured in physical attacks.

Cizrespor later revoked its decision to leave the league after a meeting with the local governor. But it is not the only Kurdish team that has experienced racist attacks and discrimination. 

Amedspor, a club based in Diyarbakır - the largest Kurdish-majority city in southeast Turkey - plays in Turkish football’s third tier. 

It has been the target of numerous racist or discriminatory incidents since 2015 - when it changed its name to Amedspor, after the Kurdish name of Diyarbakır, Amed - and the club has become a symbol of the Kurdish political movement. 

Amedspor has often faced Turkish nationalist chants from fans, provocative military salutes by opposition players, and physical threats and attacks - which often become worse during times of heightened tension or conflict between Kurdish militants and the Turkish state. 

In April 2016, several Amedspor officials were hospitalised after being attacked by Ankaragücü officials during a match in Ankara.

In August 2017, a Mersin İdman Yurdu fan ran onto the pitch and attacked Amedspor’s German-Kurdish midfielder Deniz Naki as he prepared to take a free kick.

Naki had previously been given an 18-month suspended prison sentence for “terrorist propaganda” for publicly criticising the Turkish government’s military offensive against Kurdish militants in Turkey.

In 2018, the TFF banned Naki for playing in Turkey for life, accusing him of “separatist and ideological propaganda” after he had called for people to protest Turkey’s military offensive into northern Syria’s Afrin region on social media.

Also in 2018, Amedspor’s club president Nurullah Edemen and former president Ali Karakaş were charged with making terrorist propaganda over the Twitter account @AmedsporFK, which the two men said was an unofficial account not controlled by the club, the club’s official account being @Amedspor021. 

Among the offending tweets by the former account was one dedicating a tough away victory to “resisting guerrillas” and “the loyal people of Kurdistan”.

In October 2019, Amedspor’s fans and staff were attacked by rival fans during an away game in Sarıyer, Istanbul. One fan was assaulted as he made his way to the stadium after being asked if he was Kurdish, Amedspor said.

Three Amedspor club staff members were also attacked by a group of Sarıyer fans on their way into the stadium, Amedspor club Chairman Metin Kılavuz said.

Kılavuz also said there were a number of racist posts on social media prior to the game. “I strongly condemn the violence, insults, and racist approach of some Sarıyer fans,’’ Kılavuz stated.

Also in October last year, a 20-minute video showing Turkish military operations against Kurdish forces in Syria was broadcast before a match in Sakarya, western Turkey between Amedspor and Sakaryasapor. Sakaryaspor supporters chanted racist slogans during the match and Amedspor players were attacked after the game in their changing room.

Footages showed that Turkish security forces did nothing to protect the Amedspor players. “What we experienced, has nothing to do with the ethical principles of sports,” Amedspor’s president Edemen said afterwards.

“The purpose is that: We look at you in a different way and we want to take revenge,” Edemen said.

Invariably, these kinds of racist incidents against Turkish football teams, players, and fans are never condemned, remarked upon, or punished by the TFF or the Turkish government.

It is far likelier for Kurdish teams to be sanctioned by the authorities for minor or spurious transgressions. 

Amedspor has been the target of frequent sanctions in the form of fines or stadium closures from the TFF, and was penalised 63 times over three seasons between 2015 and 2018 alone; including over chants by its fans calling for peace in Kurdish cities in southeastern Turkey that were being bombarded by the Turkish armed forces. 

The club - which is linked to the Diyarbakır municipality - is also in a dire financial state, having been subject to fines and starved of funding after the city’s elected mayor was replaced by a government-appointee who cut the municipality’s financial support to Amedspor and asked the club to change its name in return for resuming the subsidy. 

Amedspor, which managed to reach the Turkish Cup quarter final in 2016, now looks on the verge of collapse and relegation. 

In reply to one Beşiktaş post in tribute to George Floyd, one twitter user said that, as well as "this 'sensitive' attitude of our distinguished clubs against racism", he would also like to see them comment on "the attacks on Amedspor and Cizrespor's footballers, coaches, managers and fans".

While Turkey’s biggest clubs and their fans are often all too happy to speak out against racism elsewhere, they are usually silent when comes to racism at home.