DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY - With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds in Diyarbakir and beyond.
Fans are celebrating another victory for their beloved Amedspor; but, it’s not just winning that makes this club so special, according to this supporter who did not want to give his name.
"Amedspor is more than a sports team. In its essence, it represents resistance and a sports culture that aims to reflect people's freedom. It is, in a way, becoming a voice of resistance against unfairness, violence and pressure in an environment of war," he said.
The club has become a symbol for Kurds, especially after changing its name from Diyarbakir to Amedspor, with Amed being the Kurdish name for the city. Ali Karakas is the chairman.
"Amedspor is seen as a voice for the people of this region, representing people in and outside the city," he said. "It is a very important representation of the people of this city. And, especially after changing the name to Amedspor last year, it became more important for the people in the region, not only for Diyarbakir."
For many, Amedspor is a marked club, especially when it travels. In a recent away game, two club executives suffered a concussion and a broken nose after being attacked by opponents. Opposing fans often accuse Amedspor of being terrorist supporters, a stance echoed in Turkish newspapers and social media.
Players too have been punished. Star player Deniz Naki was banned for 12 games for a tweet calling for peace and an end to fighting between Kurdish rebels and security forces. Naki says in the face of growing hostility, players and management find ways to stay focused on winning.
"When they throw insults, I get more motivated to play.Instead of taking one step, I take 10 steps. I am not disturbed anymore because we got used to it in each away game," he said. "We hope this doesn't go on like this. We hope the other home teams show us the hospitality we show them when they come to Diyarbakir to play. Even if they don't, we focus on our game, and we play to win."
The troubles make the bond between the club and its supporters stronger, says a fan who did not wish to be identified.
"Amedpsor is important for reflecting all the emotions of the Kurdish people on the football field. For us, it became a place where we can pour out all our emotions. We can't do all the things we want to do, but, thanks to Amedspor, we can express ourselves," he said.
Many already call Amedspor the Barcelona of the Kurds in the hope that the club will share the same success as Barcelona and the freedom its Catalan fans enjoy.