The day after the match, the players bus of Amedspor arrived back home in Diyarbakır and the ‘table of six’ announced its presidential candidate, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. It’s impossible to discuss one of these issues without the other. And it begs an answer to the question: if Kılıçdaroğlu wins the presidency, will he start serving the interests of the group of citizens who will have helped him to become Turkey’s 13th president?
Let’s start with the match, if we can call it that. On Sunday, a Bursaspor-Amedspor match was played in Turkey’s Football Federation’s 2nd League. The trouble started the night before, when supporters of Bursaspor gathered at the hotel where the players of Amedspor were staying. They came with torches, let off fireworks and used sound bombs to intimidate the team from Amed (Diyarbakır). The police didn’t do a thing to stop it from happening.
On Sunday, what must have been one of the most absurd and violent 90 minutes ever on a green field in a football stadium happened. The booing and whistling was deafening when an Amedspor player as much as looked at the ball, and there was a constant rain of objects pouring down on the Kurdish players: countless water bottles, fireworks, reportedly even a pack of three bullets taped together. On the stands three white flags appeared, showing a white Toros car and the portraits of Cem Ersever and Mahmut Yıldırım. White Toros cars were used by Jitem, the illegal murder squads of the Turkish army in the 1990s – they abducted Kurds in them, who were then killed. Ersever was one of Jitem’s founders, Yıldırım one of its most notorious killers.
The referee did nothing. The game wasn’t halted temporarily, let alone cancelled altogether, which of course should have happened.
The next day, the Amedspor players were welcomed back home as heroes, and as representing not just a club, but a nation. But soon, the story was overtaken by the frantic developments around the presidential candidate of the opposition alliance. One of the six parties in the alliance, the Good (IYI) Party, had left the alliance before the weekend because its leader, Meral Akşener, refused to accept the nomination of CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu. Eventually, she was convinced to accept him – I’ll spare you the details – and on Monday, Kılıçdaroğlu was officially named as candidate.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy is considered good news for Kurds. He is the one candidate of the ‘table of six’ that Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) supporters could vote for, the profiles of others are too nationalist for them to be viable. Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi Kurd from Dersim, although he is a Kemalist and has never publicly identified as a Dersim Kurd. Now that Akşener is back on board, it is not very likely that he will accept the invitation of HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar to visit the HDP headquarters to talk about a democratic agenda for Turkey. But Kılıçdaroğlu does need the HDP-voting Kurds to win against Erdoğan, and has to give them reason to go and vote for him instead of not voting at all. So, the opposition’s candidate has to find a balance: to appeal to Kurds, but not too much because that could drive too nationalist voters away.
But at some point, Kılıçdaroğlu will have to come clean and choose a direction. If he actually wins the presidency – and these chances have risen tremendously now that the alliance he forged has remained in tact and seems to have the sympathy of the HDP, even though we know the elections won’t be fair – how committed will he remain to his political friendship with Akşener? He said that if he wins, people from the six parties in the alliance will have positions in the government, but what about the group of citizens in Turkey who will have helped him to win the presidential race?
What is good to bring to mind again, is Kılıçdaroğlu’s campaign that he started late in 2021 of ‘making things right again’ (helalleşmek can’t be translated properly because of all the connotations it has). He has named a whole list of crimes the state has committed against its citizens in the past century, and has pledged to sit down with the victims and their communities to listen to their stories and pain, and to find ways to reconcile these people and communities with the state. Many of these historical crimes were committed against the Kurds, including the Jitem killings of the 1990s. Also the Kurds of Dersim are included: they were massacred by the thousand when they resisted the state in the 1930s. If Kılıçdaroğlu continues on that path, at some point, the IYI Party will object because they will never recognize the state’s crimes.
Then what will president Kılıçdaroğlu do? Continue to try to make things right? And if he does, will he add the crime that was committed against Amedspor this weekend and against the Kurds that the team represents, to the list?
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.