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Tensions between Turks and Kurds on German amateur pitches

Olaf Jansen
October 16, 2019

A military salute by Turkish players at an international against Albania has spilled over onto Germany’s amateur pitches. Regional associations are trying to put a lid on a potential source of on-field tensions.

Foul im Amateurfußball
Image: picture-alliance/D. Reinhardt

It didn't take the copycats very long. Less than 48 hours after members of the Turkish national team raised their right hands in a salute to their country's armed forces during last Friday's international, the military greeting found its way to the pitch of an amateur league in the Ruhr-district town of Herne.  The Türkspor Herne players stood at attention, hands raised to their foreheads before their home match against FC Castrop Rauxel.

The martial tone carried on into the match itself; a heated contest that boiled over in the second half after a couple of questionable calls from one of the linesmen – both of which went against the home side. Several members of the team physically attacked the official, punching and kicking him.

"Gundogan and Can bad role models"

"There is no place for politics in football. This sort of thing sets a bad example, which has consequences at the amateur level of football,” said Riza Öztürk, the integration officer for the regional Football and Athletics Association of Westphalia.

Öztürk, who has Turkish roots himself, also criticized German national team players Ilkay Gündogan and Emre Can for liking a similar image on Instagram. Germany has large Turkish and Kurdish populations.

"With their likes, they supported the action and this definitely has its effect down at the amateur level of football, encouraging potential imitators,” he said. "The two (players) acted as very bad role models."

Different perspectives

When Turkish nationalism spills into German society, it often puts young Germans of Turkish descent in a difficult position.

"Here in Germany, we only get our information through the media, and many young people here are ill-informed and can be influenced by their families or any outside people of influence," said Enis, who asked for his name to be changed due to the current political tensions. 

EM Qualifikation 2020 - Türkei vs. Frankreich
Turkish players salute at the end of their Euro 2020 qualifier on MondayImage: Getty Images/A. Jocard

Enis, 32, who is of Kurdish origin, plays amateur football for a team in a suburb of the western-German city of Cologne.  His teammates come from several different nations – including Turkey. Mert (name changed) is one of two Turks on Enis' team.

"Politics are always a big topic of discussion in our family. We talk a lot about it and I think that the current government is not that bad," Mert said. "The soldiers are defending our country, they're just doing their job."

Mert sees nothing wrong with members of the Turkish national team saluting the country's military.

"Back home, this is a gesture of greeting, a gesture of solidarity,” he said. "And we find it surprising that Germans have got so worked up about it. "

‘We are still friends'

For Enis, however, the military salute is simply unacceptable. He regards it as both a "provocation" and "as a gesture of support for war."

"No matter which political side you are on, one thing is clear: Turkey is attacking Kurdish territory and hundreds of innocent families, including children, will suffer,” he said. "This cannot be. "

However, his Turkish teammate Mert remains confident that the conflict in northern Syria won't come between them on a personal level. 

"We are still friends, the current conflict cannot change that," he said.

Enis, on the other hand, is concerned that the conflict between Turks and Kurds in northern Syria could spill over into Germany.

"A demonstration of Kurds in Cologne last weekend was not without incident and the atmosphere is definitely overheated," he noted.

Three cases before regional association's sports court

Last weekend's action in Herne could be a forbearer of things to come in amateur football in Germany in the near future. Amateur football associations nationwide have tried to nip things in the bud by issuing a ban on military salutes – and three amateur clubs from the western city of Recklinghausen are already having to answer for their players' action in a regional sports court.

"We aren't going to allow ourselves to be walked all over and be destroyed by minorities, "said Hans-Otto Matthey, district chairman of the Football and Athletics Association of Westphalia. ”We want to prevent a recurrence of such incidents, and I think the fact that these cases are being heard in sports court sends a strong signal."

Matthey clearly hopes that this deterrent will be sufficient to put the matter to bed.

"I expect that we will not have political incidents next weekend," he said.