ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – A month-long Turkish military attack on the besieged enclave of Afrin in Syrian Kurdistan has found broad backing in the country, with football clubs now participating in what appears to be a competition of jingoistic patriotism in many segments of the society.
Aziz Yildirim, chairman of Fenerbahce SK, the oldest sports club in Turkey, on Wednesday visited the southern Hatay Province bordering Afrin to express support for the troops fighting the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
“We wholeheartedly back this [operation]. It was something that had to be done for our country,” Yildirim told the media after his meeting with local officials in Hatay.
Overnight, Besiktas JK was in the spotlight.
The Turkish team was facing FC Bayern Munich at the Germans’ Allianz Arena in a European Champions League Round of 16 first-leg match.
Two days earlier, Besiktas had put out a statement on its website, noting that it was to represent Turkey in Europe at a time when the Turkish army was putting up “a historic fight against the terror at home and abroad.”
A picture apparently taken and posted on social media by soldiers involved in the offensive on the Syrian Kurds, showing the names of Besiktas’ starting line-up to play against Bayern Munich, created a stir.
Not all football fans were enthusiastic about it.
“Turkish soldiers wrote Besiktas’ players on the bombs that have been dropped on the civilians in Afrin. Thanks for ruining soccer [football] too,” a US-based Kurdish Twitter user from Turkey said.
Bayern routed Besiktas 5-0 in the match whose second leg is to be played next month in Istanbul.
Over the weekend, Turkish football’s shining star at the European stage, Galatasaray SK, was in the headlines for backing the army’s cross-border campaign.
Galatasaray manager Fatih Terim, his aides, the team’s captain Selcuk Inan, and players Yasin Oztekin, Ahmet Calik, and Fernando Muslera released a video, wishing Turkish soldiers prayers and victory.
The clubs’ social media pages, as well as their stadiums during many domestic matches over the past month, were filled with messages for the army.
Bursaspor SK, another national champion, went a step further.
During a draw against Besiktas earlier this month, Bursaspor players came out on the field with olive branches printed over the team’s logo on their t-shirts.
“Olive Branch,” a universal symbol of peace, is the euphemistic codename the Turkish army gave its operation targeting Afrin, an undertaking President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called war.
The operation has killed up to 200 civilians and displaced over 60,000, Kurdish officials said last week.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany