Deniz Naki on the field. AFP file photo.
ISTANBUL, Turkey - Following an alleged racist attack over his Kurdish and Alevi origin, a German-Turkish footballer, Deniz Naki, said he had left Turkey this week and would be quitting his Ankara club.
Naki, who played for the Genclerbirligi club, said he was attacked on the street in the Turkish capital last Sunday by three men shouting racist abuse and challenging him over his support for the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane, which is battling a siege by Islamic State (ISIS). He suffered minor injuries to his face and hand.
“They surrounded me and continually swore at me. They swore at me for being Alevi and Kurdish. They shouted things about Kobane,” the 25-year-old Naki said in a statement on his Facebook page.
“While I tried to calm them down, the guy to my left suddenly punched me in my face. I was in shock. To protect myself I punched back and retreated from there. I was worried they may have a gun or a knife. They carried on swearing at me, shouting ‘Let ISIS do whatever to me’,” Naki wrote.
On Wednesday, he told the BBC he had since left Turkey and had no intention of returning.
Naki had recently posted pictures of himself on social media with messages of support for Kobane. The predominantly Kurdish town along Turkey’s border has been under attack by jihadists for the past few weeks and has become the latest flashpoint in Syria’s civil war.
Naki had already been the victim of abuse on social media earlier this year because of a tattoo on his right arm with the words ‘Dersim 62’, referring to the traditional name and vehicle registration number of Tunceli, a largely Alevi-Kurdish town in eastern Turkey.
There are around 15 million Alevis in Turkey, including ethnic Turks and Kurds. Alevism is a heterodox Islamic faith that draws from Shi’ism, Sufism and Anatolian folk tradition. Its followers were often persecuted under the Ottoman Empire and in the early years of the Turkish Republic. There have also been more recent targeted attacks on Alevis.
Dersim, now known as Tunceli, is most known as the sight of a massacre of thousands of mostly Alevi Kurds in 1937 by the Turkish military who were trying to put down a rebellion. In 2011, the Turkish government issued an official apology for the killings on behalf of the Turkish state.
Naki said he decided to leave not so much out of fear for himself but for his teammates.
“My fear was not for myself. I could not go out alone in Ankara. I was worried about my teammates. I was scared something could also happen to them. There was just no reason for me to stay here anymore,” Naki wrote on Facebook.
When asked about his plans for the future, Naki told the BBC he would only go back to Turkey to visit and would not be returning to play football there.
"There is no tolerance. I would only go back because I love my country, I love my hometown. That's it. I will carry on with my career in Germany," he said.