ISTANBUL — Racism and discrimination have become a constant in Turkey's top soccer league. The latest reminder are tweets from Umit Cinarli’s, a leading referee from the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), on the second anniversary of the Uludere Massacre where Turkish fighter jet bombs killed 34 Kurdish smugglers: “Happy second anniversary of the Uludere incident. The dead mules were worthier than you,” Cinarli wrote in the tweet.

The referee later defended himself, saying he didn't explicitly cite any ethnicity in his tweet. “I defended an action taken by the Turkish Armed Forces. I criticized people who smuggle guns, shoot at soldiers. I do not bear hostility against any race."

Still, such hostility coming from a referee is part of a broader pattern of violence, racism and sexism in Turkey's professional football world: A woman referee referred to as E.D. was criticized in 2008 by the Provincial Referee Board of Kocaeli for sharing a locker room with a male colleague. Later, E.D. filed a case against the board for the comments, which sparked a smear campaign against her in the press, and she was never again assigned to any matches, and was forced to end her career. 

During the Feb. 2013 match of the Women’s 2nd Division between Elazig Hedefspor and Diyarbakir Buyuksehir Belediyespor in Elazig, the visiting team was attacked by the opposing team, the male referee, team officials and supporters. Seven out of the 11 people team were hurt, including two who suffered broken legs. The visiting team’s coach stated afterward that they were insulted by the attackers for being women and Kurds.

June 2013 clashes between supporters and police near Besiktas stadium — Photo: Jodi Hilton/Nurphoto/ZUMA

Halil Ä°brahim Dincdag, football referee for 13 years, was not only fired from his job for being gay but also "outed". The TFF’s Central Referee Board banned Dincdag from the profession in 2009 due to a clause added to their charter four years before that: “Those who were excluded from military duty for health problems cannot be referees." He had indeed been excluded from the mandatory military service for being gay, but it is the military’s procedure to give gays the same report they give to the disabled. “One morning I woke up and saw I was in all the newspapers,” Dincdag recalled. “I became famous as the gay referee, what fame! My life changed in one day. I was without a job, money or friends.” He sued the TFF for damages; the 11th hearing of the ongoing trial will be held on March 4.

Mehmet Ali Yilmaz, then president of Trabzonspor, called Kevin Campbell, a black player of his team, a “cannibal.” No criticism or punishment was issued by the league. Soon after, Campbell left the team and Turkey altogether.

In 2008, Genclerbirligi Coach Samet Aybaba was unhappy with the statements of his Egyptian player Abdel-Zaher El-Saqua to the press after a defeat and said: “They preferred an Arab over me.”

Emre Belezoglu from Fenerbahce called Tranbzonspor player Didier Zokora a “dirty nigger” during a match the two teams played in 2012.

Referees from eastern Turkey are considered “B-grade” at the federation, according to retired referee Reha Bicici from Diyarbakır. “While [the federation] offers no justification for not assigning you to matches. Do not think of it as Turk-Kurd discrimination, because all of the referees from East are subhuman as far as the federation is concerned,” Bicici said. 

Referee Metin Karaaslan’s brother Feyzullah was elected as mayor in Bingol from the pro-Kurdish party HADEP in 1999, and detained in 2000. The referee was ranked fifth among the 36 colleges in the Super League, but he was never assigned to another match that season. Later he was demoted to the 2nd league and eventually resigned. “The decisions were political,” Karaaslan said.