Mesut Ozil has been challenged to speak out against racism in Turkey by a fellow German-Turkish professional who is known for his pro-Kurdish views.
Although the Arsenal midfielder won widespread support for his decision, former Germany youth international Deniz Naki has accused Ozil of hypocrisy for his failure to speak out against alleged racism in Turkish football.
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Banned and a prison sentence
The 28-year-old Naki represented Germany at Under-19 level before playing for Bundesliga side St Pauli and Genclerbirligi of the Turkish Super League.
He subsequently signed for Turkey Second League side Amed but as Goal.com reported last January he was banned from playing professional football in the country for three years for spreading “separatist and ideological propaganda”. He was also given a suspended 18-month prison sentence.
The decision to ban Naki came shortly after an unknown gunman opened fire on him as he drove. Claiming his assailant was either a Turkish government agent or a right-wing Turkish radical, he added: “I am a walking target in Turkey because of my pro-Kurdish stance.”
Racists and fascists
Following Ozil’s well-publicised retirement announcement, Naki challenged him to show similar courage in condemning racism in Turkey.
“In your statement, you are justified in responding to the racism you have encountered and your reasons for leaving the national team,” wrote Naki on Instagram. “But why you are not showing this response when there are more and more racist and fascist attacks in Turkey on me or on Kurdish or other minority footballers?”
Goal.com says that Naki also used social media to ask Ozil “where he stood on Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish people within its borders, where the Turkish government has banned the use of the words ‘Kurds’, ‘Kurdish’ and even ‘Kurdistan’”.
There were further embarrassing questions asked of Ozil, questions that if he doesn’t respond will weaken his position as a self-appointed anti-racism ambassador.
“In Turkey, a footballer’s career was ended: a person standing for peace was labelled as a terrorist,” wrote Naki. “What was your reaction in this regard?”
Naki’s reaction may have been prompted by comments from the president of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, who on Tuesday said he has spoken to Ozil to offer his support.
“Such a racist treatment towards a young man who has given his all to the German national team for his religious beliefs is unacceptable,” Erdogan told reporters in parliament.
Fight all fascism
Such rank hypocrisy was too much for Naki, who warned Ozil: “Those who will welcome you with open arms on your next trip to Turkey will be exactly the same people who have racially attacked me. There is no distinction between fascists, they are the same everywhere, in every country.
“I urge you not only to fight against fascism and racism in Germany, but also against any kind of it in the world. I urge you to bring attention to the Kurds in Turkey facing racism and also to combat it.”
Ozil has yet to respond to Naki’s questions but The Washington Post believes that he must. “If he is bothered by the perception that he is taking Erdogan’s side in the Turkish debate, and if it is racism to which he objects, he could reach out to Naki,” commented the paper.
“A photo of the two young men, walking arm in arm, would send the strongest message against Islamophobia and racism in sports - a message that needs to be heard not only in Germany but also in Turkey.”
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