Assyriska, Anatolians in Swedish football

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Assyriska chairman Nail Yoken says he cannot stay away from Turkey.
Vercihan Ziflio?lu Vercihan Ziflio?lu

The chairman of “Sweden’s Anatolian football team” Assyriska, Nail Yoken, has expressed his desire that a similar team of Assyrians could be formed in Turkey.

Founded by ethnic refugees from Turkey in 1971, Assyriska, which is currently in the Superettan – the second-tier division in Swedish football – is seen by many as the national team of Assyrians and Syriacs worldwide. Yoken said a similar club had originally been formed in the southeastern Turkish province of Mardin, under the name Midsan, but added that it could only survive for six years.

“The 1980s were turbulent years for Turkey in terms of politics,” Yoken told the Hürriyet Daily News. “We were struggling for our existence in eastern Turkey with our Assyrian identity and struggled to stay as a unit. In the end the team disbanded.”

Yoken moved to Sweden and quickly became a part of the Södertalje-based Assyriska, one of the two teams sharing a similar fate in Turkey, along with Syrianska.

“The Swedish Football Federation gave us all opportunities, but one still asks why we could not do that in our own country,” Yoken said. “How I wish Assyriska could play in Midyat.”

He said the team boasted 500 athletes in its youth system, with the majority of them coming from Assyrian families that migrated from Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The rest of the players consist of Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Swedes.

“We are an Anatolian team in Sweden. The communication between our players is very good,” Yoken said.

The team has trained a number of important players for Swedish football, including former Ajax and Twente ace Kennedy Bak?rc?o?lu, a player born to a family that migrated from Turkey in early 1970s, as well as FC Köln forward Mikael Ishak, who was signed by the German club earlier this year.

“We aim to raise more talented players,” Yoken said.

During his four-year spell as club chairman, Assyriska has come to Turkey on a number of occasions for training camps, but when asked whether Assyriska or another team with the same idea could be formed in Turkey, Yoken is not positive.

“I cannot stay away from Turkey. But we were forced to leave Turkey back then. Of course we would like to return, but not under the current conditions,” he said.