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Turkey: Hoop Dreams Keeping Kurdish Kids out of Trouble

The basketball teams of Balgar have become among the most successful in Turkey. (Photo: Baglar Municipality)

For many in Turkey, the name “Baglar,” a slum district in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, a center of the Turkish state’s decades-long conflict with Kurdish rebels, conjures up images of masked youngsters clashing with police, throwing stones or Molotov cocktails. But for 37-year-old local schoolteacher Gokhan Yildirim, the name means just one thing – basketball.

Beating long odds, the district’s five male basketball teams, coached by Yildirim for the last 18 years, have become among the most successful in Turkey. The district also has four equally successful girls’ teams.

“The children didn’t have a clue about basketball,” he remembered, standing in the Fevzi Cakmak school playground where, as a 19-year-old university student, he started coaching young basketball players. “When we asked them to bring a basketball, they would bring a volleyball. We always had to say ‘Bring the orange ball.’”

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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.

Turkey: Hoop Dreams Keeping Kurdish Kids out of Trouble

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