This year, the event - held at the Skärholmen gym hall, in a suburb just south of Stockholm’s city centre – brought together 26 five-a-side teams and hundreds of spectators to raise money to help fight IS. Footballers donated autographed shirts for a charity auction and Swedish politicians and artists took part, too.
The organisers - a group of young friends with Kurdish roots - hoped to raise at least as much money as last year, when they were able to send over SEK 80,0000 to the Kurdish Red Sun, the aid organisation formerly known as the Kurdish Red Crescent.
Jiyan Bicen is one of the founders of the Mesopotamia Cup. He has family in Turkey and Syria - in the areas that he and other Kurds refer to as northern and western Kurdistan. He says: “We are playing football for the children in the war zones in the Middle East, especially what we call Kurdistan and Mesopotamia, which have been attacked by Isis.”
“My father was politically active,” says Bicen. “He was a writer so he fled with my mother to Sweden and I have relatives who are still living over there and they are constantly being oppressed, not just by Turkish authorities but now also by Isis. So we feel that we have to do something and if we don't my conscience would go bad.”
Bicen says people of different backgrounds come to the Mesopotamia Cup to play football, to sell sweatshirts and sandwiches or just to watch the games. “There are lawyers, there are doctors, there are politicians, there are singers, artists... So it's very mixed, but everyone who wants to help people in need and who are against ISIS and their ideology is here,” he says.
Among the spectators cheering on the players at the Mesopotamia Cup is Peshraw Azizi. He is captain of Dalkurd, a team formed in 2004 by a group of Kurds from the Dalarna region in central Sweden. Dalkurd have climbed to the Super One division - Sweden's second highest. And the team is aiming for the EUFA Cup and Champion's League, according to Azizi. He says Dalkurd's successes give hope to Kurds living in conflict zones.
“They follow our games,” says Azizi. “They follow every day when we play and they are very happy when we win. During my vacations, I always try to go back to Kurdistan and help the refugees down there. I have seen very, very bad situations. I have seen people who don't have any clothes or food... The only thing we care about here today is playing football and getting money to help the people who need it down there in Kurdistan.”
Azizi and his Dalkurd team mates donated a signed football shirt for an auction at the Mesopotamia Cup, explains the club's board member, Evin Cetin. She is a Social Democrat politician and also played in the tournament's only all-women's team.
“Our team name was Kvinnofront, and in English Woman Front,” says Cetin. “And that was important for us because we know that in the struggle for Kurdish rights, the women are in front. And we really wanted to show all the guys that women have to take part in all kinds of things that the Kurds are doing, even when we have a football cup.”
Cetin says this kind of event means a lot to Kurds and others in the Middle East who are suffering the double blow of military conflict and militant Islamism. She says:
“During all my lifetime, I've heard that the only friends that the Kurds have are the mountains. When the Turkish state is oppressing the Kurds, when we have Kurdish politicians getting into prison, when we have war zones inside Kurdish cities, when countries in Europe and the US do not say anything, the Kurds are getting really hard. Because we know that we are one of the important groups that actually was fighting against ISIS so when football players or singers or artists say that they are supporting the Kurds, it means a lot.”
Jiyan Bicen, who helped found and organise the Mesopotamia Cup, also thinks that a charity football tournament held here, in a Stockholm suburb, can make a difference over there, in the Middle East. By raising money and by raising spirits.
“They get a lot of joy and motivation from it,” says Bicen. You know it's hard to battle ISIS so they get very motivated by it. And of course the help that comes makes a difference.”