NBA Player Caught up in Political Fiasco with Turkish Government

Enes Kanter argues a foul call with a referee. Photo from Alonzo Adams used with permission under fair use.

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NBA Player Caught up in Political Fiasco with Turkish Government

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Averaging over 14 points and 11 rebounds, New York Knicks center, Enes Kanter has had a breakout season this year. Exiting the floor following a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 8th, Kanter should have been excited. In less than a week, his team would travel to London for a game against the Washington Wizards. Instead, Kanter wasn’t thinking about the loss, his trip to London, or basketball at all; he was worried for his life.

For years now, Enes Kanter has been involved in a dispute with his home country of Turkey’s government and especially their leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Since moving to the United States in 2011 to enter the NBA, Kanter has begun to support the Hizmet Movement of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic group who preaches wider access to education, civil society and peace.

In July 2016, that same group (also known as the Peace Council) attempted to overthrow the Turkish Government. The Council vocalized that freedom of religion, democracy and the government’s regard for human rights was fading. Kanter publicly supported the coup on Twitter and, like Gülen, he was exiled from his home country.

Following the exile, Kanter’s family in Turkey disowned him, and he informally changed his name to Enes Gülen in support of his political group’s leader. Despite his families’ disowning, his father was still revoked of his university position a few weeks later.

While NBA fans always knew about the dispute, it took a dark turn on May 20, 2017. Kanter was on vacation in Romania following his teams’ playoff loss. On his way back to the states, a Turkish embassy canceled his passport, leaving him stranded in Romania with no way out. Kanter again tweeted his dismay for Erdoğan from the Romanian airport, stating “I’m being held at a Romanian airport by Police!!” and once again calling his former country’s leader “the Hitler of our century.”

Eventually, Kanter was released to fly to London and then finally back to America. About a week later, the Turkish government set out an arrest warrant for Kanter, claiming he was part of a “terror group.” While they were never able to convict him, Kanter finally decided to refer to himself as “stateless.” He did not have a home country.

In December 2017, it was reported that Turkish government officials were seeking out Kanter for over four years in a Turkish maximum security prison. As Kanter was in America for the NBA season, Turkey couldn’t reach him for the time being. Following these reports, the fiasco died down until earlier this month.

When his team traveled to London for their game against the Washington Wizards, Kanter stayed home, in fear that he could be killed off of American soil. Turkey set out another arrest warrant for the Knicks’ center, again claiming he was a terrorist. Kanter then tweeted, “The only thing I terrorize is the rim.”

“If I step outside of America, yes. [I could be killed],” Kanter said in an interview with CNN earlier this month.

“I understand the reasoning for him not to come. I recognize for the NBA, because we’re a global business, we have to pay attention to these issues as well.” Silver said in reference to Kanter’s situation overseas.

Even with the support of the United States, will this back-and-forth between Kanter and the Turkish Government ever end? No one knows right now, but for the time being, Enes Kanter will continue to dominate his basketball competition in America.