Apr 15 2019

Kanter emerges as Erdoğan’s most influential critic - U.S. magazine

Turkish basketball star Enes Kanter’s campaign against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s human rights violations has been astonishingly successful in getting Turkey’s crisis into U.S. media and shaping public opinion, New York magazine reported.

Formerly a member of the New York Knicks, a professional basketball team in New York City, Kanter now plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, and had a key role in helping his new team win its first playoff game on Sunday night. But that is only one of his jobs.

“For the past three years, Kanter has waged a media campaign against (Erdoğan) for the dismantling of human rights in his home country,” New York reported on Sunday. “His efforts to enter Turkey’s crisis into the American mainstream have been an astonishing success.”

The price is that Kanter now worries that if he leaves the United States he might be killed or captured by Erdoğan loyalists, a fear that led him to skip a Knicks’ game in London in January, according to New York.

These days, the stress lingers, as Kanter’s father, who lives in Istanbul, will soon go on trial in Turkey. “What he’s facing is being my dad,” he told New York. “It’s always in my head. It’s tough to play basketball and think about, ‘My dad might be in jail for 15 years.’”

Erdoğan says that Fethullah Gülen, U.S.-based founder of a Turkish Islamist movement, ordered the country’s July 2016 coup attempt. Kanter is a disciple of Gülen, and visits him regularly at his Pennsylvania compound. Though Gülen and Kanter deny any involvement in the coup attempt, it is their word against Erdoğan’s in a country without a free press, according to New York.

In prosecuting Kanter’s genetics professor father, Erdoğan aims “to bully his most broadly influential critic into silence,” said New York. Under a state of emergency that lasted two years, Erdoğan jailed or fired more than 100,000 people, charging them with membership in a terrorist organisation, the same charge facing Kanter and his father.

Yet Kanter has generated bipartisan support in Washington, where he is as likely to meet Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, said New York.

“With rhetorical savvy and millennial sangfroid, the 26-year-old has both held the media’s eye on Erdoğan and managed to shape American public opinion in the process. It has him toying with the idea of a future in politics once his playing days are over,” said New York.

“I actually started to think about it,” Kanter said. “Because, I mean, if there is no good there, there’s bad. I would love to, because all this situation and everything, I know most of this stuff!”

It is a major change from his early days in the NBA, when he would publicly ask women to meet him and share photos of his visit to the Playboy mansion. He returned to the conservative Gülen movement after an injury in his second season turned his life around, according to New York.

As a result, his jersey is banned in Turkey and he makes much less money from advertisements than the average Turkish professional athlete. His countryman Hedo Türkoğlu, a retired NBA player and Erdoğan advisor, recently told ESPN that Kanter was “openly supporting a terrorist leader”.

These sort of attacks have become normal for Kanter.

“Besieged by death threats on social media, he never goes anywhere by himself,” he said. “Attempts to contact his family could endanger all parties involved. The only time he’s by himself, he says, is when he goes to the bathroom,” said New York.

The 26-year-old Kanter said his fight was lonely, but saw it as a necessary sacrifice.

“Of course I want to go out there, hang out with teammates, hang out with people I love, go to the beach ... But then I’m thinking about all the people getting tortured in jail. I’m like, I cannot do that,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, one year, 10 years, 15 years, but I cannot stop right now.”