By MAXAM LEMMON
Five years ago, the Turkish population had reached its breaking point. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, and dictator in the making, had ordered the demolition of a Gezi public park that had long been a cultural center and a nationally beloved site. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the destruction of the park, and a survey concluded that they were backed by more than 40 percent of the Turkish population. This demonstration was for more than the park; it was a protest for democracy, freedom of expression, and civil rights-concepts that Erdogan was notorious for disrespecting.
Shortly after, a massive, bloody coup d’etat attempt was made against Erdogan, causing the deaths of more than 200 people and the injury of more than 2,000. The coup was blamed on Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher living in Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile from Turkey. Gulen was a harsh critic of Erdogan and his regime and was named public enemy number one in Turkey.
This leads us to Enes Kanter, a proud supporter of Gulen and critic of Erdogan. Kanter, a 6-foot,11-inch center playing for the New York Knicks has been speaking out against the Turkish dictator for quite some time, and Erdogan has called for his immediate arrest and deportation to Turkey. The government claimed that Kanter had ties to Gulen and was responsible for the coup and must be jailed for insulting
However, Kanter did not give in and continued his slander of the dictator, which caused further retaliation from the Turkish government.
“The last time I visited, the government destroyed my brothers’ school and threw my dentist and his wife in prison. The regime arrested and charged a man for links to Gulen after I took a picture with his child, and went after a comedian after he exchanged a few tweets with me,” Kanter told the Guardian.
Not only did Erdogan come after those associated with Kanter; he came after his family, too. In the eyes of the Turkish government, Kanter’s father, Mehmet, is a member of a terrorist organization, though Kanter claims he is nothing of the sort, and simply a public university professor.
“My father lost his job as a professor at a public university and now, if he loses the trial, he could face up to 10 years in prison,” Kanter said in an interview with the NY Times.
Kanter’s passport was also cancelled, leaving him with no way to leave the United States safely without fear of detention or falling victim to Erdogan’s regime. Because of this, Kanter did not travel to London with his team on an exhibition game against the Wizards.
“It’s pretty sad that all the stuff affects my career and basketball because I want to be out there and help my team win. But just because of the one lunatic guy, one maniac, one dictator, I can’t even go out there and do my job. It’s pretty sad.”
Kanter, however, still refuses to back down, and uses his fame to promote opposition to Erdogan.
“What all of these people are saying is that the status quo just isn’t good enough. This is not what many of us want for our beautiful country. We want democracy and freedom. We want to be able to express our opinions freely and without fear. We want free media and a strong civil society. We want more.”