By Robert A. Vella
Meet Enes Kanter, who plays center for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s a Turkish citizen, but now is a man without a country. The fame and money Kanter has earned as a basketball player have given him a political stage to oppose one of the world’s most brutal dictators, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan is a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim whose sectarian and authoritarian practices are pushing Turkey back into the throes of oppression. Democracy has been destroyed, freedoms suppressed, dissent punished, ethnic minorities persecuted and killed, and military aggression escalated. Once a strong U.S. ally and stabilizing force in the Middle East, Turkey under Erdogan’s rule has been waging war against the Shiite Muslim regimes in Syria and Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Kurds in its eastern provinces. These actions have greatly destabilized the region since the collapse of the Arab Spring movement of 2010-11.
Back in the United States after a “scary” experience overseas, Enes Kanter said Monday that he has been getting death threats for his outspoken opposition to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Oklahoma City Thunder center, born in Switzerland but a Turkish citizen through his parents, told reporters that he wants American citizenship, saying, “I feel like this is my home now.”
Kanter said he was in Indonesia, on an international trip for his charitable foundation, when his manager told him that Turkish officials had asked authorities in that country to provide his whereabouts. Kanter said they hopped on the next flight out of Indonesia, which took them to Singapore, and they wound up in Romania, where officials detained him because Turkey had revoked his passport. Kanter was eventually allowed to leave for London, and he arrived in New York on Sunday, relieved to be back in the United States but shaken by events.
“It was of course scary,” Kanter said Monday (via ESPN). “It was scary because there was a chance they might send me back to Turkey. And if they send me back to Turkey, probably you guys wouldn’t hear a word from me the second day. It would have definitely gotten really ugly.”
The arrests will add to fears that Sunday’s referendum has accelerated Turkey’s descent toward authoritarianism. Mr. Erdogan and his allies say their victory will help bring stability and prosperity to the country, while their critics argue that it will give the president too much power, insulate the post from judicial scrutiny and, as a result, contribute to greater instability.
Two international observer missions said the referendum campaign had been conducted in an unfair environment in which opposition voices were suppressed.
Observers also criticized the government for holding the vote during a state of emergency that was imposed after the failed coup in July against Mr. Erdogan.
Since then, roughly 45,000 people suspected of being dissidents and of plotting the coup have been arrested, more than 150 media groups and 1,500 civil society organizations have been closed, and about 130,000 people have been purged from their jobs. Anti-Erdogan campaigners faced physical intimidation and restrictions on their ability to hold rallies and to appear in the news media.
Turkey has summoned the American ambassador to complain about the behaviour of US security personnel during a US visit by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that turned violent when Erdoğan’s diplomatic escort beat up protesters outside the Turkish diplomatic mission in Washington.
Videos of the altercation, in which Erdoğan’s bodyguards were shown beating demonstrators outside the Turkish embassy as the president looked on, elicited condemnations by American lawmakers, with John McCain saying the country’s ambassador should be “thrown out”.
On Monday, however, Ankara said it had lodged a verbal and written protest at the behavior of US security personnel, saying they had taken actions that were “aggressive and unprofessional” and “contrary to diplomatic rules and practices”.
It was an apparent reference to Washington Metropolitan police officers’ attempts to break up the scuffles, sometimes using batons.