Enes Kanter, the Turkish NBA player who was detained in Romania over the weekend, spoke out against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday in New York and filled in some of the details of his odyssey.
Kanter, a 6-foot-11 center for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was stuck at the airport in Bucharest for hours on Saturday before being allowed to move on. The Romanian border police said he could not enter the country because Turkey had canceled his travel documents.
“If they sent me back to Turkey, probably you guys wouldn’t hear a word from me the second day,” Kanter said Monday, leaving no doubt that he believed the Erdogan government was the cause. “The reason behind it was, whoever is going to try to go against the president, he’s going to try to shut him down.”
Kanter, who spent one year at the University of Kentucky but did not play, has been a supporter of Fethullah Gulen, an opponent of Erdogan who has been living in exile in the United States since 1999. Gulen was accused of orchestrating last year’s failed coup attempt in Turkey.
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Kanter on Monday reiterated remarks he made over the weekend calling Erdogan “the Hitler of our century.”
The Turkish Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters on Monday.
In an interview on “CBS This Morning” on Monday, Kanter, who had been on a world tour for his charitable foundation, said his ordeal had begun in Indonesia.
His manager woke him, he said, and told him that “the Secret Service of Indonesia and the army was looking for me because the Turkish government told them that I’m a dangerous man.”
They quickly traveled to Singapore and then to Romania, where they found that Kanter’s documents were suddenly no longer valid.
Kanter said the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Thunder, the NBA and the players union had all been involved in getting him back to the United States.
He tied his troubles to broader human rights issues in Turkey.
“I’m playing basketball in front of millions of people — that’s why I’m here now,” he said. “But there are thousands of people getting killed, raped. It’s really sad to see all this. My friends’ family are in jail. I hope the world is watching this. I want people to do something about it.”
His family in Turkey, including his father, have disagreed with his strong stance. “Of course it’s tough,” Kanter said of the estrangement. “I believe what I’m doing is right.”
In a call with reporters Monday, he speculated of his family, “As soon as they are in contact with me, they’d put them in jail.
“I’m getting death threats almost every day,” he added.
Kanter has a green card for entry to the U.S. but no passport, which is problematic on several fronts. He had several international trips planned this summer on his foundation’s behalf, and he also likely would not be able to enter Canada without the passport — a problem considering Oklahoma City plays once each season in Toronto.
Kanter has been in the NBA for six seasons. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this season for the Thunder. He said it’s his understanding that the process to become a U.S. citizen can take five years, though he hopes that can be accelerated in his case.
“Right now I am country-less,” Kanter said, according to ESPN. “I am open to adoption definitely. I am going to try to become an American citizen. I have a green card. We will see if they can speed up the process a little bit. It would definitely be nice. Right now my next move is becoming an American citizen. …
“I feel like this is my home now.”