Enes Kanter has faced many challenges on and off the court. Kanter is the center for the New York Knicks basketball team, and despite the Knicks’ depressing record, he is having a solid season. He blossomed briefly in the beginning of the year as one of the Knicks’ key starting players, but because of his strained relationship with the Knicks head coach, David Fizdale, he is not getting much playing time. Trade rumors about Kanter are beginning to brew as well.
But the Knicks’ lackluster record and his status on the team are not the only things that are on his mind. Enes Kanter and the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have had an ongoing feud that has recently erupted.
On July 15, 2016 there were gunshots from fighter jets, explosions, and bombings inside of Ankara and Istanbul. This was the beginning of a gruesome and failed coup d'état attempt in 2016. In other words, members of the Turkish armed forces attempted to usurp control of the government from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Their mission was to reinstall “the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to make rule of law pervade again, to re-establish the ruined public order." Erdoğan blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gülen, a highly controversial religious leader who Kanter strongly supports and follows. Contrary to Kanter, Erdoğan does not support Gülen as he has asked the United States to arrest or extradite Gülen.
The day after the coup d'état attempt, Kanter tweeted a picture of Erdoğan and wrote in Turkish: Honorable Fethullah Gülen: "I strongly condemn the coup attempt." This tweet was posted so Kanter could publicly express how he felt for Gülen, who Kanter loves “more than family.” For a period of time, Kanter even informally changed his name to Enes Gülen, as a display of love and respect for Gülen and his social, religious, and political views. The next three weeks, Kanter made multiple tweets similar to this one, that eventually led to the cancellation of his twitter account in Turkey and sparked many online death threats.
The next major incident that added to the feud between Kanter and the president was the cancellation of his passport. Kanter and his manager attempted to flee Indonesia after they had heard from a contact that Indonesia's secret service and army were looking for him and wanted to “talk to him.”
He needed to get out of Indonesia as quickly as possible. He and his manager purchased a 5:30 AM plane ticket to Singapore, and they then flew to Germany, then to Bucharest, Romania, where they landed at approximately 1:00 PM Romania time. From there they would fly to the United States. As they left the plane that landed in Romania, Kanter handed his passport to a Romanian border agent. He scanned it and reported back with the news that it had been cancelled. They would not allow him out of the country.
With the help of his NBA employer, the NBA, The United States Department of Homeland Security, and many other people and organizations, Kanter was able to fly to London and then able to safely fly to the United States.
Six days later, the Turkish government issued a warrant for Kanter’s arrest, claiming that he was part of a terrorist group. Even though Kanter fled to the US, he is still in danger because he has to wait four and a half years to apply for citizenship in the United States.
The most recent news on Kanter and his association and conflict with Turkey and their corrupt president. After the Knicks’ rare 119-112 victory over the Lakers, Kanter was asked if he would play in London against the Wizards on January 17. Enes Kanter responded, “Sadly, I’m not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president,” “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.” He also stated that “they have a lot of spies there, I could get killed there easy.” While some may think that Kanter is overreacting, there have been some extreme repercussions that have impacted his family. His siblings have been bullied in school, the government blew up his brother’s school, some of Kanter’s friends have been thrown in jail and his father lost his job as a professor at a public university. Perhaps most painful of all, is that his friends are afraid to be affiliated with him and his family publicly disowned him.
These last couple of years, overall, have not been easy for Kanter. His everlasting rivalry with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has gotten in the way of more than just his feelings. His family, friends, and career have all suffered because of their bad blood towards one another.
As January 17 approaches, the Knicks played the Washington Wizards in London and Kanter, unfortunately, could not attend.
The remaining question is, is just how long will their feud go on for and what other dangerous things could happen?