The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Enes Kanter says he has been getting death threats and wants American citizenship

Enes Kanter talks to the media about the revocation of his Turkish passport and return to the United States. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

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.”

Turkey condemns U.S. over ‘aggressive’ acts against Erdogan’s guards during D.C. visit

Kanter has accused Erdogan of conducting a repressive regime, particularly in the wake of a failed coup attempt last year that the center said was a hoax designed to strengthen the president’s grip on Turkey and allow him to jail or kill thousands of opponents.

“I hope the whole world is watching this and all the human rights [groups],” Kanter said Monday. “I want people to do something about it because there are a lot of people waiting for help in jail in Turkey, getting kidnapped, murdered, tortured, raped.”

“I love Turkey, I love my country,” Kanter added. “I am trying to speak up and be the voice of all these innocent people. Erdogan, he is a terrible man. Of course this is a strong statement, I [said] that he is the Hitler of our century. I know it is a really strong statement.

“But all these people I have seen getting killed and murdered and tortured, that is definitely one of the saddest moments I have had. I hope the world is going to do something about it.”

Kanter has a green card for the United States, but he said Monday that he was “country-less” and “open to adoption” by the nation where he first arrived in 2009 to play one year at a prep school. Kanter committed to Kentucky but was ruled ineligible by the NCAA because he had previously been paid to play for a top Turkish squad; he was drafted by the Jazz in 2011 and traded to the Thunder in 2015.

The 25-year-old expressed hope that U.S. authorities could “speed up the process a little bit” of granting him citizenship. “It would definitely be nice,” he said. “Right now my next move is becoming an American citizen.”

“Almost every day I get death threats in America [and] Turkey,” including two more Monday morning, Kanter said. His family disowned him last year, vowing support for Erdogan and opposition to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who is living in exile in Pennsylvania and with whom Kanter has sided.

“Right now, even if I try to communicate with my parents, my mom or dad or brother or sister, they will probably listen to their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me, they will put them in a jail — and the jails are not fun,” Kanter said. ” … Right now, my family can’t even go out to eat. My brother told me that my dad went to the supermarket and they spit on his face.”

“There’s no democracy,” he said of Turkey. “There’s no freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It’s definitely been crazy.”