In the run-up to last year’s World Cup, Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil sparked controversy after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is viewed by many as a dictator. Ozil, a German national of Turkish descent, responded by saying he merely was “respecting the highest office of my family’s country” and retired from the national team after its World Cup flameout, accusing team officials, German fans and the nation’s journalists of racism.
Ozil’s support of Erdogan has seemingly not flagged in the interim. On Friday, he married Amine Gulse in Istanbul with Erdogan at his side as a legal witness, a requirement for secular Turkish weddings.
The Guardian has video of the ceremony, after which Erdogan spoke:
“Of course, marriage is a long journey,” Erdogan said. “There are good days. There are bad days. Happiness multiplies when it is shared. And of course negativity turns to happiness when dealt with patiently. In this regard, I believe these two qualified young people will navigate this process in the best way and will lead a happy life.”
Helge Braun, chief of staff for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Ozil’s selection of Erdogan as a witness “makes one sad,” the country’s Bild newspaper reported shortly after Ozil — who plays for Arsenal of the English Premier League — announced in March that the Turkish president would be standing next to him.
Erdogan has led Turkey since 2003, first as the country’s prime minister and then its president. He has worked to consolidate his power since a failed coup attempt in 2016, shutting down 189 media outlets and jailing 319 journalists he perceives as enemies while also dismissing 4,463 judges and prosecutors.
Most recently, Turkey’s Higher Election Council scrapped the result of the March 31 election for mayor of Istanbul after the candidate backed by Erdogan lost, calling for a new election June 23. Ekrem İmamoğlu, winner of the election, described the ruling as a “treacherous decision,” the workings of a “plain dictatorship,” while The Post’s editorial board described it as a “stolen election” by Erdogan, himself a former mayor of Istanbul.
The election result was seen as a sign of dissatisfaction with the Erdogan regime, which has overseen a deepening economic crisis. Erdogan has tried to play down Turkey’s rising unemployment and inflation, saying they’re the result of foreign meddling and accusing his political opponents of exaggerating the country’s economic problems.
Erdogan, who played semipro soccer when he was younger, has tried to cultivate friendships with players of Turkish descent but also has lashed out at athletes who are critical of his regime, particularly Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter, an ardent critic of Erdogan’s government who has aligned himself with exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating the failed 2016 coup. Kanter, who has called Erdogan the “Hitler of our Century,” is wanted for arrest in Turkey and has declined to travel for games in Europe, citing fears for his safety.