Boston Celtics star Enes Kanter: Turkey wants to punish me for caring about human rights –But I won't stop
This Christmas, I should be traveling with my team, the Boston Celtics, to Toronto for a match against the Raptors. But instead of being on the court, I will have to watch this game from my sofa. My native country of Turkey revoked my passport because I called out President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over muzzling dissent and gross abuse of rights and freedoms.
In Indonesia, where I was traveling a few years ago, there was an attempt to kidnap me. I escaped at the last minute. Last year in London I had to abandon my former team, the New York Knicks, in a match over death threats I received. A few days later, the Turkish government issued Interpol Red Notice, an international arrest warrant that instructs countries to detain me.
In Turkey, officials arrested my father, threatened my family and imprisoned anyone with whom I shared an autograph. Failing to silence me, Turkish government ministers in New York encouraged their goons to harass and intimidate me on the street. Their unceasing international hunt justifies my arguments and inspires me to speak even louder.
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The U.S. is no stranger to Turkey's petulance. President Erdogan held U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson and a NASA scientist, American citizen Serkan Golge, in prison for two years as hostages. He purchased Russian anti-missile defense systems despite multiple threats of sanctions and drove into northern Syria to eliminate the Kurds, who have been a reliable U.S. partner on the ground in the fight against the terror group ISIS.
Confronting an adversary that is threatening regional peace is straightforward. But how do you handle a NATO-member ally that is deeply integrated into Western security mechanisms and threatening to gang up with countries like Russia and Iran when cornered? This confusion has so far rendered U.S. response ineffective.
Turkey is not another authoritarian country. It has a history of a somewhat functioning democracy, vibrant media and independent civil society. Turkish people understand that Turkey's prosperity, democracy and progress is tied to the West. Distancing away from the U.S., NATO and Europe is not only a recipe for disaster in the Middle East, but it also has profound consequences domestically.
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Erdogan's crackdown on civil society since a failed military coup attempt in 2016 has been unprecedented. Tens of thousands of innocent people, including teachers, doctors, academics, journalists, members of the judiciary and military, were sent to prison.
Some women have to deliver their babies at secret locations because they know they will end up in prison if they go to a hospital. Hundreds of people have been tortured to death in jails or died on the road while escaping Erdogan's iron fist. International outrage has fallen on deaf ears. And those who spoke up, including me, have been targeted relentlessly.
This week, President Trump is going to meet with his Turkish counterpart. It is a good opportunity for Trump to make it very clear that the U.S. is not going to tolerate Ankara for speaking one way and acting another. From threatening to send Syrian refugees into Europe to keeping the American pastor and the scientist as hostages, Erdogan's foreign policy moves have been ones of extortion. Where does it end?
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Our republic was built on the premise of "Peace at Home, Peace in the World” as Ataturk noted. I wholeheartedly believe that a country that mistreats its own population at home is also a threat to its neighbors and allies. This couldn't be more evident than in the case of Turkey.
I have been vociferously standing up for all oppressed people around the world, including the ones in my home country. I have no intention of slowing down. For this reason, I am kick-starting a campaign called "You Are My Hope," calling on everyone to join me in collecting a million signatures to raise our voices louder. There is nothing more encouraging for injustice than deafening silence.