The Turkish government cast a broadside at NBA player Enes Kanter on Thursday, calling the Boston Celtics center a “liar” and a member of a “cult” and terrorist organization after he accused the Turkish Consulate in New York of frightening a mosque out of hosting a free youth basketball camp.
Kanter said the consulate sent “goons” and “thugs” to the Islamic Center of Long Island to halt the clinic in retaliation for his clashes with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The mosque called off the clinic late Wednesday night, citing “unforeseen circumstances” in a tweet.
While dictators try to stop us,
good always wins in the end.
With the help of congresswoman @RepKathleenRice we have found a solution.
Come to our camp and stand against bullying! ✊ pic.twitter.com/O1SjPQq1js
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) July 27, 2019
In response, Turkey’s Consul General Alper Aktaş shot back at Kanter in a phone interview Thursday afternoon: “Lies, lies, lies.”
Kanter, 27, is wanted in his native country for his allegiance to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan’s government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016. Gulen, a permanent U.S. resident, lives in exile in Pennsylvania.
“The Turkish consulate in [New York City] threatened the mosque, sent out their goons and encouraged people in Turkey to call the mosque and leave threatening messages,” Kanter wrote in a statement. He pledged to relocate the camp, which would have been his 34th of the year around the nation, and hold it on a later date. “I am even more disappointed in the mosque for not calling the police on these thugs. Instead bowing down before this dictator and his regime, the mosque chose to cancel something positive for the kids.”
Turkish officials rejected those accusations and cast suspicion back on Kanter.
“My question is, do you want your kids to spend time with the member of a cult?” Aktaş said. “Do you want your kids to take a liar as a role model?”
He said the consulate never threatened or sought to intimidate the Long Island Islamic Center. Aktaş said he called friends on Long Island and warned them of Kanter’s scheduled event.
“There was no threat and no intimidation,” he said. “It was not just about the Turkish consulate general. It was also about the Turkish-American community and their sensibilities. I just gave a call to my friends, to my colleagues in the Long Island Islamic community. I just shared my knowledge about Fethullah Gulen and Enes Kanter.
“Those are incredible accusations [of threats and intimidation], and I totally reject them. They are unacceptable for someone in my position.”
Kanter has not returned to Turkey since 2016; upon leaving, the government canceled his passport and attempted to detain him before he could return to the United States. Since, he has called Erdogan “the Hitler of our century” and has not left North America, saying he fears arrest or assassination by Turkish agents for his anti-Erdogan views.
In January, Erdogan asked international law enforcement agencies in January to detain Kanter and remand him to Turkish authorities.
On Thursday, state broadcaster TRT World published a video online that linked Kanter to Gulen, whom it described as a “cult leader” and “behind the deadly coup attempt” in 2016.
Kanter spent Tuesday and Wednesday on Capitol Hill, visiting members of Congress to scrutinize alleged human rights abuses committed by the Erdogan government. During previous visits to the Capitol, he has struck up friendships with officials from states that have hosted his NBA teams and discussed arrangements for his safe travel around the country and to Canada during the basketball season.
During the 2018-19 season, he stayed behind, citing safety concerns, while teammates from the New York Knicks played in London.
When he joined the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half the season and the team made a run to the Western Conference finals, Turkish sports network S Sport said it would not broadcast the series. The NBA fired its Turkish social media vendor in May when it refused to include images or highlights of Kanter, arguably the league’s top Turkish national, in its posts.
“Whoever runs the official account, NBA Turkey, lives in Turkey. Look how sad this is; they can’t even put my name out there because they’re scared,” Kanter said in a phone interview at the time. “They know if they put my name out there, they could get in trouble or they might even end up in jail. That shows it’s a dictatorship. That shows there’s no freedom of speech in Turkey. It’s crazy. Basketball reporters in Turkey cannot even say my name because they will all be in trouble.”