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This Turkish NBA Star’s Family Cut Ties with Him Over His Support for Gulen

Enes Kanter's family has disowned him over the NBA player's support for Fethullah Gulen.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear that no one is completely safe from the country-wide purge that followed last month’s coup attempt, which rattled Erdogan’s administration and embarrassed him on the international stage.

Not Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric he blames for the attempted overthrow. Not the nearly 9,000 police officers he fired, more than 10,000 soldiers he detained, or 100 media outlets he forced to shut down. And certainly not Enes Kanter, a Turkish NBA player who has served as an outspoken supporter of the Gulenist movement.

This week, Kanter’s father, Mehmet, wrote a letter to the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper disowning his son for his political affiliations.

“With a feeling of shame I apologize to our president and the Turkish people for having such a son,” he wrote, claiming his son was “hypnotized” by Gulen. “His statements and behavior trouble our family. I told Enes that we would disown him should he not change his course. He did not care.”

Once allies, Gulen and Erdogan drifted apart politically and eventually ended up in full-on opposition after Gulen encouraged an anti-corruption investigation into Erdogan and his inner-circle in 2013. Erdogan’s post-coup purge has largely focused on rooting out those the Turkish government believes back Gulen, and has targeted tens of thousands of teachers, university deans, military officials, journalists, soccer referees, and police, among others.

The U.S. government has thus far refused to extradite the Pennsylvania-based cleric, citing a lack of evidence.

Kanter, who plays forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder, said on social media that he received death threats following the coup attempt. The 6’11 basketball player also claimed last summer that he was already on Erdogan’s radar screen after he was banned from playing for Turkey in the EuroBasket tournament. At the time, Kanter said it was due to his political affiliations.

Kanter’s father made clear to the Daily Sabah that he and his son have not been in contact since 2015, and a cousin told the newspaper that they asked him to no longer use the family name.

In a Twitter post, Kanter hinted he might be willing to abandon that for Gulen, and that his own family wanted nothing to do with him.

From now on, my family is my Hodja (Gulen) who has tears in his eyes,” he wrote, signing his name as Enes (Kanter) Gulen. “Tyrants will be swept away in time.” 

At least he doesn’t need to look to his parents for financial support. In 2015, Kanter signed a four-year, $70 million contract with the Thunder.

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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