By Enis Kanter
A few weeks ago I escaped in the middle of the night from Indonesia. Then I got detained in an airport in Romania because the Turkish government canceled my passport. All on the same weekend. Maybe you saw the videos I posted.
It was my birthday on that Saturday, too. I turned 25.
In one second, I was countryless. Just like that.
It was a very weird birthday.
It is crazy how a government can take away your right to go home. Or your freedom to travel. Not for any actual crimes, but for what you say or what you believe.
That is what the Erdoğan government did to me. That is what is happening right now to thousands of people in Turkey. The biggest threat to Erdoğan is free speech, so he will punish anyone who speaks up or thinks for himself. You can ask the protesters beaten by his security detail last week in Washington, D.C.
Now I am back on American soil. I have never been so relieved to see a “Welcome to the USA” sign in an airport.
I’m O.K., but I’m also not O.K., you know? I am lucky. My story has a happy ending. There are thousands of other Turkish people out there with stories that don’t have happy endings. They are not so lucky.
You guys need to know what is going on in Turkey right now. I hope people around the world will open their eyes to the human rights abuses. Things have gotten very bad over the last year. This is not my opinion. We don’t know everything that is happening inside Turkey, but we do know some facts. Newspapers and media have been restricted. Academics have been fired. Peaceful protesting is not allowed. Many people have been imprisoned without any real charges. There are reports of torture and rape and worse.
Just think about it. If the Erdoğan government will treat an NBA player this way, how do you think it is for everyone else?
Now I will tell you how I escaped from Indonesia right before my birthday. I heard a knock on my hotel door while I was sleeping. That’s how it all started.
I use the word “escaped” because that’s what it felt like. But not like a movie. This was real. I don’t use the word for fun. If I had been sent back to Turkey, you might not be hearing from me right now. There are many professors, lawyers, judges, doctors and others in jail in Turkey whose “crime” was the use of their voice.
I was in Indonesia to run a basketball clinic for kids. It was for my foundation, the Enes Kanter Light Foundation. On Friday, after the last clinic, I went to my hotel and went to sleep.
At 2:30 a.m. I woke up. Somebody was knocking on my door. It was my manager. He looked very serious.
“The police are looking for you,” he said. He had gotten a call from one of his local contacts. The Indonesian police had come to my basketball clinic earlier in the evening. Why? Because they received a call from the Turkish government saying I was “a dangerous man.”
I speak my mind about things that I believe in. To the Erdoğan government, this makes me a dangerous man.
Now they were looking for me. They wanted to “talk” to me.
If you’re from Turkey, you never think agents are just there to “talk.”
The local contact recommended that we go to see the police in the morning. No way. My manager did not want to risk it. We decided to leave. At least we would have a chance to escape while everyone was still sleeping.
At 3:10 a.m. we bought plane tickets. We were in a cab by 3:30. It was still dark. We weren’t sure if we were being followed. I was holding my breath the whole time. We boarded the plane no problem, but I was nervous until the moment I could see us taking off from the ground. It was a 5:25 flight.
I thought I was safe. But the Turkish government must have been angry that I got away.
When I landed in Bucharest, that is when I found out that my passport had been canceled.
I had escaped Indonesia. I had not escaped Erdoğan.
I want you guys to think about what the Turkish government means when they say that I am a “dangerous” man.
I’ve never broken any laws. No speeding tickets, nothing. But I’m dangerous? Why?
But if you know anything about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, the reason is not a surprise.
Since the failed coup last year, Erdoğan has been turning the government into a dictatorship. Anyone who goes against him, or says anything against his government, is a target. Don’t take my word for it. You can just read the news. You can ask Amnesty International.
I speak my mind about things that I believe in. I always have. I share my thoughts on Twitter and Facebook about the terrible things that are being done to people in Turkey. I want the whole world to know about the human rights abuses that are going on there.
To the Erdoğan government, this makes me a dangerous man.
And that is why I was detained last Saturday in the airport in Romania. Like I was telling you, it was a weird birthday.
I remember my 21st birthday, four years ago. I celebrated it in Turkey, at home with my parents and my brother and sister. My mom made türlü. It’s a Turkish stew with vegetables and meat. I dream about that meal. My mom makes it the best.
But I haven’t been back to Turkey in over two years. I haven’t spoken to my parents in two years either. My brother told me that they are afraid to go out in public. I don’t know if I will ever be able to return, or if I will ever see my parents again. One day my father went to the grocery store and a cashier spit in his face. He told my father that it was because of me. I feel terrible about it.
I have no Turkish friends anymore. I used to, before the failed coup last year. Now they can’t talk to me. If they contacted me they could be put in jail. Even if they followed me on Twitter or liked a photo on my Facebook page, it could be a problem.
I get death threats all the time. I got two of them yesterday. It is because Erdoğan believes free speech is dangerous.
I play basketball for a job. I’m not a politician or a journalist. But I have a voice and I want to use it for the innocent people in Turkey who are being punished for expressing their ideas and beliefs.
Today I am countryless, but I will figure things out. I have felt at home in America ever since I arrived, and one day I hope to become an American citizen.
It’s kind of crazy to me. I’ve been in the U.S. for almost 10 years, but in Oklahoma City people still smile at me and say, “Welcome.” It makes me feel like people here have my back. Like they know who I really am.
I feel like I have an American family. Yesterday I ran into Nick Collison in New York. When he saw me, he just opened his arms and gave me a hug. That is Nick.
Russ texted me on Saturday when I was stuck in Romania. He said, “Let me know what I can do.”
That is Russ.
He also sent me a hashtag: #FreeEnes.
I had a really good laugh at that one.
It was a perfect birthday present.
But seriously guys, thank you for the support. To everybody. Thank you for taking the time to learn about what’s going on in Turkey.
We should never forget how important our freedoms are here in America. That’s something you appreciate even more when they are taken away.