Celtics center Enes Kanter can’t recall the last conversation he had with his father.
“Man,” he said, trying to think back. “I have no idea. I don’t even remember.”
Kanter is optimistic that will soon change.
On June 19, Kanter learned that his father, Mehmet, had been acquitted of charges that he was a member of a terrorist organization in their homeland of Turkey. Mehmet is now a free man, after a Turkish court indicted him and, according to Kanter, repeatedly delayed his trial in an effort to detain him. Had prosecutors convicted Mehmet, he would have been imprisoned for up to 15 years.
"I could cry," Kanter tweeted upon hearing the news. "My dad has been released."
Kanter attributed his father’s release to “the pressure” placed on the Turkish regime. Kanter has been vocal about his family’s situation and the injustice he believes is happening in Turkey.
“Some people are saying I do too much media, but whenever I go around and talk about this, it puts pressure on the government,” said Kanter, who is in his ninth NBA season. “Whenever we put pressure on them, they’re scared.
“I believed from Day 1. I told my two brothers, ‘There’s no way they’re going to find him guilty because they’re scared of my voice.’ ”
With his father’s release, Kanter is hopeful that his parents can obtain visas and move to the United States. Kanter said his mother has remained free in Turkey, but she hasn’t attempted to leave the country because she doesn’t want to abandon her husband.
While it has been years since he has spoken to either of his parents — out of fear of the Turkish government’s surveillance — Kanter has been in close communication with his younger brother Kerem, who plays professional basketball in Spain.
Kanter hasn’t spoken to his father since at least August 2016, when Mehmet, along with Kanter’s mother and three younger siblings, publicly disowned him. In a handwritten letter, Mehmet apologized to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, for his son’s behavior.
Disassociating from Kanter — an outspoken critic of Erdogan — was the family’s recourse, after Mehmet had lost his position as a genetics professor at Trakya University and Kanter’s sister remained jobless following six years of medical school. Their surname carried, and continues to carry, a negative connotation in Turkey because of Kanter’s public disdain for Erdogan and close relationship with Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom the government accuses of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016.
“In Turkey’s eyes, I’m a terrorist,” Kanter said. “If you’re talking to a terrorist, then you’re guilty, too.”
Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup attempt. Still, the government proceeded to punish those with connections to him. Tens of thousands of people were arrested, and even more, Mehmet among them, were fired from their jobs.
Kanter has since continued to speak out against Erdogan to bring attention to what he believes are violations of human rights. His opposition has led to his passport getting revoked in 2017 and an arrest warrant being issued in Turkey.
But Kanter has vowed to not stay silent. He recently launched “You Are My Hope,” a petition dedicated to raising awareness about people who have been mistreated and/or wrongfully imprisoned by Erdogan following the coup attempt.
The campaign has received support from a number of celebrities, including Terry Crews, Alyssa Milano, Donnie Wahlberg, and lawmakers such as Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton. After gathering signatures, Kanter plans to present the petition to the United Nations and possibly the White House to continue to demand action from Turkey.
“I’m trying to tell people, the pressure we’re putting on them is working,” Kanter said. “My dad is only one. My family is only one family. Everybody in the world knows my story because I’m playing in the NBA and I talk about this stuff all the time. I’m trying to use my story to tell other stories.”