New Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Wednesday claimed a free basketball camp scheduled for this weekend has been cancelled because the Turkish consulate in New York City pressured the mosque hosting the event to nix it.
Kanter, a native of Turkey and a vocal critic of that country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in a Wednesday night statement the Islamic Center of Long Island “has decided to cancel the camp after the Turkish Consulate in NYC threatened the mosque, sent out their goons and encouraged people in Turkey to call the mosque and leave threatening messages.”
“I am even more disappointed in the Mosque for not calling the police on these thugs,” he said. “Instead bowing down before this dictator and his regime, the mosque chose to cancel something positive for the kids.”
Alper Aktas, the Turkish consul general in New York, denied Kanter’s allegations on Thursday, saying there were no threats and no intimidation.
“Lies, lies, and lies,” said Aktas.
Aktas tied Kanter to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in exile in the US, calling the player “a member of a religious cult.” Erdogan has accused Gulen of instigating a coup against him, and Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of people thought to be supporters of Gulen since the failed coup. Gulen has denied involvement in the attempted overthrow.
Aktas suggested Kanter had been “brainwashed” by the Gulen movement.
“Enes wants to distort the realities on the ground,” said Aktas.
On Thursday, Michael Balboni, a spokesman for the mosque, denied the organization was bullied by the consulate, and said the event was postponed, not cancelled.
But he acknowledged a future date for the camp has yet to be established. The mosque thought the event had become “politicized,” said Balboni, and wanted to wait to have the camp at a time when that would not be the case.
Kanter, who the Celtics signed earlier this month, said the event would have been the 34th free camp he provided this summer. More than 300 youths were supposed to attend.
During his career, Kanter, 27, has angered the Turkish government, calling Erdogan, the Turkish president “the Hitler of our century.”
He reiterated his criticism Wednesday night.
“This is how the #TurkishDictator operates,” Kanter said in a tweet that included his statement about the basketball camp’s cancellation.
Erdogan’s government has revoked Kanter’s passport and issued an arrest warrant for him. His status with the Turkish government has complicated his foreign travel during his NBA career. Just last season, he skipped a road game at Toronto and a game in London, fearing reprisal for his outspoken disapproval of Erdogan.
Kanter has said Turkish authorities cannot present “any single piece of evidence of my wrongdoing.”
Earlier this week, Kanter met with two US senators, including Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, to discuss his ability to travel outside the US for the upcoming season.
In a joint statement, the senators said they are committed to working with Kanter so he can travel safely outside the US. They also applauded his “willingness to speak freely against authoritarianism, even as he and his family are threatened.”