Greeks and Turks ought to double their efforts to build friendship bridges, despite the policy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who feeds on conflict, top Turkish basketball player and NBA star Enes Kanter tells Kathimerini.
The Portland Trail Blazers player, who has long been persecuted by the Erdogan regime and whose family back home have suffered due to his daring to express his views, explains that Erdogan has constructed a climate of conflict with Greece and other countries, as well as within Turkey, so as to hold on to power. He says that if there was ever a free and fair election, Erdogan would not stand a chance of being elected.
What is the perception among ordinary Turks of Greek people? Do they see the Greeks as their ancestral enemies?
There are nationalist groups in Turkey, as I’m sure is the same in Greece too. [They] have been fabricating and promoting conflicts to show Greeks and Turks as enemy to each other. Geopolitically, we both are in a difficult region and there are always wars and conflicts between us and around us. Despite the history, I realize that Turkish and Greek culture is very similar – food, music, dance, hospitality – and in many ways, so are our people. We have been living together for a long time and there are many positive examples. I think we should double our efforts to build more bridges. Hopefully, one day, people will want no more conflicts but friendship instead.
Is there any state guidance/indoctrination toward making enemies out of the Greeks?
Unfortunately, history education at primary schools in Turkey is based on wars. Historically, Turks and Greeks had many wars and conflicts. This education focused on war shaped the majority of the public’s perception towards Greeks, and I’m sure it is same in Greece too. Dictators always need conflicts, enemies and a climate of fear to able to continue holding on to power. Erdogan is a talented expert in fabricating conflicts, such as [when he opened] Hagia Sophia as a mosque. He was able to consolidate his Islamist base, creating another conflict with the Greek and Orthodox Christian world.
When Greece won the Euro 2004 soccer tournament 16 years ago, it was reported that many Turkish fans came out and celebrated Greece’s victory. Why did that happen, if you remember?
I was young but I remember the people on the streets. Despite the history we have been living together and there are many similarities, we enjoy each other’s victories. We have cried together with each other’s pain. Remember the earthquakes in the last 20 years? We are the first responders to each other’s disasters.
Fethullah Gulen has managed to create a remarkable network of educational institutions around the world, teaching love and peace through religion. Is the Erdogan regime supporting or undermining it?
I’m a graduate of one of the Hizmet schools [inspired by Gulen] in Turkey, and I have many friends who graduated from these schools. These schools gave me one of the best educations in Turkey, but more importantly shaped me to do good things for humanity. Erdogan wants to be the leader of the Muslim world and he wants full obedience, especially from religious groups. Gulen simply rejected that and criticized Erdogan’s authoritarian policies. Erdogan has a very thin skin and doesn’t tolerate any criticism. He started to shut down Hizmet schools, including my school, and later started to imprison everyone affiliated with Gulen. Over half a million people have been investigated, hundreds of thousands of people arrested, and over hundreds of public officials purged and replaced with loyal ones. Erdogan started to kidnap people and torture them, among many more mass human rights violations. Thousands of people escaped from persecutions and crossed the sea to apply for asylum in Greece. I have heard many stories from friends about Turkish refugees in Greece; they appreciate the Greek government and the hospitality of the Greek people. There are thousands of Turkish refugees in Greece, and it is wonderful they have been welcomed. I believe that after Erdogan, once he is out of power, the relationship between our countries will be much more positive.
How do you view the ascent of Joe Biden to power? Is Erdogan losing his greatest supporter?
The US and Europe have an influence on Turkey but they preferred to ignore the human rights violations in Turkey and softly deal with Erdogan. However, the last six years have clearly shown that authoritarian leaders like Erdogan abuse this approach and the situation gets worse. I think the Biden administration will make human rights and freedom of speech priorities of their agenda when they deal with Erdogan. This will change the dynamics within Turkey. If there were a free media and free and fair elections in Turkey, Erdogan would have zero chance of getting re-elected.
Is the Erdogan regime trying to make enemies out of almost everyone abroad, contrary to the Davutoglu policy of zero problems?
As I mentioned earlier, dictators need enemies and a climate of fear to hold on to power, and this is what Erdogan is doing.
Is there a decent alternative to Erdogan’s policies in the Turkish political system?
There is no free media and no free and fair elections in Turkey; plus [there is] a climate of fear. People are scared to criticize Erdogan or even vote for the opposition. In these circumstances, no matter who runs against Erdogan, they have no chance.