Enes Kanter wants to become U.S. citizen, received death threats

May 26, 2017, 5:05 PM

— -- NEW YORK -- After having his Turkish passport canceled and receiving death threats, Enes Kanter is back safely in the United States and says he hopes to stay here for good as an American citizen.

After he was held in Romania by authorities there because his Turkish passport was canceled by Turkish authorities, Kanter said he plans on taking steps toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

"Right now I am country-less," Kanter said at the National Basketball Players Association headquarters in Manhattan. "I am open to adoption definitely. I am going to try to become an American citizen. I have a green card. We will see if they can speed up the process a little bit. It would definitely be nice. Right now my next move is becoming an American citizen."

Kanter, who said he has received death threats including two on Monday morning, has been critical of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Oklahoma City Thunder center said his Turkish passport was canceled because he has spoken out against Erdogan.

Kanter was held at a Romanian airport upon landing in Bucharest. Kanter shot video of him being held at the airport and shared it on social media on Saturday, which was his 25th birthday. Soon after, the center received help from Homeland Security, Oklahoma City Thunder lawyers, his lawyers, the NBA and the NBAPA, and Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford -- who made calls on his behalf to be able to return to the United States.

Kanter said teammate Russell Westbrook reached out and asked him if he needed any help while texting the hashtag "FreeEnes." Kanter was able to fly to London and then to New York.

"It was of course scary," Kanter said before letting out a long sigh. "It was scary because there was a chance they might send me back to Turkey. And if they send me back to Turkey, probably you guys wouldn't hear a word from me the second day. It would have definitely gotten really ugly."

According to The New York Times, Erdogan has jailed more than 40,000 people accused of plotting a failed coup, fired or suspended more than 140,000 additional people, shut down an estimated 1,500 civil groups and more than 150 news outlets while also arresting 120 journalists.

"I hope the whole world is watching this and all the human rights [groups]," Kanter said. "I want people to do something about it because there are a lot of people waiting for help in jail in Turkey, getting kidnapped, murdered, tortured, raped."

"I love Turkey, I love my country," he added. "I am trying to speak up and be the voice of all these innocent people. Erdogan, he is a terrible man. Of course this is a strong statement, I [said] that he is the Hitler of our century. I know it is a really strong statement. But all these people I have seen getting killed and murdered and tortured, that is definitely one of the saddest moments I have had. I hope the world is going to do something about it."

In 2016, Kanter spoke out against Erdogan following a bombing in Ankara, the capital city. Kanter received death threats, and the NBA and Thunder spoke with the FBI as the team made a preseason trip to Spain last October.

Kanter supports Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic leader of the Gulen Movement. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania after being exiled for more than 15 years, is a bitter rival of Erdogan.

The Thunder center hasn't spoken to his family in over a year after his father, Mehmet, announced the family was disowning Enes with tensions rising in the country.

"The President in Turkey is trying to run the country through a dictatorship," Enes Kanter said. "There is no democracy. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion. Right now, even if I try to communicate with my parents, my mom or dad or brother or sister, they will probably listen to their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me, they will put them in a jail and the jails are not fun."

"My friends' families are in jail," Kanter added. "Right now, my family can't even go out to eat. My brother told me that my dad went to the supermarket and they spit on his face, oh you did this and your son is like whatever. Almost every day I get death threats in America [and] Turkey. ... I try to be the voice of all these innocent people and kids. ... I believe whatever it takes, it is important for the kids and our future. Those kids will be who will make the changes."

The Oklahoma City center was traveling internationally for his Enes Kanter Light Foundation and was in Indonesia, where he said his manager was approached by Indonesian "secret service and the army" looking for Kanter. Kanter said Indonesian authorities told his manager that the Turkish government had called and informed them that Kanter "is a dangerous man and we need to talk to him."

Kanter, who had been broadcasting his whereabouts on social media promoting his charity work with his foundation, said he and his manager fled to Singapore on the first flight out.

"We kind of escaped the country at 5:30 a.m. and we went to Singapore and then we went to Romania, and that is where the madness started," Kanter said.

In London, Kanter said he panicked when he missed his first scheduled flight out when two policemen boarded his plane bound for New York.

"Two policemen ran into our plane and were looking right and left," Kanter said. "I was like, what is going on? Did they come for us? And then they took some guy, [but] we missed our flight. It was terrible."

Kanter's second flight took off, and when he landed in New York, he said a Homeland Security official helped him enter the country.

Kanter hopes he will be able to call the United States home soon. In the meantime, Kanter says he has no plans to travel internationally; he hopes the Thunder and the NBA will be able to help him gain clearance to travel to Canada next season, when the Thunder play the Raptors.

"I have my green card [from] last year," Kanter said of gaining U.S. citizenship. "The process takes five years. I think I have another three and a half, four more years, but I am going to try to speed up the process."

"When I am back in Oklahoma, a lot of people say, 'Oh welcome home,'" Kanter added with a smile. "I feel like this is my home now. I see all this support, teammates, senators and everybody was supporting [me]. I feel like this is my home now, definitely."

ESPN's Royce Young contributed to this report