ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A U.S.-based Turkish basketball star has become a symbol of the turmoil afflicting his homeland, severing ties with his family and pledging allegiance to the cleric who authorities in Ankara blame for last month’s failed coup.
Enes Kanter, who plays in the NBA for Oklahoma City Thunder, is a long-time supporter of Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition President Tayyip Erdogan is seeking.
On Monday pro-government Sabah newspaper and other Turkish media published a handwritten letter signed by Kanter’s father, Mehmet, disowning a son he accused of having been “hypnotized” by the Gulen movement.
“With a feeling of shame I apologize to our president and the Turkish people for having such a son,” the letter said.
In response, the 24-year-old Kanter - the third pick in the NBA draft when he joined Utah Jazz in 2011 - told his 380,000 Twitter followers he was dedicating himself to Gulen and the cleric’s Hizmet (Service) movement.
“Today I lost those who for 24 years I called ... my family ... My own father wanted me to change my surname. The mother who gave birth to me rejected me,” Kanter said.
“May God take every second of my life and give it to my brave Teacher... From now on my mother, father and siblings are (the)... devoted members of Hizmet,” he said, signing his statement Enes (Kanter) GULEN.
The bitter family split comes three weeks after rogue soldiers in tanks and helicopters tried to seize power in Turkey in a putsch that killed over 240 people and wounded 2,200.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement in the coup and Washington has said it will extradite him only if Turkey provides evidence.
Western powers have also criticized the scale of the post-coup crackdown by Erdogan, in which more than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation over alleged links to Gulen.
Of that total, 16,000 people have been formally arrested and detained, while another 6,000 are still being processed, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Tuesday.
editing by John Stonestreet