Hakan Şükür was one of Turkey’s greatest football players. With Galatasaray in 2000, he won the UEFA Cup, and two years later in Japan and South Korea, he led his country to the greatest success in history – third place at the Mundial. He played 112 games for the national team and scored 51 goals. Hakan Shukur, the popular “Bull of the Bosphorus”, is living the life of a refugee instead of enjoying a quiet retirement day and crunching the millions earned.
He is considered a homeland enemy in Turkey and all his property has long been frozen, most likely confiscated. There were some rumors about how he barely makes ends meet in America, how he keeps a bakery, and thus feeds the family on the pitiful misery.
Now that bakery is gone. The business has failed and Hakan Şükür lives even harder. By American standards on the brink of poverty. He drives for the famous Uber taxi service, and in his spare time sells books on the street. And all because he did not want to remain silent. Because he criticized one of the greatest dictators of the 21st century – Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He ruined his life and his own family, but as he says, he preserved his honor.
Bild reporters remembered Hakan Şükür these days. The phone number is there. Let’s see where he is, how he is, what he does …
– Good afternoon, Mr. Şükür.
– Hi, how are you, Hakan Şükür started the conversation in German.
– Do you speak German?
– A little, but we better go to Turkish.
– All right. Where are you now, where did we find you?
– I’m just starting the shift, I’m at work.
– We heard that your bakery is gone, what do you do now?
– I’m driving for Uber, I’m a taxi driver. Yes, and I sell books occasionally.
Do people recognize you when they get in a taxi?
“One passenger got into a car once and said, ‘I know you. And I loved you as a player, but I’ll have to get out. Excuse me, I don’t want to have anything to do with you. ‘ And I have another interesting story … Before attempting a coup in Turkey, I met one of my countrymen, a student. He was alone on the street. He asked me to take selfies. When he returned to Turkey, authorities discovered the photo on his phone. He was arrested immediately, spent 14 months behind bars. The authorities there are doing it on purpose. And very brutal. They want me deleted, they want me to not exist.”
Do they think that you are an enemy of the state in Turkey today?
“I am an enemy of the Government, not of the state and the Turkish nation. I love our country, our flag. I am the enemy of the wrong politics and attitude whose goals are to separate us from Western civilization. These politicians have committed many crimes and are frightening to all those who remind them of these crimes.”
But you were an AKP member, a member of the Erdogan party, right?
“The party called me because they had the idea to use me. I agreed. If I had not accepted that invitation and got into politics, I would never have known how things work in Turkey. I’ve seen a lot of corruption, a lot of reports of some very bad things being done … Then I resigned in 2013. That’s when my hell started.”
Erdogan has declared you a persona non grata. You are accused of being a “Gülenist ” (Fethullah Gülen movement), a terrorist. Are you?
“No, I’m not a Gülenist. I’m just publicly doing some things that are legal in my country. I was talking about the terrible things the government does. But since my name is Hakan Şükür, it was an ideal chance for them to start asking people. If they can do that with Hakan Şükür, why couldn’t they with anyone else? The thing was clear. Everyone who didn’t want to think Erdogan was declared a traitor, a terrorist. The whole world knows that and no one is doing anything.”
What happened after you turned your back on Erdogan?
“He took everything from me; the right to freedom, the right to speak, the right to work. I have tens of millions of dollars in Turkey. Everything has been seized. My father was thrown into prison …”
Turkey has made a turnaround in its politics, that made you withdraw?
“Until 2013, Turkey was valued in the world, developing by Western standards. And then we became a country with a completely different focus. People began to hide either behind religion or behind Ataturk. Nothing new is being created. And a society that does not produce anything new does not develop – it moves away from the West, from the world. When I joined the party, Turkey was a country that met many European Union standards, receiving a lot of money from Europe. Then Erdogan changed direction, turning to the Middle East instead of European values. And it all went downhill.”
What values would you like for your country?
“I played all over the world, I have many friends everywhere … I was in countries that were reforming and starting to develop, and the people started to live better. This is how we should have done it … In Turkey, politicians behave unconstitutionally, there is no room for discussion. There is only the voice of one man and the community of people who follow him.”
Do you mean Erdogan?
“Of course, any other thinking in Turkey is absolutely unacceptable. I’m telling you here about a country where you can be arrested for one or two tweets, a few comments. That’s why I’m here in America with my family.”
Do you have contact with Fethullah Gülen, he’s also in America?
“No, we live far from each other. But it doesn’t matter … If Gülen or someone else commits a crime, it doesn’t mean that the criminals are my father or I. My family is social-democratic. It has nothing to do with Gülen’s political understandings.”
“Of course! Why don’t they tell me what crime I committed ?! They only say: traitor, terrorist. Anyone can believe what they want. But in the global world, we need to act together. Not just against Erdogan, but against bad thinking, against one-mindedness, terrorism, against those who are against humanity.”
Erdogan accuses you of having played a role in the 2016 coup …
“I would like to explain to me what my role was.”
Maybe it was enough that you are in the same country as Gulen?
“I repeat, I’m not a Gülenist. And I am against any armed conflict. You should take a look and see who brought that coup most.”
When did you realize that you were no longer safe in Turkey?
“As soon as I withdrew from the party, I could no longer live there. They threw stones at my wife’s boutique, my children were bullied on the street. I received threats after every statement I made … I had to leave. First, I have to send my kids to school without worry. As soon as I left, they arrested my father. He suffered from cancer in prison. They released him because of that, he is now under house arrest. The mother also has cancer. Both are seriously ill and have financial difficulties. Anyone who has something to do with me has a lot of problems in life.”
You said your property was confiscated …
“I have a right to my property, the European Court of Justice has also confirmed. No one’s property can be alienated. But there is no rule of law in Turkey so everything is in vain. I can’t even rent my apartments because potential tenants would be at risk. So I ended up at the bottom, unable to use the right to my money and real estate. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing here.”
Do you have any money somewhere in the world?
“No. I invested everything in Turkey. I didn’t want any tax havens. So I was left with nothing. There is nothing left for me. I am ready for those who claim to have wealth outside my country to donate all that wealth.”
As a Galatasaray legend, Hakan Şükür was expelled from the club in 2017. The fans were against, but … It was the decision of the Sports Minister?
“No, it was the President’s decision.”
That hit you a lot?
“Not really, that membership doesn’t mean much to me. What I regret is my state and the situation it is in.”
Do you still have contacts with some people in your home country?
“I have. Even with individuals close to the authorities. Some of them are transferring their money to the US, although they are on the government’s side. It’s simple, they think Turkey is no longer a safe country. Many famous people who come here for vacation are meeting me in secret. They say that they are praying for me and my family and that ask me do not get angry if they say something bad about me there in Turkey because they have to. I understand them, they’re in trouble.”
Does Erdogan also use sport as an instrument of his politics?
“Yes, football in Turkey is not autonomous, as are many other areas. There is no freedom.”
Why don’t any of the famous, great athletes raise their voices against the authorities?
“They are intimidated. Their mouths are clogged. They would be immediately fiercely attacked through the media.”
The photo of Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan with Erdogan in 2018 has caused a lot of controversies. What do you think about it?
“I don’t think it was good. They were supposed to respect the country they were playing for. I would recommend Mesut and İlkay to join the AKP at Erdogan. Then they will see what is really going on in Turkey. Let them go to Turkey, talk to people, see and feel their lives.”
There are many Turks in Germany who support Erdogan. Why is it like that?
“They watch Turkish television, which influences their thinking. I can’t blame these people or hate them. They are my people after all.”
What needs to happen for you to return to Turkey?
“First, to change something, you have to fight for it to happen. We would need the support of large, influential countries. Everyone should fight for democracy and freedom, for the rule of law and justice. Europe and the world should support it in a fairway.”
In the end, what would you say to Erdogan?
“To return to democracy and human rights. To be someone who cares about people and their rights. To be the president Turkey needs. Many people follow and listen to him. He needs to spread peace. These are values that should apply to the whole world. “