Turkish Protests Hit Home for Former Mountaineer Deniz Kilicli - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Turkish Protests Hit Home for Former Mountaineer Deniz Kilicli

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MORGANTOWN -

Images of protests in Turkey show a people determined to see a change in their nation's leadership and while many who see the photos and videos are far removed from the action contained within them, former West Virginia basketball player Deniz Kilicli has been living it for nearly a week.

What began when protesters peacefully opposed the government's intention to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park near Taksim Square in Istanbul, a piece of land that Kilicli notes for its "natural beauty," became violent.

The protests expanded to other cities with some of those involved making political demands as law enforcement responded in such a way that left thousands injured and at least two dead.

Kilicli, who is playing for the Turkish national team since his time at WVU came to an end, has watched it all unfold from his home in Istanbul.

"A peaceful group of people sat down and protested that way and [Turkey Prime Minister Recep] Tayyip Erdogan started using violence against them with pepper spray and high-pressured water," Kilicli recounted in an email. "When this started, people from all over Turkey started protesting against police brutality but Tayyip Erdogan kept ordering police force to become more violent and police started to use Agent Orange gas bombs against peaceful and unarmed people."

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc apologized for the violent police response to the initial protests, which began on May 28, and reports from Taksim Square now call the atmosphere "almost celebratory."

"We as Turkish youth [are] fighting for our rights and we will keep fighting until this corrupt and broken system is gone forever," said Kilicli.

The words hardly sound like they come from a young man who only a few short months ago finished his college basketball career in Morgantown, W.Va. Kilicli stepped onto the WVU Coliseum court for his senior day with his attention focused on a sport he came to the United States to play.

On that day in March, his Turkish national anthem played. Today, he joins thousands of his fellow countrymen in trying to defend what that anthem represents to him.

"I want people to know that we are no uneducated bunch of violent people that are trying to start any kind of chaos," Kilicli said. "We are not a bunch of anarchists, we are the proud children of [Republic of Turkey founder Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk that will fight for democracy until we can't fight anymore."

Kilicli took to Twitter to share his own accounts of the protests as well as images from what was transpiring all around him. He notes that his country must act now before Erdogan reaches a level of power that he compares with that of Saddam Hussein. 

"In improved and advanced societies, voting is the way to solve these kinds of problems. We will do the same without violence," said Kilicli. "I feel amazing that I am in the same generation with these great, brave, educated and smart bunch of young people."

As the news first spread out of Turkey and Kilicli tweeted what was going on around him, he says he received an outpouring of support from his friends and fans back in West Virginia.

Whether they tweeted him back with words of encouragement or just checked in to see that he was safe, he heard from many of the people who shaped his four years with the Mountaineers.

"Like I always said, people of West Virginia are one of the best people in the world," Kilicli said. "They gave me so much support via twitter and social media. I'm so glad that West Virginians consider me as their own and support us. The most important thing is that people of West Virginia are supporting us because they think this is wrong and against democracy. It is a great feeling to have this support from people that I feel so close to."

Despite the protests continuing, and the violence that had been associated with them when they first broke out, Kilicli says he does not feel threatened and at no point has been fearful that he may be in danger.

"I'm not scared of bunch of cowards [and] I never was," he said. "Only feeling I have is pride in my country and pride in my people. I'm so proud to be a part of it and I personally wanted to be in the middle of the action because I want to help protect democracy and say no to this violence."

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