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Turkish cycling star quits Israeli team over US Jerusalem backlash

Ahmet Orken says he left Israeli squad due to pressure on his family following Trump’s recognition of Israel’s capital

Ahmet Orken (Screen capture: YouTube)
Ahmet Orken (Screen capture: YouTube)

One of Turkey’s best known professional cyclists has joined a homegrown Turkish team after quitting his Israeli outfit due to the backlash in Turkey generated by the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reports said Tuesday.

Ahmet Orken, who will now cycle for Salcano Sakarya Buyuksehir in the Turkish Black Sea region of Sakarya, cited pressures on his family following the Jerusalem recognition as the reason for his departure.

Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has strongly opposed Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, calling a summit of Islamic countries that declared East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital.

Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Trump stressed in his December 6 declaration that he was not taking a stance on the city’s borders, which he said should be determined by the two sides.

Ankara has full diplomatic ties with Israel, although the relationship is only now recovering from the 2010 Israeli naval raid on a Turkish aid ship trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The raid, in which IDF commandos were attacked by activists on board, left 10 Turks dead and several soldiers wounded.

“It was a difficult period in the last two weeks,” Orken said, quoted by the Dogan news agency, as he signed the contract in Sakarya on Monday.

“I took the decision so as not to worry about my country and my family. This is a decision that I have taken myself,” said the multiple Turkish time trial champion.

Israel Cycling Academy, the Pro Continental team with whom Orken had signed a two-year agreement in September, said it had agreed to release Orken from his contract.

“While we are disappointed by his decision, we only want what is best for him and his family. The doors of Israel Cycling Academy will be open for Ahmet and we certainly hope to see him rejoin us,” said the team’s general manager Ran Margaliot.

The team cited Orken as saying his family in the Anatolian Turkish city of Konya — a religiously conservative area — had “found themselves in a dire situation.”

In another cycling dispute related to Jerusalem, Palestinian officials have accused organizers of the 2018 Giro d’Italia of being “complicit in Israel’s military occupation” for beginning next year’s race in the city.

Race organizers also came under fire from Israeli ministers for referring to the start of the race as being in “West Jerusalem.” Organizers later apologized and said they had removed the term from all official materials.

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