Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil says he would have been “disrespecting his ancestors’ roots” had he not posed for photographs with the Turkish president.
Ozil and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan – both Germany internationals of Turkish descent – were criticised by the German Football Association for meeting Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May.
In a statement, Ozil said it “was not about politics or elections”.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,” he said on Twitter.
“It was about me representing the highest office of my family’s country.
“During my childhood, my mother taught me to always be respectful and to never forget where I came from, and these are still values I think about to this day.”
After the players met Erdogan at an event in London, where Ozil says they talked about football, photographs were released by Turkey’s governing AK Party in the build-up to elections in the country, which Erdogan won outright.
Many German politicians criticised Ozil and Gundogan, questioning their loyalty to German democratic values.
Germany has previously criticised the Turkish leader’s crackdown on political dissent following a failed coup.
“For me, it didn’t matter who was president, it mattered that it was the president,” Ozil, 29, added.
“Whether it had been the Turkish or German president, my actions would have been no different.”