Osman Kavala is by no means a radical, but Turkish President Erdogan sees him as a danger. He even wanted to fight a major diplomatic struggle for it. What’s going on?
The conflict between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the 10 Western ambassadors may have subsided, but the man around him is still in the same predicament: in custody. Osman Kavala, a philanthropist and cultural entrepreneur, could face life in prison if judges agree to what many believe are crazy charges leveled against him.
One question has remained unanswered since Kavala’s arrest four years ago. why him? Why is Erdogan so fond of this friendly man, who for decades is committed to artists, underprivileged children, endangered cultural treasures, Syrian refugees, and harmonious coexistence among population groups?
“I don’t understand it,” said Asli Kazan, lawyer for Yigit Aksaoglu, one of the 12 defendants in what is known as the Kavala trial. Why do they see him as an enemy? I have no idea. What is happening now is completely illegal. I can’t find the words to describe it.”
Born in 1957, Kavala seemed to be heading into the business world. He studied economics in Manchester and took over the family business in electronics and real estate after his father passed away in 1982. Soon the young entrepreneur also started a publishing house and also did more and more social activities. Since 2002, he has devoted himself full time to Anadolu Kültür, which he founded and is its president.
The biography of the organization is impressive. This ranges from establishing cultural centers in the hinterland of Turkey to renovating monuments, from film festivals to photography workshops for children in earthquake-stricken villages. Kavala is also a board member of a large number of organizations in areas such as environment, heritage, cinema and human rights.
Billionaire George Soros also participated in the Turkish branch of the Open Society Foundation. This cost him dearly. In 2017, the judiciary suddenly accused him of organizing the 2013 Gezi protests, in an attempt to overthrow the government. He is said to have done so as a partner with Soros, the alleged financier of the Gezi movement.
The guide is thin. For example, malicious intent could have been shown by plans to purchase gas masks. “But this was about medical masks, against tear gas,” Kavala’s lawyer, Elkan Koyuncu, said two years ago. “My client only suggested in a phone conversation that it might be for sale at Koçtas.”
Organizations such as Amnesty International speak of the case as “ridiculous”, and the accusations have no basis. Surprisingly, the court found this to be the case in the first instance and acquitted Kavala in February of last year. But a few hours after his release, he was arrested again. The prosecutor not only wanted to appeal, but also brought up new charges: espionage and involvement in the failed coup in 2016.
Kavala’s sympathy for the Gezi movement is undeniable, but linking him to espionage and the attempted coup seems far-fetched, a ruling confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights, which unsuccessfully sought his immediate release.
Then the question remains: Why is it? Asina Gunal, coordinator of the Dipu Cultural Center in Istanbul that Kavala founded, believes he was targeted because of his solidarity with the people the government is trying to silence and his human rights work. “He showed that they can still be defended,” she says. “It symbolizes the belief that there is still justice in this country.”
attack on a woman
President Erdoğan accused Kavala’s wife, economics professor, Ayse Bogra, at the beginning of this year of being a “provocation” for being one of the instigators of the student protest at the Bosphorus University. Once again, Erdogan has linked to George Soros.
Turkish writer Abdulkadir Selvi points out that Kavala’s invitation by Western ambassadors may have the opposite effect. Erdogan can no longer, as has been rumored recently, release Kavala as a gesture towards Europe. This will be seen as capitulation to international pressure.
“Creator. Award-winning problem solver. Music evangelist. Incurable introvert.”