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Turkey: Leading intellectual Osman Kavala is still jailed...

Friday 13 April 2018, by siawi3



by Kenan Malik

October 26, 2017

Photo: Osman Kavala

Imagine a seminar in Washington. Around the table are Bernie Sanders supporters and alt right activists, fans of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump voters, auto workers and Wall Street bankers, abortion activists and Evangelical Christians. And all discussing the question of America’s political future, civilly and articulately, with deep disagreements but also with mutual respect.

It would be difficult to imagine this in Washington. Still less that a similar seminar could take place in Istanbul. Yet, when I gave a lecture there last month, that was just what it felt like. I was talking about populism and immigration – both issues of deep interest and divided opinion in Turkey. Around the table were students of all political persuasions – supporters of the ruling AKP party and critics, liberals and social democrats, Turkish nationalists, Kurds and Armenians. All deeply engaged in a contentious debate, but all with a commitment to open dialogue.

The seminar was organized by the European School of Politics, a brainchild of Osman Kavala. Kavala is one of the most important intellectual and cultural figures in Turkey. Last week he was arrested. Detained now for over a week, charges have yet to be laid. There have, however, been a flood of insinuations in the press – that he is an enemy of Turkey, that he has links with terror groups and that he was involved in last years failed coup. The insinuations are nonsense. They are also ominous.

Osman Kavala has played a prominent role both in defending the rights and liberties of all in Turkey, including Kurds and Armenians, and in bringing together people of different political viewpoints to discuss their differences in civil debate. He has funded a swathe of projects seeking to nurture trust between Turkey and Armenia. He is chair of Anadolu Kültür, an organization promoting cultural pluralism in Turkey, aiming ‘to build bridges between different ethnic, religious and regional groups by sharing culture and art’. He has worked tirelessly to help restore ancient cultural treasures, including Armenian and Greek churches, that have often been left to decay across Anatolia. He was an instrumental force in establishing İletişim, a publishing house that strives to promote young Turkish authors of all backgrounds.

Osman Kavala has played an important role not just in encouraging discussion inside Turkey but also in presenting the complexities of Turkey to the outside world. His work has been invaluable in making many people outside the country understand and appreciate Turkey, undermining many prejudices. But it has also inevitably created hostility within certain circles in which the nurturing of such open dialogue and debate is seen as a threat.

His arrest and detention comes just as 11 human-rights defenders, including Amnesty’s director in Turkey Idil Eser, German national Peter Steudtner and Swedish national Ali Gharavi, have gone on trial in Istanbul, on charges of supporting terrorist groups. There is a separate trial of Amnesty Turkey’s chair, Taner Kilic, who is also facing charges of terrorism and involvement in last year’s failed coup attempt.

Erdal Dogan, a prominent human rights lawyer who represents Idil Eser, has talked of such arrests as part of ‘a push to silence all of the government’s existing and potential critics.’ More than 60,000 people have been arrested and more than 110,000 fired from public service since the July 15 coup attempt. ‘It kicked off with journalists and elected politicians’, observes Dogan. ‘It is continuing with a second wave of arrests of civil society activists. The final phase against professional chambers, lawyers, doctors, environmentalists, is yet to come.’

Many people, in Turkey and outside, are working for Osman Kavala’s release, and that of thousands of others arrested and imprisoned in similar circumstances. In a world of fragmented societies, and of lives lived in echo chambers, Kavala is an indispensible figure. Let us hope he is able to continue his work before long.




By Kenan Malik

January 18, 2018

Photo: Osman Kavala

Osman Kavala, one of the most important intellectual and cultural figures in Turkey, was arrested in November. He remains in detention, in solitary confinement. He recently put out a statement through his lawyers. This is an English translation, first published by the Free Osman Kavala campaign. The situation, not just for Osman, but for hundreds of academics and others who have been detained in recent months, remains dangerous. Earlier this month Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s claimed in a speech that academics at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul (with which Kavala was associated) stand against ‘Turkish values’, signalling perhaps a new clampdown.

Do support the campaign to free Osman Kavala, and the many others in detention. If you can get your organisation, union or campaign group to publish a letter or statement in support of Osman Kavala, or to express concern to the Turkish authorities, it would be immensely helpful.


Letter from Osman Kavala
‘Hope to see you all soon’

As it is public knowledge, I was arrested on 1 November 2017, and I have been in Silivri Prison for more than two months.

When I was taken into custody on board returning from Gaziantep, I was not worried. I counted on that it would be understood immediately that the suspicions against me are unwarranted. Yet, my arrest and the accusations that led to my arrest came as a surprise to me.

The accusation that I am the organizer of the Gezi events includes the allegation that I have provided financing. As one may remember, after the events of Gezi, allegations were made that these events had been outsourced and financial resources had been provided from abroad. In a newspaper article dated 2014, it was also mentioned that there had been an intelligence note that relates me to the Gezi events. Later, the person conducting the investigation on this issue was arrested in 2015 and is still detained. As a result, until now there has been no discovered evidence about these unfounded allegations; and I am the only one to be arrested on this issue.

On the grounds of the arrest, I have especially found odd the allegations that have linked me to the Gülen movement and the July 15 coup attempt.

I am astounded by the fact that such allegations are laid on me, while I have always been against coups throughout the course of my life and tried to draw public attention to the negative impacts of the presence of Gülen community within the state for years.

In any case, as a person who experienced September 12 and never forgot the terrible memories of those days, it is highly insulting to me that I have been associated with such circles. I would like to point out that I have resorted to legal measures in this regard.

I believe that it will soon be understood that these accusations are unfounded. Nevertheless, I think that the state of emergency also affects the climate in the judiciary, and that the arrest decisions may be reflecting this effect. In times of state of emergency, the concern for losing the suspect outweighs the need for the prevention of engendering unjust victimization. While the people who were unjustly arrested are expected to be freed as soon as possible, the psychological impact of the initiatives that violate the presumption of innocence, such as the recent preparations for the regulation on the uniform dress code, is not taken into account.

Despite everything, my belief is that the new year will be a better year in terms of democracy and freedoms.

I send my regards to all those who have supported me with their statements and messages ever since I was taken into custody, and I want to say that I am in good health. Hope to see you all soon…




By Kenan Malik

February 9, 2018

This week Osman Kavala spent his 100th day in prison.

Kavala is one of most important public intellectuals in Turkey, has played a prominent role both in defending the rights and liberties of all in Turkey, including Kurds and Armenians, and in bringing together people of different political viewpoints to discuss their differences in civil debate. He was arrested in October, and now faces trumped-up charges of organizing the June 2013 Gezi Park protests, of supporting the failed coup of 2016 and of conspiring against Turkey. The charges are almost beyond ridicule.

Kavala is far from the only person to have been thrown into prison in Turkey in recent months. It is estimated that more than 132,000 people have been detained and 64,000 arrested since Turkish President Erdogan began his latest crackdown in the wake of the failed coup of July 2016. 152,000 people have been dismissed from their posts, including almost 6000 academics and more than 4000 judges. Over 300 journalists have been arrested, and nearly 200 media outlets shut down. It is a mass campaign to crush all and any dissent. The failed coup has merely provided a convenient excuse for.

The latest crackdown has been on critics of Turkey’s military offensive against Kurds in the Afrin in northern Syria. At least 600 people have been detained, including 11 members of the central council of the Turkish Medical Association.

Do support the Free Osman Kavala campaign and the wider campaign against repression in Turkey. A whole nation is now effectively being held under lock and key.