Turkish businessman-activist Kavala and justice

Turkish businessman-activist Kavala and justice

It was a shock to see businessman-activist Osman Kavala detained on Oct. 18. It was an even bigger shock to learn that the court ordered his arrest on the grounds that he was a member of a cocktail of subversive organizations. Was he taken in and arrested for any particular activity, such as a crime he had committed? 

He had officially been charged with “attempting to abolish the constitutional order” and “attempting to remove the government of the Turkish Republic.” He was accused of conspiracy in the December 2013 corruption probes targeting senior government figures. He was accused of being among the “organizers and directing actors” of the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests.

Was he the biblical serpent too?

Naturally, no one, including those who for a period of time might enjoy parliamentary or executive impunity, can be above the law. In any country where there is democratic governance respecting the supremacy of law, equality before the law, freedom of expression and such fundamental requirements of democracy, executives at the helms of state governance should not have any influence on courts and verdicts of judges. Was it so in Turkey? A clear answer to this question might be a violation of the Turkish Penal Code Article 301. His case, unfortunately, is not an exceptional case in modern day Turkey.

“For those who know me but don’t know Osman Kavala: With my mind, heart, life experience, moral values, conscience and feelings of rightness and justice, I vouch for him,” said the eminent writer Murathan Mungan about Kavala. He had obviously been reflecting on the feelings of thousands of people, who for various reasons get in touch with the a-typical Turkish businessman who had spent his time, money and energy on social projects that often went unappreciated by the state and ruling elite.

Oray Eğin, a columnist for the daily newspaper Habertürk, differed from his colleagues in the pro-government media who had united to condemn Kavala as a public enemy number one, and wrote that with time Kavala’s innocence would be proven. 

“Soon society will realize that a gross mistake has been made. People will understand that Kavala was arrested not because of his activities, but because of the paranoia and negative perceptions of him that pervade the conservative-nationalist segments of Turkish society,” he said.

Indeed, I personally disagreed with Kavala’s position on many foreign policy issues, including the Armenian genocide controversy. Yet this country desperately needs people with different views and a lively discussion on hot topics if we aspire to achieve some sort of national consensus and leave old scars behind. A demand for singularity on all issues, a single position on all subjects, does not correspond with freedom of thought or democracy. It cannot help society progress either.

Another columnist reviled by Turkey’s current ruling elite is Amberin Zaman. She described Kavala as “Turkey’s George Saros” in an article published by Al Monitor. Zaman was not the first to describe Kavala as “Turkey’s Soros.” Immediately after his detention on Oct. 18, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used that expression saying: “The identity of the Soros of Turkey has been uncovered.” 

Turkey may desperately need a Soros to generate free thought. Condemning a businessman atypical of the members of the Turkish business community for spending his time and resources on social projects as “Turkey’s Soros” and trying to establish links between him and a cocktail of illegal organizations is perhaps an effort that aims to serve as a deterrent.

The role played by George Soros, accused of funding the so-called “orange revolution” in the former Eastern Bloc countries to unseat communist regimes, and Kavala’s own humble contributions to civil society activities in Turkey, may be comparable.

Such comparisons must be respected out of freedom of thought. But tomorrow, like the Büyükada activists who were facing almost identical charges but were released after months in prison, the Turkish state will have to explain the big mistake the “independent” Turkish judiciary has made in arresting Kavala.

Opinion, Osman Kavala, Yusuf Kanlı