The guilt of Osman Kavala, as a wealthy social activist
Until a few years ago, Osman Kavala used to be nicknamed the “Red millionaire” by conservative and nationalist media outlets whenever he spoke about current affairs or did something in support of a social campaign. A member of a wealthy family, Kavala has never hidden his liberal-left, anti-establishment, anti-militarist, anti-Kemalist, anti-militarist, pro-individual rights stance.
As long as his anti-establishment stance stayed within the limits of anti-Kemalist and anti-militarist limits, he did not have many problems with successive Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments. His alleged links with George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and close contacts with certain Turkey-focused names in the U.S. and Europe were not a big deal, and were even considered useful and sympathetic by AK Parti officials.
Kavala gave support to probes and court cases like Ergenekon and Balyoz, in which Turkey’s “old establishment” was put on trial. Those cases are nowadays considered fake trials plotted by the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt. Back in those days President Tayyip Erdoğan was still prime minister and was a de facto ally with Gülen.
This picture changed when Kavala took a firm stance in favor of protesters and against the government during the Gezi Park protests of June 2013. There was no inconsistency on Kavala’s part: He was doing what he has been doing for decades, standing against everything that resembles the misuse of state power in his eyes.
Erdoğan and the AK Parti, however, saw Gezi as an uprising attempt against the government, plotted by forces roots outside the country. Kavala - like a number of Turkish industrialists who were sympathetic to the urban-secular-environmentalist part of the Gezi protests - registered his first scratch in the eyes of the government.
At the time of the protests neither Erdoğan nor the government directly linked Gezi with the Gülenists. The protests were instead framed as being the work of a handful of leftist anarchists manipulated by Europeans who want to divide Turkey. But when Gülen and his illegal network within the state - mostly permitted under the ruling AK Parti - were seen as being behind the corruption probes against senior government figures in December 2013, the picture started to change. Following the July 2016 military coup attempt, Erdoğan started suggesting that the Gezi protests, the coup attempt and the U.S.’s partnership with the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) against the outlawed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were all parts of a “master plan” to overthrow him and destroy Turkey.
Kavala was arrested late on Oct. 31, charged with helping the subversive acts of four different illegal organizations at once: The Gülenist network, the PKK, and two other fringe militant groups notorious for their acts of terror, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP).
The atmosphere in Turkey under the post-coup attempt state of emergency is such that when, for example, an anonymous informant tips off the police about the activities of any person – or when it is done through a media outlet close to the government - the police feel obliged to approve it in order to avoid being accused of the same offense. This logic also applies in the police-prosecutor and prosecutor-judge links of the chain.
Last week a number of human rights defenders who had been arrested in Büyükada near Istanbul in July were all released from pre-trial detention, despite the heavy crimes they accused of including espionage and plotting against the government.
Regarding Kavala, certain media outlets have every day been publishing unsourced allegations about this millionaire’s apparently single-handed coordination of terrorist organizations, with the aim of toppling the government. But no one will be surprised if Kavala is also ultimately released after suffering for a while in jail. As in other cases, the accusations against him may well just evaporate as if they were never even made.
The real guilt of Kavala and others - like many journalists, writers, politicians currently in jail – is of being different and breaking the cliché of what is officially accepted as valid nowadays.