Turkish justice has given Osman Kavala, a renowned patron of civil society in Turkey, a spectacular coup. His acquittal in the Gezi Park trial was barely pronounced on Tuesday, February 18, by the court in Silivri, near Istanbul, when a new arrest warrant was issued by the prosecutor.
Who is Osman Kavala, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticizes by name in his speeches as the "Turkish Soros"? Elements of response with one of his longtime friends living in France, Ahmet Insel, political scientist, retired professor from Galatasaray University and editor.
France 24: Where is Osman Kavala as we speak?
Ahmet Insel: Osman Kavala has returned to Silivri prison. His morale is very good. The situation is particularly grim: he was preparing his things to leave the prison, Tuesday afternoon, when he is charged again in another case. Wednesday evening, the liberty judge ordered his pre-trial detention. He asked through his lawyer that his old cell be reserved for him, and he found her. There are people who book hotel rooms, others book a prison room, he jokes. He was not subjected to ill-treatment.
How to explain this judicial reversal?
During the Osman Kavala trial, civil society was strongly mobilized. Speeches have multiplied. It is perhaps for this reason that the acquittal was ordered, because the events took such a turn, that former president Abdullah Gül [with Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Prime Minister, Editor's note] had always had a sympathy for the Gezi movement. This statement was very surprising. The Gezi trial backfired on Erdogan.
But what happened between the morning and the afternoon of February 18, at the court in Silivri? It's a mystery. It is highly likely that the acquittal was ordered by Erdogan's entourage, as was the arrest that followed. Why ? I cannot understand. The whole criminal procedure is completely in violation, nothing is respected from A to Z.
Why is Osman Kavala the object of such judicial harassment?
It is a personal hatred of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It has a dozen people in its sights, for various reasons. Osman Kavala is a prominent businessman, who mobilizes his means to energize civil society in relation to European organizations. Erdogan said it again on Wednesday: he thinks Osman Kavala is the Turkish Georges Soros [in reference to Georges Soros, American philanthropist of Hungarian origin, who finances actions through his Open Society foundation].
Are Soros and Kavala related?
Tenuous. Osman Kavala was one of the members of the board of directors of the Open Society Foundation in Turkey created in 2008 [and closed in 2018 under pressure from the government, editor's note]. He must have met Georges Soros two or three times, but is not in direct contact with him.
Osman Kavala represents, in an ultra-nationalist paranoid regime, the ideal Turk's head: he is rich, white, in contact with European organizations. It finances and supports the activities of civil society, is sensitive to Kurdish, Armenian and minority issues. For Erdogan, he is the figure of evil, the product of an international plot.
Osman Kavala was however little known to the general public before his arrest in 2017…
Yes, he always refused to be in the foreground, unlike many other businessmen. He prefers to be in action, in civil society, the "grassroots" as the Anglo-Saxons say. He has always had leftist, socialist aspirations, I believe him deeply pacifist and altruistic. He sincerely believes in the virtues of solidarity for social transformation, in supporting the weakest and minorities. But he has always kept his distance from politics.
From the mid-1990s, Osman Kavala was in the sights of the Turkish ultranationalist right, which coined the expression "red billionaire". It was when he initiated actions to support the Kurds for the recognition of their identity and their language, the Anadolu Kültür Foundation. He even opened a cultural center in Diyarbakir, a Kurdish city.
It was not until 2013 that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister, designated him by name as his enemy. Previously, he did not carry Osman Kavala particularly in his heart, but did not launch a personal attack. Erdogan perceived the mobilization of Gezi as an action similar to the revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc., fomented according to him by Georges Soros or international fortunes.
Now, in seeking to assimilate Osman Kavala to the attempted coup in 2016, does the government effectively rank him among the Gülenists?
It is a huge mistake. Because Osman Kavala has always been a fierce anti-Gülen, from the 1990s, at a time when many liberals were ambivalent. He found this brotherhood very dangerous. Today, the amalgamation with Fethullah Gülen concerns all those who are likely to disturb the regime, it is the all-round accusation of betrayal, a bit like when Stalin distrusted his entourage in the 1930s.
Regularly in Turkey, the purges resume, they return almost every month. Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to maintain this pressure, he sees Gülenist enemies everywhere. The incarceration rate has doubled since 2001. It is estimated that more than 250,000 people are in prison today, compared to 100,000 twenty years ago.
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