The Turkish human rights activist and arts patron Osman Kavala has been in prison since 2017. The philanthropist, who campaigns for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey, is regarded as a public enemy by the Erdogan government.
Osman Kavala is the founder and chairman of the arts and culture foundation Anadolu Kültür and has initiated numerous projects to promote dialogue between different cultures and communities and strengthen Turkish civil society. He also champions the rights of minorities in Turkey, first and foremost the Kurdish and Armenian ones.
The businessman was originally arrested on charges of masterminding the 2013 Gezi Park mass protests against the government of President Erdogan. He was acquitted of that charge in February 2020. He was released from detention at the Silivri high security prison but re-arrested just a few hours later – and this time accused of involvement in an attempted coup. In 2022, Kavala was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment.
“When I heard the verdict, what I felt was deep sorrow for the state of the judiciary and the judges in my country. There are many prisoners who are detained or sentenced by means of arbitrary decisions, and quite a number of them have been behind bars longer than myself,” Kavala writes from prison.
His detention drew international condemnation and is seen as part of widespread measures to curtail freedom of expression and human rights in Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights ordered the human rights activist’s release in 2019 and described the detention as politically motivated.
Linda Vierecke’s film draws a portrait of Osman Kavala using his own words and hearing from people who were influenced by him or who are close to him. Kavala’s wife Ayşe Buğra tells the couple’s troubled story and Asena Günal, Executive Director of Anadolu Kültür, relates just how much Turkish civil society is missing his voice and his commitment – especially now, in the wake of the earthquake catastrophe.
“In prison, one often has thoughts about death,” 65-year-old Osman Kavala writes to the director. “However, I have never worried about the prospect of spending the rest of my life behind bars; rather, I simply cannot foresee when I will be released… I do hope to see at least some of those responsible for these injustices brought before the court. This is not for the sake of fulfilling my feeling of revenge, but to prevent this sort of manipulation of judiciary happening again in the future.”
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Businessmen and cultural supporter Osman cavalla was taken into custody in Istanbul Osman Cavallo understood there is absolutely no evidence for the charges against Osman cavalla is In there the focus of my life is the unbelievable Injustice and discrimination my husband has faced I imagine you’d like to talk to me about that Thank you No kingdoms yeah Thank you I think I’m experiencing a different sense of time here it flows faster the boundaries between days and months become blurred it’s as if they are mixed with each other I don’t have much to complain about the conditions and treatment here I think this is one of the better managed prisons in Turkey I think I’m used to living alone in my room I prefer this Solitude to sharing the prison space with others I mostly miss living together with my wife in our house I visit my husband in jail once a week on Tuesdays I was there this Tuesday too it’s a one-hour visit mostly their closed visits that means there’s a pane of glass between us and we talk using a phone And then my mother is 97 years old it makes me very sad to think that I may never see her again Sometimes it seems strange to me that I’ve never seen his cell once he sent me a picture he drawn with his table and his bed but of course that doesn’t give me a complete picture of it Times To be true to learn I remember it very well he wasn’t in Istanbul at the time he’d gone to gaziantech to hold talks with the city government about organizing a cultural program for refugees [Applause] The security took me into custody upon my return as we were disembarking the plane the prosecutor demanded my arrest without even seeing me initially I was thinking I would be released in a few days but this treatment in particular the behavior of the prosecutor made me understand that
This was not just a mistaken measure due to an initial suspicion which would soon be understood as unfounded foreign [Applause] The Coalition regime made up of the AKP and the MHP arrested Osman cavalla to put pressure on civil society he stood for everything they didn’t want he was an entrepreneur who supported civil society and artists defended minority rights and was also extremely polite about it [Applause] thank you This place was built as a Tobacco Warehouse my grandfather was born in cavalla he was a tobacco Millions that’s why the warehouse was built here of course I don’t remember those times but I know a bit my history of this neighborhood I think 2002 together with some colleagues we establish a cultural organization
Called arable culture my name is after Osman cavana’s arrest I became director of anadon Couture okay we thought that a contemporary art definitely contributes to critical thinking self-reflection to understand the issues interesting the culture and the political culture Osmond Kavala isn’t your average boss he’s very friendly and thoughtful he always tries to be on an equal footing with the people he works I find it amazing how Osman cavalla always tries to make good use of the wealth that’s come from his family’s business you could even say he’s almost
Embarrassed by the resources he has he doesn’t fit The Stereotype of a rich person Earning money is fine but I think that to live in a society where people have different faith and ethnicity feel as equal citizens poor and Rich enjoy similar Public Services he’s a great privilege and believing that your work contributes to the Advent of such a society also gives a feeling of enrichment despite
Some risks it entails hmm now first destination was diabaku center of the Kurdish region with a strong cultural heritage Our projects have drawn attention to things like turkey’s Armenian cultural heritage or violations against the rights of different ethnic groups we’ve tried to create a foundation in which everyone in Turkey can feel like an equal citizen so our work hasn’t tried to divide societies just the opposite we’ve tried to unite it
If you look closely it’s clear our work hasn’t changed much what has changed is the erdogan regime and its transformation into a one-man State and the pressure that’s now being put on all dissenting voices we really didn’t think anything would happen to us as a result of this work Foreign foreign of the government to build a shopping mall that would totally destroy the park I joined my colleagues in a campaign to convince the government and the public this was a terrible idea my office is almost adjacent to the park this made it possible for me to observe the young
People and talk with them I was impressed by their determination to protect the park a strong sense of justice and the spirit of solidarity among them the majority of them had no ties with an organization probably it was their first time participating in such an action foreign All those numbers Breakfast it wasn’t just about Daisy and the lead up to the protests a lot of pressure was being exerted on people and they’d simply had enough it essentially became a struggle for human dignity Foreign [Applause] [Applause] When I first heard that my husband was accused of organizing and financing the events at gazy I thought it was a completely fanciful accusation fantastic that’s the only way I could describe it part of it to my kitchen during the protests I brought a loudspeaker and a plastic table to the park
These in addition to some cookies constitute the evidence but the only evidence provided in the indictment in support of the allegation are that I had funded the protests Daisy was a people’s movement three and a half million people took partner across almost every Turkish province that can’t be organized and financed by
A single person Foreign Mr erdogan started making grave accusations against me even before the indictment was prepared I think neither the government nor the prosecutors had prepared the indictment actually believe in the Absurd allegations that I planned and organized the protests in collaboration with George Soros in fact there’s no evidence in the
Utterly contrived and absurd indictment for which Osman cavalla is on trial there’s probably no one left in the world who doesn’t know this but these injustices continue Laughs Visiting day is the most important day of the week for me the one hour we spend together is the most important hour of the week for me as much as we can we try to talk about normal things things we like about the books we’ve read All books sent to the prison get this stamp to show they’ve been checked here’s the stamps this is one of the books that osmoon has read and sent back I read mostly fiction to enter into the lives of others travel in other worlds physics helps to overcome the physical constraints
What other besides contemporary fiction I reread Classics and discover many new things which I had not noticed or understood previously When we can we try to read the same books at the same time that really helps to keep us afloat I’m happy that we share this passion that we like to read and that we can share that no no Yes we share our Impressions and thoughts about the books we have been reading in our correspondence when I come across something which I find exciting I think of sharing it with Aisha and speculate how she would react to it it could be said that reading a novel
Also means to enter a conversation with the author when I read I try to involve Aisha in this conversation as well Books are a lifesaver for him only 10 books are allowed in the Cell at one time so if I want to get some new books some others have to be taken away there’s a lot of traffic books are constantly coming and going foreign [Applause] Thank you I usually sleep very deeply but I woke up so you can imagine how intense the earthquake was I instinctively just thought about the children’s groups that we work with blood foreign ER and director of colorful hopes at that moment I thought about the children and wondered if they were safe
Because colorful hopes is still the only place these children can go knock on the door ask for advice and feel comfortable unfortunately it’s become clear that the state doesn’t have the capacity to deal with such a large earthquake I imagined how horrible this feeling of desperation must be this thing I was really upset that I couldn’t take part in the relief efforts and cousin reportedly there were people crying for help from under the rubble while their friends and relatives were able to hear their voices but unable to save their lives
Foreign if I had been free on the day of the earthquake I’d have tried to contact my friends in the region and organized ways to help Right after the first earthquake we decided the situation in our dear man is bad so let’s go there the first team we sent was not allowed to enter the earthquake area there was no trace of the state for three days and all access points were blocked by the military
I think this situation reflects a major failure in the functioning of the state institutions to protect the lives and well-being of the citizens the fact that no minister or public officer resigned in the aftermath of the disaster unlike what happened in other countries reveals the lack of feeling of responsibility towards the public
Was foreign Thank you I had the opportunity to visit the AdvoCare and the other Southeastern cities at a young age we can this experience made me realize that this region of my country is very different my conversations with Kurdish friends helped me to better understand how they feel in the face of the repressive and
Discriminatory policies the Kurdish citizens are facing [Applause] during the war we organized activities with children we literally pulled the children away from the barricades and did things with them so they could Leave the World Behind for a while and we could take care of their well-being One day Osmond Kavala visited us and a short time later about 20 days after he left he announced a Children’s Fund the money enabled us to do more specialized work for children answers all right after the war the children rejected their culture and mother time because they had developed a kind of defense
Mechanism they thought everything they were exposed to was because they were Kurds and by rejecting their Kurdish identity they actually felt safe by becoming Turks this was a terrible outcome something had to be done about this that’s why we started developing a culture of peace for the children to
Ensure that they feel at ease with their own identity and culture Between artists writers and intellectuals from Istanbul and the abakir would contribute to the development of mutual understandings and Trust which is necessary to feel ourselves as a member of the same community activities I participated in was a program for children in the Abacus to see how much they loved it how much
They needed this attention again in the indictment prepared against me it is written that I have worked with the minority groups in order to incite them against the government behind the veil of cultural programs we’ve been working in Southeastern turkey for 20 years and it’s the first time such a bogus
Accusation was made by an official Authority it shows the rise of an authoritarian mentality with an anti-minority edge in the political domain Thank you foreign I’d never have guessed that this case would drag on for so long that it would change so much so you wait throughout the entire trial for an answer what crime what evidence you listen to what the lawyers say and there’s nothing when the hearings came to an end I left
Because I couldn’t listen to the same words the same sentences any longer I couldn’t take it anymore Mexico is chimney Buddha turkey this is a specific case that shows how turkey is unfortunately infringing International agreements and in all the hearings we’ve repeatedly said the European Court of human rights
Has made a decision you have to abide by this decision the Turkish Constitution requires it and if a legal conflict arises between an international agreement and a national law the former takes precedence foreign on Tuesday Kabbalah was unexpectedly cleared and released it was as if a great weight was lifted
Off my shoulders and I felt relief my belongings and bid farewell to prisoners in nearby cells I was made to get in the van waiting in front of the building I was expecting to be at home as soon as possible I waited for hours with our relatives
And friends to meet my husband at a facility near the prison and after hours of waiting I learned that he had been re-arrested on another charge from which he’d previously been acquitted and would remain in jail the president had harshly criticized my acquittal I realized a Judicial decision
Not in Conformity with his preferences could not hold this was of course a form of torture but it prepared me for the potential injustices I would later face I think this was the day the word torture first came to mind oh my God Osman cavalla has been given a life sentence without Parolees the businessman has already spent over four years in prison without a conviction now kavel has been sentenced to Life Behind Bars When I heard the verdict what I felt was deep sorrow for the state of the Judiciary and the judges in my country I think the different phases of this political trial the use of different charges to extend my detention and finally this verdict made very clear the manipulation involved in the judicial
Processes in turkey and the abuse of the Turkish penal system I’m trying to keep my peace of mind and I’m waiting for a political change in my country foreign Allah [Applause] Groomed during the day I had the opportunity to use my small courtyard to walk in summer my feet The Sparrows that have their nests up above the walls I catch glimpses of Seagulls flying over in the direction of the sea I also enjoy watching the clouds the shapes and
Movement these make me feel closer to Nature The feeling that I’ve been trying to avoid all this time is hopeing can be very consuming Yes When I think of Osman cavalla he’s one of the most important people to personally support the contemporary art movement a conceptual artist I’ve worked with photography and video for 10 years over the last three years I’ve been interested in performance I was very upset by the fact that he was
Unlawfully arrested for no reason whatsoever other than supporting arts and culture I made a large portrait of Osman Kavala to walk in his footsteps I walked through the areas he loved soaked up the smells he loved and I took him on a walk through the streets of Istanbul for a
Total of 15 hours in three days five hours a day for me that was very very exciting thank you but of course this isn’t just about Osman Kavala his portrait is a symbol for the whole situation the Mir Tosh and so many others who were innocent and
Still in prison for no reason that’s something that bothers me a lot During the performance I did of course think it could be dangerous because the government has treated Osman cavalla very harshly but I thought that despite everything something must be done because in this country if three people gather they risk being arrested there are political prisoners in this
Country in spite of everything I thought someone must speak up Osman cavalla’s lawyer heard about the performance and asked if he could have some photos so I printed a few out and gave them to him he took the picture straight to Osman Kavala look who apparently laughed and said they made him very happy foreign From the very first day of my imprisonment I have felt the comforting solidarity of my young artist friends through a lawyer friend they sent me notes and drawings that they made on the way to delivery simply knowing that they are nearby and going through these notes is incredibly heartening thank you Again today we’re going to salivary prison is of course we can’t visit Osman Cavallo directly because it’s forbidden only his lawyers are allowed in Hercules each of us has written a little message or a letter and will only be able to wait in the parking lot it’s like a declaration of solidarity
For mafar but it’s important to us that he knows we’re there It’s a high security prison it takes about two hours or so to get there from Istanbul it means families or relatives visiting inmates need a whole day which puts them under enormous strained It depends on the mood of the soldiers and the police officers sometimes we get as far as the parking lot sometimes we’re kilometers away and we’re assigned a particular spot and we can open our banners foreign Case concerns everyone you because there’s no crime things like this only happen in authoritarian regimes and dictatorships we oppose that and that’s why we’re here I hope he gets his freedom back and that he sees his family again I think his sight has deteriorated because he’s not
Been able to see the Horizon for years now he’s probably got problems moving around because of walking on hard ground I hope he’ll be reunited with his loved ones I want him to see the sea I want him to see the sky I want him to be able to see into the distance
Thank you [Applause] And this is we’re not so young anymore perhaps these things are easier to bear when you’re young and you have your whole life ahead of you foreign but at our age when it’s not even clear how many years we have left it’s obviously a very hard thing to
Steal five long years from our lives of course it affects him it’s impossible not to be affected by it nearly two years ago a young friend of mine not in prison and passed away from a heart attack there were times when I thought whether something like that could happen to myself In prison one often has thoughts about death and however I have never worried about the prospect of spending the rest of my life Behind Bars so they simply cannot foresee when I’ll be released Thank you
Video “Osman Kavala: Imprisoned in Erdogan's Turkey | DW Documentary” was uploaded on 05/08/2023 by DW Documentary Youtube channel.