Happy birthday Osman Kavala!

For some time in Turkey we have been preoccupied with attempting to find rational answers to farcical accusations.

Today, my task is to write about Osman Kavala, a Turkish philanthropist, peace campaigner, human rights activist and businessman, who has been in prison for almost a year. I have known Kavala, or Osman Bey as I call him in Turkish out of respect, for what seems like a century, since when I became a volunteer for Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, a human rights organisation which he helped found.

I would have preferred to be able to refute some concrete accusations against him, but there is still no indictment. We have no idea what the charges are against him, if indeed there are any.

We only have conspiracy theories published by pro-government media, probably based on information put out by the Turkish security apparatus.

That means once again that we have to respond to nonsense.

For example, one of the accusations is that Kavala talked on the phone for 93 hours with U.S. academic Henri Barkey, who is accused of plotting the 2016 failed coup attempt, just because he was on an island off Istanbul on the day of the military attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

We have no idea when talking on the phone for hours became a crime, but the only evidence that those phone conversations even took place is that Kavala’s and Barkey’s phones were connected to the same base stations for 93 hours, meaning only that they happened to be in the same neighbourhood.

A second allegation is that Kavala financed the 2013 Gezi Park protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

The evidence is that, before the protests began, Kavala transferred small amounts of money to a number of individuals whose relation to Gezi protests is unknown.

We are talking about protests by hundreds of thousands that swept the country for almost three weeks. My humble opinion is that if someone was able to mastermind and finance all this, then a person with those organisational skills should be handed control of the country right away.

Another crime cited against Kavala is that he met a journalist and the two had a conversation about establishing an opposition television channel. Again we have no idea why discussing an alternative media channel is unlawful.

Kavala is also accused of being linked to the Turkish branch of the Open Society Foundation (OSF), a non-governmental organisation founded by U.S. businessman George Soros. I would like to congratulate the person who managed uncover this link; information that has been online for more than a decade.

But can someone explain where is the crime in being part of a non-governmental organisation established in accordance with Turkish laws and regulations and inspected regularly by public institutions?

The list goes on, but let me cite just one more accusation. Kavala, or rather civil society organisations with which he is involved, were granted funds from the European Union for activities promoting democracy, human rights and multiculturalism. A friend of Kavala also asked him how to access EU funding for an opposition newspaper.

If we leave aside the fact that if using EU funds is a crime, then all civil servants in Turkey should also be behind bars, can someone tell me how you can be classed as a criminal just because someone asked you a question?

As you see, we are dealing with nonsense and those who prepared and circulated these accusations are fully aware of it.

The truth is that Kavala is being held as a hostage.

But unfortunately, Kavala does not seem to be a suitable pawn for bilateral or international bargains. That is why, at the peak of the diplomatic row between Washington and Ankara over Turkey’s detention of American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, pro-government media produced one article after another saying that if the pastor were released, foreign powers would demand Kavala be freed next. By that, they meant, “we also have Kavala, why aren’t you interested?”

Yet Kavala is not alone; he is surrounded by friends and thousands of people who appreciate his kindness over the years. I am sure, like me, they begin each morning remembering he is behind bars and sometimes find it difficult to function for the rest of the day.

But the hands and feet of his supporters are tied to a certain extent. We cannot form a defence based on threats to his profession as when a journalist, lawyer or doctor is arrested for example. The only ammunition we are left with is to stand as a character witness for Osman Bey.

However, with someone like Kavala, who has never tried to promote himself and has shied away from the limelight, narratives based on personal histories make you feel as if you are violating someone’s privacy. But you want to say something.

During campaigning for a constitutional referendum, Kavala openly opposed some in liberal circles, who supported those changes and backed a boycott. I cannot forget how he was suddenly ostracised by the illiberal liberals and the libellous articles written about him in Taraf newspaper.  

There are also those who said he got what he had deserved as he had not paid attention to the injustices of the Ergenekon trials; a series of high profile prosecutions beginning in 2007 that alleged a secularist plot to overthrow the government. All the charges were later dropped, but only after dozens had spent months and years in jail. One or two of the accused committed suicide.

In fact, it was Kavala who played an important role in changing public perception of the trials by providing a platform to bring together people who documented irregularities in the evidence and journalists who had defended the trials.

But the truth is not important. We are struggling with “believers” not only from the right, but also from the left.

If someone asked me to describe Kavala, I would say he is a person who committed his life to freedom of expression without discriminating against any point of view, someone who shared everything he has with others, someone who never bothered himself with attacks against him, and someone who was always generous enough not to close the doors to those occasional attackers.

Even those in charge of Bosphorus Global, a pro-government, “non-governmental” organisation that last year joyfully accepted the job of circulating disinformation about Kavala, once attended meetings at his venues, received awards and gained a reputation through platforms he initiated or aided.

The day will come when Kavala gets out of prison, and since he is not a vengeful person, you can be sure he would extend a helping hand, if the tables are turned and his accusers find themselves facing injustice.

But today, the villains are in power. They attack people solely for the delight of being able to, launching ridiculous revenge assaults just because they can. A large part of the opposition also joins the feast when those in power provide a victim they like to taunt.

Kavala is perhaps too eccentric for the rich, but too rich for the poor; too naive for secularists, but too elite for the Islamists; a bit too Turkish for the Kurds, but too mixed for the Turks; and too liberal for the Turkish left, but too leftist for the liberals.

He is a suitable target for all because he has always chosen solidarity, but never been cliquish; he has always preferred to be himself instead of being part of the herd.

Today is his birthday!

Happy birthday Osman Bey!

How lucky some of us are to know you.

Take good care of yourself.