Mar 07 2019

Turkish prosecutors detail foreign plot to topple Erdogan

Turkish prosecutors accused American-Hungarian financier George Soros of being behind large nationwide anti-government protests that swept Turkey in 2013 after police used batons and tear-gas to break up a sit-in against the demolition of a small Istanbul park.

The prosecutors have demanded 16 Turkish suspects face a total of 47,520 years in prison on charges of attempting to violently overthrow the government by organising the Gezi Park protests, but, the 657-page indictment said, the demonstrations were backed and financed from abroad.

The accusations follow a familiar narrative often articulated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that says Turkey is under threat from foreign powers bent on denying it the importance it deserves and these external actors are responsible for the country’s problems, be they economic, diplomatic or security-related, not the ruling party that has been in power since 2002.

Soros was at the centre of the plot to topple Erdoğan’s Islamist government, the prosecutors said, through his $20-billion charity the Open Society Institute that oversees rights, advocacy, media development and other programmes in dozens of countries, including Turkey. 

The Open Society Foundation (OSF), the institute’s branch in Turkey, ended its activities in November after Erdoğan denounced the man he called the "famous Hungarian Jew Soros” and accused him of supporting the Gezi protests in order to divide Turkey.

The indictment said Soros masterminded civil unrest in Serbia, Georgia and some Baltic states, was then behind the Arab spring protests that began in late 2010, before moving onto Turkey.

“The Gezi revolt was organised by the extensions of George Soros and other powers groups that target the same aims in our country,” the indictment said.

But throughout its 657 pages, the indictment does not explain in any detail what role Soros and other international actors played in the preparation and the organisation of the protests. 

Chief among the conspirators, according to the indictment, is Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been dubbed by pro-government media as “Turkey’s Soros”. Kavala served on the advisory board of the OSF for many years. The founding director of the foundation, Ali Hakan Altınay, and the head of the organisation in 2013, Gökçe Tüylüoğlu, are also among the 16 suspects charged in the case, due to begin in June

Tapped phone conversations listed in the indictment show that Tüylüoğlu was in touch with Soros, but there is no evidence showing that Kavala was also in close contact with the billionaire.

The evidence of the conspiracy is largely based on the suspects having had contact with foreigners, as if that were proof enough of their guilt and involvement in a foreign-backed plot to overthrow the government. 

At one point, it mentions a Spanish man who it said came to Turkey, met one of the suspects, lawyer Can Atalay, and left again, without giving further details. At another point, the indictment says suspects discussed an “optariko” meeting, the Turkish wiretappers evidently not understanding the term “off-the-record”.

The indictment devotes 20 pages to Can Paker, an OSF board member who in 2013 was largely at odds with liberal circles as he remained an ardent supporter of the Turkish government. In an interview, Paker said that since Soros was a Jew, he supported Israel and had pushed the OSF to oppose the Turkish government during a diplomatic row between Turkey and Israel. 

As differences of opinion between Paker and other senior members grew, and as the organisation began to be portrayed in the media as the power behind the 2013 protests, the OSF wrote an open letter to the government to denounce the claims. Tapped phone conversation, in which suspects and other board members discuss how and when to write the letter are cited as evidence the OSF was coordinating with Soros and carrying out his instructions

A Serbian organisation named Otpor that worked to mobilise demonstrations that toppled President Slobodan Milošević in 2000 was cited as being linked to Soros and part of the conspiracy to similarly overthrow Erdoğan. The indictment lists as evidence trips to Turkey by members of Otpor, but does not say what they did or say they met any of the 16 suspects during the visits, some to Istanbul, some to the southern coastal resort of Antalya.

Otpor member Ivan Marovic is mentioned extensively in the indictment. It says he travelled to Turkey in June 2012, but does not say whether or not he contacted the suspects during the visit. But it does say he met one of the suspects, actor Mehmet Ali Alabora, in Cairo in July 2012. Another suspect, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, once spoke on the phone about bringing Marovic to Turkey for a training event.

06 March 2019, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Fellbach: Former Leader of Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) Martin Schulz speaks during the SPD's Political Ash Wednesday Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa
06 March 2019, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Fellbach: Former Leader of Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) Martin Schulz speaks during the SPD's Political Ash Wednesday Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa

Bosnian film producer Rada Sezic is also mentioned in the indictment. Çiğdem Mater Utku, a Turkish film producer who also oversees a Turkish-Armenian film festival sponsored by Kavala’s Anadolu Kültür foundation, spoke to a director about a 15-minute documentary on the Gezi protests. Mater Utku says she met Sezic in Yerevan and together they discussed bringing the documentary to another festival in Bosnia. Mater Utku also advised the producers of the documentary to apply for OSF micro travel grants for financial support to travel to Bosnia.

Andrew Nicholas Duff, a politician and a former member of the European Parliament, is among Kavala’s contacts. On June 26, 2013, after the protests ended, Kavala had breakfast with Duff in the Divan Hotel next to the Gezi Park. The indictment includes photos of that meeting. 

Marc Pierini, EU ambassador to Turkey between 2006 and 2011, finds himself in the indictment due to a meeting with Tüylüoğlu in Istanbul on July, 3, 2013. He is also mentioned in tapped phone conversations in relation to a photo exhibition to be organised in Brussels in cooperation with the think-tank, Carnegie Europe.

Volker Helmert, who according to the indictment was at the time the head of the legal department at the German embassy in Turkey, met Kavala and Atalay in July 2013, after the Gezi protests, at an Istanbul cafe. According to the indictment, Kavala and Atalay informed Helmert about some court rulings linked to the Gezi protests. 

Tayfun Kahraman, a member of the Taksim Solidarity initiative that opposed the government’s plans to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park, had one foreign contact. With photos, the prosecutors show that Kahraman met French journalist Laure Siegel in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul in July 2013. The indictment does not explain what role this meeting played in the attempted overthrow of the Turkish government.  

There are also some tapped phone conversations between a person identified as Yuri at the U.S. embassy and Kavala. This person appears to be Yuri Kim, the current director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Southern European Affairs, who at the time was serving as a political counsellor at the U.S. embassy in Ankara. In a phone conversation, Yuri suggests Kavala ask any journalist he knows in Washington to bring up the protests during the State Department’s press briefing.

In one phone conversation, Pierini tries to arrange a meeting between Kavala and German politician Martin Schulz for some unexplained reason. The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks, who at the time called for an investigation into the excessive use of police force against protesters, also appears in the text. 

In one phone conversation, one of the suspects, businessman Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, asks Kavala whether he would like to meet Muiznieks. Emma Sinclair Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch and Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey researcher also found a place in the indictment in tapped phone conversations.

Also listed in tapped phone conversations, without any explanation of the reasons for them being there are Sabine Freizer Gunes, a researcher, a Chris from the United States linked to Open Society, a Claudia, who wants to have dinner with Kavala and his wife, a Michael and a Jane linked to some Freedom House project, and an Albert who talks to Tüylüoğlu about Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

The international links of the Gezi protests even reach as far as musician Roger Waters, as images of the 11 people who lost their lives during the demonstrations were shown on a screen at his concert in Istanbul in 2013.