Is the arrest of a top civil society figure in Turkey a sign of a massive crackdown?

The arrest of Osman Kavala in the late hours of of October 18 came as a new shock to all civil society activists in Turkey. He was detained under extraordinary circumstances: After taking part in a cultural activity with the participation of Goethe Insitute representatives in the city of Antep close to the Syrian border, the police entered the airplane soon after it landed on Istanbul Airport and escorted him to the security headquarters. On what charges, remains unknown. Under the state of emergency, not even the lawyers are given relevant information about their clients, particularly if they are seen as political prisoners.

Osman Kavala was born into a wealthy family and took over the Kavala group of companies upon his father’s death in 1982. He went on to found one of Turkey’s most prominent publishers as well as the Anadolu Kültür Foundation, which promotes cultural exchange and reconciliation with Armenia, as well as Turkey’s Armenian minority. Kavala has been instrumental in promoting more honest and open discussion about the slaughter of Turkey’s Armenian population, during the First World War.

Kavala has a high reputation abroad, mainly because Anadolu Kültür was a key hub in most of the civil society activities in Turkey, which had flourished when the AKP government had launched the accession egotiation process with the EU. It was at the epicenter of projects on memory, reconciliation and conflict resolution in Anatolia.

But those days seem to have vanished. As the article points out the arrest of Kavala may be the beginning of a massive crackdown on all NGO presence in Turkey, which is being swept into a deeper crisis.