Kavala’s three years behind bars: A slaughterhouse called Turkish justice
It was meant to be an extremely private night. In that rainy October month of 2017, in solitude, I was busy with final touches to my book about Turkey, which some months later would be published in German with the title: “Die Hoffnung stirbt am Bosporus - Wie die Türkei Demokratie und Freiheit verspielt” (“The Hope Dies at the Bosporus - How Turkey wasted Democracy and Freedom”).
Exhausted, I had found an excuse to descend from the cosy hut, high up in the mountains of southern Umbria, down to a favourite town of mine, Montefalco, to be by myself, for my birthday, on Oct. 18, 2017.
All I needed was to relax over a quiet dinner.
There was nobody in the square that night. A couple was sitting in the distant corner of my favourite restaurant; the rest was empty. I chose a table outside. “It’s chilly,” warned the waitress. “I have just come down from Sellano,” I responded. “OK, then,” she smiled.
Just when I had sipped some fine Sagrantino wine, discreetly congratulating myself on having come thus far with the depressing book on Turkey’s slow collapse into darkness since the failed coup of 2016, the telephone rang. “Osman is arrested,” a friend told me. “Taken by police at the airport in Antep.”
I froze. A couple of calls and messages later, I had sunk into a deeper darkness, the dish getting cold, the dinner poisoned by awful thoughts about what and how and why Osman, and, in general, Turkey. When I hastily left the table, I was struck by a realisation, a final confirmation, of what the arrest symbolised. As a matter of fact, I had already ascertained, by the way Turkey’s story evolved since the Nov. 1, 2015 elections, that the country was doomed to be seized by evil, and the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 helped only confirm my conviction that the battle for a decent democratic order was lost for a very, very long time - if not forever. And ever since the declaration of the state of emergency on July 20, 2016 (five days after the uprising), I have argued along those lines, up to today.
But, what I couldn’t foresee, was the extent the “power of evil”, which took control over the state apparatus, would go in terms of getting right to the roots of the very dynamics which pushed for reform in Turkey until mid-2015. I had, in horror, witnessed a massive purge and manhunt of those the regime had already listed. Arrests of journalists, such as Ahmet Altan, and politicians, such as Selahattin Demirtaş, in late 2016, was telling enough of the very nature, objective, magnitude and direction Turkey, under “evil”, was adopting.
In this sense, that night of Oct. 18, 2017, the arrest of Osman Kavala, seemed to me the final nail in the coffin of all civilian combat for democratic change in Turkey. Sadly, it had confirmed the validity of the title of my book, and the pessimism it contains.
Osman and I have never been very close, although we have been circulating in the same circles, being coevals. We spent our summer holidays always at the same favourite spot, in the northern Aegean coast, overlooking Lesbos.
And over the years, we have shared the same hopes and dreams, and taken part in various projects for confronting the wrongs of Turkey’s past, for annihilating the nationalist fault lines that demonise Kurds and Armenians and Greeks in the eyes of the Turks. We may have disagreed on some issues, but we have always known, Osman and many others from various professions, that it was the dream of a free, pluralist Turkey, where the oppressed would no longer feel oppressed, which held us together.
When we - some journalists fired by the flunkey, corrupt media owners during Gezi Park protests in 2013 - established P24, Platform for Independent Journalism, Osman was - as always - extremely generous to offer the space of a building, called Cezayir, for our public activities.
Osman, this gentle soul, a man with a heart of gold, was the guardian angel of all activities, as far as any of them meant a tool for progress, to bring Turkey up to the league of civilized societies, which had, he hoped, come to peace with its past, in harmony with the present, bold about a decent future.
All that need be said about Osman has been said already; everybody who has met him knows more than enough about his noble qualities. We all know. And because we all know, at home and abroad, the sense of torment, and contempt for what he is exposed to, increases day after day. He is the hostage of a regime, whose raison d’etre is to eradicate and destroy all civilian courage and qualified opposition, for its continuity of evil.
There are about 50,000 political prisoners in Turkey, whose regime is - inconceivably - feared by its democratic allies, which pretend to maintain their relations as if there is some sort of normality left with which to move on. Striking is the fact that, despite the sheer number of human rights violations, the European Court of Human Rights acts as if its only mission is to delay taking a stand in the name of justice.
There are three names symbolising the cage of agony tens of thousands of political prisoners in Turkey are forcefully kept in.
Ahmet Altan, unlawfully in jail for over four years, symbolises a courageous journalist who, up until the Gezi Park protests, expanded the boundaries for journalism against taboos, and a truly pluralist, independent media landscape.
Selahattin Demirtaş, also unlawfully kept in jail for over four years, is a symbol of Kurds’ plight for a life of dignity, equality, and freedom, for their suppressed rights. He is deliberately stripped of his freedom, because his wit and charisma is seen as a real and present threat to the system.
And Osman Kavala, chosen as the victim, to be held behind bars, because he symbolises the long overdue aspirations of Turkey’s young, urban, secular, Kurdish, non -Muslim segments for civility, for an open society, for an order based on transparency and first-class democracy.
Vulnerable and fragile as they are, because they are civilians, they are easy prey for a regime whose core is evil and whose spirit bloodthirsty. Step by step, using the weaknesses of a polarised opposition, the evil managed to reach its goal: to rule. Turkey’s justice system, unfortunately, has been transformed into a slaughterhouse - if not a morgue.