Pro-Armenian, Pro-Kurdish Turkish Philanthropist Jailed in Turkey

Columnist Harut Sassounian
Columnist Harut Sassounian

Columnist Harut Sassounian


It is widely known that the Turkish government deprives the rights of minorities living in the country, whether they are Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Jews or Kurds. However, the Turks who are the overwhelming majority of the public are the biggest victims of the abuses of the Turkish authorities. Tens of thousands of innocent Turks have been jailed under false pretenses.
One prominent example of such inhuman treatment is Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman, philanthropist and human rights activist who has been jailed on trumped-up charges twice. Last February he was released from jail for supposedly trying to overthrow the government and then rearrested the same day before he could be released.

Kavala’s imprisonment made headlines around the world. The European Court of Human Rights ruled last December that Turkey had jailed him without reasonable cause. “His detention was intended to punish him as a critic of the Government to reduce him to silence as an NGO [non-governmental organization] activist and human-rights defender, to dissuade others from engaging in such activities and to paralyze civil society in the country.” The sinister reason Kavala was released from jail and rearrested the same day was to temporarily comply with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and then jail him under new charges which would keep in prison several more years while Kavala’s lawyers contest the new charges in Turkish courts and then in the European Court of Human Rights.

On April 9, 2020, the New York Times published a lengthy article by Carlotta Gall titled, “From Prominent Turkish Philanthropist to Political Prisoner.” Gall wrote: “Mr. Kavala has become the most prominent political prisoner in Turkey, and as he himself ruefully acknowledged after his rearrest, his case is a prime example of the state of injustice in Turkey today under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His case is just one of half a million prosecutions underway amid a government crackdown since an attempted coup in 2016, but it is one of the most confounding. Best known for his good deeds, he has been variously accused of espionage, links to terrorist groups, and trying to overthrow the government. Even seasoned lawyers, well used to decades of political trials in Turkey, have described the various charges against him as ‘ridiculous.’”

Kavala studied economics at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and started work on his doctorate at the New York School for Social Research in New York, but interrupted his studies when his father died in 1982.

Kavala then got involved in defending human rights. He founded Anadolu Kultur, an organization that supports art and cultural collaboration. Gall reported that “he supported an arts space in Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city in the southeast; cultural memory projects for Yazidis, Kurds, Armenians and other minorities; and a program to encourage a normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. … He became one of the leading philanthropists in the country, well known among embassies and international donors and an energetic supporter of civic and human rights groups.”

Gall stated that Kavala was jailed because “he represents the leftist-leaning, secular elite, which in Turkey’s polarized society is the opposite of the president and his supporters. They are from religiously conservative, Islamist circles that were long sidelined from power. ‘Osman represents another culture,’ said Asena Gunal, who runs his flagship organization, Anadolu Kultur. ‘Someone who is open, cultured, who speaks English, can talk to foreigners, active in society; something they see as dangerous.’ As he spent 16 months in detention without knowing the charges against him, the pro-government news media and even Mr. Erdogan himself accused him of nefarious connections, including being part of a Jewish conspiracy led by Mr. Soros. Some analysts say that his work with Armenians and Kurds is hated by elements in Turkey’s security establishment.”

Kavala has been urging the Turkish government to recognize the Armenian Genocide. He visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on April 24, 2016. He told “First of all, there has to be a sincere intention to look at history, to look at what had happened, to open up the archives properly, and to have a very sincere dialogue with the Armenians. Fortunately, there are some steps, but we still can’t see that at the political level.”

In an interview with Civilnet, a website in Armenia, Kavala praised the German Parliament’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide “as an example of a healthy cross-party consensus reviewing the darker chapters of national history.” Kavala also attended the reopening of the Sourp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbekir after its renovation.

However, despite his liberal and leftist leanings, Kavala was quick to dodge Armenian demands from Turkey to return to Armenians their historic lands. In December 2007, I had quoted him in my column, “Turkey Could Gain More Than Armenians by Acknowledging the Genocide,” stating that “it is not possible to dismiss the issue of compensation so readily.” Kavala responded by sending me an email stating: “I don’t think that, ‘land return’ is a legitimate demand which can be taken seriously. Bringing it up would discredit the arguments for justice and reconciliation.” He naively suggested that we should leave “the ‘land issue’ in the hands of God,” adding that he would happy to meet with me to talk about this issue.

Nevertheless, the civilized world should speak out for the immediate release of Kavala, one of the many innocent victims of Pres. Erdogan.

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  1. Vartan said:

    Kavala is no true human rights defender and is certainly not pro-Armenian. His role is to help Turkey get away with the Armenian Genocide and keep Armenians of Western Armenia on the path toward extinction. Without land return, the entire Western Armenian civilization is finished.

    • ardachece barseghian said:

      I don’t understand your statement. If Kavala advocates for the recognition of Genocide … Armenian, what more are you going to look for? With my friendship

  2. ardachece barseghian said:

    Dear Sir and Friend, we saw those you call the “civilized world” in 1923 in Lausanne, the world that tied our hands to us, insulting our representatives held at the sidelines of the conference, to offer us the Turkish sword. The future Calif as its predecessors, represses, oppresses, persecutes violates the rights of its people, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists and others, simply because it opposes its policy, denounce the tyranny exercised on ethnic and religious minorities and … “The world is civilizing” closes its eyes out of pure interest. Yes, our Party in its federally designed to defend the rights and dignity of the diaspora and its Republic of Armenia as of Artsakh can only understand the reaction of the PKK which only reacts to crimes against its people. The Turkish people understand that there is no nationally and internationally worthy result to follow the path of the growing number of KAVALA. The elections in Ankara and Constantinople attest to this. So I count on my Party which finally knows federer all our diasporic forces for one purpose, to repair the dramas of our history with those of all minorities, our Party will be right about this so-called “civilized world”. My deep conviction at the odds of Muslims with Assyrians, Greeks, Kurds, Jews, Christians, and others as noble as the Hamchens, Zazas, Alevis and again …

  3. Raffi said:

    European Court of Human Rights? what a joke, talk them about Oil, Gas, and $$$$$$$$, money talks BS walks, unfortunatly Erdogan knows very well about this reality.

    • ardachece barseghian said:

      Unfortunately true and the hard work of our friends in the Party have been able to bring to light these methods, yes, 100 times yes, and after !!! The political world “civilizes”, economic, operates on this basis. We have no oil but we have our Party with its intellectuals and activists, believe me, in the end it will be the victory of our Party FOR OUR NATION

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