ISTANBUL (A.W.)—Prominent Turkish businessman and civil society activist Osman Kavala was officially charged on Nov. 1, after having been detained by Turkish authorities on Oct. 18. According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, Kavala was charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government.
The charge comes nearly two weeks after Turkish police detained Kavala at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. Kavala, the chairman of the nonprofit Anadolu Kültür, was reportedly taken to Istanbul’s counterterrorism police department upon his return to the city from Gaziantep (Aintab) on Oct. 18.
Kavala’s lawyer claimed that Kavala had returned from a meeting in Gaziantep after an order was issued for him to be detained. According to some reports, police also seized computers from the offices of Anadolu Kültür—an organization that promotes the art and culture of the region.
There has been much public discontent since the news of Kavala’s arrest was made public on Oct. 18. The Foreign Ministry of France said it was concerned about Kavala’s arrest, calling him “one of the most important and respected figures of the Turkish cultural scene and of civil society.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Agnes Romatet-Espagne told reporters that France will be “very attentive” to developments in the case.
U.S.-based independent watchdog Freedom House’s director of Eurasia programs, Marc Behrendt, called Kavala’s arrest “a significant escalation in the Turkish government’s assault on civil society and media.”
Kavala, a longtime supporter of Armenian Genocide recognition and Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, visited Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Institute and Museum on April 24, 2016. Speaking to Yerevan-based News.am, he had called Turkish society’s changing attitudes toward Armenians a slow, but moving process. “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,” he had said at the time.
Kavala was also present at the reopening of Diyarbakir’s Surp Giragos Church in 2011. The church had been recently renovated by the Surp Giragos Armenian Foundation with the support of the local Kurdish-controlled municipality of the time.
Speaking to the Armenian Weekly, Kavala had expressed hope that the massive reconstruction and other initiatives in Diyarbakir would “have an impact beyond the city, on the national policy.”
During the past two tumultuous years, the church has been desecrated and largely damaged, as seen in a set of secretly taken photographs published by the Armenian Weekly in September.
Born in 1957, Kavala studied economics at the University of Manchester. In 1982, he took over the management of the Kavala Companies founded by his late father.
He was active in the establishment of a number of business organizations in Turkey, including Turkish-Polish and Turkish-Greek business councils and the Association of Tourism Investors.
Kavala has served on the boards of TURSAK (Turkish Audiovisual Cinema Foundation), TEMA (Foundation to Fight Soil Erosion), Helsinki Citizens Association, TESEV (Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation), and Thessaloniki-based Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in the Southeast Europe.
He has also taken part in civil society organizations promoting peace and understanding between Turkey and Greece and has participated in civil initiatives for the protection of human rights and a democratic solution to Kurdish issues in Turkey.