HAMILTON, N.Y. (A.W.)—Fifty-five scholars and writers have appealed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release prominent Turkish businessman and civil society activist Osman Kavala, who was charged on Nov. 1 with conspiracy to overthrow the government.
“Observers from around the world have underscored that the charges against Mr. Kavala for having conspired against the Turkish government are groundless, and that Mr. Kavala has been the victim of a media smear campaign from extremists during a time of duress in Turkey,” reads a part of the letter to Erdogan.
Kavala was charged nearly two weeks after Turkish police detained him at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport.
Kavala—the chairperson of the organization Anadolu Kültür, which promotes the art and culture of the region—is a longtime supporter of Armenian Genocide recognition and Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. He visited Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Institute and Museum on April 24, 2016. Speaking to Yerevan-based News.am, he termed 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 the Thessaloniki-based Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in 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.
Below is the letter to President Erdogan in its entirety.
Nov. 17, 2017
Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Dear President Erdogan,
We, the undersigned write to you with an urgent request to release Mr. Osman Kavala from prison.
Observers from around the world have underscored that the charges against Mr. Kavala for having conspired against the Turkish government are groundless, and that Mr. Kavala has been the victim of a media smear campaign from extremists during a time of duress in Turkey.
Mr. Kavala is one of the most respected businessmen and public cultural figures in Turkey today. As the founder of the prominent Anadolu Kulture (Anatolian Culture), a non-profit company dedicated to building peaceful bridges between different ethnic groups in Turkey through the arts and cultural exchange. Mr. Kavala has done a great deal to create constructive and peaceful dialogue between ethnic groups in Turkey. His work has opened up vital civic spaces and has contributed greatly to the furthering of democratic values. He has been an advocate of constructive Turkish-EU relations, and has been a board member of important Turkish European NGOs such as Turkey-Poland Business Council, Turkey-Greece Business Council, and Center For Democracy in Southeast Europe.
He is known around the world as a man of great generosity, humility, and civility, and is not only a respected public figure in Turkey, but also held in high esteem in Europe, and North America.
Mr. Kavala’s life work embodies a tireless dedication to humane values, tolerance, democracy, peace and rule of law. As friends of the Turkish people, and supporters of Turkish civil society and democracy in Turkey, we urge you to release Mr. Kavala.
Sincerely, (55 names follow)
Taner Akçam, Kalousdian Mugar Professor, Clark University
Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law, New York University
Peter Balakian, Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor, Colgate University
Janet Benshoof, President, Global Justice Center, NYC
Sven Birkerts, Writer, Bennington Writers Seminar
Peter Brooks, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholar, Princeton University
James Carroll, Writer
Israel Charny, Executive director, Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem
Junot Díaz, Professor of English, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Deborah Dwork, Rose Professor of Holocaust History Clark University
Kai Erikson, Professor of Sociology Emeritus, Yale University
Daniel Feierstein, Director, Center for Genocide Studies, University of Buenos Aires
Carolyn Forché, University Professor, Georgetown University
Donna-Lee Frieze, Research Fellow, Deakin University,
Alice Fulton, Ann S. Bowers Professor of English, Cornell University
David Gewanter, Professor of English, Georgetown University
Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University
Joy Harjo, John C Hodges Chair, Professor of English, University of Tennessee
Judith Herman, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College
Marianne Hirsch, William Peterfield Trent Professor of Comparative Literature, Columbia University
Professor Tessa Hofmann, Chair, Working Group Recognition Against Genocide, Berlin
Major Jackson, Richard A. Dennis Green & Gold Professor of English, University of Vermont
Ben Kiernan, A.Whitney Griswold Professor of History, Yale University
Pamela Kingsbury, Director Writers Series, University of Northern Alabama
Robert Jay Lifton, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY
Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory University
Shara Macallum, Liberal Arts Professor of English, Penn State University
Armen T Marsoobian, Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern Connecticut
Richard A. Meckel, Professor of History and American Studies, Brown University
Askold Melnyczuk, Professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Robert Melson, Professor of Political Science Emeritus Purdue University
Christopher Merrill, Director, International Writing Program, University of Iowa
Angela Miller, Professor of Art and Art History, Washington University in St. Lous
Dirk Moses, Professor of Modern History, University of Sydney
Adam Muller, Director, Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Manitoba
Jay Parini, Axinn Professor of English, Middlebury College
Jane Pinchin, Bartlett Professor Emirita, Colgate University
Robert Pinsky, Professor of English, Boston University
John Poch, Professor of English, Texas Tech University
Leo P. Ribuffo, Society of the Cincinnati George Washington Distinguished Professor of History, George Washington University
Michael A. Riff, Director, Gross Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, Ramapo College
David Romtvedt, Professor of English Emiritus, University of Wyoming
Nancy L. Rosenblum, Senator Joseph Clark Research Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government, Harvard University
Tom Sleigh, Distinguished Professor, Hunter College/CUNY
Bruce Smith, Professor of English, Syracuse University
Roger W. Smith, Professor of Government Emeritus, College of William and Mary
Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, Founding Chairman, Genocide Watch
Charles B. Strozier, Professor, Director Center on Terrorism, John Jay College/CUNY
Gordon Tapper, Chair, Professor of English, Laguardia Community College
Colin Tatz, Visiting Professor, Politics and International Relations, Australian National University
Henry C. Theriault, President, International Association of Genocide Scholars
Natasha Trethewey, Board of Trustees Professor of English, Northwestern University
Andrew Woolford, Professor of Sociology, University of Manitoba
Ragip Zarakolu, Director Belge Publishing, PEN Freedom to Publish Award