ESR 6 Blog April/May 2022: Bilge Hasdemir

A Portrait of Injustice: The Gezi Park Trial

This blog post is being written on April 22nd. Osman Kavala has been imprisoned for 1634 days without a conviction. For those who do not know Osman Kavala, I wouldn’t be wrong in introducing him as one of the most prominent figures in Turkey’s cultural scene. Kavala founded the Anadolu Kültür in 2002, a non-profit cultural institution aimed at creating a culture of peace in society through projects supporting local initiatives for production and sharing of cultural and artistic works across Turkey and abroad. The first local initiative founded by the Anadolu Kültür is the Diyarbakır Art Center, located in Diyarbakır which is one of the largest cities in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish Southeast and was once home to a diverse range of religious and ethnic communities such as Arabs, Armenians, Christians, Jews, Kurds, Muslims, Persians, Syriacs, Yezidis and Turks. Kars, another one of the most multi-ethnic cities in North-eastern Turkey, which was once a part of ancient Armenia, hosted the Kars Art Center from 2005 till 2009.  Kars Art Center, being another local initiative of the Anadolu Kültür, served as a multi-purpose hall for cultural communication and activities for individuals not only from Turkey, but also from Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan until it was closed down. Depo is an Istanbul-based initiative of Anadolu Kültür which functions as a not-for-profit independent space for culture, arts and critical debates. The projects run by these institutions often focus on the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and the cultural diversity across Anatolia. Their works include projects like the Justice Atlas  which is a podcast series focusing on the current violations of civil and human rights, the CultureCIVIC which was a grant and capacity-building program supporting individuals and projects working on cultural dialogue and public engagement committed to freedom of speech, non-discrimination and democratic processes, and the Spaces of Culture which is a capacity building and mobility program  aiming to support the development of cultural and arts infrastructures in the cities of İzmir, Diyarbakır and Gaziantep. These institutions also run vibrant public programmes of exhibitions, screenings, talks, seminars, and publications, so they not only follow many urgent issues in society and raise timely questions but also contribute significantly to the cultural field and histories and create new publics and publicness in their locations. They also advocate for cultural rights and for a more welcoming and inclusive arts and cultural scene as part of the anti-discriminatory and anti-fascist cultural front in Turkey.

Today is the sixth hearing of the Gezi Trial in Istanbul. Kavala and sixteen co-defendants have been accused of organizing the Gezi Park protests which began in Istanbul in 2013. As you might know, because anyone who has been involved in or has researched socially engaged art during the last decade is likely to be familiar with the Gezi Park movement, the protests began initially to resist the government’s plans to demolish Gezi Park in Taksim as part of the privatization programme of the AKP government, and then turned into nationwide anti-government demonstrations against the deadly police violence targeting the protestors and the violations of the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Although freedom of assembly is guaranteed as a right in Turkish law, it is severely curtailed by the government and gatherings are invariably dispersed by the armed forces with disproportionate interventions and excessive use of force as happened during the Gezi Park protests across Turkey.

As a social movement, the Gezi Resistance is undoubtedly one of the most important breaking points in the history of Turkey. Activists, artists, citizens, students belonging to different political views, different identities and generations became part of the Gezi Resistance and with their free will fought for the environment, city and democracy against the neoliberal urban planning and privatization and the deepening authoritarianism. As architect Mücella Yapıcı from the Chamber of Architects and Taksim Solidarity, who is one of the defendants in the trial facing a possible aggravated life sentence like Kavala, said in her defense statement today on April 22nd: “Gezi Resistance is the most democratic, innovative, egalitarian and inclusive peaceful social movement in the history of this country. It was the writing on the wall for talking and deciding together, standing up for all kinds of life.”

Kavala and seven co-defendants all gave their final statement today, but the verdict was postponed to Monday, April 25th. Kavala concludes his statement by saying that: “After losing four and a half years of my life, the only aspect I can find solace in is the possibility that the process I experienced could contribute to confronting the crucial problems in the judiciary of Turkey, thus, those who will be brought to justice in the future could receive a fairer treatment.”

25.03.2022: The Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No.13 sentenced Osman Kavala to aggravated life in prison. The seven co-defendants Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi sentenced to 18 years in prison.

As Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, said in relation to the decision:

“Today, we have witnessed a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. This verdict deals a devastating blow not only to Osman Kavala, his co-defendants and their families, but to everyone who believes in justice and human rights activism in Turkey and beyond.”

Nothing more to say, for now.

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