A farce called the Gezi trial: when a verdict is a criminal act

If anyone had any hope that there remained a crumb of justice and reason in Turkey, the tragicomedy-like verdict in so-called Gezi trial on April 25 should have come as a crushing blow. Following a roller-coaster ride through a travesty of justice, an Istanbul court on Monday sentenced philanthropist and human rights defender Osman Kavala to life in prison without parole, finding him guilty of "seeking to overthrow the government” by financing the 2013 Gezi Park  protests.

Seven other defendants, Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater, Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Can Atalay and Yiğit Ekmekçi, were sentenced to 18 years each in prison. All seven were arrested hastily after the delivery of verdicts on Monday.

The indictment in the case reads like a fiction that would make George Orwell jealous. A mish-mash of groundless claims, peppered with an imaginary plot, which is aimed at connecting together all the accused, who have only one thing in common: being experts in their profession, and committed to strengthen to civil society, which, as it appears now, is part of an effort in vain.

Kavala had, on the day of verdict, spent four-and-a-half years in prison on ridiculous grounds. I have known him since I returned to Turkey from Sweden nearly three decades ago, to continue my work as a journalist. From day one, I followed his relentless engagement in various projects that aimed at raising the awareness of Turks on the dark pages if the country's past, which meant coming to terms with the Armenian Genocide, the country’s bleeding Kurdish issue and peace with the neighbouring societies.

As a benevolent businessperson, he opened up "Cezayir Mansion” near Taksim Square, for numerous meetings in its halls. Prior to the failed coup, he had hosted us - some columnists, reformist politicians and lawyers - at a series of meeting on how to enlarge the battle for democratisation. The entire building, as was told by a reliable source from bureaucracy later on, was bugged for years. The state wanted to know everything that civilians discussed for years, during the then-lively EU accession period. Many friends from Sweden know the venue, and Osman, very well from those times.

Many of the seven who are given 18-year long prison sentences are also acquaintances of mine. Hakan Altınay is a well-educated lawyer, a true liberal. Can Atalay is also a lawyer, from left flank. Mine Özerden and Çiğdem Mater are film makers. The latter had returned from Germany just for the trial, apparently having faith in a crumb of justice in Turkey, and ended up behind bars. My friend, Yiğit Ekmekçi, is an indomitable activist for modern education. And the 72-year-old lady, Mücella Yapıcı, is a highly respected architect who, in her daughter's words, "devoted her entire life for preservation of the historical texture of Istanbul”.

These are the deliberately chosen victims, by an entirely politicised judiciary which - as one senior judge told me by phone from Turkey - has been "invaded by ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves, Eurasianists and Islamists operating in the key positions of the justice system not far from the spirit of Hitler's or Stalin's prosecutors and judges” since the massive purge in the aftermath  of the failed coup attempt of  2016.

In this context, there should be no shock at all about the true nature of the verdict. This sham trial - there are many others of the same nature - is aimed at setting an example for the opposition to kneel down before the ruling power. The Gezi trial and Kavala symbolize, for the current system, an attempt to challenge the traditionally oppressive political system of Turkey, an order which remains sworn to block all attempts to peacefully reform it.

In fact, if one carefully looks at all the escalating measures of turning (successfully so far) Turkey into a police state, one observes a bitter reality: The progress” in Turkey in early millenium, backed by the EU-linked reform process had opened the long-locked Pandora's Box and all the unresolved, postponed issues had come out.

For a short while, between 2002 - 2009, people of Turkey witnessed the breaking of taboos, with reformist circles pushing for progress. The Gezi protests in 2013 spread to 79 of 81 Turkish provinces and were the first real challenge to the AKP rule, which by then had abandoned nearly all the aspects of democratization, including issues such as the Armenian reconciliation, a solution in Cyprus, the education for young women, LGBT issues, etc. By 2015, Kurds were also deceived, with the Peace Process being  arbitrarily terminated by Erdoğan. Ever since then, Turkey has been on constant fall into the abyss.

So, it came as no surprise that Kavala and his friends are chosen as scapegoats. Yet, not only is the Gezi verdict purely political, but it is also a sheer provocation.

Monday’s verdict should be seen in the context of a broader picture which has emerged in Turkey lately.

Firstly, there is a fierce debate on demonizing Syrian refugees, which is also being encouraged b opposition parties. Secondly, the Turkish Armed Forces massive incursion is ongoing in Iraqi Kurdistan, with severe battles - seemingly triggered by the opportunity that the world is focused on Russian invasion in Ukraine. Thirdly, a closure case against the pro-Kurdish HDP (the third largest group in Parliament) is gaining momentum, with a certain outcome on shutting down the party. Fourthly, an Armenian-Turkish deputy, Garo Paylan, is under massive threat, after his handing out a motion in Parliament asking for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. There is a national frenzy taking place, signalling that even harder times await Turkey.

What now about Kavala and his friends? The philanthropist was arrested, on October 18, 2017, on my birthday, the day I had just finished the draft of my book, Die Hoffnung Stirbt am Bosporus” (Droemer Knaur). That day, my intuition on the arrest was that it is strong turn to mark a darker era”. Now, I expect an even longer appeals process. In a way, Kavala’s fate seems synced with the existence of the regime, which insists on keeping him in hell. It may take years before he is free. When he is, we may start to be hopeful.

The Gezi trial should be a final wake up call for understanding the true nature of the administration in Turkey and the path chosen by its relentless rulers. Russia is not the only land led by an autocrat - there is copy-paste of Putin in Ankara.

The Gezi trial verdict, which in itself  is a crime, is a wake-up call for all the Western powers, which so far seem to embolden a Turkish oppressor, while taking a unified stand against the Russian autocrat.

© Ahval English

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