Happy birthday, dear Osman Kavala!

It must have been more than 20 years ago. I was in Istanbul for a meeting. Afterwards, I needed to take a taxi to my destination. Since I didn't know much about Istanbul, I asked Osman Kavala which side of the road I should take the taxi.

“Don't take a taxi, there is a metro, I always use it, it is much more comfortable,” he said.

When I told him that I had never used the metro in Istanbul, he walked me to the metro, bought me a ticket, explained Istanbul's metro system, and sent me on my way, saying, “This is my phone number in case of any problems.”

I was surprised; impressed by his kindness and elegance.

This was the first time I met Osman Kavala.

For the next 20 years, our paths crossed in many places and we became close friends. I was surprised that a business person like him was so intensely engaged, always on the field with us. For 20 years, he continued to surprise me.

You could see Osman at the ruins of Ani, in a tent during the earthquake in Van, in Surp Giragos in Diyarbakır, in a school in Ezidi camps, next to people in a city under bombardment, at the end of a table with Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian youth, in efforts to protect Anatolia’s cultural heritage, in an effort to save a local seed in Anatolia, on the streets of Antep or Antakya.

Osman was one of the first to run to help when there was a disaster in the country.  One day after the Van earthquake in 2011, we bought all the blankets we could find in Diyarbakır and travelled to Van in a lorry.

We were handing out blankets for those in need along the way. We ran into Osman there, visiting tents and villages and identifying the needs.

Afterwards we went to the local authorities together and started our initiatives for the establishment of a tent city.

He never left the work unfinished; always followed it up. For years, until the earthquake victims moved to permanent housing, Osman followed their needs and tried to keep up with them.

One day, in Istanbul, we were going to buy tents for the earthquake victims; he was examining the features of the tents in meticulous detail.

I remember at one point I got fed up and said, “Let's buy one already, it's just a tent!”

“Of course it's a tent,” he said. “But maybe they will stay in these tents for months. They shouldn't get cold, that's why the features of the tent are so important.” He analysed the technical features of the tents for a long time and only then made the purchase.

In 2010, Osman was one of the first friends with whom I shared our idea of establishing a research centre in Diyarbakır. While most people did not look favourably to this idea, Osman - as always - listed all the difficulties we might face and then gave us a shoulder to lean on. He was very different from people in his position, he did not hesitate to undertake risky endeavours.

Osman was one of those who lived according to the principles of peace, freedom, justice and equality that he believed in. He endeavoured to make these principles more present in social life.

He didn’t hesitate to shoulder this heavy burden in Turkey.

During the many years I was at the helm of DİSA, I witnessed how consistent and proper his political stance was on many aspects of the Kurdish question - from education in mother tongue to confronting the past. His commitment to the principles - such as democracy, equality, freedom, liberty and justice - was clear and so was his struggle for them.

In the summer of 2014, when hundreds of thousands of Ezidis were fleeing to Turkey from ISIS attacks, Osman was again in charge of meeting the needs of their camps.

We had established a school in the Diyarbakır Ezidi camp after long efforts. The needs of the school, school books, motivation for the teachers... he took care of all these one by one. In the Ezidi camps in the region, Osman was one of the first people we called when we ran out of wood, food, clothes... anything.

Osman is a very special human being who never withheld his support from Syrians, Ezidis, Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, any people, anybody. This support is not only a reflection of his philanthropy, but also a reflection of his political stance in daily life.

In 2015, when clashes broke out in Sur, Osman was one of the first to run there again. That year, we frequently knocked on the doors in both Ankara and Diyarbakır together to stop the clashes.

He did not stay idle after the destruction either. He immediately set up a children’s fund and supported efforts to help those living in the conflict zone to return to normal life. He was planning many more things to reduce the traumatic impact of conflict, destruction and war on children when he was detained and then arrested on October 18, 2017.

It is hard to believe that Osman, this wonderful human being, has been in a cell for almost 5 years - in a cell for 4 years, 11 months and 2 days. 4 years, 11 months and 2 days!

How hard to believe! Every time I looked at the sky during these 4 years, 11 months and 2 days, it made my heart ache to know that he was in a cell.

What you have to go through hurts my heart, dear Osman.

This is a country, where nobody believes that there can be people who do all these beautiful things, without any selfish interest or expectation.

This is the country of those who publish front page headlines like “dark man”, in despicable attempts to demonise most benevolent human beings such as him.

Osman, you were always “too much” for this country.

Those who publish all of those horrible headlines about you, those who sentenced you to life imprisonment, those who kept you in that cell, do not believe that a person can do all these good and beautiful things just for the values he believes in, without expecting any reward.

Because for them this is something really “incredible”, dear Osman.

I have said it hundreds of times in these 5 years, but I would like to say it once more, resolutely:

Osman, my dearest friend, I am glad that I had the chance to get to know you and work closely with you.

I have always been proud to walk on the same path with you.

I want you to know that the hearts of thousands of people in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and many parts of the world are with you.

Not only us, but also the mountains, stones, forests, birds… of this country are grateful to you.

Happy birthday my beautiful friend!

(This article was originally published by the MLSA.)

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