01/31/2020 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – On Tuesday, Osman Kavala again appeared in a Turkish courtroom as the trial continues regarding his alleged involvement in so-called masterminding the 2013 Gezi Park Protests. Defense lawyers requested that the judges recuse themselves, on the basis that the court had listened to additional witnesses without allowing their or Kavala’s presence. When the judges refused, 50 defense lawyers walked out of the courtroom in protest and Kavala was remanded back to prison. There are 15 other defendants on trial alongside Kavala, but he is the only one who remains in jail. His case is an example of Turkey using the judicial system to censor critics and has serious implications for religious minorities.
As a philanthropist, Kavala’s work encompasses many cultural and historical angles. A significant amount of his work involved the publication of numerous books on the Armenian Genocide, a topic which Turkey actively discourages conversation about. Kavala’s philanthropic work included attempts to build bridges of reconciliation between communities damaged by Turkey’s genocidal history—many of these victims were Christians. Even prior to his arrest, Kavala was under significant pressure from the authorities as attempts were made to prevent him from engaging in this kind of work.
The genocide of Christians in Turkey occurred as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing in the early 1900s. It effectively demolished Christianity throughout the country. Though modern-day Turkey is constitutionally secular, the constitution also protects Turkishness, a concept that implies that all Christians are foreign and all Turks are Muslim. Though some Christians survived the genocide, their children and grandchildren continue to suffer its consequences. Some Turks such as Kavala have made attempts at recognizing this history and its continued impact, but the government heavily harasses all efforts.
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