'Osman Kavala, Among Us': Artist parades philanthropist's picture in Istanbul streets

To mark the four-year anniversary of philanthropist Osman Kavala’s imprisonment, artist Ateş Alpar paraded a portrait of him around Istanbul. The ECHR has deemed Kavala’s imprisonment unlawful, but the Turkish government refuses to release him.

Duvar English 

Four years after the imprisonment of businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, artist Ateş Alpar has printed a portrait of him and paraded it around Istanbul.

The artist aims to draw attention to the “freedom of movement” taken from Kavala over the course of his unlawful imprisonment, Artı Gerçek reported

“Osman Kavala walks among us. He carries universal values through the streets, where construction, gentrification efforts, and the looting of cultural heritage abound,” Alpar said.

Alpar carried Kavala’s portrait through the streets of the city, through crowds of people and past onlooking children. He wanted to bring Kavala through the “rhythm, sorrows and laughter of the city” from the confines of his cell. 

“He sees Istanbul as he passes through crowds, children, sometimes lonely houses and sometimes drying laundry,” Alpar said, “He is crossing the cobblestones of the multicultural and rich geography that creates the people who make it. He smells the air filled with exhaust, the smells of simit and tea, and the steam of the meals cooked in homes.”

Alpar walked with Kavala’s portrait covering his own visage for most of the performance. 

Osman Kavala, philanthropist and founder of the NGO Anadolu Culture, was first arrested on Nov. 1, 2017, on charges that he helped facilitate the Gezi Park protests of 2013. He was acquitted of those charges in February 2020, but Turkish authorities immediately re-arrested him on charges that he was involved in the 2016 coup attempt.

In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called for Kavala’s urgent release. 

In a statement issued on the four-year anniversary of his imprisonment, Kavala said that his imprisonment has had a deep psychological impact on him. 

Kavala has garnered widespread international support. Last month, a group of 10 Western ambassadors to Turkey issued a joint statement calling for Kavala’s release. The statement triggered a diplomatic crisis in which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to declare the 10 ambassadors “persona non grata.” The conflict was resolved when the countries declared their commitment to the “non-interference” clause of the Vienna Convention. Erdoğan widely touted this outcome as a victory for his government.

The next hearing of Osman Kavala’s trial is scheduled for Nov. 26.