Turkey’s ‘operation against Anadolu Kültür’s demand… to confront the past’

Or: a long aside on (dis)trust and (un)freedom in Turkey.

distrust of news

It is frustratingly difficult to trust Turkey’s state and media, in relation to cultural property crime (which I discussed in my last post and will discuss in my next post) as well as cultural heritage matters and other important issues (which I will discuss in this post). At the same time as one antiquities trafficking case was being presented, Turkey was

While I was writing my next post, the politicisation of prosecutions for antiquities trafficking was demonstrated by the uncertainty that had surrounded one case since 2004 (and still surrounds it now); and thirteen prominent staff and associates of Anadolu Kültür, which was founded by Osman Kavala, were detained.

Most have since been released. Children’s rights defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu has been arrested. There is a detention warrant for twenty, so (at least) another seven detentions are expected. Echoing the continually reset measure of a “new low”, which was once more reset when Kavala was imprisoned without trial, when Kavala’s staff and associates were detained, political scientist Ayşen Candaş observed that ‘the regime in Turkey [had] left another threshold behind’.

The first thirteen include:

  • Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, the Deputy Chair of the Executive Board of Anadolu Kültür;
  • Ali Hakan Altınay, another Member of the Executive Board of Anadolu Kültür, who is a founding director of the Open Society Foundation;
  • Asena Günal, the General Coordinator of the Istanbul Office of Anadolu Kültür and the Programme Coordinator for Anadolu Kültür-backed cultural exchange centre Depo, who has written about political pressure on artistic production in Turkey;
  • Bora Sarı,
  • Ayşegül Güzel and
  • Filiz Telek, who are employees of Anadolu Kültür, who may have been involved in a programme about Civil Disobedience (Sivil İtaatsizlik), though that may be a transcription error, since some reports seem to have somewhat replicated the listings of title (unvan) and profession (meslek) from the press release of the prosecutor and the press release appears to include acts of interpretation by the prosecutor;
  • Çiğdem Mater Utku, a consultant with Anadolu Kültür, manager of the Anadolu Kültür-backed Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform and film producer;
  • Meltem Aslan Çelikkan, the former Director-General of Anadolu Kültür and a founding member and current Co-Director of the Anadolu Kültür-backed Truth Justice Memory Center;
  • Yiğit Aksakoğlu, a member of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, a specialist in child development who has worked in capacity-building;
  • Prof. Turgut Tarhanlı, a human rights lawyer who is a founding member of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and Amnesty International Turkey, who has been praised by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for his work on refugee rights protection;
  • Hande Özhabeş, the Communication Coordinator of the Civil Society Development Center, who is a member of the Fair Labor Association as well as Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly;
  • Yusuf Cıvır, a human rights defender and digital project manager, who was one of the directors of an interactive political drama, Mi Minör, which was authored by Meltem Arıkan and combined audience participation with online interaction, which preceded and was falsely alleged to have ‘rehearsed’ the Gezi uprising (as some reports repeated the line from the press release of the prosecutor that it was a ‘play… where the events of Gezi Park were simulated [Gezi Parkı olaylarının senarize edildiği… oyunu’); and
  • Prof. Betül Tanbay Tüten, a mathematician who signed the petition of Academics for Peace.

unfreedom of cultural heritage defenders

As historian Foti Benlisoy has observed and these rolling detentions emphasise, ‘this is not only “hostage diplomacy”[;] Kavala is… [being made into] a scapegoat, in order to criminalise the social opposition and accuse it of unpatriotic behaviour [literally, non-nationality] [bir “rehine diplomasisinden” ibaret değil. Kavala, toplumsal muhalefeti kriminalize edip gayrimillilikle suçlamak için… bir günah keçisi]’.

As Benlisoy shows, lines of attack about Kavala as a ‘red Soros [kızıl Soros]’, with connections to philanthropic businessman George Soros and/or ‘colour revolutions [renkli devrimler]’ like the Gezi uprising, advance a broader anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, wherein Jews simultaneously control a “world order” and undermine both the international system and the “national will”.

[An hour after I published this, it was reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said: ‘The person, who financed terrorists during the Gezi incidents, is currently in prison [Osman Kavala]. And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew George Soros. This is a man who was assigned to divide nations and shatter them. He has so much money and he is spending it in these ways.’]

This attack has direct relevance to archaeology/heritage, because the state perceives ‘opposition to large, ecologically destructive urban [development] projects [Ekoyıkıcı büyük kentsel projelere karşı muhalefet]’ as ‘espionage [casusluk]’. In fact, human rights lawyer Eren Keskin believes that Anadolu Kültür’s memory work has ‘disturbed the system and political power [sistemi ve siyasi iktidarı rahatsız etmiş]’ and that the detentions are precisely ‘an operation against Anadolu Kültür’s demand… to confront the past [Anadolu Kültür’ün geçmişle yüzleşme…. talebine karşı bir operasyon]’.

As political scientist Ebru Erdem-Akçay suggests, the prosecutor’s report is ‘practically a declaration that all involvement, including civil disobedience, with the Gezi protests [is] considered criminal and conspiracy theories are deemed real. Brace yourselves.’

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