Turkish Cultural Workers and Academics Detained
By HG Masters
*Last updated November 22, 2018.
On November 16, in a series of pre-dawn, coordinated raids, Turkish police arrested board members and staff of the Istanbul-based NGO Anadolu Kültür (Anatolian Culture), academics at the Boğaziçi and Bilgi Universities in Istanbul, and other proponents of human rights and free expression. Among the 13 detainees were Asena Günal, the general coordinator of Anadolu Kültür, who also oversees the programming at Depo art space in Istanbul; deputy chair of the Anadolu Kültür executive board Yiğit Ekmekçi; executive board member Ali Hakan Altınay; employee Bora Sarı; former director general and co-director of Truth Justice Memory Center Meltem Aslan; Betül Tanbay, a mathematics professor at Boğaziçi University; Turgut Tarhanlı, dean of the Faculty of Law of Bilgi University; and film producer and coordinator of the Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform, Çiğdem Mater.
The government-run Anadolu Agency initially reported that the charges brought against the detainees include “creating chaos and mayhem” and “seeking to overthrow the government” by supporting and training key figures in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, such as Erdem Gündüz, a performance artist who is now commonly known as “the standing man,” and pianist Davide Martello, who gave an impromptu concert in Taksim Square to the assembled crowds in June 2013. A subsequent statement released by the Istanbul Security Directorate, and translated by Bianet News English, alleged that those detained had facilitated the protests, and spread information designed to continue the anti-government demonstrations, "via their own media outlets."
By November 18, 12 of the 13 had been released. They are currently banned from leaving the country. Yiğit Ekmekçi was formally arrested and referred to court but was released on November 17.
The European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri called the wave of detentions: “Another brutal assault on Turkish civil society.” The United States Department of State commented they were very concerned by the arrests, and urged Turkey to respect freedom of expression.
Since October 18, 2017, the head of Anadolu Kültür, businessman and human-rights supporter Osman Kavala has been detained for allegedly attempting to overthrow the state, though he has yet to be formally charged. The government accused him of masterminding the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Kavala’s organization Anadolu Kültür promotes reconciliation between ethnic groups in Turkey through education and the arts. The programming at Depo art space has included exhibitions of many Turkish contemporary artists as well as group shows of Armenian diaspora artists and Syrian artists based in Turkey.
On the evening of November 16, artist Sibel Horada was scheduled to open her exhibition “An Internal Garden” at Depo. After news of the arrests, the opening was canceled but members of the Istanbul art scene showed up to see the exhibition as an act of solidarity with Günal, Sarı and others.
The sole suspect that remains imprisoned is Yiğit Aksakoğlu, who was arrested after appearing in front of a judge, and sent to the İstanbul Silivri High Security Prison on November 19. Aksakoğlu is the Turkey representative for the Bernard Van Leer Foundation and works on projects about early child development, child labor and child friendly cities in cooperation with prominent local NGOs and municipalities all over the country. His arrest stems from a series of telephone calls recorded from June to December 2013, in the wake of the Gezi Park protests, when prosecutors allege that he sought to organize or facilitate meetings to stage further demonstrations and actions. Aksakoğlu’s lawyers dispute whether these recordings of his phone calls were made legally or not, and whether the judge understood the content of these recordings correctly. Furthermore, his lawyers and supporters note that organizing meetings about civil disobedience and nonviolent action are not crimes under the international human-rights conventions to which Turkey is a part, and not criminal activities even under the constitution and the laws of the Turkish Republic. An appeal to object to his detention was filed on Tuesday, November 20.
HG Masters is the editor-at-large of ArtAsiaPacific.
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