The trial of activists and civil society figures over their alleged involvement with the massive anti-government protests of 2013, known as the Gezi Park protests, was a show trial to criminalise dissent, but ended up creating an opposite effect, Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala wrote in an article for daily BirGün on Sunday.
Kavala, who was convicted to life in prison without parole in the Gezi Trial on April 25, sent the article to BirGün via his lawyers, writing from his prison cell in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison, infamous for holding political prisoners.
“There was such a drift away from legal norms and regular judicial methods due to political influencing and conflicting tactics that the case created the opposite effect than to the one that it aimed,” Kavala wrote. “Doling out harsh prison sentences to people who defend a pluralist, egalitarian urban life did not cast any shadow on the legitimacy of Gezi, on the contrary, it created questions over the legitimacy of the court.”
“It made everybody see how dangerous it was for all citizens when the law is abused in this way. I believe this will trigger an instinct for peaceful coexistence, and contribute to the emergence of a strong will to establish the rule of law,” he continued.
The protests, named after the small park in central Istanbul that was set to be demolished to make way for a mall made to look like an Ottoman building, started when construction machines entered Gezi Park to tear out the park’s trees.
“Before Gezi, there had been a series of interventions against lifestyles and freedoms and a number of projects that were harmful to the natural and urban environment as well as cultural heritage had been implemented. The announcement that Gezi Park would be torn down could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Kavala said.
The reason the demolition of a small park sparked protests that eventually drew some four million people to the streets was, according to Kavala, “a deeper instinctive reaction”.
“We have an emotional connection with trees,” he said, going back to the early evolution of human beings. “I believe it is the security of being close to trees that makes us feel good in parks.”
Destruction of a park that pertains to a fundamental need to make way for a temple to consumption “made us instinctively feel the danger to our very existence and clear our mind, giving us the additional energy to defend our selves and our lives”, Kavala added.
The protests were lent a strong air of legitimacy by the fact that they aimed to defend a park and its trees, he said, continuing:
“The Gezi experience differs from other protests against the neoliberal world order and its symbols: It was not the occupation of an institution that harmed public good, nor of a foreign space. Young people protected a park where they felt good and united with trees, where they created a coexistence, against a despotic intervention and an invasion.”
The instinct to protect trees “made us all more sensitive and resolute to protect many more things”, Kavala said.
The Gezi Protests were emblematic of the legality and legitimacy of the fight for the law and for rights, “growing with its past, present and future”, he concluded.