By Vangelis Chorafas
Last Monday, ambassadors from 10 Western countries, which are also allies of Turkey, namely France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA, issued a joint statement on four years of Osman Kavala’s detention, in which they stressed that “the continuing delays in his trial … cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judiciary system”. In response, Tayyip Erdoğan accused Osman Kavalas of being a “Turkish leg of Soros”. Devlet Bahçeli, a close ally of Erdoğan, continued along the same lines.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has already summoned the ten ambassadors to protest their “meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs”, while also accusing them, in a separate statement, of politicizing a court case and pressurizing the Turkish judiciary.
The Era of good relations
However, Tayyip Erdoğan was once on very good terms with George Soros and the Open Society Foundations. In 2017, Ahmet Sever, an adviser to former President of Turkey Abdullah Gül, revealed that in 2003, during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Erdoğan had a meeting with George Soros, and asked for his support. “We are the open society in Turkey. “Support us”. That was Erdoğan ‘s argument. Egemen Bagis, Omer Celik, Hasan Kuneyt Zapsu (who coordinated the talks), and Osman Kavala were also present at this meeting.
The support requested from Soros concerned Turkey’s accession to the EU. For this exact reason, the Independent Commission on Turkey was established, which was funded by Soros. It was led by former Finnish President and Nobel Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari, former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, former Dutch Foreign Minister and European Commissioner Hans van den Broek, former Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, and others. All of them lobbied systematically for the commencement of Turkey’s EU accession process. During his trip to Istanbul in 2005, George Soros was welcomed by Tayyip Erdoğan and his government. Between 2001 and 2008 the Open Society Foundation did not face any legal problems and funded many activities in Turkey. In fact, during this period, Erdoğan’s opponents accused the Open Society Foundation of being pro-Erdoğan. The Open Society Foundation’s Turkey chapter was established and was run by Can Paker, who left in 2011.
Disruption of relations
As Turkey’s EU accession process began to stagnate and the Erdoğan regime was unable to proceed with reforms, Soros-funded issues such as freedoms, democratic values, and minority rights became a thorn in the side of Tayyip Erdoğan. Government-driven initiatives to dismantle civil society were ramped up following the Gezi Park protests and seriously afflicted the Open Society Foundation. Following the November 2015 elections, personal contacts between Erdoğan and Soros ceased to exist. The accusations levelled against Osman Kavalas for allegedly inciting protests in Gezi, spreading chaos and unrest across the country, and attempting to overthrow the government – in short, an attempted coup – were also levelled against the Open Society Foundation.
Open Society Foundation President Ali Hakan Altinay was arrested and questioned. Osman Kavala (the so-called “red” Soros) was arrested in 2017 and has been charged and convicted repeatedly for attempting to overthrow the regime. In February 2020 he was actually acquitted of inciting protests in Gezi Park in 2013, only to be re-arrested a few hours later on charges of involvement in the failed July 2016 coup against Erdoğan. For this particular charge, the prosecutor has requested that he be sentenced to life imprisonment. As a result of the above prosecutions, the Open Society Foundation departed from Turkey in 2018.
The TESEV Foundation
During his presence in Turkey, George Soros funded, among other organizations, the Turkish Economics and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV). Tayyip Erdoğan’s daughter, Sümeyye , did an internship in there. The foundation, which has 300 founding members, had Can Paker as its first president at the time of its establishment. In 2015 he left his position at the suggestion of Soros and founded “PODEM”. Hasan Cuneyt Zapsu, a former adviser to Erdoğan, an AKP executive and former member of the TESEV board, is also in PODEM. The leader of the official opposition CHP Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is also a founding member of TESEV, as is AKP leader Etem Sancak, who was also a member of the TESEV board. Osman Kavala was also a member of TESEV. In fact, he and Meral Aksener, leader of the Good Party, have a common cousin. Many attribute his persecution to this factor as well.
Ideological and political parameters
Following the election of Donald Trump as US President and the failed coup in Turkey in 2016, Trump and Erdoğan began leveling similar accusations against George Soros. This was a long-lasting point of contact between the two of them. Through the demonization of Soros, Erdoğan wanted to demonstrate to Washington what his stance was on the development of world politics and globalization. Following the political change in the US, Erdoğan is now obliged to also change his narrative about Osman Kavalas. The narrative now concerns mostly the inside, instead of the outside of the country. This new narrative has two main components. The first is that, throughout the ages, the foreign factor, and especially the West, has been plotting against Turkey and scheming its partition, all the more so now that Tayyip Erdoğan is turning his country into an international power. The second component concerns the always-existing perception in Turkey about an “internal enemy”, and in this case the destabilizing “fifth column” of Soros.
Add a dose of antisemitism to all of the above, and there you have a political landscape in which Kavala can be considered the man “behind everything”, in a conspiracy that unites elites and oppressed minorities along, thus forming a solid bloc of electoral support for Erdoğan. Furthermore, the indirect involvement of Kilicdaroglu and Aksener in personal relations or processes related to Soros deals a serious blow to the effectiveness of the official opposition’s criticism against the Turkish president.