You may have never heard the name before, but Osman Kavla is one of Turkey’s most celebrated activists and philanthropists. Osman Kavala is a person who is sensitive to international challenges and has tirelessly worked to bring people with different perspectives together in dialogue to address local and international conflicts. This dialogue both lays a foundation and charts a course for positive real-world change based on peace and human rights. His work is culturally constructive, focused on building a better future for all citizens.
Sadly, Osman was arrested in 2017 after the Turkish administration accused him of plotting a coup against Turkey’s government following an environmental demonstration in 2013. After countless petitions and motions were filed for his release, and reinstation of his most basic human rights, Osman was continuously held in pretrial detention. Osman’s incarceration was brought to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights, who ruled that the charges against Osman were both baseless and a direct breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. After this ruling, Osman was released in February of this year, however he never made it out of the prison grounds. After the ruling by leading European lawmakers, Osman was arrested again and subjected to isolation.
As you read this, Osman is approaching a grim milestone of 1,000 days in Turkish prison. During his time in isolation, Osman was given a salad that contained two snails. Despite the obvious sanitation infringement, these two “humble gastropods” brought something that Osman had been denied: company. The snails lived in the cell with Osman as he was subjected to solitary confinement. On the day of his short-lived release, Osman took the snails with him as a memory of the torturous tenure in Turkish prison. When rearrested, Osman entrusted his slimy shelled comrades to his lawyer. Now, the snails are free; but Osman is not.
The company provided by these two snails created a much-needed connection that has inspired artistic and altruistic movements across the globe. This week, from the 23rd June 2020, a unique video opera entitled Osman Bey and the Snails was released. This original composition was a result of a collaboration by UK-based Opera Circus and its global community of artists. It is a gift by artists to a political prisoner who promoted culture to bridge divides between Turkey and other nations. This is an extraordinary moment in global politics. Across the world millions of people are now joining their voices and employing their creativity to oppose violence, injustice, and discrimination, issues that Osman Kavala has fought for throughout his whole career and went to jail for them.
The contemporary classical work was composed by Nigel Osborne (The Electrification of the Soviet Union, the Birth of the Beatles Symphony), who evoked various musical cultures associated with Osman’s humanitarian work: Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, “and most of all of Sevda, the Balkan music of love”. “The true story of Osman and his snail-companions is like a fairy story, but it presents all of the truths about the loneliness of imprisonment in isolation and about Osman’s compassion and love of nature and beauty,” Osborne said.
This movement is just one example of the power of the unifying power of music, and the creative community who stand resilient in the face of an international pandemic and political tension. The public release of the opera has attracted digital activists to create several hashtags to generate public interaction #OsmanBeyandtheSnails is an appeal to #FreeOsmanKavala.
If you want to watch the opera you can view it in either English (https://youtu.be/IjV-9eMr8oExs) or Turkish (https://youtu.be/2-RRyHJQTXA). If you would like to help Osman, or if you would like to know more about the creative, collaborative community that composed a genre-defining musical movement, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Osman Bey and the Snails is produced by Friends of Osman Kavala. It was composed by Nigel Osborne (composer and aid worker), a by Robert Golden (filmmaker and photographer). The singers are Darren Abrahams, Nadine Benjamin, Lore Lixenberg, Andy Morton and Robert Rice; piano accompaniment by Anthony Ingle, sound by Mikael Hegelund Martinsen (Beats across Borders, Denmark). The producer is Tina Ellen Lee, Opera Circus’ Artistic Director. The librettists are Nigel Osborne, Anthony Barnett (openDemocracy), Susanna Seidl-Fox, Clare Shine (Salzburg Global Seminar), Christina Maranci, Thomas de Waal and Vincent Higgins.