Snail-inspired video opera launched to aid jailed Turkish civic leader


London (AFP)

Supporters of a jailed Turkish civil society leader unveiled a unique video opera on Tuesday to highlight his plight -- themed around two snails, a salad and solitary confinement.

British performing arts company Opera Circus produced the online mini-opera -- "Osman Bey and the Snails" -- to draw attention to Osman Kavala's case.

The troupe tapped into its community of artists in four countries to create what it called a "lockdown opera" during the coronavirus pandemic, as the Turkish businessman and philanthropist approaches 1,000 days behind bars.

The 11-minute performance draws inspiration from Kavala purportedly finding two snails in his lunchtime prison salad and adopting them to keep him company in solitary confinement.

After he was acquitted in February of orchestrating 2013 anti-government protests, but then swiftly detained again in a separate case, Kavala gave the snails to his lawyer for safekeeping.

"The true story of Osman and his snail-friends is like a fairy story," said Nigel Osborne, the mini-opera's composer.

"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."

Its creators said the "contemporary classical work" is also a gift to Kavala to thank him for promoting "culture to bridge divides between Turkey and other nations".

They added Osborne had tried to evoke the different musical cultures, including Armenian, Greek and Kurdish, as well as Sevda -- "the Balkan music of love" -- that Kavala had previously worked with.

They hope to publicise his plight with the mini-opera's release alongside the hashtags #OsmanBeyandtheSnails and #FreeOsmanKavala.

After his acquittal by a Turkish court in February over the anti-government "Gezi Park" protests of 2013, police held Kavala on a fresh arrest warrant linking him to the failed coup attempt in 2016.

Kavala, who was one of nine defendants found not guilty of seeking to overthrow the government, was the only one kept in jail throughout the trial.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who stands accused of dismantling Turkish civil society, locking up activists and political opponents, and shutting down organisations, has criticised the prominent detainee.

Erdogan has alleged Kavala is controlled by US billionaire and democracy activist George Soros, and following his acquittal said "Soros-like people... seek to stir up things by provoking revolt in some countries".

Funding philanthropic projects across the world, Soros has become a favourite target of far-right extremists in many countries.

Kavala worked with Soros's Open Society Foundation before it was banned from Turkey, as well as a number of high-profile civil society groups.