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ALM Feature

Turkey TV series paints dark picture of jailed activist Osman Kavala

A new series on Turkey’s new streaming service Tabii presents a brazen caricature of Osman Kavala, the philanthropist and human rights activist serving a life sentence.

Old newspaper clippings burn in the darkness as the grim voice of a broadcaster reads the headlines: “Businessman Teoman Bayramli takes over the modernization project of F-16 fighters,” “Bayramli’s new hotel destroys Caretta Caretta turtles’ habitats” and “Bayramli to establish a new bank.” The subject of the news, a tall, lanky figure with a mop of curls, walks through a dark corridor and opens the door to a street riot. Placing himself at the center of the demonstrators in gas masks throwing Molotov cocktails, he faces the camera and breaks into a sly smile.

The short trailer for "Metamorfoz" or “Metamorphosis,” the controversial series on state-run TRT’s new steaming service Tabii, leaves little doubt about who this antihero is. Teoman Bayramli, the shady main character, is clearly Osman Kavala, one of Turkey’s most famous prisoners, right down to his piercing blue eyes and arched nose.

The series is a portrait of the philanthropist and human rights activist persecuted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, the pro-government press and the Turkish courts. Erdogan calls him a “Soros leftover” in a reference to Kavala’s position on the board of the Turkish chapter of the Open Society Foundations funded by financier George Soros. He's been kept behind bars for the last six years, save for a half day when he was released before being detained with new accusations. The “Metamorphosis” trailer shows that Teo, Kavala’s roguish avatar, is guilty of all the concocted charges such as espionage, financing riots that aim to overthrow the government and more.

The first episode — a dragging one-and-a-half hours of bad lighting and clumsy dialogue — shows Teo taking over his father’s vast business empire after spending several years abroad as an eager but faint-hearted revolutionary. Once he becomes a businessman, he does the bidding of American agents, handing over military secrets (a charge of which Kavala has been acquitted) and establishing a bank (which he did, briefly). He also finances a series of short-lived cultural magazines, a reference to Kavala's patronage of culture and arts, which later gave birth to his popular Anadolu Kultur, an art platform that finances cultural events across Turkey.

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