Saturday Mothers Come Together For The 500th Week


Today marks the 500th week that the Saturday Mothers have gathered in a public square in Istanbul to demand justice for their family members who went missing at the hand of the Turkish state.

The Saturday Mothers are women of all ages, mothers of sons and daughters who suddenly went missing, wives of men who were called to the police station in the 1990’s but never returned back home. They mostly consist of Kurdish women as the forced disappearances was part of Turkey’s brutal crackdown on the Kurdish people.

The systematic policy of forced disappearances was a way to create fear among the Kurdish population and an attempt to stifle the growing Kurdish resistance that was ignited by the creation and the armed struggle of the PKK in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

In a 2013 report about enforced disappearances commited by the Turkish state conducted by the Truth Justice Memory Center, Hasan Karakoç, the brother of missing Ridvan Karakoç, says:

To claim the disappeared in the struggle for the disappeared was in a way to become a candidate for enforced disappearance.

Three or four times, a white car, a Renault, they had no number plates anyway, or they would change them, three or four times, scraped against my knee in the market place, and they said to me from the car, “your days are numbered”… And one day, in that street there, they cornered me again.

Bedran twice stopped me in the street. (…) There were no police officers around. If it was not for the people around us and the passing cars, he was going to take me away and kill me. (…) Yes, he told me to withdraw my complaint. And I told him I wouldn’t.

On May 27, 1995, the Saturday Mothers began their civil disobedience against the state of Turkey that would give no answer when they asked for the whereabouts of their loved ones. Every Saturday at 12 o’clock they protested the enforced disappearances of their family. In 1999 they were forced to stop their peaceful protests due to increasing harrassment and violence from Turkish police. They resumed their sit-in in 2009 and today, October 25, 2014, they sat down for the 500th time, asking the same questions as in 1995: Where are our children? Our husbands?

Hasan Ocak was detained on March 21, 1995 and tortured to death. His mother was present at today’s sit-in where she spoke of her son:

My son was detained and disappeared. There is no police station nor prosecutor left I didn’t ask about him, no door left I didn’t knock at. They all told lies and denied it. On 15 May 1995, I found him in the cemetery of the nameless in Beykoz. They had killed him.”

The United Nation describes “enforced disappearances” in its Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED) as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person […].”

The convention that has not been signed by Turkey is one of the Saturday Mothers demands to the state of Turkey. Furthermore, they demand that awareness is raised about state-sponsored violence, militarization and militarism in Turkey; that state archives are opened up to the public so that “state-sponsored political murders can be brought to light”; that changes are made to the Turkish penal code “in order to remove the statute of limitation on political murders and forced disappearances”.

 The Truth Justice Memory Center report cites the Argentinian lawyer Jaime Malamud Goti: “(…) trying the perpetrators in the military of the worst crimes would contribute to the consolidation of democracy by restoring confidence in its mechanisms.”

This is yet another reason why the Saturday Mothers’ demands are as relevant and essential for the peace process today as they were in the 1990’s. The fact that the women have now gathered for the 500th time with no sufficient action taken by the government of Turkey, that no sincere reform has been implemented over the course of  more than a decade is indicative of Turkey’s lack of will to confront its past (and present) brutal behaviour towards civilians and its extreme violations of human rights.

The video below was produced by Human Rights Watch and features interviews with families who went to the European Court of Human Rights because justice could not be found in the Turkish court rooms. According to Human Rights Watch, the European court has multiple times found Turkey guilty of violations of human rights and failure of conducting a thorough and satisfying investigation of the cases.