In Turkey, Saturday Mothers who have been demanding justice for their “disappeared” relatives gathered in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square for their 700thrally, on August 25, 2018. After Istanbul Beyoğlu Governorship announced that the government banned protest, police has intervened the gathering and up to 100 people including journalists, politicians and relatives of those who were forcefully disappeared in custody were forcefully taken into custody. The police used tear gas and plastic bullets to scatter the crowd. This week on International Day of Peace, Saturday Mothers/People are gathering in Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue again to ask whereabouts of their disappeared family members & friends.
The inspiration for “Saturday Mothers” gatherings emerged from the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo which is an association of Argentinian mothers whose children were “forcefully disappeared”, kidnapped, killed during the state terrorism of the military junta in the country, between 1976 and 1983. Similar to the situation in Argentina, in Turkey, people were also kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the military junta during the military coup-era of 1980s and the State of Emergency Rule in the 1990s. According to the Human Rights Association, 940 “state-enforced disappearances” and 3,248 extrajudicial killings have been reported in the east of Turkey, with many more missing persons who remain unreported.
Renault’s “White Toros”as a Symbol of Disappearance
In 1990s, Renault 12 or with its Turkish name “Toros” was symbol car of enforced disappearances. The state security forces kidnapped and murdered people in custody by using these cars and the body of the “disappeared” would be found thrown into acid pits, rubbish tips and in unmarked graves.
Saturday Mothers was initiated on 27 May 1995 to raise the voice of mothers against enforced disappearances and to demand that the disappeared people be found, and the perpetrators be judged. On March 13, 1999, they were forced to halt their protest following harsh police intervention on a weekly basis that caused heavy trauma among the participants. They resumed their protests on January 31, 2009. As a method of civil protest, they have combined silent sit-ins holding photographs of their lost loved ones with communal vigils every Saturday on Galatasaray Square for 23 years.
Mothers meet with the Prime Minister Erdoğan
On September 2010, Prime Minister of the time Recep Tayyip Erdoğan argued that “Saturday Mothers are abused by political interest groups”. He also declared that “if they want to set a meeting with me, I would love to accept that”. In February 2011, Prime Minister Erdoğan and a group of Saturday Mothers including disappeared Cemil Kırbayır’s mother Berfo Kırbayır had a meeting. Families of the disappeared people demanded initiation of an investigative commission to look into the cases, establish DNA Bank to recognize bodies of the disappeared people and make state sign “The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance” (ICPPED).
During the meeting, Prime Minister Erdoğan declared that his words which he argues that the Saturday Mothers abused by interest groups were misunderstood. 5 days later, “the Parliamentary Human Rights Inspection Commission”was founded at the prime minister’s behest, following the meeting to investigate cases of Cemil Kırbayır and Tolga Baykal Ceylan who was forcefully disappeared in 2004, during the government of Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Through this investigation, it was officially accepted that Berfo Kırbayır’s son Cemil Kırbayır disappeared in custody. The conclusion was reached in the report compiled by “the Parliamentary Human Rights Inspection Commission” that Cemil Kırbayır had been tortured to death following his arrest on 13 September 1980 and his body had been destroyed through cremation by state officers. Despite the commission’s criminal complaint, the investigation did not proceed any further, and the case was not opened.
700th Week of the Mothers’ Call for Justice
On August 25th, 2018, last Saturday, Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu announced that the governorship has banned Saturday Mother’s 700thprotest. Following the intervention of police forces to the protest, Soylu argued that “Saturday Mothers act as the spokesperson of terrorist organizations directly and advocate them or they remain silent and unresponsive to their actions if they cannot do anything”.
Following Soylu’s statement, Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s spokeperson Ömer Çelik stated that “Making terrorism propaganda by abusing mothers’ sufferings and engaging in certain activities will no longer be tolerated. Other than the places which government allows, no venue will be used for such an action ever again”.
In this way, the government banned following protests of Saturday Mothers and other opponent protests which are not allowed by the government. Journalists also asked Çelik about the latest intervention of the police and Erdoğan’s meeting with Saturday Mothers/People in 2011. “There is no contradiction between Mr. Erdoğan hosting the mothers during his Prime Ministerial term and our latest stance” stated Çelik.
701th Gathering on International Day of Peace
Saturday Mothers held a press conference as part of August 30 United Nations International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances at 1 pm at Human Rights Association Istanbul Branch Office. Mothers stated that they have requested an appointment from President Erdoğan. They also call people to 701th rally on September 1, 2018 and stated that “we will not give up until remains of the disappeared people are found and those responsible for the disappearances are put on trial”. Amnesty International has announced that they will join the mothers to show their support.
Members of parliament from main opposition Republican People’s Party CHP and Peoples’ Democratic Party HDP have also joined the mothers to observe the 701th week of gathering. Police blockade was not lifted for the members of parliament, as well as for journalists who showed their International Federation of Journalists IFJ cards, to which police said “this is not part of the world, this card is not valid here.”
The people have marched from Human Rights Association Istanbul Branch Office to the venue. Members of Parliament had talks with police officers to negotiate for a permit to hold a gathering for Saturday Mothers and International Day of Peace to which police officer said all protests are banned. Police made a call for the crowd to disperse announced that there would be intervention. The crowd dispersed after the police announcement on week 701 of Saturday Mothers’ gathering on International Day of Peace.
International Day of Peace on 1 or 21 September?
In 1981 United Nations had taken a decision to declare September 1 as the International Day of Peace upon proposal by Soviet Russia, in commemoration of Hitler and Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, to have a peaceful world. The UN General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.
On September 7, 2001 the UN has passed another decision changing the date of the International Day of Peace, however in Turkey the day has remained as September 1.