During their 633rd meeting, which took place in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square this weekend, the Saturday Mothers welcomed people that had come to Galatasaray in honor of Mother’s Day. However, theirs was not a joyous celebration of mothers; rather, it was a somber mourning for the sons and daughters that have been forcibly disappeared by Turkish security forces since 1980.
For over two decades, the Saturday Mothers have held a sit-in protest in Galatasaray Square on Istiklal Street at noon every Saturday in order both to demand information on the fates of their sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers that were disappeared by Turkish security forces, and to advocate for reforming the country’s judiciary and security institutions which have allowed these disappearances to occur with legal impunity. They remember their loved ones that were disappeared after the 1980 Latin American-style military coup, in which the military shut down and crippled Turkish civil society, and following the 1994 resurgence in clashes between the military and the Kurds. In 2015, there were around 450 confirmed cases of forced disappearances, though human rights groups’ estimates numbered up to 2,000. After the July 15 coup attempt of last year and the ensuing government crackdown, the numbers are increasing.
The Saturday Mothers began holding sit-ins on May 27, 1995, inspired by the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. They received support from the Istanbul Human Rights Organization from the outset, but also insisted on remaining non-partisan. For this reason, they came under pressure from both sides. The police insisted that their lost ones had joined illegal organizations and disappeared of their own volition, and they began arresting and intimidating the protestors. On the other hand, activist groups wanted the Saturday Mothers to support their causes, and accused the group of being bourgeois and aloof. Due to arrests, violence, and fear, by 1999 their numbers dwindled so low that the sit-ins were discontinued. But in 2009, they began again.
Each week, the Saturday Mothers submit a press release that recounts the story of one of the disappeared persons. This week, they honored Halil Alpsoy and his cousin Kasim, who were detained in police raids in 1994 on May 12 and 18 in Istanbul and Adana, a city in the south. Despite Halil’s wife and child having witnessed the raid, the police deny having taken him into custody, but no one has heard from either cousin since. The Saturday Mothers invited protestors this week to join them in Galatasaray Square with a red carnation “in order to strengthen the voice of the Alpsoy Family against lawlessness and denial.”
At the sit-in, Ikbal Eren, sister of Hayrettin Eren, who was lost in Istanbul in 1980, illustrated the irony of Mother’s Day for the Saturday Mothers: “Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Government officials will appear and say, ‘Mothers’ hands and the ground underneath their feet should be kissed, as heaven lies at these mothers’ feet.’ The mothers here do not want the ground at their feet to be kissed. Rather, the mothers here want you to see the hell in which they live. Heaven is not under their feet, but hell is here in Galatasaray. For years, for 633 weeks, you have overlooked these mothers’ hell. In this hell, mothers are searching for rights and justice for their children, and meanwhile you try to kiss the ground at their feet. First you must hear them.”
By Oya Aktas