On 25 August 2018, the Saturday Mothers met for the 700th time in Istanbul to demand justice for their disappeared relatives. The police dispersed the sit-in with tear gas and plastic bullets. Now the trial begins against 46 activists.
The trial against several participants in the sit-in organized by the Saturday Mothers will open in Istanbul on Thursday. 46 activists are charged with violating the Turkish Assembly and Demonstration Law No. 2911. The trial will take place at the 21st Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court. If convicted, the activists face up to three years’ imprisonment.
84-year-old Emine Ocak, who is the symbol of the Saturday Mothers, is also on trial. Her son Hasan Ocak, a 30-year-old teacher who ran a tea room in Istanbul, was arrested on 21 March 1995 and tortured to death. His body appeared in an anonymous grave in Istanbul around two months after his disappearance.
Water cannons, plastic bullets and tear gas
The Turkish police used water cannons, plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse the Saturday mothers’ demonstration in Istanbul on 25 August 2018. That day the mothers and supporters wanted to gather for the 700th time for their weekly sit-in in front of the Galatasaray high school in the Beyoğlu district to demand justice and the truth about the fate of their relatives who had been disappeared by death squads in the 1990s. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had the action banned in advance because of alleged links to a “terrorist organization”.
Interior Minister defends police violence
Soylu justified the brutal attack on the Saturday Mothers saying: “Should we have turned a blind eye to the fact that motherhood is being exploited by a terrorist organization?”
Dozens of family members and human rights activists arrested
47 people were temporarily arrested at the time, in addition to relatives of those who had disappeared, as well as a number of prominent human rights activists. The charges are directed against 46 of them: Koray Çağlayan, Koray Kesik, Leman Yurtsever, Levent Gökçek, Lezgin Özalp, Maside Ocak, Mehmet Günel, Muhammed Emin Ekinci, Ayça Çevik, Besna Koç, Cafer Balcı, Can Danyal Oralaş, Ciünel Gül , Cüneyt Yılmaz, Deniz Koç, Ercan Süslü, Ezgi Çevik, Faruk Eren, Fecri Çalboğa, Ferhat Ergen, Gamze Elvan, Hakan Koç, Hasan Akbaba, Hasan Karakoç, Jiyan Tosun, Kenan Yıldızerler, Murat Koptardaş, Murat Akbaş Akın, Özer Oymak, Özge Elvan, Ramazan Bayram, Rüşa Sabur, Sadettin Köse, Adil Can Ocak, Ahmet Karaca, Ahmet Süleyman Benli, Ali Ocak, Ali Yiğit Karaca, Atakan Taşbilek, Ataman Doğa Kıroğlu, Sinan Arslan, Ulaşlan Uyar and Saime Sebla Arcan.
The latter is on the board of the Istanbul branch of the human rights association IHD. Arcan describes the Saturday Mothers trial as an attempt by the government to criminalize all human rights advocates. “It is a politically motivated trial directed against all people who demand fundamental rights and freedom.” A trial against several members of parliament from the HDP and CHP, who had also participated in the 700th vigil in August 2018 and had been attacked by the police, was separated from this and it is still unclear when it will begin.
The longest running act of civil disobedience in Turkey
The longest running act of civil disobedience in Turkey began on 27 May 1995 when the family and legal representatives of Hasan Ocak first sat in Galatasaray Square. Hasan Ocak’s family was then joined by the family of Rıdvan Karakoç, whose body was recived by the family after Rıdvan had disappeared for some time and tortured to death. The group numbered thirty when it first met, and it grew with each passing week. Thousands were later to gather in Galatasaray Square. The press named the group as “Saturday Mothers” and the sit-in was held every Saturday.
For a collective historical memory
Like the Plaza de Mayo mothers in Argentina, the Saturday Mothers have several demands: They want to know what happened to their relatives who disappeared and they want their loved ones back – dead or alive. This demands try to keep these human rights violations of the state alive in the collective memory. The Mothers also asked justice, the identification of the perpetrators and their prosecution.
Saturday Mothers continue their protest online
Since 25 August 2018, every Saturday Mothers sit-in has been blocked by the Turkish authorities in Galatasaray Square. So the Mothers gathered week after week in front of the branch of the human rights organization IHD in the small side street Çukur Çeşme. Then the corona pandemic came. However, the Saturday Mothers are determined to continue their protest. The vigils therefore take place online. The Saturday Mothers’ refusal to give up the struggle has not only been limited to Istanbul, but spread to Kurdish cities with the highest “disappearance rates” such as Amed and Şırnak. Sit-ins are also held there every week to draw attention to the fate of the thousands of people who have disappeared.