Turkey’s ‘Saturday Mothers’ Have Been Seeking Justice and Ending for 27 Years Global Voices

Screenshot from a YouTube video about Saturday Mothers.

When Hebe de Bonafini, leader and founder of Argentina’s Plaza de Mayo Mothers movement, passed away on November 20, 2022, the world remembered Bonafini’s life and work as an activist, despite her tarnished reputation over the past few years. The movement that Bonafini co-founded has inspired other movements around the world, including the “Sabbath Mothers” in Turkey. Like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Saturday Mothers demand justice and demand an answer for the fate of their missing loved ones.

Like the Plaza de Mayo Mothers who gathered in front of the main government palace in Buenos Aires in 1977, the Saturday Mothers group first gathered on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue in 1995, seeking answers about the whereabouts of loved ones who had gone missing since the war. Seventies, eighty-ninety missing and arrested. According to the Center for True Justice Memory (HAHM), a local human rights organization founded in 2011, between the military coup in 1980 and 2013 in Turkey, some 1,352 people were forced into disappearance by security forces and paramilitary groups. The disappearances began after the 1980 military coup and ensuing conflict “between the government and the outlawed Kurdish separatist group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party,” VOA reports. The PKK is officially recognized as a terrorist organization in Turkey and among its Western allies, including the United States and the European Union.

The first meeting was attended by approximately thirty people, including families who had argued that their loved ones had been detained and disappeared through extrajudicial proceedings. Their call was to hold regular sit-ins for the missing and track them down. The meetings grew weekly as more families and human rights activists heard about Saturday Mothers,” researcher and scientist Nissan Alessi writes.

Screenshot from a YouTube video about Saturday Mothers.

The Saturday Mothers gathered every Saturday at noon in a silent vigil, just as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo did. During all of their meetings, the Saturday Mothers were constantly confronted with police brutality. Police brutality in 1999 forced the movement to suspend its activities for ten years. But the mothers returned to each other in 2009. Alessi described the return of the Saturday Mothers in relation to the military trials then taking place: “The meetings resumed after ten years in response to the Ergenekon trials. They were presented by the government as an important step to end military domination of politics. Among the defendants was Those associated with enforced disappearances in the 1990s prompted mothers to protest again.

When the governor of Beyoğlu district banned the 700th vigil in August 2018, Saturday mothers were barred from entering Galatasaray Square, their regular meeting point on Istiklal Avenue since 1995.

The Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, justified the police action after the ban in August 2018 as follows: “We wanted to end this abuse and deceptive use of maternity.” Voice of America reported:

Police occupied a square on a street in central Istanbul where Saturday mothers had gathered in silence, holding up pictures of their loved ones from nearly decades ago. After that, forty-seven people were arrested and detained, including women over the age of 70 or 80. Some were stopped while police cleared the street, arresting supporters and using tear gas to disperse protesters. Local authorities claimed that the protest was against public order.

Human rights activists criticized the campaign.

Saturday Mothers denied any connection to the PKK.

Their sons, husbands and brothers have been missing for 20 years.

They never heard why.

Not long ago, in August 2022, the group faced police brutality when the police arrested 14 members of the group. Arrestedthe time the group members arrive at the cemetery He wanted to make a statement.

Since the brutal crackdown in 2018, the group has held meetings outside the Istanbul Human Rights Association office. Elsewhere in Turkey, gatherings have been restricted or banned entirely by municipal authorities.

But as Saturday Mothers continue to press for justice, their relatives are also being targeted. Recently, Jeanne Tousson, the daughter of the disappeared Fahmy Tousson and also her mother, Umm al-Sabt, first went online and later went offline. Target Because of its alleged links to the terrorist group responsible for Explosion on Istiklal Street.

There is still a long way to go for justice

Despite years of campaigning and speeches before the Turkish Parliament’s Human Rights Research Committee in 2011 and meeting with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2011, there has been little progress on the government’s response. There are also no permanent memorials. A local initiative, called Memorialize Turkey, a project that “confirms examples of remembrance among a large number of groups and individuals affected during the past 100 years in the late Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey,” reports

Another problem is that the persistent attempt at memorialization has not produced a lasting result. This has a huge impact. Especially in Istanbul there is no clear memorial like a monument or a museum where the disappeared people are remembered. The lack of a permanent memorial marking the struggles of the Saturday Mothers differs from the approach of, say, the Argentine mothers. Although Saturday Mothers wished to visit police stations with their missing children, which are now known as “museums of shame”, no concrete attempt was made to do so. The lack of such sites makes it virtually impossible to pass on the memory of state terrorism to new generations in Turkey and thus overcome the struggle for impunity.

But the mothers are determined. Now 27 years into their existence, they are determined to get justice for their families and loved ones so they can finally find peace.

Leave a Comment