Turkey’s Saturday Mothers detained on week 800 of sit-in

Several members of the Saturday Mothers, Turkey’s longest-running peaceful protest movement and one of the longest globally, were detained by riot police on Saturday as they gathered in Istanbul’s İstiklal Avenue for their weekly sit-in.

The group, which has been gathering in the Galatasaray Square on Istanbul’s İstiklal Avenue since 1995 and recently marked the 25th anniversary of the movement, was planning to leave carnations in the square to mark the 800th week of sit-ins where they demand information on the fate of their family members and loved ones, approximately 17,000 people, who were killed under suspicious circumstances or forcibly disappeared after the 1980 military coup.

“Heavily-armed policemen were positioned against our carnations on our 800th week,” a Twitter account connected to the group said before the arrests. “We are stopped from getting to Galatasaray so that the truth remains hidden.”

Saturday Mothers have been holding their vigils at the nearby Human Rights Association (İHD) since the 700th week, after Turkish Interior Süleyman Soylu banned the Galatasaray Square sit-ins. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group was holding their weekly demonstration online in the last 17 weeks, and only gathered today in person to mark the milestone.

Hanife Yıldız, the elderly mother of Murat Yıldız who was 19 when he disappeared in police custody in Izmir in 1995, was seen being pushed around by riot police as the group was making their way to the Galatasaray Square from the İHD offices.

A supporter of the group, Yaşar Aktaş, was detained as he pushed a police officer away from Yıldız, daily Evrensel reported.

Maside Ocak, daughter of Saturday Mother Emine Ocak, was also detained by the police alongside Hasan Karakoç, whose brother Rıdvan Karakoç was found dead after he was detained by the police in 1995.

The Ocak family has been searching for answers on who killed Hasan Ocak, a teacher whose body was found in a forest in Istanbul around the same time as Karakoç.

Following the police intervention, co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar reached Galatasaray Square to leave carnations and read a statement.

“We ask (Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) – is the constitution still in effect in Turkey?” asked Buldan, who has been a regular participant of the protests as her husband Savaş Buldan was found dead after Turkish security forces unlawfully abducted him in 1994. “If it is, it recognises the right to gather and protest without violence and without weapons.”

Buldan urged Turkey to “sign, ratify and implement” the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.