Turkey: Relatives of the disappeared must be respected, not attacked

On 25 August 2018, police in Istanbul used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a peaceful gathering of mainly women, some of whom in their 80s, known as ‘Saturday Mothers’. The women have been holding a peaceful vigil protesting the enforced disappearance of their relatives since the mid-1990s. Now the authorities have banned their vigil demanding justice for their loved ones.

The ‘Saturday Mothers’ have met every Saturday in Galatasaray Square for a brief peaceful vigil since 1995. In 1999, the families of the disappeared were forced to suspend their vigils because of police intimidation and harassment. The weekly gatherings resumed in 2009 and have continued ever since. They are calling for truth and justice for their loved ones – just some of the hundreds of reported cases of enforced disappearances in Turkey during the 1980s and 1990s. For most families the circumstances surrounding the disappearances of their relatives are unknown, even whether they are dead or alive. Those responsible have never been brought to justice.

On 25 August 2018, the ‘Saturday Mothers’ were set to mark their 700th peaceful vigil, an event that was widely publicised. It was supposed to be a day to remember their loved ones, but their peaceful protest was broken by violent police interference. Dozens of police officers used tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets and 47 people, including many relatives of the disappeared, were detained for several hours in police buses.

"We come and sit there in peace. Mothers come to speak of their longing for their children. Brothers and sisters ask for a grave where they can mourn... Authorities should answer this question: Why did they do this to us? Who have we hurt?"

Emine Ocak, 82-year-old mother of Hasan Ocak, who disappeared in 1995

The vigil has not been allowed to take place since 25 August. Every passing week, relatives of the disappeared who are determined to hold their peaceful vigil risk violent dispersal by the police.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met some of the relatives of the disappeared in 2011 when he was Prime Minister. During the two-hour long meeting, the then Prime Minister promised that the government would start work on the disappearances.

The more appeals President Erdoğan receives urging him to make good on that promise, the better are the chances to help lift the ban on Saturday Mothers’ peaceful vigil. With your support we can amplify the voices of the ‘Saturday Mothers’ and make sure their plight is known around the world.

Stand in solidarity and add your voice.