700th gathering of ‘Saturday Mothers’ marred by Turkish police violence, detentions

Photo: ANF

The Saturday Mothers, who gather every Saturday to bring attention to the cases of people who disappeared while in custody in the 1990s, would have had their 700th meeting in İstanbul today, but their gathering was prevented by Turkish police who used excessive force against the demonstrators.

The Saturday Mothers, who first gathered on May. 27, 1995 in Galatasaray Square on İstiklal Street, have been the longest-running protest Turkey has ever witnessed. They protest questions unanswered by the authorities about the disappearance or unsolved murder of their loved ones after being taken by security forces, and the lack of justice in court.

However, the 700th gathering of the group was banned by Turkey’s Interior Ministry. The İstanbul police used plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators and detained as many as 50 people including the relatives of missing persons and Human Rights Association (İHD) members. Some of the demonstrators were handcuffed from behind.

Among those detained was veteran Saturday Mothers protest leader Emine Ocak, who reports said is 82.

Besna Tosun, the daughter of Fehmi Tosun, who went missing while in police custody, told Turkish media outlets that the relatives of the missing persons have been coming to Galatasaray Square for 23 years. “I am looking for my father in this square. This square is ours,” she said.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chairperson Pervin Buldan, who was at the venue, criticized the banning of the demonstration and the use of force by the police.

“A country has been created which is afraid of the silent screams of the mothers. There cannot be another example of evil. We have been looking for the bones of our children for 700 weeks. We will continue our struggle until we find the bones of our children,” Buldan said.

HDP deputy Hüda Kaya, who was among the people who were attacked, said: “For hours, we have been under constant attack. They still haven’t been able to disperse the crowd. Just like every week, we were to read the statement and go. But they wouldn’t tolerate that. They did what befits them, and we will do what befits us.”

The deputies, including Kaya, Garo Paylan, Ahmet Şık and Ali Şeker, were also targeted by rubber bullets, while the Ahmet Kaya song “Mother, Find Me” was played throughout İstiklal Avenue in İstanbul from the early hours when the crowd started to gather. The police surrounded Galatasaray Square with 12 buses and several water cannons.

Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), announced that the attack orders were given by Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.

Meanwhile, the İHD Istanbul chapter issued a written statement that said: “By 10:30 in the morning, the security forces started to intervene and use tear gas, people were reverse handcuffed, battered and detained. All the entrances to the square were cut off and the area was evacuated.

“The intervention and detentions continue in back streets. The detainees are being held in police vehicles. Reports say İHD İstanbul Chapter’s Commission Against Disappearances Under Custody Members Sebla Arcan, Maside Ocak and Gamze Elvan, Chapter Secretary Leman Yurtsever, relatives of the disappeared Ali Ocak, Faruk Eren, Hasan Karakoç and Cihan Gülünay, as well as many human rights defenders, have been detained.

“Security forces have illegally intervened with the 700th-week demonstration of the Saturday Mothers and tortured people. Many attendees have been tortured, including the mothers and other relatives of the disappeared. We are calling on the Interior Minister to release İHD Istanbul administrators and members and the activists at once. Launch investigations against the security forces who committed crimes.”

Those detained in the crackdown have been taken to the Vatan Police Station. The 27 detainees, who include Yeni Yaşam newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Osman Akın and employee Hasan Akbaba, are Leman Yurtsever, Maside Ocak, Besna Tosun, Sebla Arcan, Faruk Eren, Cihan Aktaş, Ali Ocak, Hasan Karakoç, Gamze Elvan, Özge Elvan, Cihan Gülünay, Kenan Yıldız, Ruşa Sabur, Fecri Çalboğa, Cüneyt Yılmaz, Jiyan Tosun, Lezgin Özalp, Levent Gökçek, Özer Oymak, Sinan Tekdemir, Süleyman Benli, Koray Kesik, Sinan Arslan, Osman Akın, Hasan Akbaba, Deniz Koç and Volkan Uyar.

The Saturday Mothers announced that they would continue next week and ended the protest. Unsolved murders and disappearances were frequent occurrences in the late 1980s when tension between two terrorist groups, Hizbullah and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), grew violent.

The disappearances are also known as the “white Taurus” (Beyaz Toros) incidents since gendarmerie intelligence and the JİTEM counterterrorism unit put people into white Renault Toros cars and never brought them back. Some remains of people who were forced into those cars were found in forests, garbage cans, and rural areas, and some people were never found. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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