After years of police blockade and crackdown, Saturday Mothers rally at Galatasaray Square

For the first time in over five years, the Saturday Mothers rallied at Galatasaray Square.

After years of police blockades and weekly detentions, the Saturday Mothers and their supporters returned to their traditional rally site in front of Galatasaray High School on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul for the first time to demand clarification about the fate of their relatives who disappeared in state custody and the punishment of the perpetrators. Lawyer Eren Keskin, co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), as well as HEDEP politician Musa Piroğlu and TIP (Workers’ Party of Turkey) deputy Ahmet Şık also joined the protest on its 972nd week.

Ikbal Eren, whose brother Hayrettin Eren was arrested shortly after the military coup on 12 September 1980 and has since disappeared, pointed out at the rally that the Saturday Mothers were at Galatasaray Square for the first time since 2018. She thanked everyone who has been by their side during this time.

The case of Abdülkerim Yurtseven, Mikdat Özeken and Münür Sarıtaş, who were arrested by the military on 27 October 1995 and never returned, was discussed today. Their village of Ağaçlı in the Yüksekova district of Hakkari was raided by soldiers at the time and the people were rounded up in the village square. Ikbal Eren said that the arrests were completely arbitrary. Abdülkerim Yurtseven was 73 years old and could barely walk, Mikdat Özeken was 18 and Münür Sarıtaş was only 13 years old. They were taken away in army vehicles. When their relatives enquired at the military police headquarters in Yüksekova, they were told that the detainees would be released after 24 hours. Later, the arrests were denied. Abdülkerim Yurtseven, Mikdat Özeken and Münür Sarıtaş have remained missing since.

The Saturday Mothers have been demanding information about their relatives who have disappeared in state custody for over 28 years. It is the longest-running civil disobedience campaign in Turkey, which began on 27 May 1995 with the sit-in by the family of Hasan Ocak, a teacher who was murdered by torture. An estimated 17,000 people, including journalists, politicians and human rights activists, "disappeared" in Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s, especially in the Kurdish regions. Their bodies were often thrown into secret mass graves on military bases, but also into rubbish dumps or well shafts. Neither the police nor the judiciary have taken any action to investigate.

Since the resistance in Istanbul's Gezi Park in 2013, protests have been banned in the square in front of Galatasaray High School. Only the Saturday Mothers were allowed to continue protesting here. However, on 25 August 2018, the initiative's 700th vigil was banned and violently dispersed on the accusation of being "close to the PKK". Since then, all protests at Galatasaray Square have been banned. The Turkish Constitutional Court ruled on 22 February 2023 that the ban on assembly was unlawful. After that, the Saturday Mothers and their supporters tried to hold their rally at Galatasaray Square week after week. For months, dozens of people were detained every Saturday and the square in the centre of Istanbul was besieged by a large police force. Last Saturday, for the first time, no detentions were made and today the square was cleared. The fight against the practice of enforced disappearances continues.