The Saturday Mothers, a group demanding justice for loved ones who disappeared while in custody in Turkey in the ’90s, will gather for the 700th time this Saturday.
Saturday Mothers have gathered at noon every Saturday for half an hour in İstanbul’s Galatasaray district since May 21, 1995. 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.
“I want my son’s bones, at least, to bury him properly and to visit his grave to pray for him,” said Elmas Eren, the mother of victim Hayrettin Eren in a call-to-protest video prepared for week 700.
“Find me, Mother,” a song dedicated to the Saturday Mothers by deceased singer-songwriter Ahmet Kaya in 1995, was sung by Turkish singer Ceylan Ertem and the relatives of some of the victims, in another video for the call to 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 JITEM 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.
“In the late ’80s, if I was late, my mother used to go to the balcony and see if there were any white Taurus cars on the street. Everybody knew a white Taurus was bad news, and JITEM wasn’t trying to hide what it was doing,” columnist Ahmet Ay wrote in the Star daily in January 2012 after skulls and bones were found during the restoration of an old JITEM building garden in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır.
From the 1930s until the late 1980s, there were only about 20 cases of disappearance by the security forces, two of which were of famous people, namely labor leader Salih Bozışık and writer Sabahattin Ali. However, towards the beginning of the ’90s disappearances became a systematic government policy, Selba Arcan, a member of the Turkish Human Rights Association’s Commission against Disappearances, said in an interview with Internet broadcaster Medyascope.
“However, in the ’90s, even reporting a disappearance to the Human Rights Association became a reason to be disappeared. So we know that many people didn’t report them, and we have hundreds of reports from that period.” she said, noting 1995 topped the reported number of disappearances, with 500 people.
Disappearances mainly took place in the southeastern part of Turkey, where most of the Kurdish population lives, but cases were in fact reported from all over the country.
In the first decade of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was sympathetic towards the initiative and even listened to their stories in his working office in February 2011 during a two-hour-long meeting.