Turkey police violently disperse Kurdish mothers' sit-in for the disappeared, arrest scores

The silent protest to demand the fate of forcibly disappeared is held every Saturday since 1995.
author_image Ari Khalidi

ISTANBUL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish authorities banned and then forcefully dispersed a peaceful sit-in in Istanbul organized by a group of mostly Kurdish women who every Saturday gather in the Galatasaray Square to ask for the fate of their loved ones forcibly disappeared or extrajudicially killed by government forces.

Police officers arrested up to 100 people, including mothers, sons, daughters, other relatives of the disappeared, and politicians showing solidarity with them, Kurdistan 24’s Istanbul bureau reported.

The midday sit-in always held in silence was supposed to be the 700th observed since 1995 by the group dubbed “Saturday Mothers” who hold red clovers along with photographs of the victims of a state crackdown at the height of Turkey’s war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the 1990s.

Among the arrested was the 82-year-old Emine Ocak who also suffered irritation in the eyes and difficulty in breathing due to police use of excessive tear gas. She was released shortly later.

She was last arrested on a Saturday, 21 years ago at the same location.

Her son, a leftist activist and teacher, Hasan Ocak’s disappearance and later discovery of his body in a potter's field cemetery after detention and heavy torture in 1995 led to the launch of Saturday Mothers inspired by the Argentinian Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

A photo by the then journalist now HDP MP Ahmet Shik from 21 years ago shows police officers arresting Emine Ocak whose teacher and leftist activist son was arrested, then extrajudicially killed by government forces.
A photo by the then journalist now HDP MP Ahmet Shik from 21 years ago shows police officers arresting Emine Ocak whose teacher and leftist activist son was arrested, then extrajudicially killed by government forces.

According to the Human Rights Association of Turkey, only between 1994-1995, there were 500 cases of reported forcible disappearances.

Although a two-year-long state of emergency ended last month after the inauguration of the Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an executive president, Ankara-appointed governors and bureaucrats have been empowered to ban any walk, meeting, or demonstration.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-leaders Pervin Buldan, Sezai Temelli, and a dozen of lawmakers from the HDP and main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) arrived at the scene of the sit-in despite police obstruction.

Buldan said the country under the rule of Erdogan “was now afraid of mothers’ silent screams.”

Her husband, Savas Buldan, himself was one of the victims of the state-perpetrated forcible disappearance of scores of Kurdish businesspeople when he was abducted and killed on June 3, 1994, the day she gave birth to their daughter.

Officers using rubber bullets and truncheons manhandled lawmakers, among them HDP’s Armenian MP Garo Paylan of Istanbul, Huda Kaya, Ahmet Shik, CHP’s Ali Seker who were trying to prevent them from arresting protestors.

Head of CHP branch in Istanbul Canan Kaftancioglu wrote on social media that officials from her party were in detention. She did not provide a figure.

MP Sezgin Tanrikulu said the Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu ordered police interference.

At the same moments, all major news networks including CNN Turk, NTV, public-funded TRT, and pro-government A Haber ignored the mayhem at Turkey’s longest-running demonstration. Instead, they live-aired Soylu’s inspection of busy highways from a helicopter.

Police also targeted independent journalists covering the incident.

BBC’s Turkey correspondent Selin Girit tweeted that she avoided arrest thanks to “those who intervened and held my hands” in the crowd.

Erbil-based Kurdistan TV’s Istanbul correspondent Mehmet Sanri told Kurdistan 24 he came under direct fire from police who shot a gas canister at his back.

Editor-in-chief of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper Faruk Eren was arrested for several hours while he was both doing journalism and commemorating his slain brother, Hayrettin Eren.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany