Saturday Mothers/People came together for the first time on May 27, 1995. For the past 24 years, they are leading a struggle demanding to know the whereabouts of the enforced disappearances under custody, to put perpetrators on trial and stopping enforced disappearances.
It is estimated that 1,352 people disappeared while under custody since the September 12, 1980 military coup. The period in which most enforced disappearances took place between the years 1993-95 coincides with the creation of Saturday Mothers/People.
İnsan Hakları Derneği (İHD- Human Rights Association) started a campaign in 1992 with the slogan “The disappeared must be found“. This campaign turned into a vast demand for justice movement in 1995, with the momentum Saturday Mothers/People brought.
The first disappearance on the agenda of Saturday Mothers/People, who gather every Saturday at noon at Galatasaray Square in Istanbul for a peaceful sit-in, was Hasan Ocak. Hasan Ocak was arrested on March 21, 1995, following the Gazi Neighborhood attacks between March 12-15. After the relentless search his mother, Emine Ocak, and relatives for 55 days, Ocak’s body was found on May 15, 1995 at a cemetery for the nameless. He was severely tortured before being killed.
When Ocak was found, with the support of İHD campaign, the search quickly turned into a human rights struggle demanding justice for the disappeared. For the first sit-in staged on May 27, 1995, a group of 15-20 people gathered at Galatasaray Square.
The group announced their demands: “Disappearances under custody must stop, whereabouts of the disappeared must be known, perpetrators must be found and put on trial“. With time, the protest started to attract more and more people, sometimes close to thousands. Every week, they shared the story of a disappeared, and they demanded to know what happened to them. Starting in August of 1998, the police started to intervene these protests with batons and tear gas, and to arrest protesters. After a yearlong struggle with the police, on March 13, 1999, Saturday Mothers/People announced that they will be suspending the protests.
Their reunion had to wait for 10 years. They were once again at Galatasaray Square in January 31, 2009. Bandista (music band) released a song ‘Benim Annem Cumartesi’ (My Mother, Saturday) that year.
The United Nations “International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance” was signed in 2007 and put into effect in 2010. Turkey is still not a party to this convention.
International Hrant Dink Prize in 2013 was awarded to Saturday Mothers/People.
Justified by the security risks following the Istanbul bomb attacks in 2015 and 2016, Saturday Mothers/People had to be encircled by a police cordon at the square. Protesters had to go through a security check before joining the sit-in.
There was a call for support for the 700th vigil on August 25, 2018. The group gathering in the morning of the 25th, met with a written ban to gather at the square, signed by the Beyoğlu District Governor. Saturday Mothers/People, İHD members and executives, and other supporters had to endure a police intervention with pressured water, plastic bullets and tear gas. 47 people were arrested, to be
released after 8 hours.
Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu accused Saturday Mothers/People of undertaking “efforts to legitimize terrorist organizations” and “being the spokesperson of terrorist organizations”, just a couple hours before the İHD İstanbul Office press statement on August 27, 2018.
The ban against Saturday Mothers/People continues since the 700th week. They were not allowed to stage sit-ins and Galatasaray Square was closed with police barricades. The group that wanted to march towards the square on the 701st week was stopped by the police. The sit-in was staged at Büyükparmakkapı Street. Since the 702nd week, Saturday Mothers/People meet in front of the İHD İstanbul Office. They have been denied access to Galatasaray Square since then.
PEN Duygu Asena Prize in 2019 was awarded to Saturday Mothers/People.