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The Saturday Mothers

To the memory of Mother Berfo who has searched for her disappeared son for thirty years.

Mothers will be happy if they can ever find their sons’ remains or learn what happened to them after they were taken from home by security officers. We want the truth!

This quote belongs to the Saturday Mothers.  Inspired by the Mothers’ of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina they have been protesting disappearances in custody and (political) murders by unknown assailants in the Galatasaray Square of Istanbul since May 27, 1995. Every Saturday afternoon, they return to the square with pictures of their sons and daughters, in silence. The police plunges and beats them at some point to force them finish their protest.

Last week, they gathered for the 400th time with the hope of learning the destiny of their children. Most of them lost their sons and daughters in 1990s when the Turkish state employed counterinsurgency programmes against the PKK and Kurdish civilians. The state had two objectives in targeting civilians; to punish those who have supported the Kurdish ethnopolitical movement and to force Kurdish people to collaborate with the state. The State of Emergency Law paved the way for extreme securitization policies and private security and intelligence forces were deployed in Diyarbakir, Mardin, Van, Hakkari and Sirnak, all dwelling-places for a majority of Kurds.  Security forces in their white Renault 12 (Beyaz Toros) put fear into the hearts and minds of the Kurds because they would visit them only to take away their family members.


Nobody knows how many civilians disappeared into custody or have been murdered by the state since the late 1980s. Neither has the Turkish government wanted to investigate these disappearances nor has Turkish society paid much attention. The Prime Minister Erdogan met with the representatives of the Saturday Mothers late in 2008, but the issue has not been on his agenda since. He praised the Argentinian Mothers’ of the Plaza de Mayo because they were against the junta and changed their society, but he referred to ‘a conspiracy theory’ and asked, “who is supporting the Saturday Mothers”. Their answer was that their grievances, conscience, love, yearning and humanity are strong enough reasons to seek truth and justice. 

For the Saturday Mothers, it seems the denial of truth about disappearances, and the Turkish state’s rejection of justice undermines the reality. Yet, the Turkish state does not want to face its own dark history. Decision-makers think it is too costly to investigate the reality and find the truth because it will challenge the foundations of the Turkish state, its nationalism and ideology. Justice will try the state itself. Although this is a deep fear of the state, truth and justice might help in healing the evils of the state so that the relationship between the Turkish state, Turkish majority and the Kurdish community can begin to be restored.

The Saturday Mothers’ silence has the philosophical and moral power to challenge any government that denies universal values such as truth and justice. Neither the disappeared loved ones nor their mothers will fail because we will not forget! We refuse to forget!

About the author

Ali Gokpinar is a Fulbright grantee and he concentrates on conflict resolution, peace building, and civil war from his home in Turkey. He can be  followed on Twitter @zynlgkpnr and blogs here.

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