Crime Policy/Legislation

Turkish Probe Reignites the 'Saturday Mothers'

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For about four years women in Turkey protested the disappearance of Kurdish detainees. Then for 10 years they disbanded. Now they're back, encouraged by a new mood in the country tied to a major intelligence investigation that is gripping Turkey.

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"Following confessions of state elements, some of the mass graves have been dug and bones were found," Lehman Yurtsever, a lawyer and member of the Istanbul based-Human Rights Association's Committee for People Disappearing in Detention, told Women's eNews. She said excavation teams did not include forensic experts or nongovernmental organizations, so much of the evidence has been lost and tampered with.

Because of the investigations, information about extrajudicial killings and rumors about the sites of mass graves have come to light, Yurtsever said. "It proves what we have been saying for so many years. This is a small victory for us and encourages us to keep asking."

Amid rising national attention to the investigations, the Saturday Mothers are now demanding a systematic search of potential mass graves, including acid wells of the Turkish state-owned Pipeline Corporation BOTAS in Silopi, in Sirnak province and elsewhere in southeastern Turkey

Vigils With Muted Quality

On a recent breezy Saturday, a group of about 60 people sat in front of Galatasayray High School on Istiklal Street, in Istanbul's busiest shopping district.

A unit of bored-looking policemen and women in blue uniforms stood nearby. Street vendors selling chestnuts, lottery tickets and stuffed mussels called out to the weekend crowd, hopping between upscale stores, flea markets and Starbucks coffee shops.

After a few reporters shot photos and videos they made plans to meet the following Saturday. Then they collected the posters, the red carnations laid down on the street and dispersed. About 10 minutes later, the policemen boarded a white bus and drove away.

But despite the muted quality of their vigils, Saturday Mother Yilmaz said they are the face of a nationwide movement. Families, particularly mothers, come from across the country. Many musicians, including U2, have dedicated songs. Film actors and writers show solidarity. Books, poems and research papers support them. Argentina's Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, formed to find people abducted during that nation's military dictatorship, sat with them in vigil.

The first phase of the silent vigils paused because of constant police harassment. Now the Saturday Mothers quest for answers is gaining momentum as the siblings and children of the disappeared are leading the unusually quiet protests.

Kurds are about 20 percent of Turkey's 71 million population.

Since 1978, PKK has been locked in a separatist guerilla campaign against the Turkish government. In the quarter-century long conflict, more than 40,000 lives have been lost.

Fighting intensified during the 1990s, when hundreds, the exact number is unknown, disappeared. Disappearances peaked in 1994, according to a 1998 Amnesty International Report, "Turkey: Listen to Saturday Mothers."

Many of the victims were suspected of political activities. Some worked for Kurdish rights groups, some were sympathizers, a few refused to work as village guards, a militia force set up by the Turkish state to patrol the southeastern Kurdish villages.

Many were ordinary Kurdish villagers, suspected of harboring PKK fighters, according to the report.

Bijoyeta Das is a freelance multimedia journalist. Her work is available at

For more information:

"Turkey: Listen to the Saturday Mothers," Amnesty International:

Saturday Mothers of Turkey :

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