Mothers in Istanbul demand word of missing persons
1997 Reuter Information Service
ISTANBUL (April 12, 1997) - For the 100th week, Turkey's
"Saturday Mothers" stood vigil in an Istanbul plaza,
continuing their demand for an accounting of missing loved ones,
a symbol of the country's record of human rights abuses.
About 200 people gathered on Saturday in the European heart of
Istanbul, holding aloft black-and-white photographs of sons,
daughters, fathers and brothers last seen in the hands of the
They have met there every Saturday since May of 1995, and vow
to carry on until the disappearances stop and their relatives are
"We will come here each week until the missing our
found," said the father of Hasan Ocak, whose body was later
found in a municipal grave.
"We must find the bones of all the 'disappeared."'
Turkey's Human Rights Association says it is investigating 792
reports of disappearances from 1992 through 1996. Amnesty
International says it's investigators have solid documentation of
at least 135 cases.
However, experts say many 'missing' go unreported altogether
in nine restive eastern provinces, which remain under emergency
Most are believed dead, either at the hands of the security
forces or right-wing death squads. Rights workers say they have
found some bodies that still bore the ink from police
The authorities report they have no records of most of those
said to be missing, suggesting many have joined outlawed
guerrilla groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or are
already in prison. Poor record-keeping complicates the search.
"Human dignity will defeat torture," chanted the
Saturday Mothers. "If you stay silent, they'll come for you
Busloads of police waited around a corner but did not
intervene. Plainclothes officers loitered on the edge of the
A special police "outreach" team set up to help
families track down their relatives sat by idly, mistrusted and
spurned by the families as another in a string of cosmetic
measures on rights abuses.
"They are using up the petrol and salaries that we pay
for," said one demonstrator, waving a hand at the police
mini-bus. "They should save our money and just answer our
To date reforms designed to clean up Turkey's human rights
record, a sore spot in its relations with the West, have
foundered amid what critics say is lax enforcement.
The period of detention during which prisoners can be held
incommunicado -- a time, rights workers say, they are most
vulnerable to torture or extrajudicial killing -- has been
reduced but not eliminated.
Few police have ever been convicted in abuse cases, with those
found guilty often given light sentences.
"It's our opinion that (the reform) is more of a farce, a
theatre of the rule of law," said Bernd Marschang, a German
attorney from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers
on hand for the rally.
"There is no interest in punishing those responsible for
political killings," Marschang told Reuters.
Nonetheless, the Saturday Mothers and other Turkish rights
activists say they will return each weekend until they learn the
truth, no matter how grim.
"We will turn out until the government accepts that these
people were lost in custody," said Eren Keskin, a lawyer and
deputy chair of the Human Rights Association.
"But we will never be able to find them because all are
gone," she said.
Posted on 1999-01-01