Enforced disappearances of persons under custody constitute a shame for all Turkey, from the political power to the civil society. The attack of the law enforcement against the families of the forcibly disappeared in İstanbul, Galatasaray on August 25, 2018 before the 700th sit-in further deepened this shame and hurt consciences.


We are in shame and astonishment… Yesterday an 82-year-old mother, the mother of a disappeared person, who has been participating in the sit-ins staged in Galatasaray come rain or shine on Saturdays demanding justice and conscience to learn the fates of those who were forcibly disappeared while under custody, was detained alongside with 27 people. She was, then, released as a result of the just objections of sensible individuals around. These 27 people who were detained were human rights defenders, families of the disappeared, and activists. Many of those detained were injured having been battered violating the ban on torture and ill-treatment. These individuals were released towards the evening after the completion of procedural process.


We are in shame since those who attempted to detain mother Emine Ocak by dragging her holding her two arms trampled on the values that the family of humanity, of which were a part, produced through hell and high water. We are in astonishment since we ask whether the values that tie us as citizens and those of who detained Emine Ocak are the same? Their values are the repressive practices of the permanent state of emergency regime, our values based on human dignity are the values of liberty, equality, justice, and peace.


Of course Emine Ocak would ask to know the fates of the forcibly disappeared while under custody in this woeful country with other mothers, fathers, spouses, and children at a sit-in in Galatasaray at 12:00 pm for the 700th time as they have always been asking. Because her son, Hasan Ocak, had been detained in Istanbul exactly 23 years before; the fact that he had been in custody had been denied in spite of all requests launched before various authorities; his tortured body had been buried in a cemetery of the nameless after having been found in the woods in Beykoz, Istanbul. Emine Ocak was only able to reach the body of her son on May 17, 1995 in the Altınşehir Cemetery of the Nameless. Upon this development the then Chairperson of the Human Rights Association (İHD) Akın Birdal and the Chairperson of Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (THIV) Yavuz Önen issued a joint call which was followed by sit-ins staged by the families of the disappeared on every Saturday in Galatasaray Square since May 27, 1995. These sit-ins have been staged despite heavy pressure for 200 weeks, then were suspended. In February 2009 the sit-ins were reinstated notably in İstanbul, Galatasaray Square and in cities where İHD had branches like Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, Batman, Mardin, Şırnak/Cizre, Hakkari/Yüksekova, Van, Ankara, İzmir, Adana, and Mersin following a resolution passed by the İHD Central Office in order to find the forcibly disappeared persons under custody and to enable the perpetrators to stand trial during the process of Ergenekon investigations.


Many relatives of the disappeared were not as fortunate as Emine Ocak. Mother Emine was able to get her child’s body at the very least, was able to bury her son in accordance with her beliefs and traditions and mourned after his son. Tens of relatives of the disappeared are even bereft of such a humane/cultural fundamental right. Thus, Saturday Mothers/People demand to know the fate of their relatives who were forcibly disappeared, the disclosure of the perpetrators, the punishment of these perpetrators after a fair trial alongside with their demand to be able to mourn after their loved ones duly. They have been putting up the longest running legitimate rights struggle of this country respected by the whole world for 23 years, 699 weeks.


What happened now when you used chemical gases, rubber bullets, excessive and disproportionate force yesterday in Galatasaray and detained tens of young and elderly people alike attempting to prevent people from saying out loud “Enforced disappearances constitute a crime against humanity!” “Find our disappeared ones, punish the perpetrators!” “The United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance should immediately be signed without any reservations and be entered into force!”? Have you established your own authority? Or have you covered up the truth?


We all know it well that no problems have been witnessed for years unless the law enforcement attacked this peaceful protest. Besides, we have tested this reality not for a couple of times but for 699 times.


The then Prime Minister of the period Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Mother Berfo, mother of Cemil Kırbayır who was forcibly disappeared while under custody during the September 12, 1980 period, and with some other relatives of the disappeared and rights defenders in 2011 in Dolmabahçe and had stated that he himself and his government were determined to solve the cases of murders by unknown assailants and to find the perpetrators and had promised Mother Berfo to do so. We had indicated that we would stand by this determination all the way in the case that it was sincere but we had also been cautious about the fact that this meeting and statement might have been brought about by the incoming general elections. Unfortunately, we have seen that our concerns were not ungrounded at all in time. Mother Berfo, whose patience could only last for 106 years, passed away still yearning for his son as the promises made to her were not realized and could not learn about the fate of her son. Now the so-called determination to find the perpetrators has been transformed into a determination to silence Saturday Mothers/People.


The fact that the political power is not intent on addressing the issue and is even attempting to silence the families of the disappeared seeking their rights, signifies an official and absolute denial of enforced disappearance partaking of crimes against humanity which, in the end, is a crime itself. This, at the same time, infringes upon the ban on torture and ill-treatment because the families of the disappeared suffer from the profound agony of not knowing whether the forcibly disappeared individual lives or not, if so, where and under what kind of conditions, and if killed, where the body is. This continuous suffering refers to the violation of the ban on “torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” for the families of the “disappeared.”


Although Turkey met with systematic enforced disappearances following the September 12 military coup d’état, such acts essentially assumed prevalence and intensity at the beginning of the ‘90s. According to the data collected by human rights bodies, hundreds of people were subjected to enforced disappearances. Specifically during the first half of the ‘90s in many places in the country, notably in the Southeast, people were suddenly deprived of their liberty having been taken from their homes, offices, schools, streets, or coffee houses at all hours of the day and night by civilian or uniformed law enforcement officers or by people assisting them (informants) or groups (provisional village guards) and after a while their bodies were found hands tied and tortured under a bridge or on the edge of a field. Or they disappeared without a sight or sound. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey having held that the state was liable in an ample number of such enforced disappearances, that it failed to conduct effective, transparent, and independent investigations about disappearance claims, did not disclose and punish those who were responsible, and did not provide any process of relief and repair to relieve the pain of the families of the disappeared. Today, too, disappearance claims are on the rise especially following the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.


We condemn the attack against Saturday Mothers/People, families of the disappeared, and human rights defenders before the 700th sit-in.


Enforced disappearances are the shame of this society as a whole, all Turkey, from the political power to civil society. None of us can afford to eschew this shame, can be free from it. This attack on the families of the disappeared yesterday further deepened this shame and hurt consciences. Therefore, all authorities at every level who paved the way to yesterday’s attacks should immediately apologize from the families of the disappeared. Moreover, effective investigation processes should immediately be initiated against all those responsible because of the practices reaching the level of torture and other acts of ill-treatment that were witnessed by all as is demonstrated by records as well. No legal procedures should be launched against those who were detained. The political power should immediately sign and ratify the United Nations’ “International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance,” also known as the “Convention for the Disappeared” without any reservations as a sign to be freed of shame.


Human Rights Association                       Human Rights Foundation of Turkey