Police barricaded Istanbul's main Taksim street on Saturday to prevent Saturday Mothers from entering Galatasaray square, the site of protests for years.
However, Saturday Mothers stated their determination to continue the struggle at a press conference. Human Rights Association (IHD), Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MPs Garo Paylan, Serpil Kemalbay, Murat Cepni, Huda Kaya, Zuleyha Gulum, Omer Faruk Gergerliouglu and Republican People's Party (CHP) MP Sezgin Tanrikulu also attended the press conference.
“We as the relatives of the missing ones will be at Galatasaray in our 701st week like every Saturday. We will not give up searching for our missing ones and demanding justice until the fate of the last person who disappeared in custody is explained and delivered to his or her family and all perpetrators are brought to justice”.
Last week, police cracked down on the 700th week of Saturday Mothers sit-ins in Istanbul, arresting demonstrators who had come to demand justice for forcibly disappeared relatives.
Demonstrators and journalists at the scene report that tear gas and water cannons were used to attack the peaceful gathering.
The sit-in by the Saturday Mothers was one of the few remaining public protests near Istanbul's Taksim square, once a vibrant demonstration ground but now off-limits for opposition groups.
Critics say that breaking up the vigil was another sign that NATO member Turkey is drifting into more authoritarian rule under President Tayyip Erdogan, adding to Ankara's already deteriorating record on human rights and media freedoms.
Saturday Mothers originated on May 27th, 1995. That day, about 30 people met in Galatasaray Square in Istanbul for half an hour, holding placards with the names and photographs of relatives abducted during some of the bleakest years for human rights in Turkey. They continued to do so every week until 1999 when significant state violence led participants to pause the demonstrations for several years.
Hanim Tosun, whose husband was abducted by state forces in 1995, told the Amnesty delegate that she and other participants remained steadfast in their pursuit of justice and closure. “We do not go to Galatasaray for fun or because we love the place so much, but we want the State to say something officially, because hundreds of people were ‘lost’ in detention...Galatasaray is some kind of common cemetery for us, and we shall continue to go there until we get an official answer.”
2 days before the 700th week of Saturday Mothers sit-in, Turkey's Interior Minister, one of the politicians closest to Erdogan, deemed the peaceful gathering as a terrorist act and banned it. The minister said on Monday that authorities blocked the sit-in because participants were "trying to create victims through motherhood and mask terrorism through that victimisation."
At a news conference in Istanbul, the group denied links to any militant group and pointed out Erdogan, when he was prime minister in 2011, met them and pledged support.
During the peace process period when Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) started a dialogue with Kurdish politicians, civil rights groups and the armed wing PKK (Kurdistan Worker's Party) to democratically solve Turkey's Kurdish question.
Erdogan also met Saturday Mothers in that period, on February 5, 2011, "your problem (Saturday Mothers') is my government's problem," he said, "for a democratic Turkey in which mothers will not cry or lose their husbands, children again".