Erdoğan clamps down on once championed Saturday Mothers - NY Times

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had once pledged to help a collection of aging mothers and their relatives protesting the disappearances and extrajudicial killings of their family members, is cracking down on them in a move seen by critics as evidence of the country’s continuing turn toward authoritarianism, wrote Carlotta Gall in article she penned for the New York Times.

Saturday Mothers, comprised of mostly Kurdish and Alevi parents who have gathered every week in front of Galatasaray Square in Taksim İstanbul since 2015 to silently protest political assassinations and state-forced disappearances of particularly Kurdish and Alevi men in Turkey during the 80s and 90s, are the country’s longest-running non-violent protest group.

However, the group has been met with an aggressive response from the police since August of this year. 

Up until now, the government largely ignored the group’s protests, which became well-known fixture on Istanbul’s most famous shopping street. However, it has now decided to ban the rally, preventing the women from marching toward it.

The government, for its part, maintains the Saturday Mothers were being exploited by terrorists, in an apparent reference to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) - an armed group that has been in war in Turkey for over 30 years -  and used as pawns for the group to advance its cause.

“Those measures we have taken became compulsory, as particular groups have turned this place into a terror propaganda center,” the NYT article quoted government spokesman, Omer Celik, as saying.

After leading a two-year crackdown against his political enemies in the wake of a failed coup in 2016, Mr. Erdogan has been accused of growing authoritarianism, the article noted.

For Cumhuriyet daily columnist Kemal Can, Erdoğan may see Saturday Mothers as a ‘’legitimate and proud political identity, would become a base for a massive struggle.”

Many of those who disappeared were Kurdish activists, men who had moved with their families to the city, often to escape operations by security forces in the southeast of Turkey,  the article pointed out.

Hundreds of Kurdish activists disappeared in the 1990s from urban areas in Turkey, Amnesty International reports.

Erdoğan in 2009, was a populist prime minister who saw his role as the champion of the poor. In fact, in 2011 he invited some of the mothers and relatives to meet with him.

Opposition MP Sezgin Tanrikulu maintains that Erdogan, in his sudden disdain for the group, was looking to find a scapegoat amid his country’s financial crisis.

“He is continually looking for tension and confrontation, to make everyone enemies of each other and create the perception of terrorism for his own support base,” Tanrıkulu said. “This is his aim.”