Both of Emine Ocak’s arms are virtually covered in bruises. The Saturday Mother, who received rough treatment and was bundled into a vehicle by the police, said she was hurt not when these bruises formed but on seeing her children being beaten.
Emine Ocak is 82. She has been seeking justice for 23 years, ever since her son Hasan Ocak disappeared. The day before yesterday, to “demand accountability” on behalf of her son, she went to Galatasaray Square where she sits down every week. But, on the 700th week of the vigil, the police did not permit Emine Mother to sit in that square. Seeing “her children” who had come to support the action being beaten up and arrested, before she had had the chance to tell the police, “Stop, don’t,” two police officers had grabbed her by the arm. Emine Mother gives the following account of that moment: “The police dragged me away. A plain-clothes officer said, ‘Don’t take the old lady,’ as they were about to put me in the vehicle. I said, ‘They are all my children. If you are carting them all off, I’m coming, too.’ Then the police removed me by force. It hurt with the police pulling me in opposite ways, but it grieved me to see my children being beaten up on the ground. While looking around at that moment, I said, ‘I lost one Hasan and gained a thousand Hasans’.” In turn, elder sister Maside Ocak says, “Three generations of us were given rough treatment.”
His photographs in every room
When we went to her home in Esenyurt, Emine Ocak greets us with eyes tired from seeking justice for years and bruised arms. Before sitting down, she takes us on a tour of the rooms in the home. There is a photograph of her lost son, Hasan Ocak, in every room. Her daughter Maside Ocak also joins us in the room to which we pass for the interview.
“They are all my children”
Saying that on that day they went to Taksim at 10:00 and sat in an arcade, Emine Mother gives the following account: “A journalist told us that they weren’t letting anyone into Galatasaray Square. And I joined up with my children and friends. When I got there, the police were arguing with my children. And I went over to them. Before I had the chance to say, “What are you doing? Stop, don’t,” the police dragged me away. A plain-clothes officer said, ‘Don’t take the old lady,’ as they were about to put me in the vehicle. I said, ‘They are all my children. If you are carting them off, I’m coming, too.’ Then the police removed me by force. I said, ‘I will not leave my children.’ But they got me out. CHP parliamentarian Sezgin Tanrıkulu and my son Hüseyin took hold of me. I asked them, ‘What’s your issue?’ Nobody replied. We hadn’t done anything to anybody or harmed them. I’ve done nothing but seek justice for 23 years. Why are they doing this to us? They beat me up and put me in prison before. I didn’t say anything to them.”
“I didn’t raise my voice so as not to upset the young people”
From time to time losing herself in her son’s photograph, Emine Ocak says, recalling what happened to them 21 years ago, “Everyone there is my family. I didn’t just go there for Hasan. I went for the mothers, for the fathers, for the youngsters without graves, for my people and for the peoples. I lost one Hasan and gained a thousand Hasans. I didn’t raise my voice as they were taking me away thinking that the young people would see and get upset. I didn’t want harm to come their way. It hurt because the female police officers were pulling my arms in opposite ways. But I was grieved by what my children were taking. I had a walking stick in my hand. An elderly woman who has difficulty walking. Why did they act so harshly towards me? I have a complaint about those female police officers. I have a complaint about all those police officers who acted harshly. They even arrested a 23-year-old youngster who happened to be passing there. I have sat in that square for years and asked for peace and justice. I have not killed or harmed anybody. I have always sat in this square. I have knocked at every door. I have gone to political leaders. They turned me away. They have not given me my son.”
“Three generations of us were given rough treatment there”
For her part, elder sister Maside Ocak, who has trouble sitting down and getting up following the rough treatment from the police, gives the following account of those moments: “The police surrounded us. Somebody got word to our mothers that they had surrounded us with shields. They came, too. We were in the second and third-generation area. That is, in the area where the brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren of the missing were. Because we didn’t want harm to come our mothers’ way. They couldn’t stand it and came. My mother went in the direction of the shields to speak to the police officers. We tried to defend our mother from the shields. We were surrounded. They were trying to drag my mother away. While they were taking us off, Rıdvan Karakoç’s brother Hasan Karakoç was being beaten while spread out on the ground. On the other side, my elder brother’s son was being dragged along the ground. I couldn’t leave my mother and deal with them. They were twisting Gamze Elvan’s arm as if they meant to break it. They broke one of my female friends’ fingers. It was a very violent attack. I was also in the arrests of the 90’s. We experienced nothing so violent in that period. It was not so harsh. The only difference is that it was the mothers in the 90’s. At the time of this attack, there were also their fathers and uncles or relatives of the missing there for their uncles. There was the third generation. Yesterday, three generations of us were given rough treatment. We sat for hours handcuffed in the vehicle. We were handcuffed from 10:40 until the evening. We were said to have resisted the police under arrest. With an 82-year-old woman being beaten, we were just trying to protect her.”
“We will be in Galatasaray again next week”
Saying, “Last year we sat down without trouble. Why can we not sit this year? We are without an answer to this,” Emine Mother continues: “We are sitting there for peace. We are harming nobody. My concern is the children. The mothers are speaking of their longing for their children. The brothers and sisters say, ‘Enough. Let us finally have our grave.’ I sat there in the 600th week with Asiye Karakoç, Fatma Morsümbül, Hediye Coşkun, Makbule Babaoğlu and Güzel Şahin. They are no longer with us. There are fewer of us as the mothers are lost with each year that passes. I will continue to go there. I have promised to find the killers of their children. Why did they do this to us? Let President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Süleyman Soylu give me the answer to this. On which day did we hurt an ant? We will be in Galatasaray again next week. It depends a bit on my state of health, of course. The people who came to support us were beaten up and sprayed with gas. Some have got medical reports testifying to the beatings. I was deeply moved. Those who came to support us were shouting the slogan, “We’re here, mother, you’re not alone.” I was deeply touched. It was good they were with us. I embrace them.”
“Is this how Erdoğan is keeping his promise?”
Saturday Mother Kadriye Baykal Ceylan: It is as though we were an occupied country. The police attacked us like occupiers. We have been asking for justice for years. Erdoğan made a promise in 2011. Is this how he is keeping his promise? How much more gas will they choke us with? We will go and stage a different kind of action. We are not for sitting and remaining silent. I have been looking for my son for fourteen years. I will never give up. We will search until our children’s bones are found. Nobody can impede this.”
Human Rights Association and Turkish Human Rights Foundation: We are gripped with shame and astonishment, because those who were trying to arrest Emine Ocak mother by dragging her off by both arms were trampling on values that the human family of which we are part has created with enormous difficulty. We are astonished, because are not the values that bind together as citizens those who arrested Emine Ocak and us the same values? Their values are the oppressive practices of the permanent state of emergency regime, while ours are the values of freedom, equality, justice and peace based on human honour. What has happened now? With them prevented from saying, “Find our missing and punish the culprits” have you established your authority? Or have you covered up the truth?
Turkish Director of the Human Rights Watch Organisation Emma Sinclair-Webb: It was shameful, cruel treatment of families seeking justice for state crimes.
PEN Turkey Writers Association: We condemn the attack. We condemn the malice and hatred directed at the writers and artists who were showing solidarity with this meeting and journalists who were trying to perform their duties. We are aware that this violence is an indicator of impotence and lawlessness. We renew our call, “Do not fear mothers” and call on all officials to display common sense.