Elmas Eren, a symbolic figure of a group called “The Saturday Mothers” demanding justice for their relatives who disappeared while in custody in Turkey, has died in Istanbul, the group announced late on Monday through its official social media account.
“We have lost our companion in our struggle who spent her 39 years [to find her son’s bones and] to build a tomb decorated with festoons,” reads the group’s statement announcing Eren’s death.
Eren was reportedly going to be buried at the Yeni Buyukcekmece Cemetery on Tuesday.
Eren’s son Hayrettin, then 26, was arrested by the police and disappeared 39 years ago in the aftermath of a military coup in 1980. The left-wing activist is believed to have been tortured to death.
Some disappearance-related investigations, including Hayrettin’s case, were closed on December 24, 2014, with the decision of non-prosecution on the grounds of lapse of time in compliance with the former Turkish Penal Code.
The former law regulates the statute of limitations over the torture-related offenses as 10 years for torture and 20 years for death by torture. The statute of limitations expired on January 29, 2000, and January 29, 2010, respectively as there were no actions taken or evidence found to cut the lapse of time.
The Saturday Mothers began in 1995 protesting the disappearance of their loved ones who went missing while in police custody in the 1980s and 1990s.
Since then, the families of the forcibly disappeared have been holding Saturday protests on Galatasaray Square in central Istanbul under the motto “We want our disappeared loved ones.”
The mothers’ gathering is one of the longest-running civil disobedience campaigns in the country.
The group demands the disappeared bodies be found, and the perpetrators tried. The mothers also call for a change in the statute of limitations in order to prosecute political murders and forced disappearances.
The 83-year old Eren had not participated in the latest sit-down protests due to her health problems.
“My soul has been troubled looking for his bones. What was the crime of our bright children that we never heard from them again, that the state killed them,” Eren had said at the 600th sit-down in 2016.
At the time, Eren reminded Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan his promise that he had made to the Saturday Mothers in 2011 to find out unidentified murders and the bones of the victims.
“My eyes have gone dry. What is the crime of our children? Why have not they been found so far? Do you know what it means for a mother to wait for her child for 36 years?” Eren asked, pledging to maintain her struggle until her death.
The group’s protests were banned in 2018 by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.