Turkish Mothers March From Ankara to Istanbul in Quest For Justice For Cadets Serving Life in Prison

It is now on the shoulders of a group of mothers to overcome the wall of fear to demand justice for their sons — cadets who serve a life sentence after the 2016 coup.

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Melek Cetinkaya launched a march from Ankara to Istanbul to command public attention to the plight of cadets who are serving life sentences over the 2016 coup. (Photo: DW)

Melek Cetinkaya, the mother of Furkan Talha Cetinkaya, did everything to make a compelling case for her son who was wronged by his commanders and courts. In the face of deafening public silence about the plight of cadets majority of whom serve life sentence over the dubious charges of coup plotting, the mother strove to spark a public stand in Turkey’s suffocated climate of the post-coup era. Talha was one of the cadets who were arrested and sentenced to life for the 2016 coup.

After unsuccessfully seeking justice at courtrooms, the mother has eventually appealed to the court of public opinion through a series of TV interviews and sit-in protests in Ankara. But her and a bunch of volunteers’ enthusiastic efforts gained little traction. Dismayed but never resigned, the mother on Monday launched a march from Ankara to Istanbul in her latest effort to tilt public conscience.

The first attempt was broken up by Ankara police who detained attendants after they convened at the starting point in the almost militarized Guven Park in the downtown of the Turkish capital on Sunday. When lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu strolled around the park to make a public statement on Periscope, he found himself in the middle of an army of anti-riot police officers.

Lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu makes a speech in Guven Park in Ankara.

Cetinkaya has become the new public face of civil disobedience and cadets’ long-suppressed struggle to obtain justice amid a myriad of odds and daunting challenges. In 2018 and in early 2020, Turkish courts in Ankara and Istanbul handed life sentences to nearly 300s cadets for their alleged involvement in the ill-fated 2016 coup. But cadets insist that they only followed orders of their commanders, and they were not responsible in any capacity for orchestrating or plotting the entire coup scheme. But their defense did little to sway the opinion of judges whose decisions took place under an undeniable political influence and pressure following the coup.

The coup trials have been marked by the ever-present threat of purge, political intimidation and even direct interference in the proceedings in the hazy aftermath of the controversial coup which killed 249 people and wounded some 2,000 citizens.

The mass dismissals and subsequent arrests of more than 3,500 judges and prosecutors have crippled Turkey’s judiciary, creating an enervating slog that overwhelmed the courts. It was in this legal haze and political tumult that those hasty trials took place. The latest bout of sentences dampened the morale of families but spurred a new sense of urgency among some of them for a renewed fight for justice. Mothers have now embarked on a mission to inform ordinary folks in every public platform — public transportation vehicles, buses, subways and metros — about the injustice that befell their sons.

Additionally, mothers appear more defiant and bold in their quest to raise public awareness. On Monday, they were protesting in the main avenue in the Kizilay district in downtown Ankara.

Whether the Cetinkaya-led march would invoke a wide-ranging public reaction as they expect, it remains to be seen. Previously, the grip of fear and resignation had dogged the society amid growing frustration over an economic downturn and dismal management of the country. But none of the looming signs of a bruising crisis are translated into a concerted public effort to ramp up pressure on the government to change its policy course. Cetinkaya’s march occurs against this backdrop of political affairs.

Small though the marching group may be, the growing number of individuals, who dare to vent their anger and disillusionment at rulers, signifies a fleeting change in the social undercurrents and deep layers of the public spectrum. The wall of fear, at least for these Bravehearts who came from all parts of the country, has been broken. It is why authorities even cannot tolerate a small group. They fear, for good reason, that Cetinkaya and her companions would inspire a long-subdued public to spring into action in order to demand justice (and a better life) for their beloved ones and for the country, no matter what the cost would be.

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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