Conscience and Justice Watch

The story of the Families of Workers Who Search for Justice goes back to an explosion that occurred in an illegal roman candle workshop in Davutpaşa on October 31, 2008. Following the event, the families who have lost their relatives in Davutpaşa initiated a struggle to bring to justice and punish those who are responsible for this occupational murder that cost the lives of 21 people, which includes 20 workers. Since then, they have met at Taksim Square every Saturday at 12:00 for 35 weeks to launch a criminal case. Yet, even though this case has set a precedent because public officials were sentenced, the families continue to follow the case since none of these officials will spend a day in prison because their sentences were deferred.

Families have continued their struggle for justice by making condolence and solidarity visits to the families and relatives of those who have lost their lives in occupational murders following the Davutpaşa event. Their determination to show solidarity encouraged other families who had similar problems. That translated into a shared struggle that has grown larger. On May 20, 2012, the one-hour long Conscience and Justice Watch was launched and has been held every Sunday at the Galatasaray Square.

Every day, tens of workers are killed in Turkey. According to the Occupational Murders Almanac published by the Support Group for Justice Seekers with the support of the families, at least 1947 workers died in 2017, and 1872 workers in 2018. According to the reports of the Workers’ Health and Work Safety Assembly (İSİG), in the first ten months of 2019, at least 1477 workers died on the job. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), each year around 1 million workers lose their lives on duty globally. The organization states that 600 thousand of these deaths are preventable if occupational safety is ensured with already available means.

In Turkey, many large scale occupational accidents that have shocked the public conscience and hurt its sense of justice occurred in the last decade. Some of these are as follows: 20 workers were killed and 130 people got injured because of an explosion and fire that happened in Davutpaşa on January 31, 2008. On March 11, 2012, a fire broke out in three nylon tents which were used as the quarters of workers working in the construction of the Marmara Park Shopping Mall in Esenyurt. 11 workers burned to death. On September 6, 2014, in the construction site set up by the Torunlar Construction REIC on the site of the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, 10 workers in an elevator that fell from the 32nd floor were killed. On May 13, 2014, in the Eynez Coal Mine owned by TKI and operated by Soma Holding AŞ in Soma, 301 workers were killed, 162 were injured. In none of the cases in relation to these incidents, no senior official has been held responsible.

Scope and Purpose

The Conscience and Justice Watch is a commemoration and remembrance watch organized by the Families of Workers Who Search for Justice on the first Sunday of every month at the Galatasaray Square to render visible and end occupational murders. The aims of the Conscience and Justice Watch are to raise public awareness on occupational murders, to make visible the fight for justice carried out by the families and relatives of those who have lost their lives, and build a collective memory on the memories of deceased workers. Stressing that occupational murders should be seen as murders, not “accidents”, families ask for justice by initiating a watch for workers who have lost their lives and suffer long-lasting deadly occupational diseases.

The gathering for the Conscience and Justice Watch used to take place at Galatasaray Square in İstanbul. However, their 75th watch at the square was banned by the district governorship by a notice dated September 2, 2018. Since then, families stand watch in front of the One Hope Association on Tel Street. In each watch, they inform the public about occupational murders and cases they follow at the same spot, holding the photographs of their losses in their hands.

Following the Davutpaşa explosion in 2008, families and volunteers who came together in condolence visits, continued to hold these visits every time a new occupational murder occurred. They shared their experiences, the difficulties they have faced and the trial processes following occupational murders. They published booklets on occupational murders by reviewing the press. Families of BEDAŞ worker Erkan Keleş, film crew member Selin Erdem, Eren Eroğlu, Gemlik Fertilizer Factory worker Uğur Çavdar, İhlas worker Serhat Alkurt joined the families of those who have lost their lives in Ostim-İvedik, Van Bayram Hotel, Esenyurt Marmara Park Shopping Mall, Kozlu, Milas-Güllük AKFEN and Soma. Families met with each other through condolence visits, personal introductions, press coverage of the families’ struggles and watches. They started to continue the legal fight together and follow each other’s court cases.

In addition to this, proclaiming that “You cannot fight for an unmourned worker!” families have been marching and organizing events since 2012 to declare 28 April as the International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured. Families started a petition on and want to declare 28 April as the Day of Commemoration and Mourning just like other countries in the world. They visited all political parties who have MPs in the General Assembly. They use forget-me-nots as their symbol. In 1984, one year after the declaration of 28 April as the day of mourning for the union by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, it then unilaterally declared 28 April as the National Day of Mourning when the responsibility of the employer was recognized for the first time for occupational accidents on April 28, 1914. In just a couple of years, 28 April started to be observed in many countries such as the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Portugal as the Commemoration and Mourning Day.


The Conscience and Justice Watch is organized to keep the occupational murders on the public agenda. As occupational murders continue and even though there were decisions that meant impunity in the court cases that have been followed by the families, some of these public officials have been brought to justice. The term “occupational accident” has started to be understood as “occupational murder” in public discussions. Also due to the struggle carried out by the families, those who have suffered an occupational accident and those who have lost their relatives in an occupational murder started to demand more frequently bringing to justice those who are responsible. In workers’ protests, workers started to make demands to improve their working conditions, in addition to the demand for higher wages. More workers started to shout “We don’t want to die on the job.” Families did their best to support all kinds of protests and resistances organized for workers’ health or occupational safety and brought the demands of workers to watches and almanacs.

The Conscience and Justice Watch also cooperated with different segments of the society in making their demands heard. Focusing on the Conscience and Justice Watches and the struggle of the families, the documentary Murder, not an Accident shot by Fatih Pınar on occupational murders and inspired by these watches aims to bring the voice of the families to a larger audience in and outside the country. Families who try to contact those who have lost their relatives in occupational murders as much as possible, also try to be in solidarity with those who have suffered the same outside the country. Everywhere they go, they try to convey their experiences and develop solidarity practices by meeting with people who have gone through the same suffering.

Their open-access website İş Cinayetlerini Unutma [Don’t Forget Occupational Murders] provides compiled data, a summary of what happened in the previous Conscience and Justice Watches, articles on occupational murders and the Occupational Murders Almanac. They also have a calendar of the events they organize on the website. Published by the Support Group for Justice Seekers since 2012, the Occupational Murder Almanac is prepared by reviewing the press and with the help of the ISIG Assembly’s reports. Emphasizing the naked truth that not a single worker would have died if necessary measures had been taken to ensure workers’ health and occupational safety, the almanac aims to prevent the workers who have lost their lives from being reduced to statistics and keep the memory of workers who died while working. They share data they can confirm with readers in the almanac.


The biggest challenges for individuals and groups who support the families of deceased workers and their struggle are the use of impunity as the most widespread and systematic legal method in occupational murder cases and/or the fact that court decisions do not satisfy people’s sense of justice. Moreover, on September 2, 2018, security forces did not allow the families to hold the 75th Conscience and Justice Watch at Galatasaray Square and read a press statement stating that the square was closed to protests.

Another challenge is the pressure on media and journalism, which has reached a level where it’s having an impact on the level of support given to the watch. At first, all watches had a journalist on duty. But because of increasing pressure on the opposition media, the families and volunteers who support them have taken over journalism duties since the 53rd watch held on August 7, 2016. Each watch is followed by an evaluation meeting held by the families at the association, and they try render themselves visible and raise their voices by going to trainings on citizenship journalism because of the lack of press interest to watches. Believing in the importance of mourning on the streets to recognize it as a social struggle, families emphasize that they are determined to carry on the struggle not only for their losses but to prevent other losses from happening. They discuss what they can do to lift the ban that placed them on a narrow street and muted their voice, and how they can use other spaces as platforms.