Monument to Life

Batman, 2012

Kurds, make up between 15 and 20 percent of the population of Turkey, toward the end of the 1950s, Kurds began demanding recognition. The Turkish state, however, ignored these demands and increased its oppression. Parallel to this, the Kurdish movement became more radical. Following the military coup of 1980, pressure on Kurds increased, and in 1984 a group from within the Kurdish movement broke off to begin an armed insurgency. The war in the 1990s between the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partîya Karkerên Kurdistan in Kurdish, or PKK) and Turkish security forces led to tens of thousands of deaths, as well as the migration of hundreds of thousands of Kurds from their homes. Large-scale strife in the 1990s ended with neither side explicitly winning, and dialog between the Kurdish movement and the government only began in 2009. Skirmishes continued sporadically, and in 2010, a violent attack by the PKK took place in the southeastern province of Batman near the Raman Mountain where the Turkish state was drilling for oil. In the attack, the PKK burned containers where workers were staying. Thinking a fire had started in that area, Sadi Özdemir, the former chairman of Batman's Human Rights Association; Salih Özdemir, an official in the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP); Sofi Özdemir a relative of some of the victims; and Sedat Özevin, a former head the Batman Bar Association, set out for Raman to help, but were killed when their car hit an explosive device planted. All four individuals had devoted their lives to the struggle for human rights. After the incident, the PKK issued a statement apologizing to the victims' families and announcing an investigation into the people who were responsible for the deaths; later, it said the offenders had been expelled from the group.





The deaths of four people who had devoted their lives to fighting for human rights in an attack by the PKK led to criticism of the Kurdish movement. Among the activists who were killed were lawyers who had defended victims whose rights had been violated by the state, and for this they were constantly subjected to state repression and even torture. In the following period, Serhat Temel, mayor of the municipality of Batman from the BDP, proposed building a memorial for those who had been killed. The municipality first reached out to the families of the victims for their approval of the project. Built in 2012 in a park in the center of the city of Batman, the opening ceremony was attended by a large crowd. On the Monument to Life are inscribed the names of those killed in the explosion and the words: “Those who live in the hearts of the people are immortal.”

The opening ceremony of the memorial site was attended by the relatives of the victims, important political figures from the Kurdish movement, parliamentarians, mayors and the public at large. The first impact of this memorialization project was the Kurdish movement’s recognition of the pain felt by the victim's families. In her opening speech, Hülya Özevin, the widow of the lawyer Sedat Özevin, said: “How individuals have lived is more important than how they have died. Those who have been hurt are still waiting for peace to come.” Sabri Özdemir read a poem written by his late brother Sofi.

This project has various social and political dimensions. In previous years, Batman witnessed a large number of killings by unknown perpetrators, for which parties to the conflict blamed each other. The tragedy was accepted and recorded by the Kurdish movement as its own fault, which led to an apology and a pledge to avoid such attacks in the future. In a speech at the opening ceremony, the mayor of Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, said, “Should the war stretch over time, similar events and others will proliferate in the future,” and asked for the immediate resolution of the Kurdish issue to prevent more tragedies.

Since both the PKK and the BDP worked for similar aims, albeit with completely different methods, the state and the established media perceive them as being identical. The government and the media used the attack to demonize and disgrace the Kurdish movement in its totality. Following the opening of the Monument to Life, various newspapers used the following expression: “The PKK killed, while the BDP erected a sculpture.” The primary difficulty was that each side in the conflict used the project in line with its own political aims, while the memorialization transformed the terrible event into a step taken in the direction of peace.