A new era of the Kurdish issue began in Turkey after PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was imprisoned in İmrali Prison in 1999. To show that the Kurdish movement supported a peaceful resolution, PKK guerrillas withdrew to their camps in Iraq. After the guerrillas withdrew, the government lifted the state of emergency that had been ongoing since the end of the 1980s in the cities of the Kurdish region, and the normalization process was initiated following years of violence. The initiatives for a peaceful solution did not lead to any dialogue or negotiations and the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces resumed in 2004. Many serious human rights abuses were committed by the Turkish military and police in Kurdish provinces, especially during periods of intense conflict. During these conflicts, 12-year-old Uğur Kaymaz was killed by gunfire from police in the Kızıltepe district of Mardin.
Uğur Kaymaz was among those present at his house when the police came to take his father into custody on the grounds that he was associated with the Kurdish movement. After his father Ahmet Kaymaz escaped from the police, Uğur ran after his father and the police shot both of them to death. Following the incident, prosecutors initiated legal proceedings against the four police officers for misconduct during the operation. Still, the practices and processes followed by the judiciary and officials, both during the investigation and the hearings, served to benefit the accused police officers with the state’s policies of impunity. Ultimately, none of the police officers were found guilty of Uğur's murder and all kept their jobs within the police force.
The state still largely denies the crimes against humanity and war crimes that Turkey's military and police are alleged to have committed and facilitated in the 1990s, and maintains its policies of impunity by not investigating the people and events alleged to be responsible. In the 1990s, it was clearly revealed in analyses and reports prepared on the cases from this period, in which the security forces were indicated as the perpetrators, and crimes such as the disproportionate use of force and extrajudicial executions were rendered invisible and/or done with impunity with the cooperation of state institutions under the imposed state of emergency. In the case of Uğur Kaymaz, the state claimed that the boy was a terrorist, but its efforts to legitimize his murder found little success. The claim that a 12-year-old boy, who was shot 13 times, was a terrorist caused a great reaction from the public. Especially after demonstrations to protest this violation of rights began, Uğur Kaymaz's death received wide coverage in the mainstream media and he became another symbol of the violations of the right to life committed by Turkey's security forces.
No one has been found responsible or punished in the case of the murder of Uğur Kaymaz and his father Ahmet Kaymaz by law enforcement officers. As part of the case, the accused police officers, Mehmet Karaca, Yaşafettin Açıkgöz, Seydi Ahmet Döngel, and Salih Ayaz, were tried without arrest, as the court denied all of the prosecutors' requests for the defendants' pre-trial detention. An order was made to take their statements outside of court. The accused police officers were reassigned to Istanbul, Bursa, Kocaeli, and Mersin, and returned to duty. The case in Mardin was transferred to Eskişehir for dubious security reasons. The hearing in Eskişehir was the first the defendants had attended. Without ever being arrested, they were all acquitted in 2007. The defense for the acquitted police officers claimed that Uğur and Ahmet Kaymaz had shot at the police and their deaths occurred as a result of return fire. The Kaymaz family then applied to the ECtHR when the domestic judicial options were exhausted. The ECtHR ruled that the Turkish state pay 140,000 euros to the Kaymaz family. After the Turkish state was found guilty by the ECtHR, applications were made to the Constitutional Court for a retrial, but the requests were rejected, leading the case to be referred to the ECtHR again in 2019.
Uğur Kaymaz is only one of the many children killed in this conflict. Enes Ata, Nihat Kazanhan, Cemile (Cizîr) Çağırga, Helin Hasret Şen, Rozerin Çukur, Gurbet (Selma) Kılıç, Xezal (Gezal) Beru, and many more children were victims of gross human rights abuses committed under conditions of war and conflict (Soydan & Nakçi & Görücü, 2022). In the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state, ongoing since 1984, 22 children have been hit by armored vehicles since 2011 alone while 45 have fallen victim to landmines, bombs, and other explosives. Dozens of children lost their lives due to the presence of materials left behind in the conflict (Diyarbakır Bar Association, 2022). In the conflicts in 2015–2016, at least 77 children, from infants to 18-year-olds, lost their lives. Elif Şimşek, 8; Hayrettin Şimşek, 10; Yusuf Akalın, 12; Büşra Walk, 10; Sadık Efe Açıkgöz, 5; and Ecrin Açıkgöz, 1; are only a few of them (TİHV, 2019).
The reason for embarking on work in remembrance of Uğur Kaymaz was both to raise awareness about human rights abuses and the deaths of children as a result of state violence and to protest the systematic impunity state security forces act under. While Uğur Kaymaz's case is ongoing, the Municipality of Kayapınar in Diyarbakır took action to keep the collective memory of this violation of rights alive and to emphasize children's rights. In this vein, it planned to erect a statue of a child with 13 bullet wounds, referring to the 13 bullets extracted from Uğur's body, next to the text of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. At the inauguration of this memory site, Kayapınar Mayor Abdullah Demirbaş, said in his opening speech that the monument symbolizes all children who have been subjected to violence around the world and that its purpose is to raise awareness about children's rights and to promote peace, brotherhood, and love.
Soydan, Y. & Nakçi, M. & Görücü, Y. (2022). Öldürülmeselerdi Arkadaşımız Olacaklardı (They Would Be Our Friends If They Were Not Killed). Hakikat Adalet Hafıza Merkezi.
Diyarbakır Barosu Çocuk Hakları Merkezi - Savaş ve Çatışmalı Süreçten Etkilenen Çocuklar Çalışma Grubu (2022). Zırhlı Araç, Mayın ve Çatışma - Savaş Atığı Kaynaklı Çocuk Hakkı İhlalleri (Sağlıklı Bir Çevrede Yaşama ve Oyun Hakkı Perspektifinden). (Armored Vehicle, Mines and Conflict - Child Rights Violations from War Waste (From the Perspective of the Right to Live and Play in a Healthy Environment)). Diyarbakır Barosu Yayınları.
Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı (2019). Çatışma Döneminde Çocuk Hak İhlalleri Raporu (Child Rights Violations During Conflict Report). Türkiye İnsan Hakları vakfı Yayınları 123.
The monument built for Uğur Kaymaz in Diyarbakır is located on İnönü Avenue, which is one of the busiest spots where new apartment buildings are located in the city center. One of the effects of this project is that it has spurred further remembrance work done for Uğur Kaymaz. In 2009, the Municipality of Kızıltepe took steps to create a memory site for Uğur Kaymaz, realizing that the ongoing trials would not have a significant result in terms of establishing justice or punishing those responsible for his murder. A statue of a girl and a boy with a dove symbolizing peace in their hands was erected in the district where a street was also named after Uğur Kaymaz. This step has made Uğur Kaymaz's name a symbol of the state's systemic human rights abuses for the people in Kızıltepe.
As reactions to Uğur Kaymaz's murder increased and his name gained a strong symbolic meaning, state officials perceived the remembrance efforts for him as a threat to their own legitimacy. They considered the work by municipalities in memory of Uğur Kaymaz to be political campaigns aimed at harming the integrity of the state. In 2011, an investigation was launched against Abdullah Demirbaş for allegedly wasting state resources. Demirbaş was also charged for and convicted of praising the crime and the criminal, and was handed a three-year prison sentence. In addition, the monument erected for Uğur Kaymaz in the park opposite the Sur municipal building in Diyarbakır was destroyed by an unknown person or persons on May 11, 2015. In 2018, the monument was removed by order of Deputy Governor Bilal Özkan, who was appointed as a trustee to Sur following the state-ordered dismissal of its democratically elected mayor. The statue of two children with a dove in their hands that was erected by the Kızıltepe Municipality on August 4, 2009, was removed by municipal workers on June 11, 2017, by order from District Governor Ahmet Odabaşı, who was appointed as a trustee to the Kızıltepe Municipality after the dismissal of its democratically elected mayor, İsmail Asi, of the Democratic Regions Party (DBP). This process of removing civil servants had begun as a result of the state of emergency declared after the coup attempt of July 15, 2016. During this purge, Uğur Kaymaz's mother, Makbule Kaymaz, who was working for the Kızıltepe Municipality and who was a member of the DBP, was also dismissed by decree.
Apart from the efforts of local governments connected to the Kurdish movement, all of which were duly and democratically elected, to keep Uğur Kaymaz's memory alive, documentaries and feature-length and short films were shot in memory of the young victim of state violence. The clothes that Uğur Kaymaz was wearing at the time of his murder were exhibited at the Museum of Shame, organized by the Federation of the '78s. Although these works in memory of Uğur Kaymaz did not prevent the violations of the right to life of the children who were murdered by state terrorism, they have made it possible to make these violations more visible despite the state's efforts to cover up their murders.