The Kurdish question in Turkey entered a new phase after 1999, following the imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the armed guerilla forces (PKK) and the Kurdish political movement in Turkey. Most of the PKK guerillas retreated to their main bases in Southern Kurdistan (Iraq and Syria) to show that the Kurdish movement supported attempts to begin a peace process. This was followed by the end of martial law in the Kurdish region, which had been in place since the late 1980s, and a degree of relaxation after decades of bloody civil war that lasted for a short period. Nevertheless, the peace initiatives did not translate into a serious negotiation process, causing a resurgence of armed conflict between Turkish security forces and the PKK in 2004. The relationship between the number of state-led human rights violations and the escalation of the armed conflict has always been quite obvious in the Kurdish region. The murder of Uğur Kaymaz, a 12-year-old child, by Turkish police in Kiziltepe, in Mardin province, falls into this political context.
Uğur Kaymaz was at home when police came to take his father into custody for alleged affiliation with the Kurdish movement. Uğur ran from the police, following his father; both were shot to death. Prosecutors began an investigation into the role of four police officers to determine whether they had committed any misconduct during the operation. However, in the course of the investigation and trial, representatives of the judicial system made serious efforts to protect the accused and ensure their impunity. In the end, no police officers were punished.
The crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by state officials during the 1990s are still denied through the impunity granted their perpetrators. The Turkish state was able to cover up the role of security forces in such cases numerous times during the bloody 1990s. However, this was not the case for the murder of Kaymaz. Turkish state officials tried to convince the public that the child was a terrorist, but this caused widespread outrage: it was hard to imagine why a 12-year-old terrorist would have thirteen bullets in his body after being shot by the police. The incident received serious media coverage after demonstrations began, and it became one of the symbols of abuses by the Turkish state.
Scope and Purpose
The main reason for erecting a statue in memory of Uğur Kaymaz was to increase awareness of human rights violations caused by state terror and to protest systematic impunity granted to security forces in Turkey. At the beginning of the trial, the Kayapınar municipality decided to keep the rights violation alive in the collective memory of society, with emphasis on the importance of children’s rights. The scope of the project was simple: a statue that symbolizes the murder of Uğur Kaymaz with 13 bullet holes in it, next to the text of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In a speech at the unveiling of the memorial site, Mayor Abdullah Demirbaş said that the statue symbolized all children in the world who were subjected to violence, and that the aim of the memorial was to increase awareness of children’s rights and promote peace, brotherhood and love.
The statue to Uğur Kaymaz is located on İnönü Street, in one of the central parks in a newly developing district in the city center. Therefore, most residents of Diyarbakır see this statue often and are aware of the incident to which it refers. The project has also given rise to other memorial efforts around the murder of Uğur Kaymaz. In 2009, Kızıltepe Municipality took several steps to memorialize the child’s death, especially after seeing that the trial would not bring justice or end impunity for perpetrators. Among other things, the municipality erected a statue of a girl and a boy holding a dove in their hands, symbolizing the importance of peace. The name Uğur Kaymaz was also given to a street in Kiziltepe. This has been crucial in establishing his name in the minds of local residents as a symbol of unjust state practices.
When public reaction to the murder of Uğur Kaymaz reached significant levels and gained strong symbolic meaning, Turkish authorities perceived the related political campaigns as a threat to the legitimacy of the security forces. Demands for justice were seen as mere political propaganda aiming to damage the reputation of the state. Municipal efforts to memorialize the murder of Uğur Kaymaz were viewed as extensions of these political campaigns that defamed the integrity of the Turkish state. In 2011, the chief prosecutor of Diyarbakir sued Mayor Abdullah Demirbaş, on behalf of the Kayapınar Municipality, for wasting state resources, referring to 2,292 Turkish Lira expended by the municipality for the memorial. The chief prosecutor also requested a three-year prison term for Demirbaş for praising a criminal. Thus there is no guarantee that this memorial site will continue to exist.