Bullet-riddled body of child casts shadow over Turkey's EU aspirations

Click to follow

With his small face, framed by the broad white Peter Pan collar worn by schoolchildren throughout Turkey, Ugur Kaymaz looks even younger than 12. His wide, dark eyes stare out of a black-and-white photograph, sellotaped to the windscreen of his father's truck where the pair died in a hail of gunfire last November. The truck hasn't moved since, parked by the roadside in Kiziltepe, a rundown town on the troubled road to Iraq and Syria. The caption under the photograph reads: "People won't forget you."

With his small face, framed by the broad white Peter Pan collar worn by schoolchildren throughout Turkey, Ugur Kaymaz looks even younger than 12. His wide, dark eyes stare out of a black-and-white photograph, sellotaped to the windscreen of his father's truck where the pair died in a hail of gunfire last November. The truck hasn't moved since, parked by the roadside in Kiziltepe, a rundown town on the troubled road to Iraq and Syria. The caption under the photograph reads: "People won't forget you."

With Turkey bent on joining the European Union, the bloody conflict with its Kurdish minority is one that Ankara would like forgotten. But there has been a resurgence in fighting. This week the army said that it had killed nine "Kurdish rebels" in five days of clashes.

With Brussels watching, the bullet-riddled body of a child is proving hard to explain. Four policemen are on trial accused of the extra-judicial killing of Ugur and his father and then planting a large rifle in the boy's small hands.

The handling of the Kaymaz killings has become a test case, at home and abroad, for Ankara's willingness to rein in its feared security forces, particularly in the embattled Kurdish villages of the south-east.

"Even though the laws are changing, the people who are supposed to implement those laws in daily life are still working in the same old way," said Huseyin Cangir, the head of the Human Rights Association and the Kaymaz family lawyer. "Turkey is trying to be a law-based state. But what we still have is a police state."

The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has scrapped the death penalty, abolished the notorious state security courts and cut the time allowed for detention without trial.

Kiziltepe's mainly Kurdish residents have been traumatised after years of armed conflict. The Kaymaz family had to leave their own village because of the fighting. Ugur's father, Ahmet, had been detained at least twice on suspicion of supporting the militants. He had no proven links to the PKK.

With unemployment high, Ahmet, like many men here, made his money transporting oil between northern Iraq and the Turkish refineries.

On the evening her son and husband died, Makbule said it was already dark and she was putting out the plates for dinner. Ahmet, who was getting ready for another oil run, needed to carry his duvet and other things for the trip over to the truck - and Ugur went with him to help. Then she heard noises.

"When I looked for a second from our gate, I could see Ugur," she says. "I recognised his white trousers. Policemen were forcing him down, pushing him to the ground.

"When we heard the gunfire, I took all the children and went to our neighbour's. And then after a while a lady, the state prosecutor, came in and said "My condolences," but I didn't understand what was going on. They didn't say then that they'd killed Ahmet and Ugur. We couldn't believe that they had died. One of them was a truck driver, the other a schoolboy. Why would they do that?"

The official versions of what happened are quite different. The police say they were acting on a tip-off that a PKK attack would be launched from the Kaymaz house on a passing military convoy. Initially the shootings were described as a "clash" in which the police claimed they returned fire after father and son started shooting. That version was later changed to say that they were killed after ignoring an order to stop.

Immediately after the incident, the provincial governor Temel Kocaklar denounced Ahmet and Ugur Kaymaz as "terrorists".

In the past that would have been the end of it. Then Ahmet Tekin intervened. A teacher at Ugur's school, he was asked by police to identify the two bodies.

Remarkably in a community which has learnt to keep its mouth shut, Mr Tekin has talked openly of the policemen's initial disbelief when he told them Ugur's name and age - a reaction interpreted by the family's lawyers to suggest they had actually come for someone else.

More significantly, it is Mr Tekin - one of the few people to see the weapon lying next to Ugur's body - who has repeatedly emphasised the absurdity of the idea that he could have carried such a large gun.

Then something unprecedented happened - in a country where abuse of the Kurdish minority is overlooked - the public got interested. Photos of Ugur soon appeared in the papers, incensing public opinion. Journalists seized on autopsy reports that nine of the bullets in Ugur's back had been fired from just 50cm. A parliamentary commission criticised the security forces. The Prime Minister weighed in, criticising the governor's description of the child as a terrorist. Four of the police involved were suspended. A date was set for a trial.

That momentum may now be fading. By the time the trial opened, all four policemen had been reinstated and reassigned to other districts. The Kaymaz family lawyers claim that the public prosecutor has watered down the case.

Ahmet's brother Resat, said: "If you don't make people here feel secure, what will these children do when they grow up? They go to the cities and become pickpockets. Or they join the PKK."

Comments