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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Turkish Kurds demand justice
By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Kiziltepe, Turkey

Two memorial trees surrounded by concrete to protect them
Two trees mark the place where father and son were shot
At the side of a dusty main road close to Turkey's border with Syria two trees have just been planted on the spot where a child and his father were killed.

Still little more than twigs, they are surrounded by concrete blocks for protection.

Ugur and Ahmet Kaymaz were shot by policemen in this mainly Kurdish region in November 2004. The officers say they returned fire in self-defence during an anti-terrorist operation targeting the Kurdish separatist PKK.

Ahmet's death alone might have passed without remark, but Ugur was just 12 years old. Forensic evidence showed he was shot repeatedly in the back at close range.

The subsequent trial of four policemen was widely seen as a test case of whether Turkey could hold its powerful security forces accountable.

Are we not citizens of this country? Is our sin to be Kurdish? We wanted justice, but justice here is only for some people
Resat Kaymaz

It was announced as Turkey was gearing up to begin accession talks with the European Union. Since then, the political climate has changed.

The Kaymaz family learned recently that all four defendants had been acquitted.

"Are we not citizens of this country?" Resat demands at his home in Kiziltepe, close to where his brother and nephew died. "Is our sin to be Kurdish? We wanted justice, but justice here is only for some people."

Backlog of cases

Some 100km (62 miles) away in Diyarbakir, the family's lawyer is following dozens of human rights cases stretching back to the 1990s, when the fight between Turkish troops and the PKK was at its fiercest. It was a dirty war, on both sides, which cost many civilian lives.

Ugur Kaymaz
Ugur Kaymaz, 12, was shot by police in 2004

Tahir Elci says the bodies of hundreds of Kurds are still missing, believed murdered, but only a fraction of those responsible have been punished.

"In my opinion 90% of complaints against the security forces do not come to court. Maybe 10% of the other 10% ended in conviction," the lawyer says.

In almost all the cases he has brought, and seen dismissed, here in Turkey, Mr Elci says the European Court of Human Rights later ruled in favour of his clients and ordered the state to pay compensation.

"It is unusual for us that security officers are punished here. They are the strongest institution in Turkey," he shrugs.

Renewed tension

The fact the Kaymaz case even came to court suggested things might be changing. Turkey was en route to the EU, with judicial reform high on the agenda.

But two years on, the military is ever more outspoken and influential. Renewed clashes between the PKK and troops in the south-east are fuelling calls for a major incursion into northern Iraq to target the PKK there. Negotiations with the EU are in difficulty.

If some separatists want to get land from your state, the state will react - this is normal
Mehmet Kiliclar
Regional governor

"In all the debates about reforms in 2003 and 2004, Turkey told us not to worry. They said officers would be brought to trial, that this sort of thing would stop," says Joost Lagendijk, chairman of the Turkey delegation in the European Parliament. He says initial optimism has gone.

"For the moment it looks like we're still in the 1990s when it comes to the security forces and impunity. No-one believed that boy was carrying a gun and shooting. I think it's a great disappointment."

Mr Lagendijk points to another alleged case of extrajudicial killing that the EU followed closely in Semdinli. Last month Turkey's highest appeals court overturned a 39-year sentence against two paramilitary policemen convicted of bombing a Kurdish-run bookshop there.

The case has now been referred to a closed military court.

Governor defiant

Regional Governor Mehmet Kiliclar rebuffs any suggestion of bias in Turkey's judicial system. He is unconcerned about the lack of convictions.

"So what? In this region 30,000 people have been killed. It's a big issue," he says from an armchair in his official residence in Mardin.

"If some separatists want to get land from your state, the state will react. This is normal. Of course the measures must be legal, but every state has the right to defend itself."

Ahmet Kaymaz's house, not far from where he was shot along with his son
The Kaymaz family home - near the scene of the shootings

But on the streets of the shabby migrant town where Ugur Kaymaz was killed, the verdict in his case has added to feelings of resentment and alienation.

"It sends the signal that whatever the police want to do with us Kurds, that's fine," says one young man. "They declared a 12-year-old kid a terrorist."

Within moments three plain-clothes policemen arrive to listen in.

Back on the main road, schoolchildren passing the spot where Ugur died recount what happened in the language of adults.

"If there were any laws in this country, they would not set those people free," one former classmate shouts. He is not old enough to remember the worst fighting in this region, but he has been brought up with an acute sense of injustice.

"If things go on like this, Kurdish nationalism will increase, people will join the PKK," Resat Kaymaz tells me.

"If the police had been punished, Ugur would still be a symbol for the next generation. But at least they would see that the state did what was right, in the end."

Country profile: Turkey
08 May 07 |  Country profiles
Police on trial for Kurd attack
04 May 06 |  Europe
Payment woes mar Kurds' return
31 Mar 06 |  Europe


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