The death of a Kur­dish child is no longer news­wor­thy in Turk­ish « big media ». The war goes on killing chil­dren, silently.

The “rub­bish” from oper­a­tions of repres­sion and destruc­tion of the past two years remain, wait­ing to be picked up, caus­ing new victims.

Unwel­come irony, in Turk­ish, Umut means “hope”.

Türkçe Gazete Duvar | Français | English

Who killed Umut Kozay ?

Every Kur­dish child in a war zone is alive by accident.

The author of these lines, for instance, is alive because “the object” his play­mates found in the zone and brought back to the vil­lage square acci­den­tal­ly did not explode. But the lit­tle shep­erd Sela­mi Ak, child­hood friend for life of the author of these lines, died because “the object” he had found in the Yük­seko­va val­ley explod­ed in his hand. The oth­er shep­erd who was with him, Niza­met­tin Suel, lost an eye and car­ries on as a paraplegic.

War rub­bish goes on killing Kur­dish chil­dren as much as war kills them. And the rou­tine dec­la­ra­tion fol­low­ing each one of these inci­dents over the years, nev­er varies : “Inves­ti­ga­tion into the inci­dent is ongoing.”

In the ear­ly hours of a Sun­day morn­ing, events in a 47 sec­ond video I saw before my eyes remind­ed me of those in my child­hood. I think this record­ing may be the first sharp and clear pic­ture of how war rub­bish mas­sacres our children.
In the video, we see two lit­tle chil­dren in a vacant lot, close to a build­ing some hun­dred meters from the mar­ket. There are oth­er chil­dren on the main avenue, some ten meters away. Dur­ing the first sec­onds of the record­ing, we see an armored police vehi­cle dri­ving by on the avenue. Then, a “dol­muş” [shared taxi], then anoth­er car. A woman appears in the frame close to the chil­dren, and dis­ap­pears. The chil­dren bend down once or twice to look at some­thing. What do we see at the 43rd sec­ond? Two curi­ous but hes­i­tant chil­dren in a vacant lot, cars and an armored police vehi­cle pass­ing by. An ordi­nary autumn day.
But what trans­forms this ordi­nary autumn day in Yük­seko­va into the end of the world for one fam­i­ly, hap­pens in the last three sec­onds of the video. At the 44th sec­ond, the chil­dren dis­ap­pear in a cloud of dust. In those three sec­onds, Umut goes away; the record­ing ends. There is no sequel.

The per­son who sent the video not­ed : “Yesterday’s inci­dent.”

Umut Kozay

Umut and Ercan

A few infor­ma­tion sites served up “Yesterday’s inci­dent” as rou­tine news. Some sites anonymized the children’s names by using only their ini­tials : “U.K. and E.K.”. Main­stream media had no space for the children’s pho­tos nor for the slight­est detail about “the shat­tered fam­i­ly”. “The inci­dent”, don’t search any fur­ther, turn­ing into a “TT” [Trend­ing top­ic on Twit­ter], was not even vis­i­ble on the cur­rent news wire. “An object explod­ed in the hands of two Kur­dish chil­dren.” That’s all.

There is no infor­ma­tion avail­able con­cern­ing the iden­ti­ty of the per­son who record­ed the video. But it is clear­ly not the work of an ama­teur. Quite pos­si­bly, it may come for a sur­veil­lance cam­era. I look at the web­site of the sub-pre­fec­ture of Yük­seko­va. There is no infor­ma­tion con­cern­ing Umut Kozay, dead at age 5, and his broth­er Ercan Kozay, 7, severe­ly wound­ed dur­ing the explo­sion that occurred on Sat­ur­day, around 2pm near the old army offices, at the cross­roads between the Yük­seko­va mar­ket and the Orman neigh­bor­hood, which is to say in the heart of down­town, an area large­ly destroyed dur­ing the 2016 curfew.

The Sub-Prefect : “Pain kind of sticks to the heart”

I then call the Sub-Pre­fect of Yük­seko­va. I ask the Sub-Pre­fect for his work­ing hypoth­e­sis on the inves­ti­ga­tion he tells me is “ongo­ing”. “We don’t com­ment on sup­po­si­tions,” he tells me, and adds “Once the inci­dent is clar­i­fied, we will pub­lish an offi­cial dec­la­ra­tion.” I then ask the Sub-Pre­fect : “Have you con­tact­ed the fam­i­ly?” “Pain kind of sticks to the heart. We are in con­tact. Some things can­not be shared”, he tells me. So, is the video in my pos­ses­sion from a sur­veil­lance cam­era? The Sub-Prefect’s answer : “The inci­dent will be explained in more detail later.”

The Prefecture : “Ammunitions dating back to the operations”

After speak­ing to the Sub-Pre­fect, I look at the web­site of the Pre­fec­ture in Hakkari. On the open­ing page, in the 15 main columns I find “Our Pre­fect Mis­ter Toprak’s vis­its to mer­chants”, “Vice-Pre­fect Abaci vis­its an army vet­er­an wound­ed in Korea”, “Hol­i­day gifts for Hakkari school­child­ren”… but not a word about the explo­sion in which Umut lost his life. No, in a town, when a 5 year old child dies in an explo­sion, there is no state­ment on the open­ing page of the Prefecture’s website!

By dig­ging fur­ther into the web­site, I final­ly come across a state­ment “con­cern­ing the top­ic” in the col­umn “press releases”.

Umut Kozay

On 30.09.2017, at approximately 13h50, following the explosion of offensive ammunition remaining from the period of the operations, found in the rubble fronting n°23 Orman Boulevard, Kışla neighborhood, district of our town Yüksekova, 1 child lost his life on the premises, and one other was seriously wounded. Treatment of the wounded child is ongoing in the State Hospital of Yüksekova where he was transferred. Investigation on the incident is ongoing.”

Con­trary to the Sub-Pre­fect who “could not com­ment on sup­po­si­tions”, the Pre­fec­ture had already “eval­u­at­ed” the explo­sive object as ammu­ni­tion dat­ing from the peri­od of the oper­a­tions. Which it express­es with the term “from the peri­od of the operations”.
What “from the peri­od of the oper­a­tions” refers to is the peri­od of the cur­few, declared by this same Pre­fec­ture on March 13 2016 and which last­ed 78 days. Which is to say, those “mys­te­ri­ous” 78 days dur­ing which Yük­seko­va expe­ri­enced the biggest exo­dus in its his­to­ry, where 94 per­sons, 44 iden­ti­fied, and 50 non-iden­ti­fied were buried in a com­mon grave, where 6,770 homes were burned and destroyed, where no one was allowed to enter after­wards, includ­ing the lawyers.

Why and how then, although months have gone by since, has ammu­ni­tion dat­ing from the peri­od of the oper­a­tions remained in the heart of the town ? How many more still await dis­cov­ery by chil­dren in Yük­seko­va and in oth­er towns sub­ject­ed to curfews?

Were these ammu­ni­tions left behind delib­er­ate­ly? Why were they not searched for and destroyed before peo­ple returned to their homes? How is it that, when even a sin­gle bul­let must be account­ed for with­in the armed forces, ammu­ni­tion can be left lying about hap­haz­ard­ly? Is an “inves­ti­ga­tion” under­way to find out if these are State ammu­ni­tions or not ? Who killed Umut Kozay ? Who left ammu­ni­tion in this spot, where is he at this very moment, what is he doing? Does there still exist a sin­gle lawyer, a sin­gle politi­cian who will fol­low his trail?

We can­not know. But the offi­cial dimen­sion of the “top­ic” is as fol­lows : “The inves­ti­ga­tion is ongo­ing”, and “There will be a detailed state­ment lat­er.” And this, of course (pro­vid­ing) there is a great out­cry of pub­lic opin­ion over the death of a Kur­dish child…

Who killed my Umut ?”

Umut Kozay

Cemil Kozay with Ercan on his left and Umut on his right

For a sec­ond time in the day, I call the young father, Cemil Kozay, with whom I spoke imme­di­ate­ly after view­ing the video. He speaks with dif­fi­cul­ty, between sobs. Con­trary to the Sub-Prefect’s words, he says no one has called him.

There’s a secu­ri­ty fail­ure”, he says. He repeats the only sen­tence spo­ken by his 7 year old son, who sur­vived with severe wounds and is hos­pi­tal­ized in Van : “We thought it was an egg, papa.”

We left for the vil­lage dur­ing the oper­a­tion. When the war end­ed, we came back. My rent­ed house was in ruins” he adds. He repeats sev­er­al times : “My heart is burn­ing. May the hearts of oth­er par­ents not burn in their turn.”

Umut and Ercan had gone with their moth­er to vis­it their aunt. The chil­dren went out­side to play. Over there, the secu­ri­ty ser­vice at the police is like a com­mis­sari­at. The armored vehi­cle is sta­tioned there 24 hours a day. How could this hap­pen with so much secu­ri­ty? Who is respon­si­ble ? Who killed my Umut? Who will take respon­si­bil­i­ty, who will calm my pain?” he asks. “Nei­ther the Sub-Pre­fect nor the Pre­fect, no one called me. No one has told me any­thing. Who can tell me ? My son was just a lit­tle boy. How will this pain ever end?”

He told me he didn’t know about the video. “You can pub­lish it,” he says. “In any event, I’ve seen every­thing. I pre­pared him for bur­ial myself. I saw the blood with my own eyes. I buried him with my own hands. I saw everything…”

I ask him if there is any­thing we can do. “I leave that to your con­science. Do what your con­science dic­tates,” and he hangs up, sub­merged by sobs.

Con­science ?
Con­cern­ing our con­science, a dec­la­ra­tion will fol­low later.

İrf­an Aktan

The author ends his arti­cle on this para­graph, fol­lowed by a list :

Children’s assas­si­na­tions due to war “rub­bish” between Jan­u­ary 2015 and April 2017. 

As you know, after the dec­la­ra­tion of the state of emer­gency, Gün­dem Çocuk Derneği [Asso­ci­a­tion for Child­hood, Gün­dem], that mil­i­tat­ed for the rights of chil­dren, was closed down. Fol­low­ing Umut Kozay’s death, I asked the association’s for­mer lead­ers a list of chil­dren killed or wound­ed by war rub­bish. Here is the record for the past two years…

You will find the list in the orig­i­nal arti­cle (in Turk­ish). It is a long one…

In 2 years, 34 chil­dren died or were wound­ed in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances to those of Umut and his broth­er Ercan. The cas­es are par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cen­trat­ed around Kur­dish towns that were sub­ject­ed to cur­fews and destruc­tive oper­a­tions. For exam­ple, Nusay­bin, disc­trict of Mardin, or Cizre, Cudi, İdil, Silopi, dis­tricts of Şır­nak. But oth­er neigh­bor­hoods, vil­lages and towns have also lost their chil­dren in Van, Hakkari, Diyarbakır, Siirt, Elazığ, Bingöl, Ağrı…

 İrfan Aktan began in journalism in 2000 on Bianet. He has worked as a journalist, a correspondent or an editor for l’Express, BirGün, Nokta, Yeni Aktüel, Newsweek Türkiye, Birikim, Radikal,, He was the Ankara representative for IMC-TV. He is the author of two books: “Nazê/Bir Göçüş Öyküsü” (Nazê/A tale of exodus ), “Zehir ve Panzehir: Kürt Sorunu” (Poison and antidote: The Kurdish Question). He presently writes for l’Express, Al Monitor, and Duvar.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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