“If the state tells us to disarm…”

Village guards threaten.

An article of Bahar Kılıçgedik of Taraf newspaper reports that Diyarbakır Institute for Political and Social Research (DISA) recently published their research on the village guard system as a book. The book entitled A Paramilitary Structure in Turkey from past to present: Village Guard System was co-authored by Şemsa Özar, Nesrin Uçarlar and Osman Aytar.

The book gives a detailed account on the still ongoing Village Guard system that was first established in 1985. The village guards explain that they are caught in the middle of the state and PKK: “When we lay down arms, we become direct targets of the PKK. If the state discharges us without the necessary precautions, we’ll rebel. Even if the state stops acting against terrorism, we won’t.”

VILLAGE GUARDING FROM PAST TO PRESENT

According to the official data shared in the book, as of February 1, 2013 there are a total number of 46.195 temporary village guards in the 22 surrounding provinces. Unofficial estimations predict that in addition to this number, 20 to 25 thousand voluntary guards are in duty. The research was conducted in 2011 between August and October in provinces, districts and villages of Diyarbakır, Hakkâri, Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Şırnak and Van. Researchers interviewed a total of 68 people who consisted of temporary and voluntary village guards, their wives and children.

The research detected that instead of discharging the village guarding system during the ceasefire, the number of guards were increased in an effort to use the system as an assimilation model that divides the Kurdish community in order to make them more manageable and to keep them in line. The interviews revealed that the village guard system was developed as an effort to make people take sides with the state. And in this light, many crimes were committed repeatedly.

THEY HAVE TROOPS

During the field study, the participants underlined that village guarding was not limited to assigned rural groups. The village guarding troops were, in general, headed by the muhtars [smallest local authority of Turkey, ruling villages and districts] themselves.

It was indicated that there were people who self-identified as battalion commander or captain among the troops. It was noted that a certain “Dagger Team” was present in Şırnak, while the equivalent in Van was a “Lightnings Battalion” comprising of more than 5000 village guards.

THEY WANT TO LAY DOWN ARMS

A village guard in Van says “if they came up with a solution to this problem today, if we had the chance; we would be the first ones to lay down arms” and continues “we never truly accepted the village guard system. The ones from our village and the surrounding area were all forced into doing this.” Another village guard from Midyat district of Mardin says “there is nothing that the village guard system has given us, but it has taken a whole lot. This system is sunken.” A village guardian child of Lice, Diyarbakır says “we cannot say that we are the kids of a village guard. My older brother is in college and he has to hide this all the time.” Although the village guard system is a male-only organisation, some 35-40 women were also employed as temporary village guards in different regions.

These women supersede their own village guardian husbands when they are deceased in line of duty. Village guardians who are not well received both by the villagers and the PKK are not in favour of disarming. The group announces that if the village guard system is discharged without meeting relevant demands, they will rebel: “If the state decides to terminate this system, they’d be killing us. We are not well received here, seriously. Sometimes I think that they are right about being so reactionary. Village guards have enforced violence and conducted raids here. The state cannot simply say “the task is done, hand in your weapons and walk away”. If that would be the case, it would be even worse; we would rebel.”

A foundation director who is also a village guard in Van explains that since they have volunteered for the village guard positions, they have gained many enemies. “There is always an attitude of shaming us: ‘shame on you, how can a Kurdish be a village guard himself?’ But we love our state, we love our Turkey. We would happily sacrifice ourselves for the sake of this country. If terror is not stopped, we won’t either. Even if the state stops, we’ll continue.”

A RECONCILIATORY AGREEMENT AMONG ALL SIDES SHOULD BE ESTABLISHED

The wounds of the village guards system cannot be remedied merely with meeting the employee’s personal rights. While the study points out to this conclusion, it also compiles a list of important aspects to keep in mind in case of discharging the system:

  • Those village guards who have committed crimes against civilians should immediately stand trial.
  • The village guards should abandon the settlements, residencies and lands that they have once confiscated.
  • Definitive measures preventing the former guards to continue a line of work which includes gun usage or which grants them authority or privilege should be taken.
  • A mutual agreement both between the PKK and the village guards, and between the villagers and the village guards should be established in an attempt to eliminate any acts of vengeance.
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