Since the murder of 44 people at a wedding in the south-eastern village of Bilge (read more about it here and here), the system of village guards has been subject to intense debate. The village guards system was introduced halfway through the eighties: villagers were given arms to protect their villages against PKK attacks. Now it turns out that some of the Bilge murderers were village guards and used weapons that the state gave them to do their job.
This is by no means exceptional: figures show that 1 out of 3 village guards has been involved in a crime, ranging from armed robbery and rape to smuggling and murder. They were meant to protect villages, but very soon they themselves became a factor in the Kurdish conflict. They were sometimes killed by the PKK because they were seen as traitors. And the village guards would burn down the houses of men who refused to become a village guard. They killed Kurdish activists and would intimidate people who, for example, had family members in the PKK. In short, a total misuse of power.
The new twist is that it is no longer only Kurdish activists or human rights organisations who criticise the system: the government and even the army admit now that something got out of hand. They say it’s not the system in itself that is the problem, but the people who misuse their power. The village guard system is still helpful in the fight against the PKK, says the army, so there is no reason to abolish it.
I think there is reason enough to abolish it. When 1 out of 3 village guards – mostly uneducated, poor men – turn to crime and use state-owned weapons for it, the system has clearly shown its own bankruptcy.