This week, I went to Gülyazi, one of the villages in the Uludere district where 35 citizens were killed by the Turkish air force. I talked to families of the victims, and to young smugglers. I’d like to share my findings on two subjects in blog posts: village guards, and smuggling as a totally normal part of life.
Read more on the village guards below, and click here for the blog post about smuggling.
Most of the victims of the Uludere killings belonged to the same extended family, with the surname Encü. Soon it was claimed that they were a ‘kurucu family’, meaning there were supposedly several korucu, or ‘village guards’, in the family.
Village guards are Kurdish villagers employed and armed by the state, who help the state in the fight against the PKK. The system was introduced in the eighties, after the PKK started its violent campaign in 1984. The state thought it was a good idea to have auxiliary forces who knew the landscape, the people and the language of the area.
Often people were forced to become village guards. They were given a ‘choice’: either you become a village guard, or we burn your house and kick you out of the village. Many people refused and left their village, some were killed for refusing, and others gave in and started working for the state. There are many village guards. To give you an idea: Gülyazi has 500 to 600 inhabitants (and 25 of the victims came from here, so that’s about 5% of the population), and with about 6000 people in surrounding villages, they share one muhtar, a state-employed village head. In this area of 6000 people, there are 27 village guards, so every village has a few.
The PKK considers the village guards traitors and has killed several of them, and you still hear of village guards becoming victims of PKK attacks. The korucu are often involved in all kinds of illegal activities, from extrajudicial killings to disappearances and drug trafficking. The whole system got severely out of hand and is under debate – read some more about that in a previous blog post.
That the Encü family was known for being village guards puzzled me while watching and reading the news about the Uludere killings. The funeral for the 35 victims was huge, and hundreds of people came from all over the region to attend it. The anger and pain among Kurds is immense. I somehow couldn’t reconcile that with some of the victims being korucu family members. I thought the korucu families were somewhat outside the rest of the Kurdish community, that they were even seen by some as traitors, but now I saw a very different picture.
I talked about it with the victims’ families, including some members of the Encü family. They said that when such a tragedy hits the community, it’s not important if you are a village guard or not. The community just comes together. But they also suggested it’s not considered an important matter anyway if you are from a korucu family or not. Everybody struggles to make a living, and being a korucu is one way. So I asked if it is possible to be a village guard and at the same time in your heart be a PKK supporter. I didn’t really get an answer. Or, to be more precise: the answer was that these kinds of labels have nothing to do with the everyday realities of life in a village near the south-eastern border. ‘We are all Kurds’, one man said, ‘and the truth is: no Kurd wants to kill another Kurd’.
That didn’t satisfy me. There must be more to it. More than I could figure out in just two days. I will return to Uludere a few times in the near future and try to find out more, also about other questions and matters I am curious about. In the meantime, if you have any knowledge to share on this subject, the comment section is open!