Party bill seeks to lift village guards

Party bill seeks to lift village guards

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Party bill seeks to lift village guards

Kyrgyz-origin village guards ride theri horses in the southeastern Turkish province of Van are seen it this photo.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has proposed a bill to abolish the village guard system, arguing that such move is necessitated by the ongoing peace process.

BDP deputy parliamentary group chair İdris Baluken said yesterday that the village guard system must be abolished as part of normalization, referring to the continuing peace process aimed at ending the three-decade-old conflict between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Baluken, speaking at a press conference at Parliament, also said a thorough disarmament of the region was as important as the disarmament of the PKK, while noting that in their proposed bill, they demanded that the guards’ employee rights, health insurance and psychological support be ensured in a separate legislative act.

The system was initially intended to be temporary, only to become permanent later on, Baluken said, adding that the total number of village guards was currently above 80,000 – large enough for what he described as a “small army system.”

Following news reports reflecting the concerns of village guards about their future in the event of a potential peace, Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bülent Arınç said, “I advise them not to think of what will become of them once the peace process becomes successful because people who are assigned by the state do not have the right to ask, ‘What will become of us?’”

Historic roots

If the peace process is successful, people will live in peace and tranquility and “there will be no question of what will happen to the village guards,” he said April 8.

The village guard system, officially named as the “provisional village guards,” was originally established in 1924 in an effort to entrust the locals with the task of providing for their own safety, under Village Law No. 442, but remained practically inert until it resurrected in the early 1980s due to the rise of the PKK in the region. Following its resurrection in 1985, the system was entrusted to locals in order to prevent attacks by the PKK. Village guards, who typically came from feudal, pro-state Kurdish families, were generally seen as instrumental in assisting the army in countering activities by the PKK.

On numerous occasions, the system has been criticized for further empowering local clans, benefiting from a culture of impunity and allowing guards to engage in drug and arms trafficking. In 2006, following an inquiry of a member of the Parliament, then-Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu admitted that 5,000 village guards had been identified as engaging in illegal activities.

Similarly, a report by the Human Rights Association (İHD) of Turkey provided a case-by-case listing of 1,591 violations perpetrated by village guards from January 1990 to March 2009.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 to fight for Kurdish independence but later revised that goal to autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Since 1984, more than 40,000 people have been killed in conflict. This figure includes civilians, national security forces, PKK members and village guards operating in towns and villages in eastern and southeastern Turkey where PKK fighters are most active.