The consensus view of village guards: “The state used us”
*As published in BIANET on 10/11/2013
The village guard system has been a subject of discussion in Turkey since 1985, the year the system was first launched. The system came to agenda usually with respect to crimes committed by village guards. There is a lack of further information about the village guard system in general. Who are these village guards? How do they live? Why and how did they become village guards? What is the meaning of being son or daughter of a village guard in Kurdish society? What do the village guards actually think about the system? Do they demand abolishment of the system? What is their perception about future?
The Village Guard System Research conducted by DİSA (Diyarbakır Institute for Political and Social Research) for 2 years is quite valuable in terms of shedding light to the barely known sides of village guards. Şemsa Özar and Nesrin Uçarlar, two of the writers of the research book called “The Village Guard System – A Paramilitary Structure in Turkey from Past to Present”, shared results of this research in a meeting in Diyarbakır on November 9th.
One of the most important outputs of the research is that village guards are not an homogenous and monotype group. As a matter of fact, we can understand that from different stories about how they first started to bear arms. Some of the village guards bear arms voluntarily while others did that because they had to. Some people accepted being village guards reluctantly as they face with pressure of gendarmarie and they cannot leave their village while others started to carry guns as a result of misinformation and assuming that their work would be a kind of regular watchman’s duty. Some started bearing guns against PKK while others did that for gaining an advantage over “enemy” families.
Again there were some who accepted being village guards for its financial and social security benefits –perceiving it as a kind of government job- while others had to start bearing guns because of poverty and difficulties they face with during their struggle to earn a living. However, large groups of village guards were composed of members of tribes that were “on the side of state”. The village guard system not only made the state turn a blind eye on illegal acts of these tribes but also allowed them to have access to guns through legal ways.
Hence this discrepancy becomes evident when village guards and their families question the system or express their opinion about future of the system. Some of the village guards, especially those who became part of the system by force, demand abolishment of the system as soon as possible. Another group of village guards demand security of life, job and personal benefits before abolishment of the system. On the other hand, some of them –particularly the ones who were involved in crimes and damaged people with their guns- have no intention to leave their guns. They want the prestige and power stemming from gun to continue. The consensus view of these different village guard groups is that they all believe that “the state used them”.
Nesrin Uçarlar, during her speech at the meeting, said that she thinks that the state has a “male” perspective about this village guard problem and pointed out that examination of minutes of the Assembly in last 30 years reveals the fact that the state perceive its relationship with the village guard system as “a father who tries to adopt the illegitimate child born as a result of rape”. On the other hand the phrases Şemsa Özar relayed from interviews with village guards allow us to easily say that “this illegitimate child did not interiorize this father at all”. Almost all of the village guards with whom interviews were made, indicate that the state behaved them as “second class citizens” – “the parens patriae” uses its illegitimate child in an arbitrary and undue way. A village guard explains the situation as follows:
“The military is sometimes nice to us while sometimes put pressure on and insult us. Being a village guard did not bring benefit to us at all but it took a lot from us. This system collapsed”
This “collapsed system” has unfortunately turned out to be a system that all political parties promise to abolish but do not spend any effort to keep their promise when they are elected and even try to take advantage of it for relations with tribes. AKP also did not do anything about this issue for 12 years and even continued to recruit new village guards although party programme includes an item about abolishment of the village guard system. The fact that recruitment of new village guards continues even in 2013, after the date that peace process was launched and guns stopped killing people, raise suspect towards the process. If the era of guns is left behind, then why they still try to arm Kurdish villagers against their own children? Does the state intend to give village guards another mission?
 Özar&Uçarlar&Aytar(2013); The Village Guard System – A Paramilitary Structure in Turkey from Past to Present,Diyarbakır Institute for Political and Social Research, p. 154