44 killed in blood feud massacre at Turkish wedding party

6th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Most of the victims were women and children, authorities said.

Bilge -- Masked gunmen stormed a wedding party in Turkey's Kurdish region firing machine guns in an attack that left 44 people dead -- most of them women and children, authorities said Tuesday.

Eight people have been arrested over what Interior Minister Besir Atalay said was a blood feud between rival families in the village of Bilge in the southeastern Mardin province.

Four masked men entered the village square from different directions late Monday, just after a Muslim preacher had completed the wedding ceremony, and opened fire on the crowd, witnesses told AFP.

They then stormed several houses, continuing to shoot, they said.

The bride, the groom, his parents and four-year-old sister as well as the village's imam were all killed in the attack, authorities and witnesses said.

One 19-year-old woman said the attackers herded women and children into a room in one house and sprayed them with bullets, according to a witness account relayed by a local official.

Initial witness accounts said the attackers had also hurled hand grenades, but a senior local official told the Anatolia news agency that they had used automatic weapons only.

The assailants escaped in the dark as a sandstorm cut visibility in the area, which is near the Syrian border.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said six children, 17 women and 21 men were among the dead. Three other villagers were wounded, he added.

The interior minister said the massacre was not linked to terrorism -- a reference to separatist Kurdish rebels active in the region -- and appeared to have been triggered by a feud between villagers.

"An initial assessment suggests that the attack was triggered by enmity and dispute between families. We are still working on the case so I do not want to speak in definite terms," Atalay told a news conference before going to Bilge.

The eight men detained in connection with the attack all hailed from the village and were from the same family as some of the victims, Atalay said.

Feuds are frequent in Turkey's Kurdish-populated regions, where medieval traditions persist. Illiteracy is high and many see the gun as a legitimate tool to settle scores.

Land disputes, unpaid debts, abductions or girls eloping with someone from a rival clan can all trigger hostilities.

Villagers from Bilge on Tuesday suggested different possible motives for the massacre.

Cemil Gur told AFP that there was an argument between the two sides over lands put up for the establishment of trout farms.

"There had been strife for the past two years over the rent to be obtained from the farms ... We never thought it would get to this stage," he said.

Anatolia quoted anonymous villagers as saying that the attackers had a feud going back some 20 years with the groom's family and had objected to the marriage.

"The attackers wanted the girl to marry one of their own relatives. We learned that there was an argument recently between the family of the assailants and that of the bride," the agency quoted a villager as saying.

Army troops sealed off Bilge immediately after the attack and were carrying out identity checks at the village entrance while scouring the area for explosives, an AFP correspondent said.

Earth-moving machines were brought in Tuesday to dig graves for the victims as survivors wailed and wept in grief. Security forces were blocking reporters from entering the village, keeping them in an area 500 metres (yards) away.

Some 300 villagers live in 32 households in Bilge and many of the village men were members of the village guard, a government-armed militia supporting the army in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, has waged a bloody 24-year campaign for self-rule in the southeast.

The village guards, who are armed by the state, have been linked to drug smuggling, rapes, kidnappings and murders, putting pressure on the government to disband the force.

Mahmut Bozarslan/AFP/Expatica

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