Blood feuds plague Kurdish regions

11th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

A massacre in the village of Bilge was the bloodiest example to date of the barbaric way in which disputes between rival clans are settled. Masked assailants gunned down 44 people -- including the bride and groom and six children -- in the village square last week.

Bilge -- Honour comes before everything in Kurdish regions of Turkey and blood is cleansed with blood -- with a machine gun if necessary.

A massacre in the village of Bilge was the bloodiest example to date of the barbaric way in which disputes between rival clans are settled. Masked assailants gunned down 44 people -- including the bride and groom and six children -- in the village square last week.

It is not uncommon in the Kurdish dominated southeast region of Turkey for a trivial incident such as a cow straying into a neighbour's garden, girls eloping with undesirable grooms, land disputes or unpaid debts -- to escalate into fatal conflicts that can last decades.

"The concepts of honour, reputation and dignity in this region are far removed from the Western understanding," said Mazhar Bagli, a sociologist from Dicle University in the regional capital of Diyarbakir.

"There is a common saying among these people that 'A man lives for his honour' but (Monday's attack) is the bloodiest incident related to a blood feud that I know of," he underlined.

The clan-based society in the impoverished and neglected corner of Turkey is ruled by a strict social code under which a family's collective honour is more important than any individual and needs to be protected at all costs.

The deed of a single man is often blamed on his entire family, leading to feuds in which members of rival clans kill each other for revenge in cycles of retaliatory violence that can last generations.

Refusing to act for the family in a blood feud is another insult that can lead to being ostracized and branded as dishonest, Bagli explained.

"Those who kill for their families are often seen as heroes," he said.

Sait Sanli, a former butcher who now acts as a mediator to settle feuds, said widespread illiteracy is a factor that reinforces the feuds.

"Most of the people have never been to school and the only thing they know is settling scores with weapons. They do not use court to resolve their differences," he said.

Fear of revenge sometimes forces entire clans to abandon their villages and the feuds have spilled over into the country's urban west, and even to Europe, through migration.

Violence is often not seen as out of place in a region traumatised by a 24-year conflict between separatist Kurdish rebels fighting for self-rule and the army, which has claimed some 45,000 lives.

The conflict has led to the creation of a force of Kurdish militiamen, called the village guards, who are armed and paid by the government to help the army against Kurdish rebels.

Although the village guard have proved invaluable to Ankara in fighting the rebels, they have also been linked to drug smuggling, rapes, kidnappings, and murders.

Rights activists say the militiamen abuse their mandate and use their fire power for their own ends, and have called on Ankara to disband the force.

"The village guard system is a factor that directly affects the balance of power between clans and families in the region," Bagli said.

The gunmen behind Monday's massacre in Bilge were village guards, locals said.

Bagli said there should be a concerted effort by the state, academics and human rights activists to change attitudes in rural regions, while Sanli suggested a mechanism to resolve disputes before they blow up into a vendetta.

"There should be a peace committee in every village, consisting of the local imam, teacher, village headman and leading villagers, to deal with a problem that the law has failed to end," he said.

AFP/Expatica

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