Kurds who became 'village guards' and fought PKK rebels in Turkey to be disbanded – but they fear a betrayal

Tens of thousands, often under heavy state pressure, accepted the Kalashnikovs and started fighting against their own people


Dressed immaculately in a dark blue suit and with his hair perfectly combed, Seymus Akbulut was sitting in front of a portrait of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's founding father, and a huge Turkish flag. On his desk were two more Ataturks: one on a silver plate, one a glass statuette in a red velvet box. "We love Ataturk," he said. "Whatever the state wants us to do, we do it."

Mr Akbulut, from the south-eastern town of Midyat, is one of many Kurds who in the early 1990s were branded traitors when the conflict between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which wanted to carve out an independent Kurdistan, and the Turkish army was getting more violent every day.

The state needed helpers, and in the late 1980s started to set up the so called "village guard" system: citizens were given a weapon and a salary to help fight the PKK. Mr Akbulut, who became a village guard in 1992, was one of tens of thousands of Kurds who, sometimes voluntarily but mostly under heavy state pressure, accepted the Kalashnikovs and started fighting against their own people.

The system kept growing, and currently there are some 80,000 village guards in Turkey's southeast. Most of them earn about 900 Turkish lira (£235) per month, others get only the weapon and no salary.

Now in his late fifties, Mr Akbulut is head of an association of village guards that advocates their rights and supports the families of guards who died in the conflict. "Before, I worked in tourism," he said. "I made more money in a week than as a village guard in a month, but I did it willingly. We had to defend our lands. Nobody but the state can control our lands."

However, the end of the village guard system is approaching – at least if the peace process in Turkey continues. Almost a year ago, the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, announced that the group would withdraw from Turkey. "We have now reached the point where weapons must be silent," he said.

The withdrawal had, by all accounts, been very well prepared. Turkish authorities for the first time admitted talking directly to Mr Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in prison for high treason. And the development now means that the village guards must be disarmed.

Nesrin Ucarlar, a political scientist at Bilgi University in Istanbul who investigated the system, said: "Such a system has no place in a democracy."

But disarming the guards will not be an easy matter, Ms Ucarlar said, adding that the system had penetrated every layer of society in the region.

"In the past, many political parties have vowed to abolish the system if they came to power, but nobody did," she said. "They need it. The guards don't want to give up their arms without the PKK doing the same."

There is also the not insignificant matter of finding alternative employment for thousands of people in a region that already has a high unemployment rate.

"It needs a comprehensive plan to abolish the system," Ms Ucarlar said. "But the state is not working on it. It has even employed more village guards since the peace process started."

In Midyat, Mr Akbulut told The Independent on Sunday that he was not intending to give up his weapons easily. "I will not turn in my weapon until there is real peace," he said. "Peace for everybody."

In a small building which serves as the guards' headquarters, many said they were scared of what might happen to them if they disarmed.

"We want peace, but we want to be safe too," said one guard in his fifties who was unwilling to provide his name. "What if anybody wants to take revenge on us? We have to keep our weapons to be able to defend ourselves."

Ms Ucarlar says the fear is probably without foundation: "The PKK has been very harsh against village guards, but that is over now. It became more realistic and I don't think there is any danger. But their fears should be taken seriously." However, the village guards in Midyat do not trust the PKK. The head guard compared the state and the PKK to a father and son: "Imagine you have a child, and you take good care of him, you educate and feed him. And then, when he grows up, he betrays you by turning against you. That is unacceptable, right?"

Kurds who refused to become village guards often paid for it by having their villages burnt down in the 1990s and were forced to migrate to the cities.

Those who were pressured into the group despise the guards who took up the state's weapons willingly. They see them as traitors to the Kurdish cause of greater political and cultural rights. But Mr Akbulut and his men dismiss that criticism: "It is a lie," they say.

"There is no suppression of Kurds," Mr Akbulut adds. "Father State has always been good to us."

voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Javascript Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn