Deniz Tekin / DİYARBAKIR
Residents of a village in the southeastern province of Mardin have appealed a ruling that found the Interior Ministry not responsible for the massacre of civilians with state-owned weapons in 2019.
A decade after the massacre of 44 civilians in 2009 during an engagement ceremony in the Bilge village, a court ruled last year that the ministry was not responsible for the killings even though they were carried out in part with state-provided guns and that two of the perpetrators were part of the ministry's village guards.
The court rejected the family's request for monetary damages from the ministry on the grounds that other weapons aside from the state-provided guns were used in the massacre, and that the matter occurred as a result of personal animosity. Some accounts have described the killings as the product of a blood feud.
Lawyers for one family who lost four relatives in the attack had filed the lawsuit against the ministry in 2017, and now await a final decision from the Council of State.
The ceremony, in the village of Bilge in Mardin's Mazıdağı district, was attacked with grenades and gunfire, and the victims included seven children and one pregnant woman.
Seventy-four children who lost their parents in the attack were put under the protection of the state. The massacre has been described as one of the worst civilian massacres in the history of modern Turkey.
Two of the shooters, Abdulhakim Çelebi and Mehmet Çelebi, were employed at the time as village guards. Among the weapons used were Kalashnikov assault rifles that were provided to the men by the state for their duties.
The village guard system was established in 1985 in order to assist in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The system has been widely criticized, as the village guards have been convicted of tens of thousands of crimes. Between 1985 and 2009, 38,945 village guards committed crimes, more than one in four of the total number of guards appointed during that period, according to ministry figures.
“If those guns weren't in the hands of the killers, perhaps more people would have been saved or the massacre wouldn't have occurred at all. If we approach the incident from a legal framework, the state has the responsibility to be able to foresee whether or not people to whom guns are entrusted for a public duty will use these guns for personal purposes,” said the family's lawyer, Hayrettin Güzel.
In 2010, Abdulhakim Çelebi, Mehmet Çelebi and four others were sentenced to 44 consecutive life sentences for their role in the massacre, while a legal minor was sentenced to 44 consecutive 15-year sentences.