Turkey: Massacre Reflects Ancient Traditions and Volatile Politics

Article excerpt

An attack by masked gunmen on an engagement party in a small village in southeast Turkey, which resulted in the deaths of 44 people, is being seen as a reflection of both the troubled region's ancient traditions and volatile modern politics. According to locals in Bilge, a village that sits on a small hilltop about 12 miles from the city of Mardin, there was a decades-long dispute between the attackers' family and the family of the would-be groom. The semi- official Anatolia news agency reported that the masked attackers had wanted the bride-to-be to marry one among their own group of friends or relatives, but that her family would not allow it. The bride, Sevgi Celebi, the groom, Habib Ari, his mother, and his sister were all killed, as was the imam who was presiding over the engagement at time of the attack, according to the agency. Turkish officials said eight suspects were in custody, caught with their weapons. "Honor is very important in this region, and it's very difficult to change the traditions that deal with honor. They are a very strong part of this society," says Mazhar Bagli, a professor of sociology at Dicle University in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Experts believe dozens are killed each year in "blood feuds" in rural Turkey. Efforts to stop the feuds' violence have been limited, mostly left to individuals such as Sait Sanli, a former butcher in Diyarbakir who helps broker peace treaties between warring families. But Professor Bagli says the fact that the families involved were part of the "Village Guards," a well-armed militia set up by the Turkish government in the 1980s to fight the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), meant something more than tradition was to blame for the massacre. …