A massive ongoing purge conducted by the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now hit even Kurdish paramilitary members, recruited and paid by the Ankara government to fight alongside the Turkish army against Kurdish militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A press release from the Turkish Interior Ministry on Thursday said it had dismissed at least 559 members of the paramilitaries legally designated as “village guards” on the grounds that they were either members of or had ties to the “terrorist groups and other organizations dangerous to national security” they were supposed to be fighting.
The irregular militias usually operate in their local rural areas and help the Turkish army in Ankara’s war with the PKK as an additional local force familiar with the terrain and language.
Seventy-six other village guards were temporarily laid off because of involvement in “human and drug trafficking” until a final decision could be made after a wide-ranging investigation, according to a report by Kurdistan 24.
The Turkish government began purging state ranks, mostly from the bureaucracy, army and ministries, targeting over 160,000 people from their jobs after a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The Kurdish militias were founded in 1985, less than a year after the PKK launched its first deadly assault on a Turkish army base in Siirt. Since then, their numbers have increased to 72,000, according to 2016 figures. In the 1990s, the Turkish army forced thousands of villagers to choose sides by either taking up arms against fellow Kurds or facing the destruction of their communities.
Acting under a state of emergency only in force in predominantly Kurdish provinces, thousands of villages that refused the offer were burnt by government forces, leading to an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people who in their millions today – along with their children – reside in major Turkish cities such as İstanbul, İzmir, Adana and Mersin.