In Turkey, night guards with police powers are supposed to patrol the neighborhood. The opposition sees this as a new instrument of repression.
The Turkish parliament mostly voted on Thursday night to equip so-called Bekçi units with almost 30,000 members with quasi-police powers. The neighborhood night watchmen, who always control a certain neighborhood, can now carry out personal checks. They are armed and are allowed to arrest or hold people until the regular police arrive. They start at sunset and end at daybreak.
The opposition from the social democratic CHP, the right-wing national IYI Parti and the Kurdish-left HDP has vehemently argued against this law. She sees this as a new monitoring and repression instrument that brings Turkey one step closer to a police state. The opposition was able to prevent a vote for several hours, in the meantime there were even violent acts between members of the CHP and the MHP. “A night observation horror has started,” tweeted IYI Parti MP Lütfü Türkkan.
In principle, the night watchmen are nothing new in Turkey. They already existed in the Ottoman Empire. It was mostly older gentlemen who passed through the quarter unarmed and were supposed to scare off thieves. The night watchmen were abolished in 2008 as a completely antiquated instrument. But after the coup attempt in 2016, President Erdoğan reactivated the neighborhood guards – this time with an expanded order. So they should still give the citizens a sense of security during the night in troubled times. At the same time, however, the neighborhood guards are used as a kind of early warning system that reports in which quarter resistance behavior is developing.
They are used primarily in the big cities in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and in the Kurdish southeast, in Diyarbakır, Mardin and other places as an auxiliary force for the police. In the country it is not the police that are responsible, but the gendarmerie.
Since 2016, these neighborhood guards have often been composed of young men from the youth organizations of the ruling AKP and the ultra-nationalist MHP. They are now being equipped with firearms, are now allowed to carry out personal checks and also arrest people who later hand them over to the responsible police.
They receive a short training of 40 hours and are then led as a candidate by the responsible police station for one year before they receive their certificate of appointment as a keeper of the neighborhood.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who is formally responsible for the new auxiliary police, said in front of Parliament that the idea of creating the neighborhood police came personally from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Many opposition politicians also fear that a new force will be created here that feels personally committed to the president and is more loyal to the person than to the law. Emma Sinclair-Webb, spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch in Turkey, said the new law said she was concerned about how every area of life in Turkey is being subjected to increasing police surveillance. “It looks very threatening,” she said.
Especially in Kurdish cities, people have had bad experiences with their neighborhood guards. There have been several reports of people being beaten up or detained without authorization.