A group of masked men armed with automatic weapons attacked a wedding party in southwest Turkey on Monday night and killed 44 people including the bride and groom. Police has arrested eight gunmen suspected to be involved in the 15 minute massacre.
Gunmen armed with assault rifles reportedly attacked the celebration in the village of Bilge, near the city of Mardin and killed 17 women, 21 men and six children aged between 3 and 12. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, said this was the outcome of a feud between two families in the village.
While addressing to the ruling party lawmakers in the parliament, Erdogan said: "The people were killed at a happy event, during a ceremony, while praying. The fact that they pointed guns and massacred children, defenseless people, is atrocious."
The gunmen reportedly attacked when men and women gathered for a prayer in separate rooms in line according to a tradition.
One teenage girl reportedly lost six members of her family. On a television footage broadcast by Turkey's Dogan news agency, the girl said: “I heard the shooting and I hid in the barn because I was afraid. I was really afraid.”
Mehmet Besir Ayanoglu, the mayor of Mardin, told Channel 24 that he had spoken to two girls who fortunately survived the attack by hiding themselves under the bodies of dead friends. "They raided the house, we were in two rooms, they opened fire on everyone, they were wearing masks," Ayanoglu quoted one of the girls as saying.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Besir Atalay said Turkish police has arrested eight people suspected of fatality. He said: "They were caught with their weapons. The first indications are that it was the result of disputes, of animosity among relatives, within a family in the village."
Turkish army have reportedly surrounded the village and blocked all road connections leading to it. News reports are also barred from reaching the place. The village does not have any power and is not reachable by phone.
Incidents of blood feuds are not new in this region. Some impoverished parts of turkey still follow feudal-style system where tribal lords and clansmen sometimes inflame violence to safeguard the clans' honor. The ambush was suspected to be the outcome of that custom.
Prime Minister Erdogan said: “No customs and mores can be used as an excuse for this massacre. This is the painful price we are paying for such customs and mores."
Opposition lawmaker Canan Aritman insisted on the eradication of the tribal system from the country. Aritman, who is also a member of a parliamentary panel investigating so-called "honor killings" within traditional families, said: "It is something that doesn't exist even in the most primitive societies."
Turkey has struggled for years to handle the 70,000-strong village guard force residing in the southeast. The southeast area being infested with about 50 per cent jobless people, village guard system is one of the few sources of employment in the region.
Many village guards are suspected to be favoring Kurdish rebels, who are involved in fighting with the government since 1984 for the autonomy in the southeast.