Kocgiri Kurdish Uprising

December 6, 2009

I am sure that you are all aware of the struggle and the need for a change within the Kurdish society. I have known of many people who devoted their selves to this cause. But little do they know about their past, their history, and their people. I am devoting this blog, this note to the very modestly covered history of Kurds in Turkey.

Many facts and events and their very existence was long denied by the Turkish official historians and politicians. Memory of Kurdish people and significant leaders are removed from the official records. Their memory of their very own lands, villages, records and names are expunged and wiped out from the very official records. Nothing in the history will change, unless, we decide to retell and recount the story from the perspective of the Kurds.

Treaty of Sevres, signed back in August 10, 1920. During this treaty, it was also discussed that in the Kurdistan region a referendum will be carried out to decide its fate, which also would include the Mosul Provonce.

Interestingly, there was not a single agreement amongst the Kurds with regards to the borders of Kurdistan. Section III, Articles 62–64allowed the institution of a Kurdish state. Article 64 allowed the independence of Kurdistan which also included the Mosul Vilayet.

The Kurt Terakki ve Teavun Cemiyeti (Kurdish Society for Progress and Mutual Aid) founded in 1908, was resurrected in 1918 as the Kurdistan Taali Cemiyeti (KTC, Society for the Rise of Kurdistan). This organization was based in Istanbul and gathered a few hundred members influenced by nationalist ideas, mainly from important Kurdish families, Kurdish intellectuals, the urban middle class, officers and some members from the tribes. Unfortunately things changed direction very drastically and swiftly as soon as Ataturk found out that KTC planed to remove their support and ask for the autonomy of Kurdistan. 

Two figures among the members of the Kurdistan Taali Cemiyeti were directly involved in the Kocgiri uprising: first, Haydar, a student in Istanbul at the time, the son of Mustafa Pasa, the leader of the Kocgiri tribe – the term Kocgiri designated at the same time a confederation of Kurdish (kurmanci)-speaking Alevi tribes, including tens of thousands of people settled in more than one hundred villages; the region to the east of Sivas where these tribes lived; and an administrative district in the midst of that region. The second person involved both in the KTC and the Kocgiri events, was Baytar Nuri, later known as Nuri Dersimi. 

Nuri Dersimi, after studying veterinary medicine in Istanbul, he was appointed as a vet to Sivas, probably with the help of the KTC, in order to set up the organization there. After he and Haydar arrived in 1918 or 1919, Aliser, Mustafa Pasa’s secretary, was also involved in the local organization of the Society for the Rise of Kurdistan that worked to spread nationalist propaganda. However, even if the KTC was influential at the beginning of the unrest, it then turned out to be totally cut off from the movement, and lost any influence it once held, mainly due to internal tensions, particularly between autonomists and people fighting for independence.

However, not only those associated with the KTC were involved in the unrest, where local dynamics were probably predominant. Other tribal leaders should also be mentioned, especially Alisan, Haydar’s brother, who was at the time district vice-governor in Refahiye. The Kocgiri tribal leader, Mustafa, had enjoyed the high administrative title of Paşa for a few decades, and many members of his family were local administrative officials. 

Nuri Dersimi took advantage of his appointment in Sivas to organize local tribes and to foster cooperation with some tribes in west Dersim, using his father, who provided contact with Seyyit Rıza, an important religious leader. Mustafa Kemal, learning about these initiatives after the Erzurum Congress – an assembly of the Turkish resistance movement that took place in July-August 1919 – arranged a meeting with Kocgiri tribal leaders. 

Alisan met him and explained their concerns about the future of the region. Mustafa Kemal argued that the Ottoman government would not be able to fulfill the conditions of the Sevres Treaty or the self-determination of Kurdistan and insisted that they should cooperate with his resistance movement instead, arguing that it was also in favor of the Kurds. Consequently, he proposed himself and Nuri Dersimi as candidates for a seat in the National Assembly. At first Alisan accepted, but under the influence of Nuri Dersimi, declined in the end. 

In February 1920, different Kurdish Alevi tribes from the region gathered in an Alevi Dervish lodge near Kangal. According to Dersimi, this is where the decision was made to take up arms in order to create an independent Kurdistan, including the regions of Diyarbakır, Van, Bitlis, Elazığ and Dersim-Koçgiri (Dersimi, 1997 [1952]: 139). Following this meeting, a period of tension and limited military troubles began and guerilla actions against civilians and villages intensified. In the summer, the rebels also began to target officials, especially police and gendarmerie stations and military convoys, seizing their munitions. 

On November 15, following a meeting between the main leaders of the movement and some tribes from western Dersim, the first memorandum was sent to the new Ankara government. It demanded clarifications about the official position regarding promises of Kurdish autonomy and requested less state penetration and coercion in the region. The Ankara government then sent a commission that promised that these demands would be accepted and tried to convince the rebels to cooperate with the government to liberate the country from the occupying forces; however, it was driven out of the region. 

The armed confrontation proper began in December 1920, when a local director of a post office was assassinated; new troops were sent to the area. The gendarmerie battalion was attacked by rebels en route, who took control of its arms and supplies. In January 1921, a colonel was sent to Sivas to recover the lost arms and to arrest deserters or rebels, especially the leader of the attack, whom the villagers were not willing to hand over. 

Encouraged by this success, new groups, mostly Alevi Kurds, joined the rebellion, although some tribes from more distant regions that had declared their support finally withdrew. 

Martial law was declared in the region in the first half of March 1921. 

Official sources estimate governmental forces to number 3,161 men and 1,350 animals (against about 3,000 rebels. Nuri Dersimi however argues that governmental forces encompassed about 6,000 cavalrymen, 25,000 infantrymen, plus some militias and gendarmerie forces, and evaluates the number of fighting rebels to be 6,185, including about 2,000 from Koçgiri, 2,000 from Dersim, and 2,000 from other tribes. The region’s governor’s demand for a peaceful solution, including an amnesty for the rebels, was rejected by the government. The counteroffensive took place in two stages: the first stage, beginning on April 11, lasted about ten days and was mobile, whereas the second period, more directed towards «cleansing», lasted for about two months (April 23 – June 17). 

In 1921, 400 imprisoned rebels were judged by the Sivas Martial Court. 

In 1922, the Sivas Martial Court was dissolved and most people condemned for having participated in the rebellion, even those condemned to death, were granted amnesty by Mustafa Kemal. Aliser and Nuri Dersimi were excluded from this amnesty.

 Some leaders were put under house arrest and Alisan and Haydar were forbidden from returning to the Koçgiri region. A later amnesty included Alisan and his followers. In 1931 they were allowed to go back to the region. 

Only Nurettin Pasa was punished because his violent methods were harshly condemned, especially in the Assembly. He was removed from command of the Central Army in November, 1921. The Assembly decided he should be judged, but Mustafa Kemal opposed this and vetoed this decision; as early as 1922, Nurettin Pasa was appointed as the Commander of the First Army, and in 1924, only three years after the repression of the Koçgiri rebellion, he was elected as an independent MP during a by-election. 

Koçgiri is given special significance because it is widely considered as the first expressly Kurdish nationalist rebellion in the emerging Turkish Republic, and because it marked an alliance between Kurmanci-speakers (Koçgiris) and Zaza-speakers (Dersimis), which proved to be very rare during the following Kurdish nationalist revolts. In this framework, the revolt also has a special place because it was supported almost exclusively by Alevis. Therefore, Kocgiri has mainly been studied together with the only other Kurdish nationalist rebellion supported by Alevis, Dersim (1937-1938), while all other Kurdish revolts were supported by Sunnis. 

Despite all this early turmoil and difference of opinion, Alevi Kurds shared a deep commitment to the unification of Kurds. They were inclined to interfere with the politics of the Young Republic. After years of maintaining defensive posture, once again, history is charging Alevi Kurds with higher responsibilities. Hopefull this time, their unyielding drive and aggressive approach will be calculated and planned well in advance.


Kurdish Kocgiri Revolt and the Young Turkish Republic

November 30, 2009

The history of Kurdish people is such a convoluted and complex subject that in order for one to understand and explain how things have happened and why things have happened, an inordinate amount of time has to be expanded researching the subject matter from the perspective points of Kurdistan, Turkey, Britain, Russia, etc.

It is not remarkable that every record punched in the leaves of the history books and reported by the historians must be deliberately review, critically analyzed, with the task of reframing it, once and last for the greater interest of Kurds. It is not our aim to discredit the independent reviews and researches on the topic, I am sure that several noteworthy studies may have also been conducted by independent and open source publishing houses.

At such an historical moment, in the 21st century, we are still agonized by tormented and disillusioned facts of the past especially in Turkey. Facts, naturally, developed by the official historians paid by the government are no longer credible, authentic, and trustworthy.

Many of the Kurdish uprisings and revolts, such as Kocgiri and Dersim were never mentioned by the historians and researchers. It is disappointing that even the Kurds never studied and explored these events and their strategic, geopolitical, and diplomatic importance, significance, and consequence.

I am convinced that there is a substantial desire and need for change to revisit the history of Kurds within the Kurdish community in Turkey, but it is also evident that one can not progress unless they are informed of and knowledgeable about their history, their people, and their leaders. I have only known so few people who have devoted their lives to the critical inquiry, exploration, and investigation of the history and past events.

Fairness, freedom and honor meant everything to the Kurdish communities. Values shaped their lives. They suffered notably, were exiled, were wounded, were tortured, were oppressed, were exploited; but never gave up; they continue to fight for their freedom event centuries later. They are bold; they have convictions, have strong beliefs, passion, and they have full dedication and commitment to their land. But they are confused……They were left in the dark deliberately…They are confused, because they are alone, confused because they lack national ideology, and confused because they have no reserve capacity other than their own history. Unfortunately, the history that they were thought needs to be relearned, researched, and restudied.

Whichever province, whichever city, and whichever town you appraise and survey in Eastern Anatolia, back in the beginning of 20th century, was predominantly composed of Kurds, administering their selves autonomously. This long lived and appreciated autonomy in Kurdistan allowed many Kurdish leaders to revolt against the Turkish nationalists during the early years of the Young Turkish Republic.

The Treaty of Sevres, signed back in August 10, 1920 between the Ottoman Empire and Allies at the end of World War-I. The fierce negotiations covered a period of more than fifteen months. The negotiations continued at the Conference of London, and took its definite shape not only until April 1920, with a significant delay. The treaty had four signatories and all four were endorsed by Sultan Mehmet VI. During this treaty, it was discussed that in the Kurdistan region a referendum will be carried out to decide its future. Interestingly, there was not a single agreement amongst the Kurds with regards to the borders and depiction of Kurdistan. Section III, Articles 62–64 allowed the establishment of a Kurdish state. Article 64 allowed the independence of Kurdistan which would also included the Mosul Vilayet.

On November 20, 1922, during the Lausanne Peace Conference, Young Turkish Republic and British Empire discussed the future of Ottoman Empire. During this treaty, it was agreed that Young Turkish Republic will not consider itself bound to observe it.

Despite all the international turmoil and differences in opinions, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his friends were very successful in gaining and mobilizing the efforts of Kurdish tribes in Anatolia. In 1918, many Kurdish tribes were marshaled against the Russians and Armenians. During those times, Kemal Ataturk was inclined not to press against the Caliphate and benefited strongly from the traditional religious leaders and their sentiments and rallied Kurdish troops to support his victories.

On May 1920, Ataturk addressed the Parliament, highlighting that the assembly is composed of Kurds, Turks, Circassians and emphasizes the Islamic tendencies. On June 1920, Ataturk sent a note to Nihat Anilmis Pasha considering the option of setting up a local Kurdish government. On June 1922, he phrased the “People of Turkey. On January 16, 1923, in Bursa, he was at a press conference talking about autonomy of Kurdistan.

Interestingly, in1922, Parliament decides to establish autonomous administration for the Kurdish majority provinces, and even launching a university.

It is evident, based on significant research and publications issued on this topic, that during the early ages of the Yong Republic of Turkey, Ataturk had momentous plans to grant Kurds autonomy. If these lessons teach us, on one hand, to admire the social improvements and initiatives that Ataturk was prepared to introduce at the Aseembly, they serve not less on the other, to acknowledge and caution us of hazards and difficulties of such experiments, and of the great hesitation that the Kurds had to go through after the Kocgiri rebellion.

Most Sunni Kurdish leaders, motivated by religious solidarity, supported the Young Turks and their resistance movement, the liberation of the Calipha in Istanbul, and the liberation of Mosoul province from British Empire. However, this call did not really appeal to the Alevi Kurdish leaders, who were less attached to the Caliphate and his order.

Alevi Kurds staged the Kocgiri Rebellion.  Martial law was declared in the region in the first half of March 1921:

  • In 1921, 400 Alevi Kurds were judged by the Sivas Martial Court.
  • The leaders of the revolt and 95 persons were condemned to death.
  • Other rebels were condemned to prison terms ranging from 5 to 15 years.
  • Only 110 people out of 400 were judged to be innocent.
  • Some leaders were put under house arrest and Alişan and Haydar were forbidden from returning to the Koçgiri region.
  • A later amnesty included Alişan and his followers. In 1931 they were allowed to go back to the region.

Hardly any historian mentions Kocgiri uprising. It is a very significant event in the history of Kurds. Official historians of the republic and the Sunni Kurds do not emphasize this significant event. Alevis, on the other hand, either do not remember or underestimate its importance. As a result, no one mentions it.

It is a fact that Kocgiri revolt is the first Kurdish rebellion against Mustafa Kemal and the Young Republic which is also staged and executed by the Alevis. Alevi Kurds hoped that they could extend and expand the appeal of the uprising to include the Sunni Kurds. They were disappointed, few Sunni Kurds joined them. It is doubtful whether the Sunni Kurds would rise to the challenge or whether they had enough time to mobilize and respond.

As always, to the Young Republic, this uprising was the revolt of Aghas and Religious Sheiks.

Six months later additional nationalist movements mushroomed in Dersim with a much stronger nationalist agenda and flavor.

It is also important to keep in mind that until 1923, Young Republic pretended to be a Muslim State, composed of Turks, Kurds, and other minorities. Mustafa Kemal was very aware of the Kurdish separatist movements in the East. It was evident that there was a Kurdish question and kurdish identity. But the rhetoric changed in 1923 and suddenly Young Republic denied the Kurdish identity and presence.

In Lousane, Ismet Inonu told to Curzon that the Kurds were of Turanian origin, and the Kurds did not differ than Turks.

During the elections for the new Grand National Assembly in summer of 1923, deputies denied the chance to return to their constituencies. The new candidates on the Kurdish areas had been nominated by the government rather than elected by the people. All the senior appointments and half of the junior ones in Kurdistan were soon filled with by Turks. All Kurdish place names were replaced by Turkish ones. Dangerous inequality of the appointments and the disproportional amount of discrimination in the process of election were not easily disregarded by the Kurdish people. No part of the arrangements according to the Kurdish tribes were acceptable practices.

Once the Caliphate was eliminated from Istanbul, removal of Caliphate also removed the last ideological tie with the Kurds. The closure of religious schools, madrasas, and dergahs removed the last remaining source of education. 

As Mustafa Kemal…

Well…He made enemies…

He made enemies of the very Kurds who supported him during the Independence War…

Dersim Genocide, 1938

November 28, 2009

Despite all the barbarity and devastation that the Kurds had to go through, if one reviews the Kurdish history scientifically, one event stands out immediately. 

“Dersim Genocide”“Year 1938”

 “Location, Turkish city called Tunceli (Dersim)”

All these years, scientific application of force to this genocide has never been applied. Massacre of 1938 is so unforgiving and so terrible that the researchers get confused and distracted very easily. This may explain one of the reasons for lack of evidence. But it is also unfair to claim and draw conclusions that lack of evidence disproves the genocide. It does not have to be acknowledged by the Turkish Government for it to be considered a fact. 

Defenseless subjects of Munzur were caught in between the harsh requirements and demands of the highlands and the barbaric demands of the Young Turkish Republic. 

Some people are still alive from that era. They still remember the unjust massacre blinding their highlands. And, the fact that people of Dersim were massacred can hardly be dismissed nor justified. 

Those who enthusiastically watch over the facts and negate the genocide, those who cross their fingers and cheer in support of Turkish Government’s actions during the massacre…

I am asking you: 

Don’t you think that it is marvelous, don’t you think that it is hopeless, don’t you think that it is oppressive?


Seyid Riza was born to a no man’s land of windling valleys and tiny upland plains

November 28, 2009

Seyit Riza was born to a no man’s land of windling valleys and tiny upland plains, with its connection to Euphrates. In Dersim, little clans of Kurds and Zazas lived, in pastoral times, secluded from the arms of Ottoman authority.

Strike through the waters of Kutu Dere, through the fertile but unleveled plains of the Munzur, Seyit Riza found himself born to a life of Kurdish Alevi family in Lirtik village of Dersim, in year1863. He was born as son of Seyit Ibrahim.

His people and he himself knew no law other than the law of his own tribe and clan. At his time, every one carried a gun, no one paid taxes, and there was strict code of conduct with regards to allegiance to the laws of their own tribe. As I said, everyone carried a gun; it was either a flintlock or a Martini.  Sheiks were safe from Ottoman attacks; they were safe from the attacks of the young Turkish Republic.

Traditions of Dersim resembled the Scotsland of the 13th century, it was wild, impenetrable, cold, harsh, surrounded with mountains, and strong mountain people.

Kurdish language and the geographic distribution of its dialects were always puzzling and amusing. Even though it was very close to the Persian languages, it was always believed that Kurdish language and especially Zaza language had its own character and it was an independent language.

Many people were confused concerning the origins of Zaza language, many people and travelers that were spoken to be associating this mother tongue of Seyit Riza with Persian language. However, Seyit Riza knew very well that even though Zaza language had some similarities it also had its own identity, and it was different from many other Kurdish dialects.

Seyit Riza’s sense of community, stress of service to his people, and his prayers in the form of songs and music helped him to cleanse the souls of millions. He was a pure man. He would attend the weekly ceremonies and would often find strength and freedom in these. He was significant leader of the Dersim community and represented a significant amount of people in the early years of the Turkish Republic.

Seyid Riza by the fire place

November 28, 2009

While Dilan was having breakfast with the Alevi-Kurdish community leaders, she felt a little disturbance as the cold air swiftly crossed over her short hair and hit the ice shield mushroomed on the glass window. As she felt the shivering, once again she felt herself lucky that she was wearing that wool sweater she bought last week. 

As the Kurdish leaders were speaking, she remembered one of those moments…when she was a kid…her grand father used to tell her this very story, several times over and over by the fire place, almost 40 years ago.

She thought it was very important to her grand father. He wanted Dilan, this six year old, smart girl, to know and remember it. It certainly was very important to him, so let me share this story also with you. 

It was not too long ago, just 40 years ago. She was sitting by the “soba”, she had freshly squeezed goat milk in the glass, some warm flat bread, butter, and fresh goat cheese on a plate. She mixed the goat cheese with butter and rolled the combination with the flat bread and grabbed the whole thing in her hand. This was her secret dish, one of her favorite. Simple but quite creative for a six year old. 

“Not too long ago, my dear, fire was constituted the principal source of energy for all the mankind. For many moons, men and women gathered by the fire, shared laughs, stories, and food…” 

As her grand father was telling his story, her grand mother, Naima was throwing the perfectly carved wood pieces into the oven. The red flames poured out of the stove were spreading into the air almost causing a hazard for them. 

“Naima, you are going to burn us all. You don’t want to mourn after me, do you?”

A familiar smile appeared on Naima’s face; a smile communicating her shyness blended with her guilt. 

“Naima, you always do this. I can’t even remember the beginning of the story now.” 

“Ok. Let me start one more time my little daughter.” 

“Not too long ago, fire was constituted the principal source of energy for all the mankind. For many moons, men and women gathered by the fire, shared laughs, stories, and food. 

“So in this village, in Dersim, a Alevi Dede secretly builds his vision for his followers. His vision one day urges him to call all the villagers to a secret place by the mountains. He builds a sacred house and invites all walks of people to this meeting- believers, non believers, lovers, fighters, old, and the young. In the night, he flares up a grand fire on top of the Dersim mountains. Fire becomes so big and full of light that no one dares to hide anything from the Pir. Dede encourages every person to get together around the fire. Once they all arrive at the fire place, Dede starts giving his famous and impressive speech.” 

“He tells the villagers that they should join him in the Alevi rituals. He tells them that the rituals will help the people to have stronger kids, stronger families, and stronger lives. So, Dede commences the fire dance. That night they all perform many different kinds of dances.  Some faint and fell, some are energized and hear the voices of the gods, some feel peace, and some find the strength. Year after year, they honored this Fire Dance, and they dance until all are fainted and have visions.” 

“At one of these nights, their dances get so passionate, their concentration level so intensified, their roarings get so laud, their dances create so much wind and turbulence, and their hearts pair with one another so magically that suddenly almost all the participating villagers fell free.” 

“They fell free of the worldly things, they felt free of their guilt, they felt free of their daily pleasures, they felt free of their obligations, and they felt free of daily distractions. They felt the wholesomeness and oneness of life. They were closer to one another, closer to the self, and as they felt closer to the self, they became enlightened.” 

“They repeated this ritual, once every week, and each week they were brought closer to the heart of oneness of life diminishing the superficial pleasures of the life. And their rituals progressed with their understanding of the wholesomeness.” 

“They called the tribe leader “Sheikh Riza”. The Sheik represented the sun and the villagers danced around the fire represented the planets. Later on, the dancers found it mystical to spin to the sounds of a flute and the magical notes of the flute transformed their celebrations to a Zikr.” 

As the grand father carried the conversation, Dilan, now a grown up woman, looked over to the other side of the street from the window. It was a very cold and bitter morning; snow was falling to the sidewalks and shielding it from the sunlight.

Turkey’s Alevi Community

November 28, 2009

Turkey’s Alevi community (they represent nearly 20 million people) is in a shock. Once again, they have realized that they are the forgotten majority, the orphan child of the Republic.

Kurdish-Alevi members of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) are increasingly leaving the party following Turkish CHP Deputy Chairman Onur Oymen’s remarks about a 1937 rebellion in the Kurdish-Alevi town of Tunceli (Dersim). On the other hand, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan critics Chairman Onur Oymen over his remarks two weeks ago.

Just recently, in a demonstration organized by the Alevi Bektasi Federation in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district in November 8th under the theme “Equal Citizenship Rights Against Discrimination,” thousands of Alevis came together to voice their demands for the same rights as the Sunni majority expecting that they would draw attention of democratic platforms to the problems and demands of Alevis in the country. 

How naïve this assumption was. Even the Republican People’s Party (CHP) failed to understand their unique needs, diversity, and cry for more religious freedoms. Because we live in a partially free society, we have a tendency to forget that people still lack fundamental political freedoms in many of the Eastern and European countries such as freedom to practice their own religion and religious beliefs. 

In a country where Prime Minister (Mr. Erdogan), speaks at the 3rd Grand Congress of his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party), even quotes Seyit Rıza, the Alevi leader who led the 1937 Dersim revolt in the Alevi town of Tunceli, which was violently suppressed by the government of the time using a military campaign that resulted in the deaths of some 90,000 people, a lot is being expected from opposition parties, especially from Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

It is believed that economic freedoms and political freedoms can hardly be separated and they are very much interconnected. The restrictions imposed on individual, political, and religious freedoms can only be improved and removed if and only if the county adopts the essential features of a free market economy. Therefore, economic arrangements fill a dual purpose in promoting a free society. 

Let me explain this in detail. 

According to the organizers of the protest, The Alevis’ main demands are:

  • the abolishment of compulsory religious lessons offered by the government
  • the recognition of Alevi praying houses
  • the abolishment of the Religious Affairs Directorate (RAD),
  • turning the Madimak Hotel, where 37 Alevis were killed in 1993, into a museum

If Alevis are being asked to attend compulsory religious lessons, if their Alevi praying houses are not being recognized by the government, if the Religious Affairs Directorate is only funding the mosques but not the Alevi praying houses, it is clear that the government policies and programs are limiting the religious rights and basic individual freedoms of the citizens’ of Turkey. 

It is evident that some compulsory government programs and policies deprive people of their religious, individual, and political freedoms. So where is the connection between the political and economic freedom? 

In a free private enterprise, society uses its resources to control goods and services where possibility of coordination and cooperation through voluntary involvement of the agents is respected. In a free private enterprise, society also maintains law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another and to enforce contracts voluntarily entered into. The other great advantage of free private enterprise is also its ability to offer diversity and options. 

In essence, free market provides economic freedom. In the event that the economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few then this political power will also be a threat to the individual freedoms.

The existence of the free market does not eliminate the need for a government to offer other cultural freedoms listed above. And, especially this government has an important role of determining the rules of the game.

To put this argument in a different perspective, we may easily claim that the Turkish Government is eliminating the options and diversity of individual options as it aims to regulate the religious society. 

In our case, with the Alevis, we come to observe that theTurkish Government activity should insist on “limiting” and “renouncing” its religious programs and religious activities and enabling a more diverse society. 

It is clear that further steps should be taken to enforce this decision. 

Religious education should not be made compulsory and individual taxes collected from the Alevis should not be funneled to the creation and construction of the Sunni religious infrastructure. 

In addition to that, The Directorate of Religious Affairs should limit and renounce its religious programs and religious activities where and if individual freedoms are refrained. 

Do you really believe that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) will understand the basic and fundamental needs of Alevi community and their cry for more religious freedoms? 

I remind you, once again, Prime Minister Erdogan’s speech at the 3rd Grand Congress of his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party), even quoting Seyit Rıza, the Alevi leader who led the 1937 Dersim revolt in the Alevi town of Tunceli, which was violently suppressed by the government of the time using a military campaign that resulted in the deaths of some 90,000 people. 

Given the facts, a lot is being expected from opposition parties, especially from Republican People’s Party (CHP).

A scientific and impartial approach to Kurdish History

November 24, 2009

Confessions, confessions, and confessions…

Confessions of Turkish CHP Deputy Chairman …

Official history, is once again being unrevealed in the statements, speeches, and writings of these powerful politicians and diplomats.

I find this moment very important and wise to provide you with some facts and historical anecdotes. 

In cases where it may be doubtful on which side justice lies, what better can support our judgment than the historical facts? 

Without the compass of facts, figures, research, and impartial observations and with our continued dependence on official historians comprised of superiority of the official/national tools and resources, the answer is always skewed towards insufficient and lack of facts which diminishes the importance of Kurdishness. 

And for that reason, no one can provide a cure but the lines that lie in the shelves of the libraries and secrets of unbiased archives. 

The lack of power to promote the progress of scientific research and utility of this power should be questioned. The indispensable necessity of the facts for the historian is crucial. Without it, it is not possible to produce records, statements, research papers, and articles. 

Without it, we will all be drawn into questions. Without it, we will be drawn in the darkness of the oceans. Without it, we will sacrifice our souls to the shades of dishonest life styles and connections. 

I am hoping that the facts provided in these articles will allow us to see the colors rather than the shades, facts rather than the unscientific information, truth rather than the biased and nationalistic views. 

“Criticize Atatürk and its period if you dare,” said Onur Oymen, when defending his remarks on the Dersim Rebellion, which received criticism from several communities but particularly from Kurds and Alevis. 

Oymen’s statement implying to the fact that it is impossible to question and criticize Atatürk’s personal aspects and political views has triggered questions about why the early years of the republic have not been analyzed by historians, journalists and scholars.

Even Ertugrul Ozkok, a populist journalist, devoted his column on Friday in the Hurriyet Daily to the “Dersim debate” and said it has influenced people to discuss the Atatürk era and the single-party period of the new regime.

He pointed out that Oymen’s statements, which Ozkok thinks he made unwisely, will be beneficial for Turkey as they have brought the political developments in the early years of Turkey under the spotlight.


I urge you to continue to read the articles which will be published on this site; a scientific and impartial approach will be taken to review the Kurdish history, on these very pages. And I am hoping that the facts provided in these articles will allow you to see the colors rather than the shades, facts rather than the unscientific information, truth rather than the biased and nationalistic views. 


Kurdish Massacre and 1938 uprising in Dersim

November 22, 2009

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Onur Öymen’s unfortunate comments on the Dersim Rebellion have led Turkish Government, Politicians, Political Power Centers, and Journalists to examine the rebellions years of the republic era from a different perspective.

There are so many articles written with regards to this issue (1938 uprising in Dersim), in the last few days, that the level of expressionism and genuineness published in the Turkish newspapers, on the subject matter, gives validity to the mass massacre (some call genocide) itself.

Two questions of a very delicate nature present themselves on this historical occasion.

1. On what principle did the Turkish Government carried out the forced assimilation and mass massacre and who was behind the the decisions?

2. What are the consequences and lessons to be learned?

The first question can be answered at once by referring to the recurring and repetitive frequency of the case in the Kurdish region, called Dersim, located North Eeast of Turkey. During the 1930s, Turkish government aimed at consolidating the control of the Kurdish areas, including Dersim, and increased their efforts of forced assimilation

  • The Turkish Assembly, in a rush, passed the “Settlement Law”, which allowed the Turkish Government to evacuate and dispalce most of the Kurdish residents.
  • The “Law of Maintenance of Order”, gave government the power to establish a form of oppression never seen before. Thousands of villages were given Turkish names and the word “Kurdistan” was removed from the Turkish vocabulary. Objective was to erase any memory associated with the Kurdishness, the Kurdish land, and the past.
  • Around the same time, Fourth General Governance was established. General Abdullah Alpdogan, with the attributes of being the Governor of Dersim, was appointed.
  • In 1936, General Abdullah Alpdogan, re-named Dersim “Tunç eli (Bronze hand)”, and announced that Kurdish people did not exist as a race.
  • A military court, called “Independence Court”, was established in Dersim. Through this legislation Dersim was declared a “Prohibited Area”.
  • Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in his opening speech of the Assembly in 1936, said the following: “If there is an important phase within our domestic affairs then this is the matter of “Dersim”. This domestic job, the job of ripping off, cleaning up and to radically carve this dreadful boil, this wound, has to be done no matter what the costs associated and hence the government should be granted absolute and extensive authorization so that urgent decisions can be taken on this matter.
  • The Turkish State, staged a military attack with heavy armament. War planes taking off from Diyarbekir bombarded Dersim in 1936.
  • The occupation which had to be interrupted due to winter conditions was resumed in 1937.
  • The civilians took refuge in the mountains in the face of Turkish army’s siege and later invasion.
  • Villages were bombed, burnt down and destroyed.
  • On15 September 1937, the leader of Dersim Uprising, Seyit Rıza, was seized on the Muti bridge on his way to Erzincan.
  • In the indictment prepared for Seyit Riza and his friends the prosecutor, Hatemi Şahamoğlu, had made the following statements: “This case is a case opened by Tunceli against Dersim. The judgment delivered by the High Court shall lead Tunceli to live and Dersim to be thrown on the trash heap of history”.
  • On 10 November 1937, the court deliveres the judgement of death penalty for Seyid Riza, his son and 7 others. On 15 November 1937 Seyid Riza, his son and friends were executed.
  • However, the massacre continued in the aftermath of the executions. Although the army withdrew back to its barracks in the months of winter, with the onset of spring 1938 they attacked once again and implements mass massacres.
  • In Mustafa Kemal’s opening speech of the Assembly, read by Celal Bayar due to his illness and absence, on 1 November 1938 he expressed his pleasure over the “end of banditry and robbery incidents and the procurement of national sovereignty” in Dersim while Ismet Inönü said “We are rid of the difficult problem of Dersim”.

With the historical facts reviewed, second question can be answered with a sense of responsibility and sensibility:

Dersim stands as a mass massacre, for some as a genocide, which is forgotten or wished to be forgotten by official and political power centers.

Solidarity that was shown for Jewish people must be shown with the innocent people of Dersim civilians that were bombarded, massacred, and displaced at the same time. 

Turkish armed forces listed almost 8,000 Dersim residents killed in the last few months of 1938 alone. More than 1 million Kurds were displaced in the conflict. Estimates of the number of Kurds killed in Dersim between 1937 and 1938 run as high as 20,000.

 In the process of displacement, thousand of Kurdish homes were burned, villages permanently depopulated, and civilians massacred. Hundreds of Kurds hidings in caves or barns were buried to death by the Turkish armed forces. There were reports of Kurds suffering from collective suicides. According to historian McDowall, “Turkey was practicing crude social engineering”.

 As presented, with the facts, and consolidating all the debts and engagements of the Turkish Government and obligations of the State to the Kurds, and under the light of recent discussion that took place following Mr. Onur Öymen’s unfortunate comments, a popular insurrection to the dissatisfaction of the government of 1938th was oppressed with a military and political force that reminds us the practices of Germans against the displaced Jewish settlers.

 We can no longer pretend to be the observers of this cruel form of civil democracy dictating its own perspective on historical matters and facts. We must work hard and impatiently to bring about the awareness where archives are made available to the community and this process of transparency and openness shall have a magical effect of dissolving the oppression to its moral obligations, sects, and atoms.