Kurdish Kocgiri Revolt and the Young Turkish Republic

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…


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