Posts Tagged ‘Kurdish history’

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.

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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…

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.