On May 4, 1937 the government-in-power, Republican People’s Party (CHP), launched the “Punitive Expedition [Operation] to Dersim [Tunceli]” which marked the beginning of Dersim massacres and gave rise to regional operations that later transitioned into extermination operations in 1938.

In his chronicles, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, İhsan Sabri Çağlayangil, has recorded that “[the ‘pundits’] had taken shelter in the caves. The militia used poisonous gas. They poisoned [these pundits] like rats in their caves. They slaughtered Dersim Kurds from all ages. It [the operation] was a bloodshed. So the Dersim issue was done with, the government authority was brought to the village [the east] and to Dersim. Now we can enter Dersim conveniently.”

Tens of thousands of people from all ages were massacred as a result of the several operations that took place between the years 1937 and 1938. Thousands were forced out of and banished from their lands. Likewise, thousands of children, especially girls, were taken from their families and placed into orphanages and given to foster families across Turkey to rid them off their roots as part of a cleansing initiative.

Adopted on 9 December 1948, the United Nations Resolution 260 (III) A, of which Turkey is a signatory nation, states that: “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

According to the definition set by the aforementioned resolution, the systematically carried out 1937-1938 Dersim massacres against the Kurdish population and the people of Qizilbash (Alevi) religion constitutes an act of genocide. On its 76th anniversary, the victims’ agony persists.

In 2011, Prime Minister Erdoğan stated that, “If there is an apology on behalf of the state and if there is such an opportunity, I can do it and I am apologizing” and left the issue hanging as that point. The Prime Minister has to prove that he was not using the Dersim massacre just as a political tool against the main-opposition.

The pressing demands of the people of Dersim are unequivocal: the city’s name “Dersim” has to be restored to replace “Tunceli”, a name closely identified with the massacre. The government should disclose the burial grounds of the executed rebellious leaders, including that of Seyit Rıza, compensate for the loses of the banished people of Dersim, reveal the truth behind the banished missing children and declassify the military archives. Both the AKP government and the state should fulfill what an apology entails.

It is imperative to confront the truth behind the Dersim Massacre [Dersim Tertelesi in local Kirmanckî] for the construction of societal peace. As Peoples’ Democratic Party, we mourn the thousands that were massacred on the 76th anniversary of the massacre. We call upon the governing party and opposition parties that still carry remnants of similar racist practices today to confront the truth and our history.

Hatice Altınışık
Vice Co-Chair
May 4, 2014