As “Tertele” – the day on which the world ended – survivors and descendants describe the massacres and expulsions of large parts of the Kurdish, Alevi, Zaza-speaking population in the eastern Anatolian region of Dersim (Turkish: Tunceli) by the Turkish army in 1937 and 1938.
The background to these events is the desire of the then Turkish state leadership for a homogenous nation and the resulting policy of Turkisation and Islamisation: According to the “Law on Resettlement” of 1934, larger concentrations of non-Turkish or non-Muslim population groups on the state territory were to be dissolved by deporting these people to other parts of the country.
This policy also affected Dersim, which was renamed Tunceli and placed under a military administration that could carry out arrests and deportations at will. In 1937, the government decided to launch a major military offensive against the population of the region. By a secret decision of the Turkish Council of Ministers on 4 May 1937 – 83 years ago today – the Turkish army was authorized to carry out a “final solution” to the Dersim problem by killing all armed men among the population, destroying their villages and driving out their families.
Atatürk’s soldiers carried out this task with brutal thoroughness. Men of fighting age were shot on the spot. Numerous women and children hiding in caves in the mountains were killed by soldiers lighting fires at the cave entrances or bricking up the entrances. The army bombed villages from the air and used poison gas. According to official figures, 13,806 people died in 1937 and 1938, almost a tenth of the population of Dersim at that time. According to unofficial figures, more than 50,000 people were murdered. Furthermore, tens of thousands of Dersimers were deported to other parts of the country.
The massacres were carried out with the knowledge and in part with the participation of the great powers of the time, especially Great Britain and National Socialist Germany. The then German ambassador in Trabzon received detailed reports of the atrocities committed against the Dersim population, without this prompting him to protest in any way. Furthermore, documents from the Turkish Ministry of Health indicate that the poison gas used by the Turkish army in Dersim was of German origin. It is said that Turkish soldiers have been trained by German specialists to handle these chemical weapons.
We demand that the events of 1937 and 1938 in Dersim be recognized by the international community as genocide according to the criteria of the United Nations Convention of 1948. In addition, international pressure should be brought to bear on the Turkish state so that it too recognizes the injustice committed at that time as genocide.
4 May 2020, Dersim Congress