ISTANBUL, Turkey (A.W.)—Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized today for the killings in Dersim (now Tunceli) from 1936-39.
The apology on behalf of the Turkish Republic came on the heels of the release of documents showing that military operations had killed thousands in the Dersim region in the late 30s. Erdogan showed the documents during his speech and implicated the Turkish leadership at the time in the massacres.
According to Anatolia News Agency, Erdogan referred to the Dersim killings as “the most tragic incident of our near past.”
Erdogan laid the blame squarely on the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was the single party ruling Turkey until the mid-20th century. Erdogan called on the leadership of the CHP, currently the main opposition party in Turkey, to apologize for the massacres.
“Is it me who should apologize or you [CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu]? If there is the need for an apology on behalf of the state and if there is such an opportunity, I can do it and I am apologizing. But if there is someone who should apologize on behalf of the CHP, it is you, as you are from Dersim. You were saying you felt honored to be from Dersim. Now, save your honor,” Erdogan said.
“Dersim is among the most tragic events in recent history. It is a disaster that should now be questioned with courage. The party that should confront this incident is not the ruling Justice and Development Party [AK Party]. It is the CHP, which is behind this bloody disaster, who should face this incident and its chairman from Tunceli,” Erdogan added, referring to Kilicdaroglu.
‘Don’t compare me to the diaspora’
In response to an accusation from the CHP that the move is a prelude to apologizing to the Armenians for 1915, Erdogan said, “You are putting me in the same basket with the Armenian Diaspora. Shame on you! How dare you put me and the Armenian Diaspora in the same basket!”
‘Hypocritical and insincere’
“The current discourse is highly hypocritical and insincere. At this very moment, more than 10 dams are being built in Dersim. To build dams in order to flood the region and displace people were items of the reports in the 1930’s about the ‘Dersim problem,'” said Dr. Bilgin Ayata in an interview with Armenian Weekly Editor Khatchig Mouradian.
She added, “While under the AKP government, the last phase of the systematic destruction of Dersim from 1938 is being implemented and carried out today, any reference to the ‘Dersim massacres’ by Prime Minister Erdogan serves first and foremost to portray and frame the state intervention in Dersim as a past event, while in fact, it is being completed at this very moment.”
Ayata, who is at the Free University of Berlin, noted that many important sacred and religious sites of Alevis and Armenians in Dersim have been flooded since last year because of the dams. “People in Dersim regard this as the last phase of the destruction of the Dersim culture. By bringing up the Dersim issue, Erdogan is not only hunting for votes among Alevis or abusing this issue in order to discredit his political opponent Kilicdaroglu, he is actually killing two birds with one stone by diverting the issue of the dam building in Dersim that his government is responsible for. I also do not think that he ‘opens up’ the discourse. In fact, he sets limits to the discourse of Dersim 1938 by framing it as a ‘massacre.’ The term ‘Dersim massacre’ is only an improvement in the discourse if your starting point is the Turkish official ideology.”
“If your reference point is the International Genocide Convention from 1948, it is merely a sophisticated continuation of denial policies, as the case of the mass violence between 1936-38 easily fits the criteria set in the convention to constitute genocide,” concluded Ayata.
Tens of thousands of men, women, and children were massacred by Turkish troops during the destruction of Kurds and Zazas of Dersim (now Tunceli) in 1937-38. For decades, this genocide was denied and framed as a “suppression of an uprising” by the Turkish state. In November 2009, the Turkish Republican People’s Party deputy chairman, Onur Oymen, said that the destruction of the Kurds in Dersim was an example of the struggle against terrorism, and a heated public debate ensued. Columnists and political figures harshly criticized Oymen’s statement, and even high-ranking Turkish officials called the events of Dersim a “massacre.” Some thought Turkey was finally coming to terms with at least one horrible chapter of its past.