Erdogan’s apology between recognition and denial

  • KurdishMedia.com - By Shakhawan Shorash
  • 17/12/2011 00:00:00

On 23 November 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan gave an apology for the 1937 massacre of Dersim Province, in which thousands of Alevi and Zaza Kurds died. He said:

"If there is need for an apology on behalf of the state, if there is such a practice in the books, I would apologize and I am apologizing. Dersim is the most tragic event in our recent history. It is a disaster that should now be questioned with courage”.

The first president of Turkey (1923), Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, was an ethno-nationalist extremist. As such, he was one of the officers who were inspired by the Young Turk´s ethno-nationalism and Turkism thinkers like Ziya Gokalp, who wrote The Principles of Turkism. It was Ataturk’s dream to create a homogenous Turkey for Turks with no place or space for other ethnic groups or nations. To bring his policies to life, he gave the priority to compulsory assimilation and cultural genocide of non-Turkish nationalities. Concerning the Kurds, he turned his back on the promises of freedom he gave to the Kurds and banned anything that had to do with Kurdishness and Kurdistan. From the 1930s onward, Kurds were called wild or mountain Turks. More drastically, between 1921 and 1939, Turkey managed to defeat a series of Kurdish revolts.

The killings of the Dersim Kurds came in the wake of Turkey’s Resettlement Law of 1934. Ataturk and other Turkish extremist leaders had an eye on the Kurds of Dersim, who had made several nationalist revolts against Turkey before. Dersim Kurds were an important part of the Kurdish nation in Turkey. Dersim was located in a zone that was designated by the Turkish state for evacuation, compulsory deportation and assimilation. In 1936, the name of Dersim was changed to Tunceli, a state of siege was declared and a new military governor appointed. As might have been expected, the people of Dersim were against the policy of removal and assimilation. In 1937, the Kurdish leaders of Dersim sent emissaries with a letter to the Turkish military governor pleading to be allowed to administer themselves. The governor killed the emissaries and refused their demand. In retaliation, the Kurds made an ambush against the Turkish military and killed dozens of soldiers (McDowall, 2000, p. 208) . The Turkish military began a series of brutal and comprehensive attacks on Dersim Province and began to implement its genocidal intention. The destruction of Dersim’s Kurds was a replication in miniature of the Armenian genocide in 1915. The same killing methods were used. Chemical poisons were too used in Dersim attacks. According to non-Turkish sources, the majority of the Dersim people were killed or disappeared forever. Said Raza, the leader of the Dersim people, and some of his companions were arrested and hanged. According to Kurdish sources, the number of the victims is more than 50,000. According to British sources, the number is around 40,000. According to Erdogan the number is 13.800. However, no matter how large the number, the destruction happened systematically, step by step, and was legalised by the law of resettlement and assimilation of non-Turkish people and resulted in the almost total destruction of the Dersim people. Turkey intended to destroy the Kurds.

Turkey as a state institution is responsible for the elimination of the Dersim Kurds, as the Turkish military, including the army and air force, and other state institutions participated and implemented the crime. The Turkish president and all the military officers and generals of the highest levels as well as the low-level perpetrators who participated in the genocide to varying degrees are also responsible.

If Erdogan is sincere in his intentions, the apology must be followed by steps towards true reconciliation and comprehensive compensation to the victim families, if any of them are left. The Turkish parliament must offer an apology on behalf of the Turkish people, and pass an act of recognition of the crime of genocide, open state archives for objective investigations and research and begin the necessary steps of reconciliation. Turkey must condemn the laws that made the crime possible and remove them for good. Without these required steps, the apology is not more than empty words.

Erdogan casts doubt on his real intention when he puts the blame on his political rivals in the CHP (Republican People’s Party) and denies his and the ruling AK (Justice and Development) party´s responsibility for the crime. As he said:

“The party that should confront this incident is not the ruling AK Party. It is the CHP, which was behind this bloody disaster, which should face up to this incident. Dersim is the most painful and bloody event among the tens, hundreds of disasters the CHP has caused. It is not the AK Party and the AK Party government that should face this event and apologise, but it is the CHP.”

Erdogan is wrong. He does not govern another state or country, and he is the prime minister of Turkey. The ruling government party and the present president of the state represent Turkey, the same state institution that was behind the crime and made the crimes/genocides possible. The current authorities too have to face up to the crimes made by Turkey in the past. That is why he must take the full responsibility and face up to the past crimes with courage, as he said.

While he gives such a weak apology, he simultaneously attacks his political rival CHP as the only responsible political party, as it was governing Turkey when the crimes happened. There is no doubt that the CHP, as the main authoritarian party then in office, is responsible for the crimes, and the CHP must apologise for the past genocides and other crimes. Injecting the apology into internal political quarrels and blaming each other puts doubt on his intention, especially when he denies his and the AKP´s responsibility for the crimes. Furthermore, Kilicdaroglu, the CHP leader, accused Erdogan of planning to recognise the Armenian genocide. Erdogan refused any similarity or the drawing of any parallels between the two crimes, and refused any apology or recognition concerning the Armenian genocide. This puts further serious doubt onto his real intention to face up to past crimes.

Erdogan calls the genocide an incident and minimises the number of the victims, does not touch on the reasons behind the destruction of non-Turkish people and does not name the Kurds at all. Thus, there are hesitations, avoidances and denials in Erdogan’s apology, but at any rate, he admits Turkey´s past crimes somewhat and he is breaking the taboo against naming or recognising the past crimes committed by Turkey. Perhaps he is doing this according to his vision of Turkey, which is not the Turkey that Ataturk built up but goes back further to the Ottoman era. He is also breaking the concept of denial and opening the door for more discussion in the Turkish community. This is new in Turkey and the discussion may lead to a positive direction concerning Turkish past crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.

  • KurdishMedia.com - By Shakhawan Shorash
  • 17/12/2011 00:00:00