Erdogan Offers Half-Hearted Apology for Dersim Massacres [Updated]

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Erdogan also said one of the main obstacles to Turkey’s becoming “one of the world’s most powerful states is that it can’t face up to its past, history, taboos and fears.”

ANKARA—Turkey’s prime minister apologized Wednesday for the first time for the killings of nearly 14,000 people in a bombing and strafing campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the 1930s.

The apology by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no big change of heart but a political tactic to tarnish the reputation of the opposition party, which was in power at that time. Still, comes at a tense time for relations between Turkey and its minority Kurds, and it sparked calls for Turkey to face another dark chapter of its history—the Armenian Genocide.

Erdogan on Wednesday offered his apology for the killings of 13,806 people in the southeastern town of Dersim — now known as Tunceli — between 1936 and 1939. The apology came after a war of words between Erdogan and the leader of the main opposition party.

“The apology by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no big change of heart but a political tactic to tarnish the reputation of the opposition party, which was in power at that time. Still, comes at a tense time for relations between Turkey and its minority Kurds, and it sparked calls for Turkey to face another dark chapter of its history, the mass killings of Armenians in 1915,” said the European Armenian Federation for Justice.

According to Hurriyet Daily News, Erdogan showed documents dated August 1939, which stated the operations had killed more than 13,000 people between 1936 and 1939.

Erdogan further defined the Dersim killings as “the most tragic incident of our near past.”

An opposition lawmaker, Huseyin Aygun, from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) said a dozen of his relatives were killed in Dersim and added that details about the suppression of the rebellion needed to become known.

Erdogan’s apology appeared aimed at embarrassing opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, whose party was in power at the time of the rebellion. Kilicdaroglu’s family is also rooted in Tunceli.

“Am I going to apologize or are you?” Erdogan asked Kilicdaroglu in a televised speech. “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.”

Some ruling party lawmakers called for a probe into the Dersim slayings, where troops of Turkey’s newly founded republic brutally crushed Kurdish clans that rejected central authority.

“Instead of looking for a culprit, we must choose to face history,” government legislator Mustafa Elitas said.

Mustafa Armagan, a historian and researcher, told state-run TRT television on Wednesday that the military’s campaign in Dersim was followed by forced migrations and massacres as well as policies of assimilation.

The prime minister also said one of the main obstacles to Turkey’s becoming “one of the world’s most powerful states is that it can’t face up to its past, history, taboos and fears.”

Turkey is also under pressure to acknowledge other dark pages in its history, including the Armenian Genocide a special wealth tax imposed on Jews in the 1940s and attacks on its Greek minority in 1955.

In response to an accusation from CHP that this 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!”

 “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 1930s 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 amongst 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.

Despite the calls for search for truth over the Dersim incidents, Erdogan’s government has said it would only halt its current military drive if the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK disarm. However, the government has left the door open for future talks.

Turkey has long realized that it can’t end the Kurdish rebel war through military measures alone, and the government has granted more cultural rights to the Kurdish minority such as broadcasts in the once-banned Kurdish language on state television.

But the rebels and Kurdish activists insist on autonomy and Kurdish education in schools, which Turkey fears could divide the country along ethnic lines.


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  1. Sylva-MD-Poetry said:

    Read the latest… what he did for Kurds…!

    Those Killed Kurds By Turkish Guns 
    Are Rebels Not Humans…
    No-One Should Attend Their Funerals…!

    Armenians in every space…You are late…Awake 
    The Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir* is facing 28 years 
    Imprisonment for attending funeral of his ethnic friends.
    In the eyes of Ottomans… 
    Those killed are rebels not humans…!

    If the honest mayor already faced charges 
    Next…he will never be there
    Surp Giragos Cathedral will end in ruins 
    As it was since almost a century past (1915)

    This gives a lesson for all Armenians
    Not to put penny in your ancient land 
    All will be lost…like you lost your jewels…your carpets…
    Your books with pens…and most important of all 
    Your genes…your artful race…1.5 million innocent lives

    Don’t cheat yourself that you are educated…artful…fair  
    Our God is old…can’t face millions’ of criminals 
    Their god knows how to guide them to dystroy…confiscate…
    What your hands carvesd on cloths…rocks…

    Thus…Awake…see where you stand 
    As the Arab Muslim Poet, Assad Rustom penned, in May 1916
    When Jamal pasha alsaffah** hanged 32 of his literate mates…   
    “The sons of Turks you are never Muslims” 

    According to the Islamic law (Shareea) 
    You can attend your enemy’s funeral…
    They say Prophit Mohamad always use to attend…
    As well as Imam Ali ( 598-slayed 661)…
    But they have Ataturk law (father of Turks)
    Which is defined democratic-secular…!
    Not only by their literates
    But by all—so called—civilized parliaments
    Who pretend blind…on all their crimes…
    Knowingly support them…To attain their games…!!!

    November 20, 2011
    *Kurdish Mayor Lawyer and Human Activist Osman Baydemir restorated the largest cathedral in Middle East and was opened less than a month ago, October 23, 2011
     (St. Giragos Cathedral was build in 16th century and bombed in May 1915; while the Vank cathedral in Isfahan, Iran, still intact)

    During opening ceremoney on Sunday mass on 23th October, Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir addressed the congregation, declaring first in Armenian, and then Kurdish, Turkish, English and Arabic:
    “Welcome to your home. You are not guests here; this is your home
We all know about past events, he said, pointedly referring to 1915, and our wish is that our children will celebrate together the coming achievements.”

    Osman Baydemir graduated from the Law Faculty at Dicle University in Diyarbakır. In 1995 he became the chair of the Diyarbakır branch of the independent Human Rights Association. Between 1995 and 2002 he also was a board member and became vice-president of the association. In February 1999 he became one of the first lawyer who volunteered to defend Abdullah Öcalan. In 2001 he became a founding member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT or TİHV Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı). At the general elections in 2002, he was the candidate of the Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP), but the party failed to reach the 10% election threshold. In 2003, Baydemir spent 6 months in the United States, to improve his English. In 2004, he was elected mayor of Diyarbakır.
    In May 2005 he married Reyhan Yalçındağ, the deputy chair of the Human Rights Association in Turkey. On April 23, 2006 their son Mirzanyar was born. (ref:Wikipedia)

    **alsaffah means butcher in the Arabic language
    God…Protect Us from criminals…If You can’t guide them to Humanity …
    How can we share their community…!

  2. Ed said:

    I must say that i am surprised and disappointed that most armenians still think that the massacres in Dersim was against kurdish rebellions! Most of the population of Dersim were armenians who had converted to alevism in order to survive the armenian genocide.The pilot who bombed Dersim was Sabiha Gökcen, Turkeys first woman pilot.Sabiha Gökcen was an orphan who had been adopted by Ataturk.But of course she did not know anything about her origin. When Hrant Dink disclosed this, turkish authorities began planing the killing of Hrant Dink.In other words – the massacres of people in Dersim was continiuation of the armenian genocide, this time planned by Ataturk.

  3. John Evans said:

    Whether Erdogan’s apology was “half-hearted” or not, the rest of what he is quoted here as having said is
    quite unprecedented: that one of the main obstacles to Turkey is that “it can’t face up to its past, history, taboos and fears.” Isn’t that what a lot of us have been saying? Let’s not dismiss this out of hand. It’s now out there, on the record. When prominent national leaders say things like this, it makes a difference.

    • Lusik said:

      Difference?! Hm… Positive? Negative?
      I think, Mr. Erdoghan plays three games at once. First, he simply uses Mr. Obama’s trickery – words mean nothing. Say whatever is needed to get what is wanted. Secondly, as Ed has described above, the massacre was committed against Kurds and Armenians, but right now Mr. Erdoghan needs some “neutrality” from Kurds because he is about to invade Syria. This will result in further depletion of the region from Armenians. Thirdly, Mr. Erdoghan makes a ground for the recognition of Northern Cyprus. Remember, in 2012 Cyprus is chairing the EU.

  4. Moron Radd said:

    Recep Tayip Ersogan = Fascist, war criminal, denialist, modern day Hitler. . . You will burn in hell Mr. Erdogan.

  5. ZARMAIR said:

    He needs to learn how to smile; but then again his creeds centuries of bloodbaths, pogroms, and genocides cannot sustain the most basic of human behaviors; a good hearted sincere smile…

  6. Antoine S. Terjanian said:

    I concurr with Ambassador Evans. Erdogan’s words should be archived and encouraged despite the possible ulterior motives we suspect he may have.
    I want to believe that there are forces in Turkey who honestly are disgusted with injustice, who want Turkey to reach the higher moral ground. Although they are a minority, let us not lump them with those who used to pride themselves for having ‘taught us a lesson’.

  7. Raffikian said:

    Longest trip starts with 1 step at a time, let’s see if other steps will follow.

  8. zohrab said:

    its a race covered in blood from top to bottom.they have no escape.i think thats why they made their flag red its blood

  9. Sylva-MD-Poetry said:

    I think what Erdugan is intending
    Is to show that Ataturk was criminal and he is a saint…
    Also he wants to divide the Kurds…
    Which is the tactic of Turks…Some with him …Some Against him …so they kill each others…
    An Egyptian Muslim lady… A daughter of A Shaik Al Azhar
    She give me stories about Ottoman’s during their occupation to Egypt…
    they use to let brother kill brother for the inherited lands…
    Then they will occupy the lands…
    In Arabic they say”, Farak Tasud”…”Separate and win”
    The other thing is that Kurds are 15-20 million and alawis 10…???
    If Syrian entered in clashes ….it will reach them…so he is frightened…
    He is playing games after games…Let us see the results…
    God is Great As the Arabs Say…


  10. Stepan said:

    ” How dare he place erdogan in same basket as Diapora Armenians”

    This piece of turkish filth by his single presence would contaminate everything that is good is and true about Armenians, nothing about turks has changed, they have become more educated, they have adopted some western culture and even managed to change their alphabet to latin, but nothing , nothing wil ever take away the stench of turkishnes that prevails even to this day with the likes of this man and his nationalist dogs that were responsible for the planning and killing of Hrant Dink,

    turkey has not changed, it has become more devious.

  11. David said:

    Turkey suffers from internal problems for 3 centuries. I do not think we should give serious consideration to this “apology”. What means “IF IT IS NECESSARY to apologize on behalf of the state”? Now necessary is it or no?

  12. David said:

    Excellent article.

    But what does it say about some *other* Armenians out there who hang on every pronouncement of this nut, Erdogan, about past events?

    Have some of us Armenians sunk so low that we will jump for joy if by some chance this nut makes some half-hearted apology about 1915? Is this what we are waiting for? An apology – even a full one – by this nutcase is going to satisfy us?

    This is what our cause has come to – we have to wait around for this nutcaseto offer us some crumbs and then we will be satisfied? If so, we are the ones who are nuts.

  13. Vasken said:

    How amazing, for a self-portrait on the TIME Magazine cover how little cost, but, how much will cost him (Erdoghan) from here on…!

  14. Peter Megerdumian said:

    The Turks are Mongolian savages whose great grandfather was Genghis Khan . Even middle name of Dr.Oz is Genghis .The Turks came from Central Asia and have had a 900 year history of barbarism and nothing is going to change . The Turks have killed 0ver 30.000 Kurds from the 1980’s to the present day. There was information that Turkey planned to attack Armenia in 1992 during the coup attempt against Boris Yelsin. In Europe, the Turks play a major role in the drug trade especially opium and are involved in gun-running, prostitution and all types of criminal activity. Some suspect that the Turks have been behind the mysterious firebombing attacks on cars in Berlin and on the attempts to attack the German train system because Germany has strongly reduced the number of Turks that can enter the country. The blind Germans finally see what a disaster they created by allowing the Turkish guest workers to flood Germany.

    • Avery said:

      Peter, saying “The Turks are Mongolian savages whose great grandfather was Genghis Khan” is factually incorrect and morally wrong.

      Seljuk Turks, who invaded our Armenian Highlands, did originate in the Mongolian Steppes and Altai Mountains region. However, even though there are some links, Mongols were distinct from Turkic tribes.

      Also, calling every Turk a “savage” is insane: there are lots of savage fascistic Turks today. However, there are millions of righteous Turks also: Orhan Pamuk, Taner Akcam, Ayse Gunaysu, Ragip Zarakolu….I could fill pages and pages, but hopefully you get the point.

      I ask that you retract your statement: when you say “The Turks”, you also include people like Ms. Gunaysu and others I listed. That is unacceptable.

  15. Armen said:

    He will burn in hell. let God make the judgjment. Mr. Evans said above and I do also agree with him, that PM. E. is on a wright direction, lets us be patiant and see to where he will go from here.Meanwhile we need to work on straightening our fatherland in anyway we can. Thanks for Asbarez for the article.

  16. Hrant K. said:

    Mr Erdogan referral to the taboos are simply the unsaid stories of invading major parts of Greater

    Armenia, Greece, Pontus, Kurdistan, Cilicia 75years ago, and before 37 years-37% of Northern Cyprus!

    Furthermore Genocides, steeling property, homelands, natural resources and destroying of monuments

    and sacred sanctuaries are also lethal sinful crimes against humanity! Of course, So called Turkey

    ( fascist turkish “soft islamist government”, please…?!) can’t come in terms with

    its dark Chapters of history, because they know beforehand, there’s a lot at stake here.

    But the more they hold on to their lies and hypocricies, the cracks are going to be more and more

    enormous, and turkey’s implosion is going to be so powerful and intense, that they will regret their

    silence for so long!!!… (7)

  17. Albert Nercessian said:

    Avery, we know you are a right wing Turk pretending to be an Armenian because you tried to discredit Ayse Gunaysu in another posting and seem to sing the praises that the Turks are such wonderful people. They are Central Asian savages. Turkey is the worst violator of human rights in the history of mankind. The barbarism of the Mongols and Turks are notable in history.

    • Avery said:

      Albert, who is “we” ? who do you represent ? Or is it Royal “We” ?
      Like I said, you have no idea who or what I am.
      Your thinking is too plebeian to be able to tell.

      And read about history and educate yourself before you give me advice about Turks, Central Asia, Mongols, Seljuk Turks, etc.

      • Alex Postallian said:

        I can see why the Armenian cause,has not advanced,Albert & Avery,at odds,overlook and deny the true issues.

  18. Peter Megerdumian said:

    It is interesting that Avery know such extensive details about Turkish origins and history .I bet that Avery is works for the Turkish government and his role is to monitor the Armenian community and spread propaganda. He also praises the Turks so much which makes me highly suspicious. It is well-known that intelligence agencies monitor the press of their enemies including Turkish intelligence.

    • Avery said:

      Avery knows such extensive details about Turkish origins and history because Avery is educated. Unlike, ooohhhhh I don’t know, take a wild guess.

      And you are partly right about Intelligence Services.
      Except it was the Armenian KGB I used to work for. I am retired now.
      Or maybe I am not. How can you tell ?

  19. Alex Postallian said:

    Every thing aside,erorgan picture reminds me of the word mymoon(monkey) in turkish.

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