A monument built to commemorate the victims of the Dersim massacre, which started in 1937, is set to open on Nov. 17 in Mazgirt in the eastern province of Tunceli.
An alleged rebellion in Dersim, the old name for Tunceli, was led by Seyit Rıza, the chief of a Zaza tribe in the region. The government at the time, led by former Republican People's Party (CHP) leader İsmet İnönü, responded with air strikes and other violent methods of suppression, killing thousands of people.
The massacre took place in five different spots in Mazgirt. The victims' bodies were left in place, not buried. Not until the incidents ended in 1938 were some of the bodies buried in graves by the survivors.
Years after the bloody incident, due to feelings of unease after the revelation that bones from the incident were scattered in parts of the district and that the victims did not have a decent graveyard, the residents of Mazgirt proposed to Mazgirt Mayor Tekin Türkel that a monument should be constructed in memory of the murdered people. Türkel responded affirmatively and took the issue to the municipal council. The council approved the proposal, which also received support from many others who are originally from Dersim but who now live elsewhere.
The construction of the monument was financed by Tunceli businesspeople Özer Özgen and Kadrile Akçelik Özgen, while its architect is Dara Kırmızı Toprak.
In remarks to the press, Mayor Türkel said it was intentional that the timing for the opening coincided with the date of Seyit Rıza's death. He added that political parties represented in Parliament, with the exception of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as well as delegates from the European Parliament have been invited to the opening ceremony.
It is estimated that as many as 70,000 Kurdish Alevis were killed in Dersim between 1937 and 1938. According to the official figures, 13,806 people were killed, and 12,000 people were exiled.
However, the Mazgirt Governor's Office ordered that construction of the monument should be stopped on the grounds that it is being erected on Treasury land before the completion of legal procedures. The warning was sent to the municipality in written form.
Speaking about the move by the governor's office, Türkel said the problem would be solved as soon as the land is granted to the municipality. “It is an incident that stemmed from bureaucratic proceedings. I believe this will end soon,” he said.