Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for the invitation
and the possibility to talk to you about my work for humanrights and minority affairs in the special matters of the people of Zaza-KirmancAlevi in Turky and Germany
I have been asked many times, why, as a German, do youspend so much time on the matter of Dersim, this geographic region inmidsoutheast Anatolia?
The executive board of the DERSIM Kulturverein Berlinapproached me in 2008, when I wasrepresenting the society for threatened people und asked for support in theirmatter.
I accepted and visited Dersim for the first time thatsame year.
Which lead me to a further answer to the question:
Why do I care about the people of Dersim?
My Motto as Human Rights Activist is to understandhistory, so as to improve the future.
Dersim is at the core of various ethnic peoples andreligions in the mid-southeast of Turkey, the Anatolian highland with themunzurriver as the headstream of euphrat’sriver, basically upper Mesopotamia.
And it is the home area of the Alevis. Over hundredsof years alevis , armeniens, kurdish and jews lived together in freedom andrespect another.
Today 60 000 Zaza/ Kirmanc Alevis live in the corearea of Dersim, but in Germany thenumber is 300 000.
How did this happen? What does it mean for the turkishand the german societies and who are these people?
People of Dersim in Turkey and Germany are anexcellent example of a community, that practiced tolerance, humanity and closeties to nature for centuries.
Yet, they also lived through and prevailed the sadtruth of persecution, eviction and genocide through the respective forces inpower of the Ottoman empire and the Turkish republic. The greatest massacreshappened in 1938. The military forces killed village for village. The bones ofthe victims lay at the place of execution still today. It is not allowed to setthem in graves and to create memorials.
It is an great responsibility to change this terriblesituation.
The Dersim people are known for their capability toadapt and for their tolerance. Withtheir multi-ethnic and multi-religious experience they are able to further thedevelopment of both the Turkish as well as the german society.
Drawing from their own rich cultural and historicalexperience they are able to bring freedom between the ethnics.
They could also add a lot to the improvement andfurther development of the Turkish society, if the turkish people would be willing to learn from there ownhistory and would drop their tense attitude of denial.
This is - why I decided to support the Dersim cause,in addition to documenting and publicizing its history.
For 1.5 years now I am the deputy chairman of the Förderverein Dersim e.V – anorganization that supports the Dersim cause, which currently finances the OralHistory Project 38, that aims at establishing a foundation to preserve andfurther the cultural identity of Dersim.
This concludes my preface.
I would now like to move on and clarify the aspects,which could gain relevance in the light of the development of diplomaticstrategies.
1. A current evaluation of the political situation in Turkey in light ofits more recent history.
2. The Turkish minoritypolicy through the example of Dersim
3. Alevism as social study.
4. The effect of the Zaza-Kirmac-Alevi diaspora in Germany and turky
1. Before evaluating the current situation, allow me to present a historicpolitical analysis of the Turkish social model.
The Ottoman dynasty lastet from 1299 through 1923 and was referred to as“Turkish empire”. Anatolia had been referred to as “Turchia” since its 12thcentury in latin works after occupied bythe Seljuks tribe.
The Ottomans repressed the Byzantine empire to a largeextent from Anatolia.
The Ottoman’s height of power began with the reign ofSüleyman I from 1520 to 1566. Submission of the Persian Safavids , annexation of Mesopotamia and expanding toEurope.
Nationalism became an growing conflict throughout themultiethnic Ottoman empire as the suppressed peoples understood themselves assingle independent countries and societies. This nationalism supported by theEuropean countries, boosted the downfallof the Ottoman Empire and the modernization of the ensuing countries.
While Arabia and Irania restored their previous power structures underEnglish and french rule, a movement ofresistance developed among the ottoman-turkish elite.
The most important figure in this development was the Turkishgeneral Mustafa Kemal. So strong was his influence in the following confrontations, that Turkish parliament later termed him “Ataturk”– the Father of the Turks. The kemalist movement, named after him, soon formed analternative government in the unoccupied territories and finally founded theRepublic of Turkey in 1923.
This formation must be considered a societalrevolution.
The secular and democratic state with numerousfragments of western justice and law required an enormous amount ofenforcement.
The multiethnic and multireligious Anatolia faced acomplete societal replacement.
Instead of using and gaining from the eastern tribesand their knowledge and experience of multiethnic life, Ataturk broke allpromises made to this early companions and began ruthlessly turkifying theterritories. Kurds, Zaza/Kirmanc and Arminians that had survived Ottomangenocide were violently assimilated by law and the military forces.
Since the formation of Turkey the population of thisarea has continually decreased through eviction, deportation, flight andemigration.
Within the last ten years the population went down from 90000 to70000 and has been reduced to 50 percent in comparison to 1975. Dersim is oneof Turkey’s Southeastern areas with the highest loss of population. Throughoutthe last 15 years, many villages, nearly 25000 Flats were destroyed throughmilitary forces, woods were set on fire. Inhabitants were arrested, torturedand murdered.
Within that period of time, Turkey’s population grewfrom 29 million people in 1961 to 69 million in 2004, which is an annual 2 %growth rate. For Dersim this growth rate would have to result in a populationof 340.000.
14 years after the foundation of the state, onFebruary the 5th 1937, the six principles of Ataturk’s Kemalism werewritten into the constitution.
Article 2, Set 1 of the constitution of the republicof Turkey of 1924 states: The Republic of Turkey is republican, nationalistic,people-oriented, interventional, secular and revolutionary.
This was based on Türk Tarih Tezi, the Turkish idea ofhistory, stating that, despite factual history, Turkishness be the anticfounding culture of the entire Anatolia, even saying that all languages weredescendants of Turkish – the cult of the socalled Sonnensprachlehre – theteaching of the Sun Language.
This justification for the nationalistic Turkification,which Mustafa Kemal viewed as western model of modernization, required secularorientation of the state.
“Be happy to be a Turk” as maxime was supposed toovershadow all ethnic and religious differences. The islam did not become statereligion and was banned from administration. With their multiethnic andmultireligious experience, Dersim was a rolde model for this kemalist idea andsupported this movement – until its people were violently hit by theconsequences.
The Turkish-kemalist elite could not tolerate the success of Aleviphilosophy and started the ethnocide and genocide of the Zaza and Kurds,which had resisted assimilation.
This kemalist policy was the reason for manyminorities emigrating from Turkey: Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks, Jews, Yazidis,Zaza and millions of actual Turks.
Pardon this journey into more recent history, but itis important to understand the current development.
The kemalist reform by the Turkish republic is nowfollowed by the re-islamization of Prime Minister Erdogan. The conservativeislamic elite is restoring its post-Ottoman claim of power against turkish andAlevi Kemalists.
The current chairman of the CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu isAlevi and dersim. He is not very public about this, yet he is well-known andthereby puts a focus on this conflict in Turkish society.
The kurds, as largest remaining minority, are not inunion with this new situation – to put it mildly. This leads to the PKK’scomplete isolation in their armed fight for a Stalinist Republic of Kurdistanand renders their fight historically hopeless.
The Zaza/Kirmanc Alevis in the province of Tunceli andin the diaspora are well aware of this shift in political power, backed by thesuccess of the Zaza/Krimanc, part of the CHP, in recent elections toparliament.
What does Primeminister Erdogan want?
Erdogan wants to re-islamize.
He will reform the kemalist republic into a Islamic Republic. He also aims at Islamizingand disempowering the military as he does not trust its generals. Erdoganspreads nationalism, traditional religiosity and strong leadership. This issupposed to lead to a new Islamic republic, which shall serve as an example forthe Arabian brothers.
This is based on the dream of a post-Ottoman union ofall Turkish tribes and Arabian neighbors. Erdogan threatens Syria and Israel,thereby demonstrating a force- and powerful foreign policy. In his own countryhe stirs anti-semitism and stresses the further development of Turkification.
He is an Islamic Nationalist.
The European Union does not let down Turkey, it’s viceversa.
The European Union always dealt with open cards andset a roadmap.
After adjusting economy laws and finance regulationsto EU standards, working out democratic deficiencies was next on the agenda:Elections in provinces, minority rights, freedom of press and religion andparliamentary control of the military.
To Erdogan, the minority cause does not exist.Officially, the Kurds and Zaza, among others, are Turks not minorities.
Tese are bad prospects for a secular and democraticsocial order with contribution from minorities. The road to Europe appears moreand more blocked. The West should quickly support the secular, opposing powersand limit the foreign political antics of its Nato member Turkey.
2. Minority politics in Turkey
The current Turkish government, under the leadershipof the AKP, makes another historic mistake within their policy ofre-Islamization. By holding on to Turkish nationalism, they repeat the birthdefect of the kemalist republic.
This will lead to the failure of the post-Ottomandream, as the nationalistic tendencies in the Arabian and Persian world willnot submit to this. Instead, it is far more interesting to observe theso-called democratic movement, whose protagonists are young and, via theInternet, cosmopolitan. This generation will not be satisfied with old societalorders or submit to them, as can be seen in the capitols of Syria and Libya.The urbanization can and will not be stopped, as well as modern communicationtechnology. Whoever disregards this development, will be overrun by a wave ofrebellious youths.
Add to this a development among the young turning totheir historic and cultural roots and identity, despite globalization. Who arewe? Where do we come from? This must lead to a new respect for minorities andthe constitutional embedding of their rights.
Instead of enforcing a new wave of forced Islamizationwith Turkish nationalism, taking these people serious would be the first stepin a correct direction.
As this wave will only lead to further conflictswithin the state, which a modern Turkey does not need, especially regardingfurther economic prosperity.
3. Alevism as social study
Alevism is a syncretic religion without clergy, butwith many Sufis, Zoroastrian and shiite traditions, and the ability to adapt tocircumstances without disregarding its own identity. Ever since theEast-Anatolian ancestors developed this traditionally nature-oriented religionin the hills and passed it on through the traditional families of the Dedes,the desire for independence has remained unbroken.
The philosophy of a tolerant and balanced co-existenceof equal individuals, sacred sites at springs and rivers, candles and wishingtrees at sacred places are the basis of a way of living that historically hasbeen attacked but not eradicated, yet has been passed on as social teaching.
Gandhi said "Peace is not merely a distant goalthat we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”, which was part ofindo philosophy as well as east-Anatolian nature religion.
Nature/Man, Light and Water as divine unity shapethese people to an enlightened understanding and togetherness. This also leadsto their ability to adapt in the diaspora. Education and tradition are thecorner stones of their religiosity, which determins their communal life.
This is why Alevism in Germany and Turkey is animportant component of a democratic society. German politics has realized this,Turkish politics ignores this societal potential and subjects Alevism tointegration in Sunni Islam. This fault is of great relevance as Sunni Islam hasso far in its history not been able to install democratic communities. This isthe Middle East’s dilemma and therefore also Erdogan’s AKP’s flawed logic. Andthis is why breaking with Israel, the only actual existing model for ademocracy in the Middle East is ano