Dersim Rebellion

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Dersim Rebellion of 1937/1938
Part of Kurdish rebellions
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen (November 17, 1937, in front of the Pertek People's House)
Date 20 March 1937 - November, 1937,
2 January 1938 - December, 1938
Location Dersim region
Result Decisive Turkish victory. Revolt suppressed. Turkish control of Dersim region.
Turkey Republic of Turkey Dersim tribes
Commanders and leaders
Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Turkey İsmet İnönü
Turkey Kâzım Orbay
Turkey Abdullah Alpdoğan
Turkey Galip Deniz
Turkey Kemal Ergüden
Turkey İsmail Hakkı Tekçe
Turkey Şemsi Erkuş
Rêber Qop
Zeynel Top
Seyid Riza (POW)  Executed
Kamer Aga (Yusufan)
Cebrail Aga (Demenan)
Kamer Aga (Haydaran)
50,000[1] 3,000[2]
Casualties and losses
199 killed 354 wounded 10,000 killed[3] or
13,160 civilians[4]-70,000 people[5] killed
11,818 into forced migration.[4]

The Dersim rebellion was a Kurdish[6][7][8][9][10] uprising against the Turkish government in the Dersim region of eastern Turkey, which includes parts of Tunceli Province, Elazığ Province, and Bingöl Province.[11] The rebellion was led by Seyid Riza, an Alevi chieftain of the Yukarı Abbas Uşağı tribe.[12]


Ottoman period[edit]

During the Ottoman period, before the Tanzimat, most of the empire's eastern regions were administrated by the Ottoman feudal system. Authority in these regions was in the hands of feudal lords, tribal chieftains and aghas (dignitaries).[15]

Early republican era[edit]

The situation of Dersim in the Ottoman Empire continued in the early years of the Republic of Turkey. Tribes from Dersim objected to losing authority and refused to pay taxes.[16]

Complaints[clarification needed] kept coming from the governors.[which?] In an Interior Ministry report in 1926, it was considered necessary to use force against the residents of Dersim.[17]

Law on Resettlement[edit]

The Turkification process in Turkey began with the Turkish National Assembly passing the 1934 Law on Resettlement ('İskân Kanunu' Law No.2510, 13 June 1934).[18]

"Tunceli" law[edit]

The Dersim region included the Tunceli Province whose name was changed from Dersim to Tunceli with the "Law on Administration of the Tunceli Province" (Tunceli Vilayetinin İdaresi Hakkında Kanun), no. 2884 of 25 December 1935[19] on January 4, 1936.[20]

Fourth General Inspectorate[edit]

In order to consolidate its authority in the process of Turkification of religious and ethnic minorities,[21] the Turkish Grand National Assembly passed the law, numbered 1164 and dated June 25, 1927. Following the First Inspectorate-General (January 1, 1928, Diyarbakır),[22]

[the Thrace pogroms[clarification needed]], the Second Inspectorate-General (February 19, 1934, Edirne)[11] and the Third Inspectorate-General (August 25, 1935, Erzurum),[23][24] the Fourth General Inspectorate (Dördüncü Umumi Müffetişlik) was established on June 6, 1936, in the traditional Dersim region, which includes Tunceli Province, Elazığ Province and Bingöl Province.[11]

On 1 November 1936, during a speech in the parliament Atatürk acknowledged the situation in Dersim as Turkey's most important internal problem.[25] Firstly, military stations were built in the strategical zones.[citation needed] Then the Inspector of the Fourth General Inspectorate, Lieutenant General Abdullah Alpdoğan was given the authority to sign court orders, providing security,[clarification needed] to exile people that lived in the city when necessary.[citation needed]

The Rebellion[edit]

A 1937 map of Dersim showing the central province, Hezat

After the "Tunceli" Law, the Turkish government built military observation posts in the centers of districts such as Kahmut, Sin, Karaoğlan, Amutka, Danzik, and Haydaran.

Meeting at Halbori cells[edit]

Seyid Riza, the chieftain of Yukarı Abbas Uşağı, sent his followers to the Haydaran, Demenan, Yusufan, and Kureyşan tribes to make an alliance.[26]

According to Turkish authorities, on March 20–21, 1937, at 23:00 hrs, the Demenan and Haydaran tribes broke a bridge connecting Pah and Kahmut in the Harçik Valley. The Inspector General gave the order to prepare for action to the 2nd Mobile Gendarmerie Battalion at Pülümür, the 3th[clarification needed] Mobile Gendarmerie Battalion at Pülür, the 9th Gendarmier Battalion at Mazkirt, and the Mobile Gendarmerie Regiment at Hozat, and sent one infantry company of the 9th Mobile Gendarmier Battalion to Pah.[26]

Turkish military operations[edit]

See also: Dersim Massacre
Sabiha Gökçen holding a bomb before the bombardment operation over Dersim with her Breguet 19

According to Osman Pamukoğlu, a general in Turkish Army in the 1990s, Atatürk had given the operational order himself.[27]


First Tunceli Operation[edit]

On September 10–12, 1937, Seyit Rıza came to the government building of the Erzincan Province for peace talks and was arrested.[28] On the next day, he was transferred to the headquarters of the General Inspectorate at Elazığ and hanged with 6 (or 10) of his fellows on November 15–18, 1937[29] The victims(?) were:

  • Seyit Rıza
  • Resik Hüseyin (Seyit Rıza's son, 16 years old)
  • Seyit Hüseyin (the chieftain of Kureyşan-Seyhan tribe)
  • Fındık Aga (Yusfanlı Kamer Aga's son)
  • Hasan Aga (of the Demenan tribe, Cebrail Ağa's son)
  • Hasan (a Kureyşan tribesman Ulkiye's son)
  • Ali Aga (Mirza Ali's son)

On November 17, 1937, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk came to Pertek to take part in the opening ceremony for the Singeç Bridge.[30][31]


Second Tunceli Operation[edit]

The prime minister, Celal Bayar (in office: October 25, 1937 – January 25, 1939) had agreed to an attack on the Dersim rebels.[32] The operation started on January 2, 1938 and finished on August 7, 1938.

Third Tunceli Operation[edit]

The Third Tunceli Operation was carried out between August 10–17, 1938.

Sweep operations[edit]

Sweep operations that started on September 6, were continued for 17 days.[33]

Aerial operations[edit]

Turkish planes flew numerous sorties against the rebels during the rebellion. Among the pilots was Kemal Atatürk's adopted daughter, Sabiha Gökçen, the first female fighter pilot in military history.[34] A report of the General Staff mentioned the "serious damage" that had been caused by her 50 kg bomb, upon a group of 50 fleeing bandits.[35]

Muhsin Batur, engaged in operations for about two months over Dersim, but he stated in his memoirs that he wanted to avoid explaining this part of his life.[36] Nuri Dersimi claimed that the Turkish air force bombed the district with poisonous gas in 1938.[37]


According to an official report of the Fourth General Ispectorate, 13,160 civilians were killed by the Turkish Army and 11,818 people were taken into exile, depopulating the province.[4] According to the Dersimi, many tribesmen were shot dead after surrendering, and women and children were locked into haysheds which were then set on fire.[38] According to McDowall, 40,000 people were killed.[1] According to Kurdish Diaspora sources, over 70,000 people were killed.[5]

A key component of the Turkification process was the policy of massive population resettlement - a result of the 1934 law on resettlement. This policy targeted the region of Dersim as one of its first test cases, and it had disastrous consequences for the local population.[39]

Hüseyin Aygün, a jurist author, wrote in his book Dersim 1938 and Obligatory Settlement:

"The rebellion was clearly caused by provocation. It caused the most violent tortures that were ever seen in a rebellion in the Republican years. Those that didn't take place in the rebellion and the families of the rebels were also tortured."[40]

Recent developments[edit]

On November 23, 2011, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized "on behalf of the state" over the killing of over 13,000 people during the rebellion.[41] His remarks were widely commented on both inside and outside Turkey.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b David McDowall, A modern history of the Kurds, I.B.Tauris, 2002, ISBN 978-1-85043-416-0, p. 209.
  2. ^ Osman Pamukoğlu, Unutulanlar dışında yeni bir şey yok: Hakkari ve Kuzey Irak dağlarındaki askerler, Harmoni Yayıncılık, 2003, ISBN 975-6340-00-2, p. 16. (Turkish)
  3. ^ Turkey's Alevi enigma: a comprehensive overview, Paul J. White, Joost Jongerden, 2003, page 198
  4. ^ a b c "Resmi raporlarda Dersim katliamı: 13 bin kişi öldürüldü", Radikal, November 19, 2009. (Turkish)
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Réseau Voltaire (2011-11-23). "Erdoğan présente les excuses de la Turquie pour le massacre de Dersim". Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  7. ^ Etre Kurde, un dщlit?: portrait d'un peuple niщ - Jacqueline Sammali - Google Livres. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  8. ^ Les Kurdes et leur histoire - Sabri Cigerli - Google Livres. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  9. ^ "Can Kurds rely on the Turkish state?". 2011-10-14. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  10. ^ "16. Turkey/Kurds (1922-present)". Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  11. ^ a b c Birinci Genel Müfettişlik Bölgesi, Güney Doğu, İstanbul, p. 66, 194. (Turkish)
  12. ^
  13. ^ Martin van Bruinessen, "Zaza, Alevi and Dersimi as Deliberately Embraced Ethnic Identities" in '"Aslını İnkar Eden Haramzadedir!" The Debate on the Ethnic Identity of The Kurdish Alevis' in Krisztina Kehl-Bodrogi, Barbara Kellner-Heinkele, Anke Otter-Beaujean, Syncretistic Religious Communities in the Near East: Collected Papers of the International Symposium "Alevism in Turkey and Comparable Sycretistic Religious Communities in the Near East in the Past and Present" Berlin, 14-17 April 1995, BRILL, 1997, ISBN 9789004108615, p. 13.
  14. ^ Martin van Bruinessen, "Zaza, Alevi and Dersimi as Deliberately Embraced Ethnic Identities" in '"Aslını İnkar Eden Haramzadedir!" The Debate on the Ethnic Identity of The Kurdish Alevis', p. 14.
  15. ^ Faik Bulut, Devletin Gözüyle Türkiye'de Kürt İsyanlar (Kurdish rebellions in Turkey, from the government point of view), Yön Yayınclık, 1991, 214-215. (Turkish)
  16. ^ Ziflioğlu, Vercihan (November 18, 2009). "Military documents to shine light on 'Dersim massacre'". Hurriyet Daily News. Retrieved 2010-09-22. 
  17. ^ Beşikçi, Ismail. (1990) Tunceli Kanunu (1935) ve Dersim Jenosidi (The 1935 law concerning Tunceli and the genocide of Dersim), Bonn, p.29. (Turkish)
  18. ^ Çağaptay, Soner (2002). "Reconfiguring the Turkish nation in the 1930s". Harvard. Retrieved 2010-08-02. 
  19. ^ New perspectives on Turkey, Issues 1-4, Simon's Rock of Bard College, 1999 p. 15.
  20. ^ Paul J. White, Primitive rebels or revolutionary modernizers?: the Kurdish national movement in Turkey, Zed Books, 2000, ISBN 978-1-85649-822-7, p. 80.
  21. ^ Cemil Koçak, Umumi müfettişlikler (1927-1952), İletişim Yayınları, 2003, ISBN 978-975-05-0129-6, p. 144.
  22. ^ Birinci Genel Müfettişlik Bölgesi, p. 66.
  23. ^ Cumhuriyet, August 26, 1935.
  24. ^ Erdal Aydoğan, "Üçüncü Umumi Müffetişliği'nin Kurulması ve III. Umumî Müffetiş Tahsin Uzer'in Bazı Önemli Faaliyetleri", Atatürk Yolu, Ankara Üniversitesi Türk İnklâp Tarihi Enstitüsü, Vol. 33-34, pp. 1-14.
  25. ^ Hasretyan, M. A. (1995) Türkiye'de Kürt Sorunu (1918-1940), Berlin, Wêşanên, ënstîtuya Kurdî: I., p. 262. (Turkish)
  26. ^ a b Faik Bulut, ibid, p. 221. (Turkish)
  27. ^ "Pamukoğlu: Dersim'in emrini Atatürk verdi", Hürriyet, August 19, 2010. (Turkish)
  28. ^ Ahmet Kahraman, pp. 286-287. (Turkish)
  29. ^ Ahmet Kahraman, pp. 292-293. (Turkish)
  30. ^ Cumhuriyet, November 18, 1937, 17 Kasım 1937: Atatürk'ün Diyarbakır'dan Elâzığ'a gelişi, Tunceli'nin Pertek kazasına geçerek Murat Nehri üzerinde Singeç Köprüsü'nü hizmete açışı. (Turkish)
  31. ^ "Atatürk Pertek'te", The government of Pertek District. (Turkish)
  32. ^ "1937-1938’de Dersim’de neler oldu?", Taraf, November 16, 2008. (Turkish)
  33. ^ Faik Bulut, ibid, p. 277. (Turkish)
  34. ^ Sabiha Gökçen's biography, USAF Air Command and Staff College
  35. ^ Reşat Hallı, Türkiye Cumhuriyetinde Ayaklanmalar (1924–1938), T. C. Genelkurmay Baskanlığı Harp Tarihi Dairesi, 1972, p. 382. (Turkish)
  36. ^ Muhsin Batur, Anılar, Görüşler, Üç Dönemin Perde Arsası, Milliyet Yayınları, 1985, p. 25. (Turkish)
  37. ^ Martin van Bruinessen, Kurdish ethno-nationalism versus nation-building states: collected articles, Isis Press, 2000, ISBN 978-975-428-177-4, p. 116.
  38. ^ "The Suppression of the Dersim Rebellion in Turkey (1937-38) Page 4" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  39. ^ George J Andreopoulos, Genocide, page 11.
  40. ^ Hüseyin Aygün, Dersim 1938 ve zorunlu iskân: telgraflar, dilekçeler, mektuplar, Dipnot Yayınları, 2009, ISBN 978-975-9051-75-4, p. .[citation needed]
  41. ^ SELCAN HACAOGLU November 23, 2011 10:15 AM (2011-11-23). "Turkish PM apologizes over 1930s killings of Kurds". Retrieved 2013-12-24.