The first apology and its consequences
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s apology over the “Dersim killings” of 1936-39 is the first ever apology of a Turkish official on the gray areas of Turkish history; something of historical importance. Speaking to his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) organization, Erdoğan revealed that a total of 13,806 people were killed as a result of military operations that were part of a systematic state policy while tens of thousands of them were forced to leave their homes.
We can speculate as to whether Erdoğan would make this statement if he wouldn’t get into a fierce war of words on the issue with the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who is proud of being from Dersim, in order to embarrass him, because killings had been carried out under the then single-party regime of the CHP.
Regardless of the reasons, Erdoğan’s revelation is an important one and it will have consequences.
1- This historical statement by a Turkish official could trigger apologies in other blurred areas of Turkish history, since a psychological threshold has been crossed with this apology. This apology will bear significance for Armenian communities claiming that the 1915 killings were a result of a genocide policy by the Ottoman government of the day, among Jewish communities who had suffered a lot from the dispossession operation under a “Wealth Tax” declared in 1942 during World War II, Greek communities who suffered from the looting and vandalism events of 1955 and unsolved murder cases in the fight against the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) operations in the 1990s.
2- Perhaps only a part of those killed in Dersim operations were of Kurdish origin. The dominant majority of them (either of Turkish, Kurdish, Zaza or converted Armenian origin) were Alevis. So this apology will force the Erdoğan government and governments after him to reveal the state archival information on clashes between the Alevi religious minority and the Sunni majority in the 1970s – the Kahramanmaraş killings of 1977 being the most awful one after which the incidents which led Turkey toward the 1980 military coup.
3- Erdoğan’s statement comes at a time when Turkey is putting immense pressure on Syria under the rule of Bashar al-Assad, representing the Nusayri minority, which is a version of the Alevi faith. Erdoğan has accused Kılıçdaroğlu of supporting Assad, implying that they share the same belief. The Dersim incidents have a historical dimension as well. In the mid-1930s, Hatay, bordering Syria, was formally an autonomous region under a French mandate. Ankara had at the time suspected that the Dersim incidents had been a foreign provocation in response to its Hatay campaign. Hatay joined Turkey through a plebiscite in 1939, the same year that the Dersim operations were concluded.
This first ever apology of a Turkish official because of the wrongdoings of the past is likely to have political and social ramifications in Turkish society.