Dersim: The Politics of Memory

 It may be enough for the outsider looking on Turkey, that empirical documentation and eye-witness testimony implicating the Republican regime in the 1937-39 Dersim genocide, is being reviewed seriously in the media, spurned on by television documentaries that have stopped treating the subject as an abstract, unfortunate tragedy.

If anyone thinks evidence in itself, is enough to lead to a more critical treatment of the past, then one seriously denies the power of ideology in remembrance of the collective past. Of course, one can distance oneself from the past on a personal level, saying 'I wasn't there', 'times have changed', 'political decisions depend on a great number of factors and my own descendants were simply a cog in the machine at best' etc etc. 

The distancing mechanisms can go on infinitely in such a way, and their function is to provide that the debate can be dealt with in the abstract as best as possible. However, there other function is to mystify the debate. i.e. 'I wasn't there, but I'm sure there is some rational explanation for it that doesn't go against my rose-tinted view of the epoque'

This can be highlighted by the comment in the thread below. A facebook friend posted a link on Dersim which was immediately defended as so (see the second and forth comments)

Firstly, the commenter was obviously unaware that the Dersim massacre had little to do with the Sheikh Said Revolt which occured just north of the region ten years earlier. This mental connection, in itself is interesting, as though all protest relates to such unapologetically anti-state protests as the one instigated by Sheikh Said.  But notice the sentence "it is a natural right of the state to protect itself". It is implied that this is true even if, as I pointed out, the reason for the existence of a state in principle, being the protection of the citizenry within its boundaries. 

On another occassion, when the eminnent Dutch journalist in Istanbul, Frederike Geerdink, posted something similar back in September, she was instantly insulted, in a thread (pictured below) which was very revealing:

'Memo' compounds a number of contradictory philosophical arguements, all with the job of denying the genocide, i.e. "Are you a historian?" doesn't matter anyway, because the question is "Where you there?", denying that people who actually were there, were given a voice on the matter. Later, we see the truth according to Memo, that "Atatürk is the last person anybody anywhere has to apologies for", although nobody had mentioned Atatürk previously. Thus, he unconsciously admits the connection, choosing to deny it all the same.

Why Remember?

In defence of those Mustafa Kemal/Republican loyalists who don't want to see the country's founder take criticism, however, the question stands that if one is to be completely objective in discussing past crimes, then what is the point of visiting the past anyway?

This, of course, is to dismiss the qualms of those affected directly my the massacre, but more pertinently, it is to the detriment of those who have suffered since that time, because the fascist mentality which lead to the massacres, has not been confronted. 

Essentially, 'those who forget history are doomed to repeat it'. Though a major genocide is unrealistic in modern Turkey, one would be surprised to know with what ease many people, still speak casually about the idea of Kurdish people being transported out of Turkey for their treachery. And we all know what that means. 

More generally, however, the fascist mentality in Turkey has been broadly responsible for every event in which disobedient sectors of the population or goverment have been rooted-out and punished collectively.

Be it headscarved women being kicked out of universities on mass, Christian missionaries murdered in cold blood, practicing Muslims fired from military high-ranks, Armenian journalists being assassinated or, this week, Alevi families having suspicious marks left on their doors in majority-Sunni areas - the ghosts of the past tend to flare up on a regular basis. 

Thus, public condemnations of the past, whatever their logic, realpolitick rationale, will only help take Turkey away from the false logic that whatever occured in the Republican era was pure and good.


For further reading, check out this recent Radikal article on the revelations of nerve gas course for conscripts in nearby Elazığ (http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/dersim_katliaminda_kimyasal_izi_ilk_kez_ortaya_cikti-1164486)

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