DERSIM AND THE ARMENIANS OF DERSIM
June 30, 2014
Civilnet.am has prepared a documentary on Dersim and the Armenians in Dersim.
The idea of founding the Union or Dersim Armenians belongs to
Salaheddin Gultekin. He renounced his name Salaheddin and became
Mihran. In the same way, after long tribulations, he managed to have
"Christian" written on his identity card instead of "Muslim". Mihran's
relatives did not appreciate his actions, and their first reaction
was that they are being exposed.
The head of Dersim Armenians in Istanbul is Ismail Cem Halavurt who
says that "the Union of Dersim Armenians aims to unite the Armenians
of Istanbul and Dersim. Its aim is to bring Armenians who were forced
to abandon their own community, religion, language, because of the
ongoing cultural genocide following the Armenian Genocide, back to
their identity after a hundred-year break".
Just like many other Dersim residents, Ismail Cem Halavurt has been
baptized. His baptism took place in Armenia. "I was asked to choose a
name during my baptism, and I chose Stepan. I like that name because
of a hero named Stepan in the book, "The 40 Days of Musa Ler" which
tells the story of the resistance of the Armenians from Musa Ler. The
book had a great impact on me. Stepan was the son of the resistance
commander" says Halavurt.
The Dersim territory, which is now officially called Tuceli, is
situated in the eastern part of modern Turkey. It coincides with the
Tsopq or Fourth Hayq administrative district of Historical Armenia.
According to Armenian tradition, the name Dersim came from the region's
spiritual leader Der Simon, who convinced the local population to
convert to Alevi religion in the 17th century, thus escaping the
deportations. After the Armenian Genocide, many Armenians continued
living in the mountainous region.
"From a religious point of view, the majority of Dersim Armenians live
as Alevis, and from the national identity perspective- as Kurds or
Zaza, the majority is Zaza. But it does not matter, as I said, Dersim
is different. All the Kurds in Dersim know which family is Armenian.
That is never forgotten. Go to Dersim and say names, they will
confirm those are Armenians, or if you say a village name, they'll
say it's an Armenian village. That is never forgotten. Because they
managed to preserve their identity in various ways. They've always
lived together, the most beautiful tradition of Dersim Armenians was
inter-marriage. They never married girls from other areas. That is how
they managed self-preservation and survive as a unit" says Halavurt.
Savas Sahin was born in Dersim, in Kizilcik village of the Mazkert
region of Dersim; he's a Kurd-Alevi. " The village were I was born is
an old Armenian village" says Sahin. "When I was little, about 8 years
old, I remember the vineyards and mulberry trees in the village. When
we strolled around with my grandfather, he told me those were left
by the Armenians. So up to this day, we eat the grapes and mulberries
planted by the Armenians".
In recent years, Union member Altinkaya often visits Dersim. His
family left during the 1938 Dersim massacres. "There are many hidden
Armenians in Dersim. I became acquainted with them two years ago, as
well as last year, during the Dersim festival. Without our asking,
they came to us and said that their grandfather or grandmother was
Armenian; that is they had Armenian roots. There are many hidden
Armenians" said Altinkaya.
Ismail Cem Halavurt
"I cannot say the exact number of Armenian in Dersim" says Halavurt.
"There are Armenian villages that have about 30 households with
3-4 members each. There are Armenians in Dersim who feel themselves
Armenian, but have nothing to do with Christianity having abandoned
their language and religion. They are Islamized, but not fully
accepted by Muslims or Alevis. After 1915, a portion of Armenians
was Islamized and they indeed live as Muslims. That is not the case
of Dersim Armenians. They adopted the Alevi religion, which is a very
tolerant religion, that's why we cannot claim they are Islamized. They
don't even consider themselves Muslims, and although Muslim is stated
in their documents, they have nothing to do with Islam, and there is
very little Alevi influence, and that's on the culture, not on the
religion" says Halavurt.
"Some Armenians hide their true identity", says Sahin. "There was a
house in the neighboring village, everyone said- Look Armenians live
there, and we looked at them strangely. They were the only Armenians I
knew, but years later, especially during the last 4-5 years, several
families started revealing their true identity more easily".
The Union of Dersim Armenians currently has 80 members, but the leaders
state that if work is done among Dersim Armenians, the number could
grow from 500 to 1000. "Religion is not a precondition for being a
member, being Armenian is. Being Christian is not a precondition, and
Dersim Armenians coming to Istanbul are inclined towards the church"
says Halavurt, "they give their children Armenian names, want to live
by their own language and religion. But not all members of the Union
are Christian. If we stress the religion, we will separate Dersim
Armenians from one another".
Speaking about the programs of the Union's Cem Halavurt says: "our
main goal is to have a representation in Dersim, carry out some work
towards preserving the Saint Garabed Armenian church. The Saint Garabed
church, which operated until 1938, has a great importance both for
Armenians and Kurd-Alevis. Besides, we plan to implement some plans
towards the social and economic development of Armenian villages of
Dersim. We also want to be a bridge between the Dersim Armenians and
the Patriarchate in Istanbul, because if a Dersim Armenian goes to
the Patriarchate alone and wants to get baptized, he has to prove he
is an Armenian. So, on the one hand we prove to the state that we are
Armenians, and on the other hand- we prove this to the Patriarchate.
This is a very heavy burden for us Armenians. There is this perception
among Dersim Armenians that the Armenian community does not accept us,
since we have changed our names and abandoned our culture. And when
you go to the Patriarchate, which demands proof of your Armenianess,
setting criteria for you, usually the Dersim Armenian retreats,
takes a step back and gives up. Of course the Patriarchate has also
its reasons to act so. In this case, the Unioon of Dersim Armenians
tries to create relations based on mutual trust, acting as a bridge
between the Patriarchate and Dersim Armenians".
The Dersim Armenians living in Istanbul give their children Armenian
names, send them to Armenian schools and take steps in learning
Armenian. Cem Halavurt also thinks about learning Armenian. In 2013,
the residents of Dersim commemorated the Armenian Genocide in their