And The Mountain Said To Munzur: You, River Of My Tears

Turkey, 2014

Dersim, a remote mountainous area of Eastern Anatolia with the Munzur river and valley at its heart, is the historical heartland of the Kurdish Alevis, a very heterodox religious group that has been oppressed and attacked throughout the past centuries and is still fighting for its heritage. Continuous struggles against the state climaxed with the massacre of 1938, where ten thousand were killed by Turkish military. During the second half of the 20th century Dersim also became a melting pot of leftist political dissidents and an important centre for several communist movements. Its mountains have served as a hideout for guerrilla groups since this time and still today the region has one of the highest concentrations of military presence in Turkey.

The Dersim people’s dissent is pitted against state manipulation of daily life.The building of new Mosques – not part of Alevi culture – and countless dam and mining projects throughout the region, especially at the Munzur river, have provoked new clashes and caused further alienation.

The project captures glimpses of a society which cultural and religious history, in its particular diversity and isolation, reveals itself not only in special prayers, rites, or structures of society today, but also in clear political actions for autonomy and equality of different social groups and for the support and development of its own identity.

Young man fishing at the Munzur River in Dersim
A birch wood was planted next to the Munzur river

In Alevi culture nature is sacred and everything is believed to have a soul.

A horse of nomads on their way back to their winter camp taking a stop next to the Munzur river
Alevis are praying during a Cem, a holy gathering

Special rites and prayers are conducted together in special ceremonies instead of mosques, all human beings are seen as equal.

a slaughterer after sacrificing goats in a ritual at the holy Munzur Springs
A father plays with his daughter at a family picknick by the holy Munzur Springs

Pilgrimages take place to surrounding rather than far away places. The holy Springs of Munzur are an important place for Alevis to meet, sacrifice and share meals with others.

An altar next to the Munzur springs, a pilgrimage site for Alevi people, is covered with wax
Dancing bride and groom at their wedding day in Güney Konak
A young man from Istanbul is paying a visit to his family home in Burnak in the Munzur valley

Since Ottoman times, Dersim has been known to be independent and resistant to central rule and authority.

In Atatürk’s attempts to modernize and “turkicize” the newly found Turkish Republic in 1923 he banned Kurdish and its traditions.

A traditional house in the former Armenian village of Sorsvenk
A man in the streets of Ovacik dressed up for a local festivity

In 1934, the Law on Resettlement was enacted aiming to deport Kurds from eastern Turkey and resettle them elsewhere in the country, among ethnic Turks. It also allowed the government to seize tribal lands.

Some tribes formed alliances against these developments and among others a rebellion led by Seyit Riza was enacted.

Halbori springs and rocks were used to commit suicide during the Dersim massacre in 1938

Armed resistance began in 1937 accompanied by a harsh military intervention. During this time, known as the Dersim massacre, tens of thousands were killed and tens of thousands were forcibly displaced. Seyit Riza was eventually captured and hanged by Turkish military.

The massacre cut deeply into the collective memory of the region. In the fall of 1994, many villages in the Dersim region were again evacuated and burnt down by the military.

A woman in front of her traditional adobe house in Burnak
Mao flag of a Maoist guerrilla group operating around Dersim

Dersim also became a melting pot of leftist political dissidents and an important centre for several communist movements. Its mountains have served as a hideout for guerrilla groups since then.

Amongst others the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) guerrillas had begun to settle in the mountainsides surrounding the area trying to win greater autonomy.

Fire is burning in a tea stove placed in a temporary guerrilla camp around Dersim
Notice board in a PKK guerrilla cam near a newly built martyrs’ graveyard
Kids are getting warm after a swim in the Munzur river

Since the 80’s the area has witnessed countless fights between Turkish soldiers and guerrilla groups with civilians between the lines, every now and then interrupted by ceasefire.

Until today the region has one of the highest concentrations of military presence in Turkey.

A hotel sign in the Munzur valley with bullet holes is a reminder of past fights between guerrilla groups and the military
A boy is having a break while taking care of the family's sheep and cows
The mayor of a village whch will be flooded due to the Pembelik dam project sits in front of his house
Mausoleum of holy Coban Baba in Dersim Province

Over the years the Alevi Kurds developed a special kind of unity. Till today they are still fighting for maintaining their heritage, faith and traditions as well as for local autonomy.

Woman leaving Dersim Province at sunset
Munzur river by night

The face of the earth became redder then the sunset.
What flows there is blood, in streams it flows, it comes from babies, from elders.

The mountains’ cry surpasses the thunder in might.
What hits bellies and faces are bullets.

What flows there is blood, the hitting bullets.
O oppressed people, orphaned motherland.

White bearded elders, passed-away souls.
For days the cruel wind licked the wounded.
The old men for th
e young, the young for the old women.
The sky cried, full of stars.

What flows there is blood, don’t forget Dersim, comrade
and when blood flows a thousand times more, defend your fragile motherland.

Damn slavery! Long live freedom!

N. Behram / 1977

The book dummy accompanying this project was shortlisted for the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award in Arles, the Fotobookfestival Dummy Award Kassel as well as the Bar Tur Photobook Award by the Photographer’s Gallery London.