And The Mountain Said To Munzur: You, River Of My Tears
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.
In Alevi culture nature is sacred and everything is believed to have a soul.
Special rites and prayers are conducted together in special ceremonies instead of mosques, all human beings are seen as equal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 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.