Singing of Turkey’s unspoken massacres – Songlines Magazine

Singing of Turkey’s unspoken massacres – Songlines Magazine


Şubat 17th, 2017


As Turkey is hit by a sequence of Daesh attacks and a re­ intensified conflict with the Kurds, it seems a brave time to bring out a substantial history of the massacres of Kurds and Zazas (another ethnic group) that took place in Dersim in 1937-1938. But Kalan, Turkey’s most interesting record label, has never been shy of controversy and highlighting the music of the country’s minorities.

Dersim is a rugged and remote region around the Munzur River in eastern Anatolia. The Republican government called the events an ‘uprising’ while the Kurds saw it as a process of Turkification. Official figures say 13,000 people were killed, although this book claims it was close to three times that.

Tertele is a thick 500-page book with three CDs featuring the words and recordings of 33 laments about the massacres, subtitled Dersim ’38 In the Language of Laments. Alongside the actual lyrics and recordings of the laments, the book features archive photos – of Turkish Republican soldiers and their Kurdish victims – plus dramatic contemporary
photographs of the locations now.

Dersim has been a taboo subject for years and isn’t mentioned in Turkish histories, although prime minister Erdogan did acknowledge it in 2011 calling it “one of the most tragic events in our recent history.” The book is published in three languages, Kurmanj i (the northern dialect of Kurdish), Turkish and English. Tertele means something like ‘chaos’in the Kurmanji language and this publication is the result of nearly five years’ work. The oral-history, recordings and photographs have taken 25 years to collect. It began in 2012 with an exhibition of photos and recordings shown in Dersim. The photos came from a substantial archive collected by Hasan Saltik, director of Kalan Records, and the laments were supplied by Cerna! Tas, who’s been recording them for years. It was Saltik’s wife, Nilufer who came up with the idea for a book: “I thought that laments would provide a unique, direct line to the truth, both as music and lyrics.”

It’s an extraordinary oral history. The victims and perpetrators are named, the dramatic locations are depicted and the frequent religious persecution of the Alevi Shia is evident. Many of the lyrics are impressionistic and without a clear narrative. But the brutal events are also explained – hangings, beheadings, shootings and immolations. There are photos of Turkish troops brandishing the heads of those they’ve killed. The singers of the laments are named, photographed and, although the recordings are raw with minimal accompaniment on saz or fiddle, they certainly have an authentic power. “If our work can contribute to both state and society facing the truth about Tertele,” says Tas, “and thus lead to a genuine reconciliation, then I will consider our labour worthwhile.”

Songlines Magazine (Issue 123) January 2017


Tertele – Dersim 1938 In the Language of Laments

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Tertele - Dersim 1938 In the Language of Laments

Tertele – Dersim 1938 In the Language of Laments



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