Fatih Mehmet Macoglu, newly-appointed mayor of eastern Tunceli province, said that in order to change the Tunceli Municipality’s name to “Dersim,” as it was before 1935, permission is needed from the Governor’s Office, Demiroren News Agency (DHA) reported on Thursday.
The Tunceli Municipality council decided by a majority of votes to change its municipality service building signboard from “Municipality of Tunceli” to “Municipality of Dersim,” as it was previously named until it was officially changed to Tunceli in 1935.
Macoglu, Turkey’s first provincial mayor from the Communist Party (TKP) who won the race on March 31 local polls, drew criticism from many politicians, journalists, artists, and social media users after the municipality’s decision to change its name to Dersim.
Holding a press conference on Thursday to clear the air about the issue, Macoglu said that the renaming can only be done if the Tunceli Governor’s Office confirms the decision taken by the municipality council.
The mayor stressed that the signboard that said “Municipality of Dersim” was changed after a government-appointed trustee came into office in 2016. He also stated that most of the people in the province prefer the name Dersim.
“However, if the governor’s office does not approve the decision, it cannot be implemented,” Macoglu added.
The mayor argued that he does not want to politicize the name “Dersim,” but to fulfill the demands of the people.
In 1935, Dersim’s name was controversially changed to Tunceli, which means “the Iron Hand” in Turkish, with the “Law on Administration of the Tunceli Province” as part of a Turkification program targeting the religious and ethnic minorities in the region, mostly its Alevi Kurdish tribes.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader, Devlet Bahceli, an ally to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in a statement released on his party’s official Twitter account that the use of the name Dersim was void.
He said: “This decision [of the municipal council] is under our feet. The necessary response has to be given. There is no such province as Dersim in Turkey, and there will never ever be one.”
“There’s no way we can tolerate such whims and defiance to the state,” stressed Yavuz Agiralioglu, group deputy chairman for the nationalist opposition Good Party (IP), on Thursday.
Utku Reyhan, secretary-general of the nationalist Patriotic Party (VP), defined the attempt to change the municipality’s name as an “act of defiance against the republic.”
Popular Fox TV anchorman Fatih Portakal also criticized Macoglu for the name change decision, arguing that it is a waste of energy.
“Is that it? What is the difference between calling the municipality Dersim or Tunceli?
Another unnecessary matter of debate [for Turkey’s politicians.] Was that appropriate, Fatih Macoglu, amid all these problems? What a waste of energy!!!” Portakal reacted in a tweet on Thursday.
“Personal, emotional decisions create chaos,” Gokhan Ozoguz, a punk rock singer and TV singing contest judge, said. “The province was already legally approved as ‘Tunceli’ in 1935,” he added.
Turkey’s Interior ministry was granted the right to dismiss mayors and municipal council members from office due to a law enacted in the aftermath of the July 2016 attempted coup targeting Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
Trustees appointed by the Erdogan regime in November 2016 replaced approximately 95 democratically elected mayors, including the Tunceli mayor, from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in the predominantly Kurdish southeast region of Turkey.