A Turkish court has halted a decision by a municipal council to use a city’s original Kurdish name on its signboards.
At the request of the Tunceli Governorship Office, the Erzincan Administrative Court has stopped the execution of the decision of Tunceli’s municipal council to replace the current Turkish name of the city, Tunceli, with the old Kurdish one, Dersim, on the municipal signboards.
The decision adopted by a majority on May 7 in the council’s meeting chaired by newly elected mayor Fatih Mehmet Macoglu from the Turkish Communist Party (TKP).
The municipality announced the decision on Wednesday in a written statement, declaring that the motive behind the move was to maintain the culture, history, and faith of the province.
However, the governor rejected to ratify the decision and apply to the Erzincan Administrative Court in a bid to stop the execution of the decision. The court ruled unanimously in line with the governor.
Macoglu, Turkey’s first communist mayor faces his first public controversy following the decision. Some criticized Macoglu as he allegedly re-opened old wounds by switching Tunceli to Dersim on municipal buildings.
Dersim is known for its rebellion in the country’s history, a conflict that still reverberates today.
Following Tunceli’s name-change on the municipal buildings three days ago, the hashtag #DersimDegilTunceli, (Not Dersim, it is Tunceli) has been trending on Twitter.
Further, some popular figures criticized the change, defining it an unnecessary move.
“What is that? What happens if we call it Dersim, or Tunceli? A new and unnecessary conflict has been created. Mayor Fatih Macoglu, was this appropriate amid all these problems? Wasted energy!!!” tweeted Fatih Portakal, a news anchorman at Fox TV.
“There is no such province officially called Dersim in Turkey and will not be. Turning a blind eye to this communist and separatist conspiracy will invite ghastly disasters, and open doors to dangers that [could threaten the country’s] survival,” said Devlet Bahceli, leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and election ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In response to the raised voices the mayor released a video message arguing that Dersim banners, along with Tunceli signs had also been placed at the entrance of the municipal building during the tenure of the previous mayor from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who was replaced with a state-appointed administrator by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2016.
“The governor has the last say over the council’s decision. We do not aim at politicizing the issue, but just follow what our people want,” Macoglu said.
Dersim remains a sensitive topic in Turkey
Tunceli, an eastern city with pre-dominantly Kurdish and Alevis population is a province more commonly known to locals by its Kurdish name, Dersim.
Dersim was home to serious conflicts between the Turkish state and the locals during the early years of the Turkish Republic.
The province witnessed insurgencies by the local people against the state in the 1930s when the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was alive and in force.
Some historians interpreted the Dersim insurgency as a resistance to the reforms such as promoting strong Turkish nationalism especially in Kurdish-majority areas, brought by Ataturk in the area, where people had lived under local administration for hundreds of years.
In 1935, a Law on Administration of the Tunceli Province was enacted, changing Dersim’s name as Tunceli and displacing people in the region. The law, however, sparked even stronger resistance by the locals against the republic.
Ataturk ordered military operations in the region in 1937 and 1938 to quash the rebellion which led to mass killings of some 13,000 people, including children and women, according to official figures or some 40,000 according to US sources.