Apology by decree

What’s it worth, this apology that Prime Minister Erdogan made yesterday for the Dersim massacres? He said it, he actually said that he apologizes on the state’s behalf for what happened in 1937 and 1938. A novelty in Turkish politics. But at the same time it is not a novelty at all. It is not the first time people’s pains are being used for playing political games. And it’s not the first time Erdogan just states or decides something, without first taking his proposal to parliament or conduct a nation wide debate about it. He rules by decree, and this is an example of it.

A political game? Of course it is. Erdogan just wanted to put opposition leader Kilicdaroglu on the spot. Kilicdaroglu has his roots in Dersim, family members of his were murdered, and the whole Dersim debate going on these days was started by a CHP MP from Dersim who stated that the massacres were a planned attack, and that Atatürk, President at the time, ordered it. Heavy discussions in the CHP: many MP’s attacked their Dersim colleague for his words: the CHP is Atatürks party who was ruling the country as the only permitted party, and criticizing what happened in Dersim touches the roots of their political history.
The discussions and allegations between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan were going on for some days already, and Erdogan also heavily attacked Kilicdaroglu in his speech in which he apologized. What a shameful behaviour, to make politics over the pain of thousands of people. How must it feel for people from Dersim to be used like this for the Prime Ministers gain?

Legitimate action

Besides all this, ruling by decree is not worthy of a democracy. Not when it comes to any policy field, but especially not when it comes to deeply black pages of Turkey’s history like the Dersim massacres. For a wholehearted apology, first a careful, sincere debate is needed about what exactly happened, why it happened and why an apology would be in order.
This apology of Erdogan came totally out of the blue. Until the day before yesterday, the state version of what happened in Dersim was that there was an uprising going on in the province, that threatened the still young republic, and this uprising was legitimately cracked down. If this was the case, why would an apology be needed? It must be weird also for Turks, who have learned the state history in schools. Why is our Prime Minister apologizing for a legitimate action?

Apologizing out of the blue is not a way to confront the past. Confronting the past is throwing all historical taboos overboard and discuss the matter from every angle. With everybody whom it concerns. Open archives, put responsibility where it belongs, listen to people’s stories, acknowledge pain. Then an apology can follow – by the President, since he represents the state, and not by the Prime Minister, who represents the government.


The danger of this apology is not only that it will not bring any relief to the survivors of Dersim and the families of the ones who didn’t survive, but also that it blocks the road to real reconciliation. The apology is already done, so why now start debating the whole issue? Why acknowledge pains, why researching in detail what happened? I fear the day that the survivors and the families of the deceased are being silenced because Erdogan apologized already and they are being asked what more they could possibly want.

So no, I won’t praise Erdogan in any way for his apology. It’s sad to say, but it came too early.

3 replies
  1. Emre Kardesseven
    Emre Kardesseven says:

    I completely agree with you that this apology was too early and not completely thought through. Being a hot-headed politician as he is, Erdogan was trying to prove a point and he got caught up in the moment once again, as evidenced by his demeanor during the speech. But I don’t believe that this apology will stifle discussion and talks on this matter and other taboo issues from Turkey’s dark past as it was not a true apology but rather a “See Kilicdaroglu, it’s not so hard why cant you do it?”. However, when CHP sacks their members for apologizing (see Muzaffer Deger) this shows that some groups in Turkey are still not ready to face the past and certain subjects are very much still a no-no. This entire Dersim situation boils down to a very simple point. Is Turkey ready to discuss the controversial issues that have been covered up because Mustafa Kemal was the leader at the time? Sadly, I don’t think the country as a whole is not at that point. Once the majority of the people accept the fact that these issues can and should be discussed I believe the politicians will not turn them into pissing matches but actually try to come to a consensus on said issues.

  2. shirley morris
    shirley morris says:

    really good piece.thanks
    the man is hotheaded and not up to much for bringing this issue up in this way. more an attack on the opposition..of which there are plenty..than a genuine regret for the past.
    i am left wondering why at this time…why the provocation now…its stage managed as was the Davos incident to promote his image and curry favour…so whats he up to


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