Tunceli Province

province of Turkey

Tunceli (Kurdish: Dêrsim,[1] Zaza: Mamekîye[2]) formerly Dersim, is located in the Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey. The least densely-populated province in Turkey, it was originally named Dersim Province (Dersim vilayeti), then demoted to a district (Dersim kazası) and incorporated into Elâzığ Province in 1926.[3]

Tunceli in Munzur valley
Tunceli in Munzur valley
Location of Tunceli Province in Turkey
Location of Tunceli Province in Turkey
Foundation25 December 1935
 • GovernorFatih Mehmet Maçoğlu (mayor)
Mehmet Ali Özkan (governor)
 • Total7,774 km2 (3,002 sq mi)
 • Total88,198
 • Density11/km2 (29/sq mi)

The province is considered part of Kurdistan by Kurds and has a Kurdish majority.[5][6] It is moreover the only province in Turkey with an Alevi majority.


The history of the province stretches back to antiquity. It was mentioned as Daranalis by Ptolemy, and seemingly, it was referred to as Daranis before him. One theory as to the origin of the name associates with Darius the Great. Another, more likely hypothesis, considering the region's Armenian background, says the name Daranalis or Daranaghis comes from the historical Armenian province of Daron, of which Dersim belonged.

They are named Daranaghi in what is today Dersim, that in Mamigonian times was part of Daron.

The area that would become Dersim province formed part of Urartu, Media, the Achaemenid Empire, and the Ancient kingdom of Armenia. Later ruled by the Roman and Parthian Empires and by their successors, the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires. Arabs invaded in the 7th century, and Seljuq Turks in the 11th.[7]

As of the end of the 19th century, the region, called Dersim, was included in the Ottoman sancak (sub-province) of Hozat, including the city and the Mamuret-ul-Aziz Vilayet (now Elazığ), with the exception of the actual district of Pülümür, which was in the neighboring sancak of Erzincan, then a part of the Erzurum Vilayet. This status continued through the first years of the Republic of Turkey, until 1936 when the name of the province ("Dersim") was changed to Tunceli, literally 'the land of bronze' in Turkish (tunç meaning 'bronze' and el (in this context) meaning 'land') after the brutal events of the Dersim rebellion. The town of Kalan was made the capital and the district of Pülümür was included in the new province.[source?]

Inspectorate GeneralEdit

Following the Tunceli Law 1935, which demanded a more powerful Government in the region, the Fourth Inspectorate-General (Umumi Müfettişlik, UM) was created in January 1936.[8] The fourth UM span over the provinces of Elaziğ, Erzincan, Bingöl and Tunceli,[9] and was governed by a Governor Commander. Most of the employees in the municipality were to be filled with military personnel and the Governor-Commander had the authority to evacuate whole villages and resettle them in other parts.[10] Also the juridical guarantees did not comply with the law in the other parts in Turkey. The trials were at most 15 days long and sentences could not be appealed. For a release, the Governor Commander had to give his consent. The application of the death penalty was under the authority of the Governor-Commander, while normally it would be the authority of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to approve such a punishment.[11] In 1946 the Tunceli Law was abolished and the state of emergency removed but the authority of the fourth UM was transferred to the military.[12] The Inspectorates-General was dissolved in 1952 during the Government of the Democrat Party.[13]


Ethnic groupsEdit

Most of the population is ethnic Kurds who belong to the Alevi faith.[5][6]


Tunceli's language distribution is 69.5% Kurdish and Zaza, 29.8% Turkish and 0.74% Armenian.[14] Kurmanji Kurdish is the main dialect around Pertek, while Zaza is spoken in Hozat, Pülümür, Ovacık and Nazımiye. Both Kurmanji and Zaza is spoken in Tunceli town and Mazgirt.[15]

Armenians in DersimEdit

Many of the region's Armenians were living among the Alevi Kurds of the region, with whom they had good relations.[16] This allowed the Armenians to avoid deportation because their Alevi neighbors didn't have any negative affinity towards Armenians. The Armenians lived quietly in their mountain villages until 1938, when Turkish Armed Forces soldiers invaded the region to put down a Dersim rebellion, and killed around 60,000-70,000.[17]


In the municipal elections held in March 2019, Fatih Mehmet Maçoğlu won with 32% of the votes cast.[18] He ran as the candidate of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), making him the first communist mayor of a municipality in Turkey.[19] In his first year in office, he has established free public transport in parts of the city and the development of industrial and agricultural cooperatives, which are meant to tackle unemployment, have already begun.[20] Maçoğlu is liked by the majority of the people.

Dersim MassacreEdit

The Dersim Rebellion, was an Alevi Kurdish[21][22][23][24] uprising against the central government in the Dersim region of eastern Turkey, which includes parts of Tunceli, Elazığ, and Bingöl.[25] Sometimes named the Dersim genocide.[26][27][28][29] about 30.000[30] or 40.000 Kurds were massacred.

Name changesEdit

It is said that ancient Greek historians and geographers named the Dersim region Daranis and Derksene. Baytar Nuri includes this information at the entrance of his book Dersim in Kurdistan history.[31] After the Dersim rebellion, any villages and towns deemed to have non-Turkish names were renamed and given Turkish names in order to suppress any non-Turkish heritage.[32][33][34][35][36][37][38] During the Turkish Republican era, the words Kurdistan and Kurds were banned. The Turkish government had disguised the presence of the Kurds statistically by categorizing them as "Mountain Turks".[39][40]

Nişanyan estimates that 4,000 Kurdish geographical locations have been changed (both Zazaki and Kurmanji).[41] The people of Tunceli have been actively fighting to get their province reverted to its old Kurdish name "Dersim". Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) claimed they are working on what it called a “democratization package” that includes the restoration of the Kurdish name of the eastern province of Tunceli back to Dersim in early 2013, but there has been no updates or news of it since then.[42] The local authority decided to call it Dersim in May 2019, while the Governor said it was against the law to call it Dersim.[43]

Notable peopleEdit

  • John I Tzimiskes (925–976) - Byzantine emperor of Armenian[44] origin.
  • Seyid Riza (1863–1937) - political leader of the Alevi Kurds of Dersim, a religious figure and the leader of the Dersim movement in Turkey during the 1937–1938 Dersim Rebellion. He was of Zaza[45] or Kurdish[46][47] descent.
  • Sey Qaji (1860–1936) is a poet of Zaza descent.
  • Nuri Dersimi (1893–1973) - was a Kurdish[48] ideologue, nationalist and veterinarian.
  • Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (1948) - is a Turkish economist, retired civil servant and social democratic politician. He is leader of the Republican People's Party.
  • Kamer Genç (1940–2016) - was a Zaza[49][50] politician, elected a member of parliament for the Republican People's Party.
  • Alican Önlü (1967) - Kurdish politician. He was nominated as a Tunceli Deputy by the Peoples' Democratic Party and was elected as a Member of Parliament with a vote rate exceeding 61%.[51]
  • Volga Sorgu (1981) - is a movie and serial actor of Zaza origin.
  • Edibe Şahin (1960) - Kurdish politician of, was the mayor of the municipality of Tunceli.
  • Hozan Diyar (1966) - is a Kurdish singer.[52]
  • Hüseyin Aygün (1970) - a Zaza lawyer and politician.
  • Ali Haydar Kaytan (1952–2019) - is a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Kaytan was born in 1952 into a Kurdish family whose members were resettled in the aftermath of the Dersim rebellion.[53][54]
  • Aynur Doğan (1975) - Kurdish singer and songwriter.[55]
  • Fatih Mehmet Maçoğlu (1968) - is a communist politician of Kurdish[56] descent and founder of Socialist Councils Federation (SMF). He is currently the mayor of Tunceli with Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) ticket.
  • Ferhat Tunç (1964) - is a Kurdish singer.[57]


  • Nazımiye
  • Hozat
  • Mazgirt
  • Pertek
  • Pülümür
  • Ovacık


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