The ‘Tunceli Museum’ opens in Turkey amidst controversy

Used as a military barracks in Tunceli (Dersim) city centre between 1935-1937 in Turkey, the building was transformed into the ‘Tunceli Museum’ in 2020. The building is known as the place where the Dersim Massacre of 1938 was organized and torture was administered.

Built in the style of German architecture, the barracks were used as a military base during the Dersim Massacre of 1938 and later turned into housing facilities for civil servants during the 1990’s. Some parts of the building were damaged by a fire in 2012 and it was completely evacuated in 2015.

In 2014, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had announced that: “The old barracks in Dersim will be turned into a museum and its name will be the Dersim Museum. We allocated 10 million TL for this”. In 2015, restoration work began under the direction of the Ministry of Culture. However, after the restoration ended in 2019, the building was controversially named the ‘Tunceli Museum’. Historically, the name Dersim had been ‘Turkified’ and altered to Tunceli through the Law on Administration of the Tunceli Province (Tunceli Vilayetinin İdaresi Hakkında Kanun), no. 2884, dated 25 December 1935.

 

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) in the city stated that the building should be a centre for memorialisation. They demanded that the name of the building should be the “Dersim Archaeology and Ethnography Museum” but this was denied. Many residents of Dersim complain that he museum carries the state ideology of the Dersim Massacre of 1938 with it. “It does not reflect the reality of the massacre but symbolizes official state ideology”, many have stated.

The museum was opened on 24 December and Governor Mehmet Ali Özkan, Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Chief Public Prosecutor Mustafa Atbaş, Gendarmerie Regional Commander Brigadier General Turgay Aras, Munzur University Rector Prof. Dr. Ubeyde İpek, the Chief of Police Yılmaz Delen and institution chiefs attended the opening event. However, none of the people or organisations representing Dersim were invited to the opening event.

Artist Metin Kahraman stated that the debate about turning the barracks into a museum has a history.

“In the past, we cleaned the barracks and painted it. We’ve hung 40 artists’ drawings in it. Theatrical events were staged and concerts have been held there. However, after a while, the control of the building was passed on to the Ministry of Culture through the intervention of the state. Since then, this project has changed things dramatically”, he noted, adding that the museum should be changed into a ‘memorial based museum’.

“Our struggle over this issue will continue”, stated Kahraman. Artist and musician Ferhat Tunç states that the museum should be a centre of shame because of the massacres: “The barracks, in which the massacres were planned and organized, should be called the ‘Centre of Shame’. I personally remember what Prime Minister Davutoğlu said in the past: ‘The name of the museum will be Dersim Museum’, he said”. However, Tunç observes that “they forgot these words and started a process of total disregard, assimilation and slaughter. The start of a bloody process in the judgment of lies and slander”.

Drawing attention to the importance of the city and archeological museums, Erdoğan Emir says: “People of Dersim were exiled to places against their will. If you turn the barracks into a museum, you will be making fun of the memory of society. No one should forget that many people will never forget what happened in the past. By opening a museum like this, you will create more pain for them. Just like the German genocide against the Jews, a similar thing happened in Dersim. The Germans somehow faced these genocides, you should face it too”.

 

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The ‘Tunceli Museum’ opens in Turkey amidst controversy

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