Silencing the Periphery

Dealing with a Fateful Past in Transnational Spaces

  • Maria Six-Hohenbalken Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
Keywords: transnational community, memory processes, counter-narratives, New Media, transgenerational transmission


Victims of mass violence and crimes against humanity, as well as their descendants, not only have to cope with tremendously cruel deeds but must also face the perpetrators’ denial of culpability and responsibility. In 1937 military operations started against Kurdish Alevi leaders in Turkey. They were followed by planned and coordinated massacres and displacement of the civilian population in Dersim (today Tunceli). Geographically, Dersim was not on the fringes in the southeastern provinces of Turkey, but it was a peripheral region. The mountainous areas were hardly accessible; several military campaigns from the 1850s onwards were unsuccessful in fully integrating the province into the state. The region remained contested until the late 1930s. Under the guise of a modernization policy, the Turkish state carried out a genocidal persecution of civilians who were, in linguistic, religious, and ethnic terms, part of a minority population. As these events have been silenced and denied for a long time, it has become the responsibility of subsequent generations to elaborate on Dersim’s history. The upcoming generation themselves faced (forced) migration and recurrent warfare in the 1990s. Therefore, the transnational community played an important part in coming to terms with the fateful past of Dersim 1937–1738. This article focuses on the contribution of activists in Austria and Germany to this transnational endeavor. In investigating their motivations and the driving forces behind their activism, I scrutinize their individual backgrounds and family histories, and the transgenerational transmission of knowledge. Thus, a biography-centered narrative methodological approach was applied to determine their motivation and activism within the memory work. This allows me to draw conclusions regarding the specific challenges for future generations’ memory work in the transnational Dersim community.

Author Biography

Maria Six-Hohenbalken, Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

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