Tunceli Province


Tunceli Province (Turkish: Tunceli ili,[3] Kurdish: Parêzgeha Dêrsimê,[4] Zazaki: Mamekîye wilayet), formerly Dersim Province, 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.[5] The province is considered part of Turkish Kurdistan and has a Kurdish majority. Moreover, it is the only province in Turkey with an Alevi majority.[6][7]

Tunceli Province
Location of Tunceli Province in Turkey
Location of Tunceli Province in Turkey
RegionCentral East Anatolia
Foundation25 December 1935
 • Electoral districtTunceli
 • GovernorMehmet Ali Özkan
 • Total7,774 km2 (3,002 sq mi)
 • Total88,198
 • Density11/km2 (29/sq mi)
Area code0428[2]
Vehicle registration62


A map of Dersim by the British Vice-Consul in Van, L. Molyneux-Seel, who traveled through the region in 1911

The adjacent provinces are Erzincan to the north and west, Elazığ to the south, and Bingöl to the east. The province covers an area of 7,774 km2 (3,002 sq mi) and has a population of 76,699. Tunceli is traversed by the northeasterly line of equal latitude and longitude. The Munzur Valley National Park is also situated in the province.[8]

Tunceli Province is a plateau characterized by its high, thickly forested mountain ranges. The historical region of Dersim, which largely corresponds to Tunceli Province, lies roughly between the Karasu and Murat rivers, both tributaries of the Euphrates.[9]


Tunceli, which is a modern name, literally means "the land of bronze" in Turkish (tunç meaning "bronze" and el (in this context) meaning "land").

The old name of Tunceli Province, Dersim (or Dêsim), is popularly understood to be composed of the Kurdish/Zazaki words der ("door") and sim ("silver"), thus meaning "silver door."[10] It has been proposed that the name Dersim is connected with various placenames mentioned by ancient and classical writers, such as Daranis, Derxene (a district of Armenia mentioned by Pliny), and Daranalis/Daranaghi (a district of Armenia mentioned by Ptolemy, Agathangelos, and Faustus of Byzantium).[11][12] One theory as to the origin of the name associates it with Darius the Great.[11]

One Armenian folk tradition derives the name Dersim from a certain 17th-century priest named Der Simon, who, fearing the maurading Celali rebels, proposed that his parishioners convert to the Alevi faith of their Kurdish neighbors. The proposal was accepted, and the Armenian converts renamed their home region Dersimon in honor of their religious leader, which later transformed into Dersim.[13]


The Armenian district of Daranaghi (partly corresponding with Tunceli province) shown as a part of the holdings of the Mamikonian dynasty

The area that would become Dersim province formed part of Urartu, Media, the Achaemenid Empire, and the region of Sophene of Greater Armenia. Historian Ghevond Alishan places Dersim in the sub-region of Pokr Tsopk ("Sophene Minor"), although others place it in Upper Armenia.[14][15] Sophene was later contested by the Roman and Parthian Empires and by their respective successors, the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires. Arabs invaded in the 7th century, and Seljuk Turks in the 11th.[16]

In 1848, the Dersim Sanjak was formed within the Erzurum Vilayet. In 1880, the Dersim or Hozat Vilayet was formed with Hozat as its center, although by 1888 it was made a sanjak/mutasarrifate of the Mamuret-ul-Aziz Vilayet (now Elazığ).[17] During World War I, some of the Alevi tribes of Dersim refused to be conscripted.[18]

Dersim had a large Armenian population prior to the Armenian genocide, with one estimate placing it at 45 percent of the total population of the region.[15] The region is home to the ruins of a number of Armenian monasteries and churches, such as St. Karapet Monastery, which remains an object of reverence for Zaza Kurds in Dersim today.[9][15] The Armenians and Zazas of the region had generally good relations.[9][15] During the Armenian genocide, many of the Kurds of Dersim saved thousands of Armenians by hiding them or helping them reach the positions of the Russian army.[15] Some of the region's Armenian inhabitants that managed to survive converted to Alevism, and an unknown number of inhabitants of the province today have Armenian roots.[15][19] Distinctly Armenian settlements continued to exist in parts of Dersim until the massacre of 1938, after which the remaining Armenians completely assimilated into the Alevi Kurdish population.[19] An organization called Union of Dersim Armenians has been founded in Turkey by people from Dersim seeking to reconnect with their Armenian identity.[20]

In 1935, the Tunceli Law was passed, which established a state of emergency in the region, changed its name to Tunceli and made it a separate province consisting of the Nazımiye, Hozat, Mazgirt, Pertek, Ovacık and Çemişgezek districts of Elazığ Province and the Pülümür District of Erzincan Province.[21][22] In January 1936, the Fourth Inspectorate-General (Umumi Müfettişlik, UM) was created, which spanned the provinces of Elaziğ, Erzincan, Bingöl and Tunceli and was governed by a Governor-Commander, who had the authority to evacuate whole villages and resettle them in other regions.[23] This effectively established military rule in those provinces, and significant military infrastructure was established in the region.[22] Judicial guarantees such as the right to appeal were suspended, and the Governor-Commander had the right to apply the death penalty, whereas normally this would have to be approved by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.[23] In 1937–1938, the Dersim rebellion took place in Tunceli Province and the adjacent regions, which resulted in the massacre and displacement of tens of thousands of inhabitants of the region by Turkish forces.[22] 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.[23] Some of the deported families were allowed to return home.[18] The Inspectorates-General were dissolved in 1952 during the government of the Democrat Party.[24]

Since the 1970s, Tunceli Province has been a stronghold for insurgent groups such as the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist and the Kurdistan Workers' Party.[25]


Tunceli Province has the lowest population density of any province in Turkey, at just 9.8 inhabitants/km2.


Tunceli's language distribution was 69.5% Kurdish, 29.8% Turkish and 0.74% Armenian in 1927[26] 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.[27]


Many believe Munzur, Dersim to be the heartland of the Alevi. Where holy places, all of which are natural features of the landscape, are found in abundance, and where the region's isolation has insulated it from the influence of Turkeys' dominant Sunni sect of Islam, helping to keep its unique Alevi character relatively pure.[28]

Armenians of TunceliEdit

Many of the region's Armenians were living among the Alevi Zazas of the region, with whom they had good relations.[29] This allowed some Armenians to avoid deportation with the help of their Alevi neighbors. Armenians continued to live in some mountain villages of Dersim until 1938, when Turkish Armed Forces soldiers invaded the region to put down a Dersim rebellion, and in the process blew up St Karapet's Monastery and killed up to 60,000–70,000 people.[30][31]

Name changesEdit

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]

Linguist Sevan Nişanyan estimates that 4,000 Kurdish geographical locations have been changed (both Zazaki and Kurmanji).[41] Prior to the name changes, Many villages in Tunceli had recognizably Armenian names, often in corrupted forms.[9][14] 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]


Districts of Tunceli Province

Tunceli Province is divided into eight districts:

Cities and townsEdit


In the municipal elections held in March 2019, Fatih Mehmet Maçoğlu was elected mayor of Tunceli municipality with 32% of the votes cast (Maçoğlu had previously been elected mayor of Ovacık in 2014).[43] He ran as the candidate of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), making him the first communist mayor of a municipality in Turkey.[44] In his first year in office, he has established free public transport in parts of the city. The development of industrial and agricultural cooperatives, which are meant to tackle unemployment, has already begun.[45]


Tunceli University was established on May 22, 2008.[46]

Places of interestEdit

Tunceli is known for its old buildings such as the Çelebi Ağa Mosque,[47] Elti Hatun Mosque,[48] Mazgirt Castle,[49] Pertek Castle,[50] and the Derun-i Hisar Castle.[51][52]


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External linksEdit

  • Official Homepage of the Province Governor
  • Official Homepage of the Culture and Tourism head office
  • Official Homepage of the Education head office
  • Official Homepage of the health head office
  • Tunceli University. Archived 7 August 2014.

Coordinates: 39°12′53″N 39°28′17″E / 39.21472°N 39.47139°E / 39.21472; 39.47139