First mass grave of Dersim massacre has been opened

Dersim (ANF) – Excavations have begun in Dersim at a site where it is said 24 people, including women and children, were murdered during the massacres of 1938.

Human remains, including 8 skulls, were found yesterday on the first day of digging at a mass grave in the Hozat district of Dersim, where 24 people from two families were burnt alive in 1938. The exhumations, carried out in the presence of the public prosecutor, experts and members of the families, is the first to take place at a mass grave in Dersim, 77 years after the massacre.

The Baran and Canan families say that on 14 August 1938 during a military operation in the Seka Sure area of Karabakır village in Hozat district 24 people, including women and children, were shut in a hay store, which was then set alight.

For years no one from the families dared to go near the scene of the atrocity. When members of the Baran family began work on a memorial and human remains were uncovered, they halted work and contacted the authorities.

After the Hozat prosecutor refused to take action on the grounds the statutory period of limitation had been exceeded, the family applied to the Serious Criminal Court in Erzincan, which overturned the decision of the prosecutor. After a second decision to take no further action, the case was taken to the Tunceli Criminal Court, which ordered the grave site should be excavated and the human remains be identified. The mass grave was therefore opened up yesterday in the presence of public prosecutor Hasan Toy, forensic experts and the families’ lawyer, Cihan Söylemez.

Bones found

Soon after digging began, bones began to be revealed and were photographed and labelled. The excavations are being carried out in accordance with the Minnesota Protocol.

Lawyer Söylemez commented on the importance of the dig, saying: “This is the first criminal investigation into the 1938 massacres. DNA will be taken from the families and compared to the bones that are found. We believe the claims of the families will be verified by the forensic evidence. It will be proved that women, children and the elderly were slaughtered. It will be proved by the judicial organs of the Republic of Turkey that what the official version of history calls an uprising was in fact a massacre.”

Hüseyin Baran, who discovered human remains while working on a memorial, said that his grandmother had told him that their ancestors had been burnt there. He said: “We want to prove that these bones belong to our ancestors. We want to bury them in accordance with our beliefs. We want them to have a grave.”

Sevim Gürtaş said she was six years old when the massacre took place. They brought the people here. Then we saw there was a fire. No one could go near the place. Everyone fled.”

8 skulls found

Later on the first day of excavations, 8 human skulls were found at the site of the mass grave. The exhumations are expected to last for several days.