Telling the Memories of a Massacre: Testimonies from Dersim’s 38 | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


Testimonies of the massacre in Dersim during 1938 present new sources to social sciences, as doing a close reading on these narratives adds to the field in terms of breaking the silence of a slaughtered community and by creating strategies to interpret the testimonies as materials for history writing. The events in Dersim describe the massacre of the people from Dersim, an eastern province and modern-day Tunceli in Turkey. The studies on these events are limited to anthropological studies. Thus, the analysis of witnesses’ testimonies enlarge the capacity to understand the events and in return, give voice to the witnesses’ traumas. By building on Holocaust studies, this article focuses on the witness narratives recorded by Emirali Yağan and Cemal Taş, independent researchers of Dersim history. To interpret these testimonies, this article theorizes the subtexts by using trauma and narrative theories while asserting that the historical consciousness of the ethnic identity of Dersim contributed to the healing from trauma. To discuss that, the article investigates the mystical storytelling elements that emerge in these narratives. 38 narratives indicate that testifying, thus telling, is a step towards resisting one’s trauma because the witnesses reclaim their identity by describing their pre-traumatic times.  In the Dersim testimonies, telling as an act takes several forms with the utterance of the communal traumas, individual traumas, longing for the pre-traumatic times, and its restorative impact on revealing the trauma.


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