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Sıdı­ka Avar was a Turk­ish teacher, known for her role as Direc­tor of the Elazığ Insti­tute for Girls, between 1939 and 1959. She is con­sid­ered  one of the “Turk­ish nation­al hero­ines” and an “exam­ple” for the “Turk­i­fi­ca­tion of the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion”. (You will find her detailed biog­ra­phy at the end of this article).

Oth­er women pur­sued her mis­sion, such as Türkan Say­lan to name but one. These fac­to­ry-schools spread the seeds of shame of self-loathing in the sub­con­scious of young gen­er­a­tions torn from their roots.

We know that in 2012, 44% of these school were locat­ed in Kurdistan.

The fol­low­ing arti­cle is by Suna Arev and is the sec­ond part of a series pub­lished in Turk­ish on Nupel.

You will find the other articles of this series HERE.


An Assimilation Center in Elazığ: Sıdıka Avar and the Institute for Girls


In giv­ing advice to Sıdı­ka Avar, Atatürk is pur­port­ed to have said: “Do you know why the pop­u­la­tions in the East are so poor and igno­rant? The only rea­son is the fact they do not speak Turk­ish. If they learned Turk­ish, the prob­lem would disappear…”

Atatürk; Great Turk, immense Turk, noble Turk, unique Turk, Turk of Turks!

In Turkey no one else can bear this fam­i­ly name. It is for­bid­den. This name belongs to him only. Who gave it to him? This is yet anoth­er tragedy. The man who named Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was an Armen­ian. A “sword residue”. 1

He was a lin­guist by the name of Agop Mar­tayan Dilaçar. By the way, the name Dilaçar 2 was giv­en him by Atatürk him­self. Agop, the Armen­ian, great­ly con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of the Turk­ish lan­guage… And, over time, he worked at slow­ly reduc­ing his name, keep­ing only A. Dilaçar as his iden­ti­fi­er. Because he was fright­ened by his own name, so he hid it. The Turk­ish lan­guage owes much to him for its devel­op­ment, but his authen­tic name Agop Mar­tayan slow­ly fad­ed, melt­ed away, was erased and of this prodi­gious name noth­ing was left behind, except an A. Dilaçar.

When he died in 1979, at a time when he was the Pres­i­dent of the Turk­ish Lan­guage Insti­tute (TDK) for which he had labored so, the State tele­vi­sion net­work TRT, announced “A. Dilaçar has died”… Just as there are no lim­its to toad­y­ism and trea­son, there is no way either to escape from one’s self… He was buried in the Armen­ian ceme­tery in Şişli [Istan­bul]…

But, on our lands, Atatürk also goes by anoth­er name pro­nounced with hatred and curs­es. Peo­ple give him a nick­name that will not be for­got­ten nor for­giv­en for gen­er­a­tions: “Kor Mus­to”… They use this nick­name every time his name is pro­nounced. He is the one who extin­guished the home fires, the cru­el one with blood­ied hands who had the Kurd and the Qizil­bash mas­sa­cred3… The con­ti­nu­ity of the Ottoman in the Republic…

Everything and everyone is bathed in blood…

Sıdıka Avar

Atatürk et Sıdı­ka Avar

Here then is this Sıdı­ka Avar, trans­formed into one of Atatürk’s hands,    head­ing out East and once there, drown­ing the Kurd in the glo­ry of Turci­ty… She had just sep­a­rat­ed from her hus­band and had a small daugh­ter. Fine but… Turci­ty mat­tered more than any­thing else! She placed her daugh­ter in a board­ing school and took to the road… Direc­tion: Elazığ, one tooth away from Dersim.

Elazığ was a mill crush­ing the peo­ple of Der­sim… Aboard the black train, Sıdı­ka Avar will soon pass through Palu. Palu, birth place of Cheikh Saïd 4. If she can quick­ly crush Der­sim, these oth­er towns will fol­low with Turci­ty’s bless­ing! Sıdı­ka Avar will go all the way to Bingöl…

Sıdı­ka arrived in Elazığ in the night… She resided on the out­skirts, in an old build­ing, for­mer­ly a mater­ni­ty, trans­formed into a school for girls with board­ing facil­i­ties. In real­i­ty this stink­ing, half-ruined build­ing was a “cor­rec­tion home”, an assim­i­la­tion center.

She was greet­ed at the door by the staff from Elazığ, the ones she will lat­er call her “lit­tle sis­ters”. The arrival of a new teacher drew every­one, out of curios­i­ty. Every minute, through the door kept ajar, sev­en or eight lit­tle girls stretched their shaven heads and observed her. Wild, cov­ered in rags, destitute…

Ayı­vo ayı­vo” 5or “töö6said these chil­dren aged 10, 12, 15 years… They were brought to Der­sim force­ful­ly by the gen­darmes.

Sıdı­ka then asked the lit­tle sisters:

- Who are they?

The answer: “the board­ers, moun­tain bears, Kurds, the off­spring of those who rebel.”

Sıdı­ka Avar’s first reac­tion: “My god, what a strange accent they have…”

Only their accent? For her, their names were just as bizarre. Fin­can, Saray, Hatun, Geyik, Xazel, Kad­ife, Anık , Elif, Beser… Fin­tos, Sisin…

And yet, her own name, Sıdı­ka, was orig­i­nal­ly ara­bic but did­n’t seem strange to her.

Elazığ, “unripe black plum, eat to heal your wound“7

The lit­tle sis­ters mis­treat­ed the “moun­tain bears”. As did the school prin­ci­pal, as did the teach­ers… There were also day stu­dents from Elazığ, but they were the priv­i­leged ones…

All the work in the school was done by the low­ly hands of the Der­sim orphans: laun­dry, dish­es, cook­ing, includ­ing the per­son­al domes­tic work of the staff… Treat­ing them with con­tempt, mis­treat­ing them was almost a fard8

Since the day the doors of Ana­to­lia opened to the bar­barous Ottoman,  a fir­man was edict­ed 9: the mas­sacre of the his­toric peo­ples is a wâd­jib10. Here, the basic prin­ci­ple “kill those who are not your stock, do not let the descen­dants get start­ed on the road” is also present, but with a dif­fer­ence in that the swords have been replaced by can­nons. The dom­i­na­tion fat­was pro­nounced cen­turies ear­li­er were still as spright­ly as chil­dren born the pre­vi­ous day. There was a time on these lands when the his­toric peo­ple believed they had a future. They were peo­ple who had worked this soil, who ate togeth­er, who shared in sol­i­dar­i­ty. Was this still the case ? “Uni­ty” and “Seren­i­ty” were hence­forth night­mares for those in pow­er. “Tell your­self you can kill one who does not share your faith, his goods, his life, his hon­or, even his tongue are halal for you. Those who don’t rec­og­nize their moth­er, their sis­ter, whose wives are free for three days, those are halal for you. The foods they pre­pare must not be eat­en, the ani­mal they slaugh­ter is impure. They snuff out the can­dles 11 they nev­er accom­plish the ghusl 12. Once those in pow­er launched the con­ju­ra­tion, the degra­da­tion, once the peo­ple believed it, the issue was set­tled. The pow­er­ful’s rule will be expect­ed by the peo­ple. Has this not always been the case for centuries?

Well, it can’t work that way,” said  Sıdı­ka then… “If it con­tin­ues like this,    these chil­dren will become our ene­mies. The fortress must be con­quered from the inte­ri­or. The ‘bears’ must urgent­ly be trans­formed into ‘lambs’ ”.

In Elazığ, every­one lived in fear of the Pacha. In fact, Sıdı­ka feared him also. She had heard many nasty things about him. She went to his res­i­dence to inform him of her prob­lem. She begged as an offi­cial request to the Pacha that the duty of edu­cat­ing and Turk­i­fy­ing the girls in Der­sim be her sole respon­si­bil­i­ty. She did not spare the fine words…There was also the order from Atatürk, so she final­ly obtained what she wanted.

In fact, the Pacha was not as peo­ple claimed. He even appeared to sym­pa­thize with Sıdıka.

Who was this Pacha? Hüseyin Abdul­lah Alp­doğan! 13

He was an excep­tion­al fig­ure, the sole author­i­ty, to such an extent that he could send a man to the gal­lows and remove a man from the gal­lows also.

Avar rolled up her sleeves. Hence­forth, the girls were under her respon­si­bil­i­ty. They would no longer do the work at the school, nor act as ser­vants for the oth­ers. The most impor­tant thing was for them to learn Turk­ish, to read and write. Speak­ing Kur­dish was for­bid­den, even among them­selves. Sıdı­ka no longer had the chil­dren’s heads shaved, she deloused them per­son­al­ly and had a spe­cial gas sent to apply to their hair.  She took them to the ham­mam, washed and cleaned them her­self, bought them fine clothes and shoes. She increased the por­tions at meal­time. She treat­ed them so well it was inde­scrib­able… She did not allow any­one at the school to call the chil­dren names such as “moun­tain bears”, “Kur­dish seed”. She for­bade it. Because this would keep them from for­get­ting their were Kur­dish. Sıdı­ka had the Pacha behind her and also, Atatürk’s lega­cy. This is how it was.

She stroked their heads, tucked them in at night so they would­n’t be cold. The chil­dren start­ed call­ing Sıdı­ka, “anne”.14Hence­forth “daye” had died… 15

sidika avar

Sıdı­ka Avar on a search for girls.

Such was the sit­u­a­tion… The chil­dren learned the Turk­ish lan­guage and slow­ly began to read and write in Turkish…

There was a lord, H. Agha. Rich, orig­i­nal­ly from Maz­girt, he owned forty vil­lages, bay hors­es, his homes were at the State’s ser­vice. He also had serfs, ser­vants, hon­eyed and unc­tu­ous food­stuffs, silken sheets for State author­i­ties to sleep in when the came vis­it­ing, weapons in hand… The peo­ple mean­while were poor, rid­den with lice, with roofs smashed over their heads, home fires no longer lit, eat­ing mil­let bread.

H. Agha’s daugh­ter, Elif, was a tall, well-fed woman. She mount­ed the bay hors­es with con­fi­dence, hair stream­ing in the wind. And with her, there was Fin­can… H. Agha per­son­al­ly brought the two  girls to Sıdı­ka and left them in her care. So they would study, learn Turk­ish… At school, Elif was a priv­i­leged one. Fin­can obeyed all of Elif’s com­mands, fol­lowed through on all her per­son­al request, dis­crete­ly did what­ev­er Elif wanted.

Fin­can was at Elif’s ser­vice, she was the daugh­ter of one of the fam­i­ly’s maids. Fin­can was not sent to be edu­cat­ed but to serve Elif… So, here, in the midst of it all, nes­tled a class contradiction.

Dur­ing the hol­i­days, Sıdı­ka brought Elif back per­son­al­ly to H. Agha. She slept in the silken sheets. Lat­er, Elif opened a school and, with its 25 stu­dents, she also demon­strat­ed the Turk’s supreme pow­er. As for Fin­can, she became the guide in her own class…

Sıdı­ka start­ed vis­it­ing vil­lages one after the oth­er, in search of new girls. The intern­ship at the Insti­tute was of three years’ dura­tion. The chil­dren learned Turk­ish dur­ing these years and were sent to Akçadağ (Malatya) as teach­ers. They could not become any­thing else. Fields such as law, medecine, phi­los­o­phy, engi­neer­ing did not exist for them. They would also be “moth­ers and house­wives” with excel­lent skills in sewing, cook­ing, house­keep­ing, rais­ing the best of Turk­ish children…

The read­ing mate­r­i­al was also of a cer­tain mold. “Çalıkuşu“16 by Reşat Nuri… That snob of a Kamu­ran giv­ing his cousin Feride hopes while he plays around with oth­er beau­ti­ful women… Feride,  a teacher, sub­ject­ed to every mis­ery imag­in­able in an rocky moun­tain­ous Ana­to­lia who then, mar­ries Kamu­ran, while still a vir­gin. Kamu­ran, who was already mar­ried, father of a child and a wid­own­er. What could be wrong with any of that, since Feride had remained “pure”… There was also “Yaban” 17 with an atro­cious end­ing. The offi­cer in rap­tur­ous love with his Coun­try will feel, leav­ing the woman he loves in a ceme­tery, cov­ered in blood. Maybe, but he loved her! And also “Ateşten Göm­lek” 18.…

The edu­ca­tion was of that famil­iar bour­geois model.

But, at first, the peo­ple balked. They did not take Sıdı­ka to their heart and left her in the peti­tion­er’s posi­tion. For a long time, she had to make do with the girls brought in force­ful­ly by the gen­darmes… But Sıdı­ka was deter­mined, she would go to the vil­lages and take the girls from there to teach them Turk­ish. And this is what she did.

In those days in that region, prac­ti­cal­ly no one spoke Turk­ish. At first she had to con­duct her affairs through trans­la­tors, includ­ing in Bingöl which she man­aged to get her hands on. But not for very long. “Her girls”, the ones she had already edu­cat­ed were sent out, vil­lage by vil­lage, town by town. Thus did these Kur­dish girls set to the mur­der of their moth­er tongue, of their own beliefs, of the own cul­ture. Hence­forth, they are the ones who are the great­est of the Turks, the best of the Muslims…

Forbidden to speak or even to think in Kurdish

The girls mas­tered Turk­ish and they were hap­py with their moth­er Sıdı­ka. The Pacha planned to inspect the school…There was no oth­er choice but to greet this butch­er of humans!

Hüs­niye was the top pupil in the school. Like a good lit­tle sol­dier, Hüs­niye stood up and, in her per­fect Turk­ish, she recit­ed a poem for Abdul­lah Pacha.

Turk­ish chil­dren, Turk­ish children,
Eyes for­ward, heads raised
To the coun­try’s hori­zons, to the life of tomorrow,
Turk­ish chil­dren, every­thing belongs to you.

Yessss,” said the Pacha, “work hard chil­dren, every­thing belongs to you…” How proud were Sıdı­ka and the chil­dren! Abdul­lah Alp­doğan, sole author­i­tiy in Der­sim and in Elazığ. The same Pacha who held the chopped off heads of Alişer and Zarife! 19

Ismet Inonu Sidika Avar

İsm­et İnönü, Sıdı­ka Avar

1944, July. İsm­et İnönü20vis­it­ed Elazığ Insti­tute for Girls. Along with him, a whole line­up of author­i­ties and elect­ed ones.

Elmas was  the only girl orig­i­nal­ly from Der­sim in the whole school. She arrived from Hozat, a bit ear­li­er. İnönü then want­ed to see her, speak to her, inspect her. Elmas had done a good job of learn­ing Turk­ish. So Elmas was called in. She arrived and respect­ful­ly salut­ed the assembly.

İnönü called her over to his table and asked:

- Do you know Turkish?
- Yes Sir.
- Where did you learn it?
- Here Sir.

He hand­ed Elmas a newspaper:

- Let’s see how you read this.

Elmas read remark­ably well.

İnönü cried out a con­sid­er­able “brrravooo!”

- What else have you learned?
- Sewing and housekeeping…

İnönü was proud. So was Sıdıka.
Then İnönü held out his hand, Elmas kneeled and kissed it.

İnönü said: “There you are… Kurdish!”

Yes. With a ret­inue of adults next to him. This must be what is means to be ashamed in the name of oth­ers. In our areas, İnönü’s nick­name is “İsm­et the deaf man”

Sıdı­ka Avar then became the fortress of assim­i­la­tion at the Elazığ Insti­tute for Girls… Who did not show up for a vis­it! Hasan Ali Yücel, 21 İsm­ail Hakkı Tonguç 22 and who else…?

  • Sidika Avar

One day, the gen­darmes brought in two lit­tle girls to the school. These girls had been hid­ing in the moun­tain for eight months. They were off­spring of Der­sim peo­ple who were hung on the square in Elazığ. 23

Geyik and Hayriye…

This was in August, the schools were on holiday.

The school was informed: “By order of the Inspec­tor. These girls are the chil­dren of rebels wih no hon­or. They will not be edu­cat­ed, they will be put to work for the school.” 

Geyik was a strap­ping girl with “trai­tor­’s eyes” ! Messy hair, after months in the moun­tains, where would she have found a comb? Dressed in a torn dress made out of cot­ton with no design still vis­i­ble on it. In her back, the fab­ric adhered to her right shoul­der blade. On her chest, the dress was torn to her navel. A rope held it togeth­er at the waist.

Same pic­ture for the lit­tle one. Except that the back of her dress was in bet­ter condition.

The skin of their faces resem­bled that of humans but on their bod­ies, the skin had turned brown like tree bark. Wounds on their nails, around their mouth.

Hayriye was so skin­ny her skin looked seemed glued to her bones. Her face was wrin­kled like that of an old woman. Could she real­ly have been 14?

They tried to bring them inside. They refused to enter. Sıdı­ka and her direc­tor then gave them a slice of bread with cheese on it. Geyik refused to take it and turned her back on them. Hayriye grabbed the bread out of Sıdı­ka ‘s hand. She backed off imme­di­ate­ly, split the piece of bread, ate some and hid the rest inside her dress. Sıdı­ka insist­ed on giv­ing bread to Geyik. The girl gave a back­hand­ed slap to Sıdı­ka , the bread fell on the ground. And Hayriye ran, grabbed the slice of bread and also hid it on her chest.

Sıdı­ka and her direc­tor, deeply touched by this immea­sur­able hunger, called for more bread and cheese. They gave some first to Hayriye who squat­ted down and ate while keep­ing an eye on them.

Sıdı­ka approached Geyik with a piece of bread loaded with cheese, say­ing “kıza­mine“24 and caress­ing her back. Again, she offered bread in her hand. Geyik looked at Sıdı­ka, Sıdı­ka smiled and encour­aged her “kıza­mıne”. Geyik grabbed it rough­ly, look­ing annoyed. She turned her back. Squat­ted and start­ed to eat.

Both of them smelled very bad. The staff boiled up some water. Hayriye got washed first. Her skin would­n’t release the dirt, even when scrubbed down with the kitchen brush, her skin remained stained.

They could­n’t man­age to make Geyik enter for a bath. When the direc­tor gave up, two men from the staff arrived. Two stur­dy guys who could­n’t man­age Geyik. “God, such strenght, such resis­tance!” In all of this hul­la­bal­loo her back start­ed bleed­ing. While the men held her, Sıdı­ka observed the bleed­ing back. A wound on the right shoul­der blade, fused with her dress, turned into a carapace…Filled with tiny white worms…

Lat­er in the year, the direc­tor was trans­ferred else­where. As she left, she said: “I would­n’t mind tak­ing Hayriye with me, she would take care of my domes­tic chores.” She asked the Pasha’s autho­riza­tion which he grant­ed. Why not? What dif­fer­ence was there with the own­er­less beasts roam­ing in the Kuzuo­va val­ley. The direc­tor took Hayriye, like a piece of fur­ni­ture, like a ser­vant… “The unfaith­ful’s labor is also halal”.

Those who denounced the chil­dren’s hid­ing place to the gen­darmes were local mili­ti­a­men. Mili­tias Abdul­lah Pacha bought for less than noth­ing. “Riya Şaeye”…25

Geyik and Hayriye’s sto­ry is in fact a mir­ror image of the Der­sim mas­sacre26, illus­trat­ed by the wound on Geyik’s back, teem­ing with white worms.

What was expe­ri­enced, you must nev­er for­get, you must nev­er forgive…

(To be continued)

Pour trouver tous les articles de la série, suivez ce lien.

Sıdıka AvarSıdı­ka Avar 

Born in 1901 in Cihangir, Istan­bul, died in 1979 in Istan­bul she was a Turk­ish teacher known for her work as Direc­tor of the Elazig Insti­tute for Girls between 1939 and 1959. She is known as “one of the Turk­ish nation­al hero­ines” and an exam­ple for “the Turk­i­fi­ca­tion of the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion”.

She was born to Mehmet bey, an Ottoman civ­il ser­vant and a house­wife. She received her teacher’s train­ing at the Çapa Girls’ Col­lege and, start­ing in 1922, she worked at the Cir­cass­ian Girls’ Col­lege in Istan­bul. In the 1920s, she and her part­ner moved to Izmir where she found work as a teacher in a local Jew­ish school and at the Amer­i­can Girls’ Col­lege. She also offered to edu­cate women pris­on­ers in Izmir.

She was mar­ried and the moth­er of one child. She divorced her part­ner in 1937 before leav­ing to teach at the Elazığ Insi­tute for Girls. The fact she decid­ed to leave her own child behind when she head­ed East, was con­trary to the con­cept of the “tra­di­tion­al Kemal­ist fam­i­ly”, con­sid­ered the basis of a pros­per­ous coun­try, but it was per­ceived as a per­son­al sac­ri­fice for the sake of the Country.

sidika avar

(Cliquez pour agrandir)

After sev­er­al requests she was final­ly sent to the Elazig Insti­tute for Girls in 1939. After two months, she was pro­mot­ed direc­tor of the Insti­tute. She was also briefly named as Deputy Direc­tor at the Tokat Girls Insti­tute in 1942 but returned to Elazığ in 1943 where she stayed until her retire­ment in 1959. Ini­tial­ly, Sıdı­ka Avar had trou­ble recruit­ing girls for the school because the vil­lagers doubt­ed the girls would be well treat­ed at the Insti­tute. Being some­what of an ide­al­ist con­cern­ing the “Turk­i­fi­ca­tion” of Kurds, she devel­oped strate­gies to achieve results through coop­er­a­tion. Avar called on the need to win the heart and minds of the Kur­dish girls in order to make them love Turci­ty. She for­bade the beat­ing of the pre­vi­ous pupils, but also the use of their mater­nal lan­guage. She suc­ceed­ed so well that, with time, the girls came to con­sid­er that Turk­ish was supe­ri­or to the Kur­dish or zaza­ki lan­guage. Avar kept before and after pho­tos of the edu­ca­tion­al process, of the “new civ­i­lized Turk­ish speak­ing woman” from what had been a Kur­dish girl. Avar also changed the recruit­ment process for the stu­dents, ask­ing the inspec­tor gen­er­al to autho­rize her recruit­ing the girls per­son­al­ly, and that sol­diers  no longer force vil­lagers to turn the girls over to the Insti­tute. Although she for­bade her stu­dents the use of  the Kur­dish lan­guage, she used it for recruit­ment pur­pos­es. In her opin­ion, a “hel­lo” in Kur­dish could be the begin­ning of a last­ing rela­tion­ship.  Avar taught approx­i­mate­ly one thou­sand girls before the school was shut down and she had to leave. In 1959, under the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty gov­ern­ment, the Der­sim girls’ sec­tion was shut down.

She pub­lished her mem­oirs under the title “Dağ Çiçek­ler­im” (My moun­tain flow­ers).

The pho­tos for this arti­cle, retouched , were tak­en from Avar’s  per­son­al archives show­ing the trans­for­ma­tion she want­ed to keep of her pupils. She donat­ed this pho­to­graph­ic archive to the Turk­ish Edu­ca­tion Ministry.

Follow this link for the full series

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges

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Suna Arev
Née en 1972 à Uzun­tar­la (Elazığ).Dans une famille de huits enfants, elle est immergée dès son plus jeune âge, par­mi les tra­vailleurs agri­coles à la tâche. Tel un miroir qui date de son enfance, la péri­ode du coup d’Etat mil­i­taire du 12 sep­tem­bre 1980 a for­mé sa vie poli­tique. Diplômée de l’École pro­fes­sion­nelle de com­merce d’Elazığ, elle a vécu, en grandeur nature les com­porte­ments fas­cistes et racistes dans sa ville. Mère de qua­tre enfants, depuis 1997, elle habite en Alle­magne, pour des raisons politiques.
Suna Arev was born in 1972 in the vil­lage of Uzun­tar­la, Elazığ dis­trict. From a fam­i­ly of eight chil­dren she became one of the agri­cul­tur­al work­ers at an ear­ly age. The mil­i­tary coup d’état of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980 served as a mir­ror in shap­ing her polit­i­cal out­look. After obtain­ing a diplo­ma from the Elazığ Pro­fes­sion­al Busi­ness School, she expe­ri­enced the full force of fas­cist and racist behav­iours in her town. She has lived in Ger­many since 1997, for polit­i­cal rea­sons. She is the moth­er of four children.