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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.