Zilan Massacre

 Zilan massacre or Zilan Valley massacre (Kurdish: Komkujiya Zîlan[4] or Komkujiya Geliyê Zîlan), refers to the massacre of the Kurdish residents of Turkey during the Ararat rebellion, in which 800-1500 armed men participated.

It took place in the Zilan or Zeylan valley (Kurdish: Geliyê Zîlan) located to the north of the town of Erciş in Van Province in July 1930 before Third Ararat Operation that was a military operation of Turkish IX Corps under the command of Ferik (lieutenant general) Salih (Omurtak) against Mount Ararat. According to the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet dated July 16, 1930, about 15,000 people, according to Hesen Hîşyar Serdî (1907-September 14, 1985, a participant to the Ararat rebellion and writer), 47,000 villagers from 18 villages of Ademan, Sipkan, Zilan and Hesenan tribes, according to Garo Sasuni (an Armenian researcher), 5,000 women, children and the elderly were massacred. According to Berliner Tageblatt, the Turks in the area of Zilan destroyed 220 villages and massacred 4,500 women and the elderly.


After Sheikh Said rebellion, on September 24, 1925, the Turkish government prepared the “Reform Plan for the East” that provided for special administrative arrangements for the Eastern areas and introduced the Inspector-General system. With this plan, Kurdish aristocrats and religious leaders were forced to be relocated to other parts of Turkey. On July 17, 1927, with the “Law on the Transfer of Certain People from Eastern Regions to the Western Provinces”, the target of the forced migration was extended.

On October 5, 1927, in Greater Lebanon, Xoybûn was founded by former members of Kurdish nationalist organisations like Kürdistan Teali Cemiyeti, Kürt Millet Fırkası, Comite de Independence Kurde, together with Kurdish intellectuals who took refuge in Iraq, Iran ve Syria, with help of former members of Dashnaktsutyun. In 1927 Hoybûn that was led by Celadet Alî Bedirxan, Kamuran Alî Bedirxan, Ekrem Cemilpaşa, Memdûh Selîm and so on, decided to promote Ihsan Nuri, a former officer in the Ottoman and Turkish armies, to general (pasha) and sent to Erzurum with 20 comrade. They published a newspaper named Agirî and declared independence of the Republic of Ararat in 1927. In October 1927, Xoybûn made appeals to the Great Powers and the League of Nations, and appointed Ibrahim Haski, who was one of the chieftains of Jalali tribe, to the governor of Aigrî.

Cabinet Decision

On May 9, 1928, the Turkish government enacted the amnesty law and amnesty was offered to all oppositional Kurds willing to submit to the Kemalist government and Kurdish nationalists were freed from prison. But attempts of the Turkish government at initiating meaningful negotiations failed and the Turkish government decided to negotiate directly with Ihsan Nuri Pasha but in vain.

On December 29, 1929, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) led the cabinet meeting with paticipations of the Chief of the General Staff Fevzi Çakmak and İbrahim Tali (Öngören), the general inspector of the First Inspectorate-General. It was adopted the cabinet decision (No. 8692., Dated 29.12.1929.) that the military operation against Mount Ararat would be started in June 1930.

Order of the General Staff

On January 7, 1930, General Staff of the Republic of Turkey sent order to IX Corps (as follows) with the text of the cabinet dicision itself:
  • Villages inhabited by rebels between Bulakbaşı and Şıhlı Köyü and places of refuge will be occupied. And let rebels debar from livelihood bases.
  • After cleaning district from bandits, to follow toward the line of Ararat peak and establish garrisons in occupied territories.
  • Only mobile gendarmerie forces will winter between 1930 and 1931. In district no residential areas, except needs for gendarmerie regiments, will not be left.
  • In this wise, rebels debared from food and housing needs will be distributed or be forced to take refuge in Iran. In this case, problem will be solved with Iran.
  • Operation will begin in the last week of June 1930 and before harvest season.
  • The commander of IX Corps will direct military operation.
Postponement of the Offensive Against Mount Ararat
On March 18, 1930, Salih (Omurtak) was appointed the commander of IX Corps (to May 8, 1934).On June 11, 1930, armed hostilities were initiated by Turkish military against the Ararat insurgents. Xoybûn appealed for help for Kurds throughout Kurdistan. İhsan Nuri sent to Îbrahîm Aga an offensive order dated June 18, 1930. A Turkish Captain Zühtü (Güven), who was an officer of 2nd Mobile Gendarmerie Battalion at Iğdır, got this order from a Kurdish rebel. That is why much to the Turks’ dismay, the insurgents were answered on a wide front, Turks temporarily to abandon their offensive against Mount Ararat.

On June 19–20, 1930, hundreds of rebels led by Kör Hüseyin Pasha (former commander of the North group of the Hamidiye regiments)’s sons and Emin Pasha’s sons crossed the border from Persia, cut the telegraph line between Çaldıran and Beyazit. More than one hundred of them raided the center of Zeylan district and the station of gendarmier. They made their own tribesmen of the district join to them. This Kurdish offensive and offensives at Patnos, Çaldıran will be named the Zeylan Rebellion by the Turkish authority.

According to general Salih’s official report dated July 2, 1930 about the situations of the north of the Lake Van, 350-400 rebels led by Kör Hüseyin’s sons and Eminpasha’s sons were at Patonos area surrounded by Sofu Mustafa – Kâni – Yukarı Romik – Çakırbey – Gürgüre – Haçlı – Koru – Harabe Kürk – Çavuş villages. All of villagers supported them. About 400 rebels led by Seyit Resul were at Zeylân area surrounded by Şurik – Su Souk – Kadir Asker – Münevver – Sivik – Ağı – Dedeli – Şeytan Ava villages. All of villagers supported them. Obscure number of rebels led by Yusuf Abdal were at Çaldıran area surrounded by Aşağı Çilli – Şeyh Rumi – Alikelle – Haçan – Kaymaz – Şeyh Sucu villages.


The Turkish army used two corps (VII Corps and IX Corps) and 80 aircraft for cleaning operation from July 8, 1930. Generally the date that the massacre took place was considered as July 13, 1930, but Yusuf Mazhar, who was the special correspondent of the daily Cumhuriyet that was the Turkey’s most widely read daily paper in 1930-1940s, reported the cleaning in districts of Erciş, Mount Süphan and Zeylân was completely finished by telephone on July 12, 1930.

44 villages in Zilan canyon: Hesenebdal (Hasanabdal), Axs (Eqis, Doluca), Şarbazar (Şehirpazar), Doxancî (Doğancı), Tendûrek (Gergili), Çaxirbeg (Çakırbey), Îlanlî (Yılanlı), Harhus, Babazik (Aksakal), Komir (Kömür), Şor (Taşkapı), Şorik, Merşîd (Mürşit), Mescidlî (Mescitli), Qerekilîse (Işbaşı, Sabanbüken), Gunduk (Kündük), Zorava (Yöreli), Eryatîn (Aryutin), Kevan (Hallacköy), Qoçkoprî (Koçköprü), Kurûçem (Çemê Ziwa, Kuruçem), Milk (Mülk), Yekmal û Kilîse (Yalındam), Gosk, Partaşa Jêrîn (Aşağı Partaş ), Partaşa Jorîn (Yukarı Partaş), Binesi, Bunizi, Pilaqlî, Keix, Sigûdlî (Sögütlü), Mığare, Qardoxan (Kardoğan), Kele (Evbeyli), Ûstekar (Ağırkaya), Sivar (Süvarköy), Qizîlkilîse (Kızılkilise), Ziyaret, Hiraşen, Qomik, Şeytanava, Birhan (Bürhan) and Yukarı Koçköprü were fired and burned by Turkish troops.[40][41] Villagers were tied to each other and killed by machine guns of a detachment under the command of Captain Derviş Bey.

According to the daily Cumhuriyet dated July 16, 1930, about 15,000 people was killed and Zilan River was filled with dead bodies as far as its mouth.

On July 15, 1930, İbrahim Tali (Öngören), the general inspector of the First Inspectorate-General, explained that annihilation was performed by troops with people’s help, more than thousand militias were lost, villagers who helped rebels were also annihilated.

The Foreign Office reported The conviction here is that the Turkish “success” near Ergish and Zilan were really gained over a few armed men and a large percentage of non-combatants.


According to Nazi Erol, the wife of Şükrü (Erol) who was the eldest son the chieftain of Bekiri tribe, her first child Salih was killed and all of her crony women are killed, she could survive that massacre owing to be hidden under their corpse.

According to Mehmet Pamak’s grandfather, thousands of people, men, women, children and aged and their massacre by machine-gun fire, blood flowed out of that valley for days. Pamak’s aunt (baby) and his 80-year-old great-grandmother were bayoneted to death.

According to Kakil Erdem who is one of the living eyewitnesses of the Zilan Massacre, thirty five relatives of him were killed, soldiers cut and opened abdomen of pregnant women. In front of his eyes, three relatives of him were scalped and two brothers of him were beaten with woods to death.

On August 31, 1930, the daily Milliyet published the declaration of the Turkish prime minister İsmet İnönü: Only the Turkish nation has the right to demand ethnic and racial rights in this country. Any other element does not have such a right. They are Eastern Turkish who were deceived by unfounded propaganda and eventually lost their way.

After massacre real estates at the Zilan canyon were given to collaborationist Kurdish militias, ones at the basin of the Zilan River were given to Cevher Efendi and his sons Süleyman and İdris, ones at the basin of Hacıderi river that is the tributary of the Zilan were given to Sidîqê Hesenkecelê. A observation post was constructed at the confluence of the Zilan and Hacıderi rivers and settlements were prohibited. In 1980 region was opened to settlement and refugees from Afghanistan were relocated to Hasanabdal.

Cultural Influences

Musa Anter, for the first time, learned about and discussed the massacres of the Kurds, such as the Zilan massacre of 1930, the Dersim Massacre in 1938 and the Thirty three bullets massacre when he published a journal entitled Dicle Kaynağı (Tigris Spring) with three other friends from Dicle Student Dormitory in 1948.

Yaşar Kemal, who is one of Turkey’s leading writers, got to know “Zilan Valley Massacre” during interviews in 1950s and was influenced by the massacre. He described massacres in his novel entitled Deniz Küstü (“The Sea-Crossed Fisherman”, 1978). The protagonist of the novel Selim Balıkçı participated in the Ararat campaigns, was wounded on the face and transferred to Cerrahpaşa Hospital (İstanbul) for treatment.

Zilan Massacre and Censorship

In 2007, Ercan Öksüz and Oktay Candemir who are journalist working for Dicle News Agency, interviewed 94-year-old living eyewitness Kakil Erdem and published it with the title of “Zilan Katliamı’nın Tanığı Konuştu” (Witness of Zilan Massacre Talks). The Van 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance tried for “inciting hatred and hostility”. In 2009, each of them received 1 year 6 months prison sentences.

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