Culture, Politics and Contested Identity among the “Kurdish” Alevis of Dersim: The Case of the Munzur Culture and Nature Festival

Ülker Sözen


This article analyzes the Munzur Culture and Nature Festival organized by the people of Dersim, an eastern province of Turkey, as a site of political activism, cultural reproduction, and intra-group contestation. The festival began as a group-remaking event for restoring cultural identity, defending locality, and mobilizing Dersimli people in the face of repressive state policies. In time, socio-spatial and political fragmentation within Dersimli society became more prevalent. The festival experience came to reflect and contribute to the debates and anxieties about identity whereby different political groups competed to increase their influence over local politics as well as the event itself. On the one hand, this article discusses the organization of the Munzur Festival, its historical trajectory, and the accompanying public debates and criticisms. On the other, it explores festive sociabilities, cultural performances, and the circulation of politically-charged symbols throughout the event which showcases the articulation and competition of multiple ethno-political belongings which are the Dersimli, Kurdish, Alevi, and socialist ones. The festival’s historical trajectory is dealt as two stages, unified struggle and internal strife, whereby the festival appeared as first a group-remaking then unmaking public event. The paper argues that this transformation is tied to hanging power relations in the local politics of Dersim, and the shifting state policies, namely the phase of repressive control strategies until the mid-2000s and the peace process and political relaxation until 2015.


Cultural politics, identity, Kurdish studies, festival studies

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