On Nov. 23, 2011, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first Turkish leader to formally apologize for the massacres by the Turkish military of thousands of civilians in the eastern province of Tunceli in 1938. The genocidal campaign against the region’s Alevi Kurds, bombing people from the air, gassing them in caves, and bayoneting them to save bullets, remains the darkest stain on the modern Turkish Republic.
Erdogan’s words were dismissed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) as yet another cynical ploy to discredit their party and its founder, Kemal Ataturk, the Western-leaning father of modern Turkey. Today, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the CHP’s current leader and an Alevi Kurd from Tunceli, whose forebears were among the victims, is the main opposition bloc’s candidate to run against Turkey’s strongman. More likely than not, Erdogan will use Kilicdaroglu’s Alevi faith to demonize him with majority Sunni voters ahead of watershed presidential and parliamentary elections that are due to be held in tandem on May 14.