An excerpt from Chapter One of ‘Night Butterfly’ by Haydar Karataş – translation in progress.
This is the true story of his mother and grandmother’s experiences in Dersim, Turkey in the 1930s and 1940s when the majority of Kurdish men living in Dersim had been marched into forced exile or massacred by Turkish military troops. Women and children were left stranded, starving in their villages after the soldiers had burned all the crops and taken their livestock (and man power) away.
After the Armenian incident my father and his brother Sahan took over the administration of the Bactrian tribes from their father Yusuf Ağa. They, and the armed men they had gathered to their side, were responsible for security in the Bactrian region. They also wanted to bring my mother’s four children by her earlier marriage to this household. These were times when clashes were frequent and increasing.
At the time in the Bactrian region there were the armed bands of Yusuf Ağa’s two sons, Sahan and Hıdır and also the armed band led by Pırço. Pırço’s outfit was extremely brave and were dressed from head to toe in armour taken from the Bronze soldiers. The Bronze Hun army attacked Dersim on two occasions from the direction of Erzincan but were never able to fully enter. When the soldiers of 1938 entered Dersim the armed bands of my uncle Sahan and my father Hıdır joined forces with that of Pırço.
They set off to bring my mother’s children from her first marriage to Weroz. Baki, who was working in a salt mine in Kemah was now fourteen years old and Ali Riza was eleven or twelve. Their little brother Hasan, eight, was also with them. Soldiers had raided the village of Eniesıt where they had been living and marched the entire village off into exile somewhere beyond Erzincan. Those who managed to escape fled to the Bactrian region. When my uncle Sahan, my father and Pırço heard that two children had been taken along with the villagers they set off after the soldiers.
They came as far as Kemah. There they managed to overtake the soldiers in a valley near a former Armenian refugee village1 that had been emptied of all inhabitants during the Armenian incident. They confronted the soldiers and there followed a heavy clash in which the forces of my uncle, father and Pırço killed many soldiers and took possession of their guns, horses and provisions. However, they failed to find the captives who were being marched into exile from Ovacık and therefore had to return to the village of Eniesıt.
There they found out that the men and boys who formed the line being marched into exile had all been executed along the way. Baki had been in that group. As they put a manacle around his neck and led him off on the road, his brother Ali Riza had managed to escape and had followed the column of captives as far as the refugee village.
The villagers told my father that the soldiers set up camp with the group of men they were marching into exile just below the village and handed the captives over to another regiment as the day was drawing to a close. Towards morning screams were heard. The villagers couldn’t understand what had happened. Then they discovered that the entire group of captives had been bayoneted.
The place where the group of men and boys being marched into exile were killed was a flat crop field. The next day, soldiers on duty spotted Ali Riza who had been following the group. The child ran off in the direction of the refugee village and, if what the villagers said was true, those now living in the village hid Ali Riza. The soldiers searched the village and gathered all the inhabitants in one place but they still could not find the child. When Ali Riza looked out of the window of the house he was hiding in, to see what was going on, he was spotted and taken captive by the soldiers.
The man who was hiding him in his house said that he’d taken him in with the intention of making him his shepherd. The commander in charge of the soldiers claimed that the boy was an Armenian. They gave his clothing to my father. There were two bayonet holes in Ali Riza’s shirt. One had pierced his stomach at the front and had pricked a hole in the material on the other side where it exited, the other wound was where they’d stabbed him in the liver.
My uncle and father hid the deaths of Baki and Ali Riza from my mother and for a long time she believed that Baki had taken Ali Riza to Kemah and that they’d both found work and had been spared.
After my father died his place at the head of the armed band was taken by a man called Doğan. One day Doğan told my mother the truth about the line of captives. However, even if my mother believed it at first, she soon took to denying it had happened. She kept fantasising that her children would be coming to join her. As these hopes of hers grew with each passing day, Doğan, who by now was my mother’s third husband, took her to the village where it had happened. The villagers there told the story once more to my mother.
The place where Baki had been killed was a flat wheat field. My mother told me that the crop there had grown as high as a man and that it swayed in the cool and gentle breeze like the blonde hair of a girl. The dead were buried under this field where a dozer had dug a mass grave. As for Ali Riza, the villagers had buried him on a hill right next to the village cemetery. My mother was more upset that Ali Riza was lying on that hill all alone, than she was about his death.
Excerpt from Night Butterfly by Haydar Karataş
İletişim Yayınlar, İstanbul
Draft translation by Caroline Stockford 2015
8. baskı – Eylül 2014