Lawmaker wants province renamed .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ANKARA - Democratic Society Party, or DTP, deputy from the province of Tunceli, Şerafettin Halis, submits a proposal to Parliment for a name change for his province. The justice minister responds by calling it a separatist move

Seeking to change the name of his eastern Anatolian province, Democratic Society Party, or DTP, Tunceli deputy Şerafettin Halis submitted a law proposal to the Parliament Speaker’s office yesterday, just weeks before local elections in March.

Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin yesterday dismissed the offer as a separatist demand. "The proposal can disrupt national unity. We reject it," Şahin said. It would have been a simple name change proposal had it not been for the two names’ history. Dersim was the original name of the eastern Anatolian province, which now has a population of 84,000 and is heavily populated by Kurdish Alevis. Tunceli has been its official name since the enactment of the "Tunceli law" on Dec. 25, 1935, which was part of an effort to "Turkify" local names. Extensive authority bestowed upon the provincial governor by the Tunceli law and the long standing resistance of the local population against centralization efforts in both the Ottoman and the Republican era led to two revolts in 1937 and 1938. Both were suppressed by military action and the leaders were hanged.

"Dersim province was established during the Tanzimat period in the Ottoman era. The province would be renamed Munzır, (after the Munzır Mountains in the region) but with the proposal by former Interior Minister Şükrü Kaya in 1935, it became Tunceli. Contrary to common belief, Tunceli is a name not given by Atatürk, but by Şükrü Kaya," said Halis in a press conference he held with Tunceli Mayor Songül Erol Abdil yesterday.

The Tunceli name is a sign of the assimilation effort in the region, said Halis. "The trauma caused by the chastising and exiling in 1937-1938 continues. Reverting to the province’s original name, Dersim, will alleviate the effects of the trauma," Halis said.

"This is the dream of the Dersim people who have lived by their values and beliefs for hundreds of years. Dersim is a holy name for its people and it lives on in novels, stories and traditional songs," he said.

Abdil, a DTP member, pointed to local election propaganda billboards, which had used the name Dersim, but were removed by court order. "Not only the name of the province, but names of villages, districts and neighborhoods were changed. That was not enough, and thousands of our people were massacred," she said, referring to the tumultuous history of the region.

The prosecutor argued that the billboards were used for terrorist organization PKK's propaganda, and were removed Monday night. "Every kind of policy was implemented to suppress our culture and identity. Despite all suppression, our people continue to live their culture. If we hold a referendum in the province on a name change, all our people will surely vote for Dersim," Abdil said. The municipality will continue using the name Dersim in all activities, the mayor said.