In 1937, authorities of the then young Turkish republic decided to use military force against what they saw as an unruly region dominated by clans of Kurdish Alevis. Tens of thousands of soldiers were sent to fight against insurgents led by Said Riza, a local clan chief. Sabiha Gokcen, an adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the republic's founder, took part in the operation as the country's first female fighter pilot.
When the fighting ended in 1938, about 13,000 people out of a population of 100,000 were dead, Mr Saltik said. His figure, based on records of the time and interviews with soldiers who took part in the operation as well as with relatives of victims, is much higher than the military's official death toll of about 7,000, he said. Almost 12,000 people were forced to leave their homes.