The upper half of the Munzur Valley, north of Tunceli, is among the most scenic and biodiverse landscapes in all of Turkey. Munzur Valley National Park, created there in 1971, is one of the country’s largest nature reserves, boasting over 3000 plant species, approximately 100 of which are endemic to the area. Endangered animals also call it home, including rare types of bear, wild cats, wolves, and ibex.
The people who live in the Munzur Valley are also something of a rare breed: ethnic Kurds in a majority-Turkish country, and Alevis surrounded by a majority Sunni Muslim population. Since even most Kurds are Sunni, the Alevi Kurds (or Kurdish Alevis) are something of a super-minority – except in the region of Dersim, where they make up over 90% of the population.
In the Munzur Valley, people live in rural villages scattered along the river and among the hills, as well as in several larger towns, including Tunceli (population 30,000) and Ovacik, which sits in the upper basin, beneath the soaring Munzur Mountains, and has a population of about 3000. The local language is Zaza, which is related to the Kurmancî that most Kurds speak, but experts disagree as to whether or not Zaza can truly be considered a Kurdish dialect.
Thanks to the rugged topography and geographical isolation of the valley, its people have been able to retain a deep sense of their unique cultural and religious identity. Though Munzur has experienced two devastating tragedies over the past eighty years, each of which definitively altered the way of life in the valley, it (and the area around it) is still considered to be the last great stronghold of Kurdish Alevi beliefs and traditions. It feels like an almost magical land, where the awe-inspiring terrain and unique culture are inseparable from each other – as though the place would be less beautiful without the people who live in it, while the culture would surely lose its vitality apart from the landscape in which it thrives.