The Sivas Massacre, an arson attack carried out by an extremist mob on mostly Alevi intellectuals inside the Madımak Hotel that killed 33 intellectuals and two hotel staff, was commemorated on its 25th anniversary on Monday in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas.
The commemoration events began with a large group, including relatives of the victims, officials and activists, walking from Seyrantepe neighborhood to the former site of the Madımak Hotel, which was later turned into the Sivas Science and Culture Center with a corner devoted to victims. The families carried photographs of their beloved ones, walking in the front façade of the group march consisting of about 3,000 people.
The crowd shouted “here” when the names of victims were read out loud and laid flowers at the site. “This pain is our pain, our nation’s pain, our government’s pain too as much as the victims’,” Sivas Governor Davut Gül said, placing carnations at the memorial.
Family members laid carnations and photographs in front of the Madımak Hotel, refusing to enter inside the building on the grounds that the hotel had not been turned into a “museum of shame,” according to a report by Hurriyet Daily News.
The group observed a minute of silence for the 35 people killed in 1993, whose names were read off. Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies were among the group who laid carnations in front of the building.
In a speech at the event, CHP vice chair Veli Ağbaba said as long as “the real criminals of the Sivas massacre are not brought to account, the fire cannot be extinguished from their hearts.”
“The victim of this incident is all of humanity, all of Turkey. We, as people who believe in human rights, peace, and democracy, will continue our struggle for this pain not be forgotten. We have submitted the number of motions to the Turkish Parliament for this incident to be enlightened. Our struggle will continue hereupon as well,” Ağbaba said.
HDP spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen was another name who took the stage during the commemoration event. “We have a very serious responsibility in front of us, and that is to face and settle up a mentality that burns humans. It is our debt to the people killed to come together for a country and a world in which no one is discriminated due to their beliefs; to establish a Turkey where we live freely, equally, and democratically,” Bilgen said.
An official commemoration event was organized under the coordination of the local governor’s office. A delegation including Sivas Governor Davut Gül, Cumhuriyet University Rector Prof. Alim Yıldız, Cem Association head Erdoğan Döner, Sivas deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and CHP Sivas deputies, laid carnations at a memorial built inside the Madımak Hotel.
“God have mercy on all citizens who lost their lives in the incident. As much as this is the pain of their families, this is also the pain of Sivas in general, our nation, and our state. This was a plan of those dark hands who wanted to lead our country to an environment of conflict at the time. But hopefully, thanks to our nation’s insight, this plan did not realize, and will not so [in the future],” said Governor Gül.
The HDP jailed former co-chair and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş sent a message from Edirne Prison and stated that “I salute all who came together on the anniversary of a barbaric event the wounds caused by which have not healed or the pain subsided. I salute you with respect.”
“The wound opened on July 2 has not healed, because despite the 25 years that passed, nothing was done to heal it. This pain has not subsided in the slightest in the 25 years since, because no steps were taken to alleviate it. In these times when fascism is being institutionalized, we know that not a single step will be taken to confront and settle accounts with the past,” said Demirtaş and added that “But we are not going to give up the fight for justice, equality and freedom. We will continue to defend the rights of every person, every group who have suffered oppression and massacres in our country,”
The attack against the Madımak Hotel on July 2, 1993 targeted a group of artists and scholars participating in a conference organized by the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Foundation (PSAKD), an Alevi organization.
The event came at a time when the legendary short story writer Aziz Nesin, who was among the guests, had become a public target for translating Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” into Turkish. The participants of the conference were accused of being infidels by the large crowd outside, who had been provoked to action by a number of local political leaders.
While 33 people attending the conference died in the fire, two hotel personnel also died along with them. Two protestors—who were in the crowd outside the hotel that instigated the events leading to the fire and who watched the hotel while people inside were burning to death and calling for help—also died in the fire.
The building, which became a symbol of discrimination faced by Turkey’s Alevi population, was expropriated in 2010 and turned into a science museum. The families of many of those who died in 1993 have demanded for it to be turned into a “museum of shame.”
Among those killed in the Madımak Hotel arson attack were poets Metin Altıok, Behçet Aysan and Uğur Kaynar, writer Asım Bezirci and Dutch anthropologist Carina Cuanna, as well as popular Alevi musicians Muhlis Akarsu and Nesimi Çimen. Nesin, the renowned writer and humorist, was rescued by firefighters—but was nevertheless beaten by his saviors as they escaped the burning building.
Dozens were arrested following the incident and 33 were convicted. However, critics of the Sivas trial long claimed the real perpetrators behind the incident were not brought to justice. The “perpetrators” the critics refer to are notorious members of the “deep state” that is accused of pitting the Sunni community against Alevis and vice versa.
Also, the deep state referred to by media outlets is a shadowy community of bureaucrats, soldiers, mobsters, police officers and other figures and as its name implies, it was never fully revealed. It is the culprit in a string of murders of journalists and civilians in the 1990s.
Three days after the Sivas Massacre, the PKK terrorist group slaughtered 33 villagers in Başbağlar. The massacre in the Sunni-majority village was viewed as “retaliation” for the deaths in Sivas.
In July 2014, the State Auditing Board issued a report that found grave negligence by the authorities in the handling of the incident. According to the report, officials failed to take adequate safety precautions to prevent the attack, which could have been clearly anticipated.
The lawyers that defended the alleged murderers in the Sivas Massacre case were later awarded with high ranks in the AKP administration. These lawyers were made minsiters, deputies and bureaucrats.
For example, Hayati Yazıcı who was a lawyer in the case was among the founders of the AKP. Yazıcı entered the parliament as an İstanbul deputy in the November 3 elections in 2002, and served as a State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the 60th government, and as Minister of Customs and Trade in the 61st.
Other lawyers of the suspects related to Sivas Massacre were Kemal Kurt, Mehmet Bulut, Bülent Tüfekçi, Zeyid Aslan, Ali Aşlık, Halil Ürün and Hüsnü Turan… All of these people later served as AKP deputies at Turkish Parliament.