İhsanoğlu appeals to Alevi voters with Sivas Massacre message

İhsanoğlu appeals to Alevi voters with Sivas Massacre message

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint presidential candidate of the two main opposition parties - the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - made a move yesterday to break the ice with the Alevi community, many of whom are not pleased that “their party,” the CHP, is supporting an “Islamist” candidate.

In a written statement, İhsanoğlu, unlike many Islamists, described the killing of people at the Madımak Hotel in Sivas on July 2, 1993, as a "massacre," while voicing his support to one of the demands from the Alevis community in Turkey over the issue.

“The sorrow, which resulted from the massacre of our loved ones whose only desire was to give a message of unity and solidarity exactly 21 years ago today, is still as fresh as ever,” said İhsanoğlu in his message, while promising that he would “make every effort”  to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

He also called for the Madımak Hotel to be turned into a “museum of an objective lesson,” a demand long-voiced by the Alevis community that has continued to be ignored by the government. “I commemorate every single life we lost in this disaster with respect and grace,” the presidential candidate added.

The statement from İhsanoğlu was carefully worded. While he mentioned the “massacre” of the people, he refrained from putting the blame on any particular group or people, portraying the event as an attack on brotherhood and unity. The experienced ex-diplomat also preferred not to give a number of victims, which is still a source of debate 21 years after the massacre (The number of victims are 35 for some groups, 37 for others. It is a fact that 33 intellectuals, most of whom were Alevis, two hotel workers and two of the blood-seeking group were killed in the event).

Let’s make it clear: The perpetrators of the massacre were Islamists, most of whom were locals of the Central Anatolian city of Sivas. The crowd in front of the Madımak Hotel, who kept the intellectuals who were in the city for a festival under siege for hours, shouted slogans such as “down with secularism, long live sharia,” and “Sivas will be the grave for Aziz [Nesin, who was particularly targeted for publishing Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’].”

Sivas Mayor Temel Karamollaoğlu, who was a member of the Welfare Party (RP) – whose members also included Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül, and Bülent Arınç at the time – made a speech to the crowd, telling them to “carry on with the holy fight,” and refused to tell them to disperse after they were met with water from the municipality’s fire trucks, according to a testimony by a senior police officer, İzzet Karadağ.

The thousands who held Madımak under siege without the intervention of the security forces cheered when the hotel was set on fire and shouted “Allahu Akbar,” “This is the fire of the Hell,” and “Death to the infidels.” Nesin was even attacked by the firefighters on the steps of a fire truck as he tried to save his own life, but he ultimately survived the attack.

Most of the lawyers who defended the Sivas Massacre suspects later served as RP and Justice and Development Party (AKP) executives and lawmakers. One of them, Şevket Kazan, visited the suspects in prison when he held the position of justice minister in a coalition government. Recently, in 2012, the ruling AKP rejected a proposal by the CHP to remove the statute of limitations for the remaining massacre suspects, paving the way for the closure of the case.

Members and supporters of the RP and the AKP have tried to portray the massacre as a job of “foreign powers who wanted chaos in Turkey” and the suspects as the “victims of a major provocation,” leaving unanswered the question of how an ordinary, sane person could be provoked to burn a group of people to death.

As an individual close to the political Islamist movement in Turkey, İhsanoğlu’s message is an important one and a first step to convince the Alevis that he is “not who the Alevis think he is.” But he still has a long way to go.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdoğan, who finally made his presidential candidacy official on July 1, will start his campaign in Samsun this weekend, from where he will move to Erzurum.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, started his Independence War campaign on May 19, 1919, in Samsun, while attending the Erzurum Congress two months later, where it was announce that “the nation would resist foreign occupation and interference” in the country.

After a decade of practically unchallenged single-party, single-man rule, Erdoğan can still rally his supporters behind the idea of a “Second Independence War.” This is the key to his success, and the reason why decent politics in Turkey is doomed to fail.