Sivas Massacre report shows the way but will state follow?

Sivas Massacre report shows the way but will state follow?

The State Audit Board (DDK) released its report July 15 on the killing of 35 people in Sivas on July 2, 1993 when thousands of angry protesters set a hotel on fire.

The report has significant importance since it is the first time a state institution admits to the wrongdoings during the massacre and the following investigations, and can be deemed positive despite its shortcomings.

“… the incident was caused after serious negligence and failures of the governorship to take preventive measures such as the cancelation of the event, the dispersal of the crowd, the evacuation of the participants from the hotel, or the implementation of a curfew,” said the report prepared on order of President Abdullah Gül, adding that “all the state dignitaries” at the time were responsible.

The report also stressed that the lack of investigation into any public official was unacceptable.

These two findings in the report are of major importance, since the country’s top audition board points to the role of state institutions and officials in the killing of 35 people. However, despite such brave statements, some parts of the report sounded like the typical effort to justify the hatred against the Alevis and intellectuals in Sivas on that dark day.

The invitation of prominent writer Aziz Nesin, who was under fire at the time for translating Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses,” to Sivas for a culture festival as the guest of honor was considered as the reason behind the protest that were “held on nationalist and religious feelings.” A statue erected for the festival, which depicted 15th century Turkish Alevi poet Pir Sultan Abdal, was also considered in the report as a reason that led to the massacre.

Despite its shortcomings, the DDK’s report is also significant as it underlined the overlooked tension between the Alevis and Sunnis.

“Acknowledging the existence of a fault line stemming from the Alevi-Sunni differences will create an environment in which we can take the right steps to achieve societal happiness and peace, while also preventing the radicalization of the representatives of the problem,” the report said, blaming the state’s policies in ignoring Alevis in the country

While the DDK underlined the importance of ensuring democratic rights of the Alevis and other groups to avoid future problems, Turkey’s top religious body gave the latest proof of the biased state policies the very same day the DDK report was released.

According to survey made public by the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) on July 15, they stated that 99.2 percent of the Turkish population is Muslim. This means that only 600,000 people in Turkey identify themselves as Christian, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, etc.

The survey also included numbers on the sects of Muslims in Turkey: 78 percent Sunni, 12 percent Shiite, 6.3 without a sect and 2.4 percent do not know. So, according to Diyanet’s official numbers, there are no Alevis living in Turkey.    

This is the typical state mentality the Alevis have been living with for decades: “You are Muslims, and we have mosques. What else do you need?” As the report notes, Turkey has to go beyond this bigotry if different groups will be able to live together in peace in the country, and the state is responsible in taking the necessary steps to ensure that this will be the case.

But it is unlikely that such steps will be taken under the current Sunni-minded government, whose prime minister is comfortable with using the phrase “even the Shiite would not do this” to describe a behavior he is complaining about.

The murderers in the Sivas Massacre and the officials who did nothing to stop them are currently safe due to the statute of limitations. The DDK report cannot be a tool to punish them, but it should be considered as a first step to face the growing uneasiness and ensure religious freedom for the non-Sunnis in the country.