A shameful day to remember                                                       

A shameful day to remember                                                       

Twenty-seven years ago today, July 2, an Islamist mob staged one of the most shameful acts in republican history in Sivas. Chanting religious slogans polluted with sectarian hatred and vengeance, and benefitting from the inaction of not only the local police but also the military, the mob attacked and burned to death 35 people – including a Dutch journalist – gathered at the Madımak Hotel to attend an annual Alevi festival. Two of the people were workers of the burnt hotel.

Eminent writer Aziz Nesin, one of the speakers invited to the event, narrowly escaped death. The story that he was attacked while trying to escape down the fire department’s ladder was so difficult to believe, but that’s how wild and berserk the fanatics had become.

The Sivas festival was organized by two Alevi cultural organizations, the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association (PSAKD) and the Hacı Bektaşi Veli Association, as well as local groups. Sivas is a city that has played important and courageous roles throughout Turkish history over the past 1,000 years, whether it be the Selçuks, the Ottomans or the Turkish Republic. For example, the 1919 Sivas Congress, which continued despite all the efforts of the British and the occupied Ottoman palace, was instrumental in uniting delegates from all Anatolian provinces of the collapsing Ottoman Empire and forging the Turkish National Forces (Kuvva-i Milliye), the backbone of the Turkish War of Liberation.

Probably, as has been the case for most of the past 27 years, there will be a “silent walk” – of course if allowed by the local authorities under COVID-19 restrictions – from the Sivas branch of the PSAKD to the Madımak Hotel, which has now become a museum.

Unfortunately, as in previous years, those who participate in the commemoration will most likely avoid the Madımak in protest at the museum’s inclusion of the names of two attackers who died on that day due to police bullets. Obviously it must be difficult for the families to see the names of the two criminal fanatics along with the names of 33 of their beloved Alevi comrades and two young hotel workers.

It’s not just the families of those murdered, but also Turkey’s Alevi community and people like this writer and other Turks who, even if they do not subscribe to the Alevi school of religion, firmly believe all religious and non-religious groups should enjoy full freedom to exercise their beliefs, life styles and personal choices, that are unhappy that the real culprits of the Sivas massacre have not been brought to justice.

Indeed, during the lengthy legal process, a total of 124 people were arrested in relation to the fire. The trial lasted for seven years; at the end, 33 people were sentenced to death, although there were sentences were later commuted to aggravated life in prison. Now, however, all have been released from prison. A total of 85 people were given prison sentences ranging from two to 15 years, while 37 of the defendants were acquitted.

Still, people are still unhappy and it took years, for example, to stop the Madımak Hotel from becoming a kebab house. Thanks to the government, it finally became a museum, but as noted above, the names of the two attackers killed by police need to be removed from the list of the people the museum was established for.

As some say, people die when others stop citing their names. I bow in respect and full sympathy in front of their memory. The people who lost their lives in the Sivas massacre were (in alphabetical order): Ahmet Alan (22, artist), Ahmet Öztürk (21, hotel employee), Ahmet Özyurt (21, artist), Asaf Koçak (35, cartoonist), Asım Bezirci (66, researcher and writer), Asuman Sivri (16, artist), Behçet Aysan (44, poet), Belkıs Çakır - (18, artist), Carina Cuanna (23, journalist from the Netherlands), Edibe Sulari (40, artist), Erdal Ayrancı (35, director), Gülender Akça (25, artist), Gülsüm Karababa –(22, artist), Handan Metin (20, artist), Hasret Gültekin– (23, poet and artist), Huriye Özkan (22, artist), İnci Türk (22, artist), Kenan Yılmaz (21, hotel employee).Koray Kaya (12, child), Mehmet Atay (25, journalist), Menekşe Kaya (17, artist), Metin Altıok (52, poet and writer), Muammer Çiçek (26, actor), Muhibe Akarsu (35, guest), Muhlis Akarsu (45, artist), Murat Gündüz - (22, artist), Nesimi Çimen (67, poet and artist), Nurcan Şahin (18, artist), Özlem Şahin (17, artist), Sait Metin (23, artist), Sehergül Ateş (30, artist), Serkan Doğan (19, artist), Serpil Canik –(19, artist), Uğur Kaynar (37, poet), Yasemin Sivri (19, artist) and Yeşim Özkan (20, artist).

Yusuf Kanlı,