The Sivas massacre in five questions

The Sivas massacre in five questions

Özgün Özçer ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
The Sivas massacre in five questions

35 people perished in the arson attack on the Madımak Hotel. What became known as the Sivas massacre is acknowledged as one of the worse cases of civil violence in Turkey’s recent history. AA photo

July 2, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary of the Sivas massacre, acknowledged as one of the worse cases of civil violence in Turkey’s recent history.  
Despite the passing of years, the tragedy remains fresh in Turkish collective memory as the failure of the court to serve justice has prevented the families of the victims, as well as wider society, from achieving a sense of closure.

What happened in Sivas?

A mob, mainly affiliated to fundamentalist and radical religious movements, torched the Madımak Hotel in Sivas on July 2, 1993, as the facility hosted a group of leading artists, scholars and intellectuals who were in town to participate in an Alevi festival. The gathering, which started on July 1, quickly turned into a mob lynching attempt that continued until the early hours of July 2. Despite having dispersed a crowd that had gathered earlier in front of the building of a cultural association, security forces did not intervene until the arson attack had started

Who was targeted?

The assault was largely aimed at artists, scholars and intellectuals who came to Sivas to participate in the conference organized by the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association. The event was held in the city following the special invitation of then-Governor Ahmet Karabilgin. The participants were accused by the mob of being “faithless.”

Turkey’s legendary short story writer Aziz Nesin, in particular, had become a public target at the time for translating Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses into Turkish. 

How many people were killed?

Thirty-three people, including many Alevi intellectuals perished in the fire, along with two hotel workers and two assailants. Some 51 people, among them the outspoken writer Nesin, escaped with severe injuries. Assaults continued as firemen attempted to rescue the survivors.

Renowned and respected artists such as poets Metin Altıok, Behçet Aysan and Uğur Kaynar, writer Asım Bezirci, as well as popular Alevi musicians Muhlis Akarsu and Nesimi Çimen, were killed in the assault.

What happened during the judicial process?

The trial for the Sivas Massacre sparked much controversy; the instigation for the attack has never been fully uncovered by the prosecution. Some 190 suspects were taken into custody; 124 of whom were tried, while nine suspects still await extradition from Germany. The case went back and forth from appeal until an Ankara court announced that it was dropping the case on the killings in March 2012, ruling that the charges against the suspects exceeded the statute of limitations. The decision sparked a huge outcry and there have been many calls for a retrial.

What happened to the hotel?

The Madımak Hotel has since become a symbol of the discrimination faced by the Alevi community, which has long asked the state to turn it into a memorial museum. The hotel was at first reopened after repair works. It was eventually turned into a science museum after it was expropriated in 2010, although the families have continued to demand for it to become a “museum of shame.”