Victims of Sivas Massacre remembered on 25th anniversary in Turkey
The Sivas Massacre, an arson attack staged by an extremist mob on mostly Alevi intellectuals inside the Madımak Hotel that killed 33 intellectuals and two hotel personnel, was commemorated on its 25th anniversary on July 2 in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas.
A commemoration event kicked off in front of the Hacı Bektaş Veli Association’s Sivas branch in the Seyrantepe neighborhood. Families of victims, as well as representatives of Alevi institutions and political parties marched from there to the Madımak Hotel, which is currently used as a science and culture center. The families carried photographs of their beloved ones, walking in the front façade of the group march consisting of about 3,000 people.
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.” The group observed a minute of silence for the 35 people killed in 1993, whose names were read off.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and 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],” Gül was quoted as saying during the ceremony by Demirören News Agency.
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.