The Madımak Massacre, a quarter-century later
It has been 25 years since the Madımak Massacre of July 2, 1993 was committed in Sivas on where 33 people were murdered, but the demand for justice still hasn’t been met.
The lawsuit for the Sivas Massacre was dismissed due to statute of limitation during AKP governments, and lawyers who defended the murderers were awarded as ministers, MP and bureaucrats.
One of the bloodiest massacres in Turkey’s history took place in Sivas on July 2, 1993. The 33 people who were visiting Sivas to commemorate Pir Sultan Abdal were burned alive in the Madımak Hotel they were staying in. Dozens of intellectuals and artists had left Ankara for Sivas that year on June 30, 1993 to participate in the activities in memory of Pir Sultan Abdal, held by the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association (PSAKD).
LOCAL PAPERS TARGETED THE PARTICIPANTS
Flyers distributed two days before the massacre in Sivas titled “To the Muslim public” were virtually “heralding” the massacre. The flyers that read, “There are vile insults against the Envoy of Allah (Peace be upon him), who is closer to the believers than their own souls, and His clean wives, against Allah’s bayt (Allah’s house, the Kaaba) and the book of Quran, and a vile attack against the dignity and honor of the believers,” were distributed to homes. Local papers used similar headlines to target the participants of the memorial ceremony.
PROVOCATIONS START ON DAY 2
Provocations in the city started through Aziz Nesin, who had translated Salman Rushdi’s book The Satanic Verses and was a participant in the activities. On July 2, the Can Fest actors issued a call for a percussion show as part of the festivities, but the groups gathered in mosques provoked the call and said the “nonbelievers want to silence the call to prayer”. The groups leaving Friday prayers started to chant “Sivas will be the secularists’ grave”, “The Republic was founded in Sivas, it will fall in Sivas” and “Sivas will be Aziz’s grave” as they marched towards the Cultural Center where the activities were being held and attacked citizens.
SOLDIERS LEAVE HOTEL AS THE MASSACRE STARTS
After the incident started, the group of attackers continued to grow. Tens of thousands gathered in front of the Madımak Hotel to attack the people inside. The attackers set fire to vehicles parked in front of the hotel, and tore out the hoses when firefighters came to put the fires out. They broke the windows of the hotel and threw in gas soaked pieces of cloth so the fire would spread. A group of soldiers who came to the hotel waited around for a while, talked with the attackers and then left the area.
ATTACKS HAPPENED UNDER SUPERVISION OF STATE OFFICIALS
Meanwhile, the people trapped inside the hotel called state officials and asked for precautions. The Governor and Police Chief of Sivas, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior Affairs, the Deputy Prime Minister and party leaders of the time were contacted, but no precautions were taken. The Sivas Police Chief Doğukan Öner was even informed that the incident was escalating, but ordered the police force “not to intervene”. The attacks under state supervision lasted some 12 hours. In the attacks, 33 people who had gone to Sivas for the memorial lost their lives, while 51 people managed to escape the burning hotel by their own means.
33 LIVES BURNED ALIVE
The massacre targeted the Alevi community, and writers, poets, artists, philosophers, troubadours and children lost their lives. Intellectuals including troubadour Muhlis Akarsu, investigative writer Asım Bezirci, Alevi Bektaşi folk poets Nesimi Çimen and Hasret Gültekin, poet and writer Metin Altıok, caricaturist Asaf Koçak, poe Behçet Sefa Aysan, journalist Mehmet Kaynak, poet Uğur Kaynar, artist Edibe Sulari, Koray and Menekşe Kaya siblings aged 12 and 15, Asuman and Yasemin Sivri sisters aged 16 and 17 and their guest Dutch university student Carina Cuanna were among the 33 people who lost their lives.
MURDERERS TAKEN INTO STATE PROTECTION
Tansu Çiller, who was one of the representatives of the dirty war in Kurdistan, was the Prime Minister and Süleyman Demirel was the President at the time of the massacre. In the aftermath, Tansu Çiller said, “Thank god that our people outside the hotel were not harmed,” while Süleyman Demirel, who during the massacre said “Don’t put the people and the security forces against one another”, said, “This was an individual incident. There is heavy provocation. The people were agitated due to the provocation. Security forces did all they could.” The Minister of Interior Affairs Mehmet Gazioğlu blamed Aziz Nesin: “The people were agitated and responded in reaction to Aziz Nesin’s known provocations against the faith of the people.”
MURDERERS’ SENTENCES REDUCED DUE TO HEAVY PROVOCATION
After the massacre, on July 3, 190 people were detained and 124 of them were arrested. The case was to be heard at the Sivas State Security Court (DGM), but was transferred to the Ankara State Security Court No.1 on security concerns. On October 21, 1993 the first hearing was held. The first verdict came out on December 26, 1994, more than a full year later.
With the verdict, 22 suspects were sentenced to 15 years in prison, 3 suspects to 10 years, 54 suspects to 3 years, and 6 suspects to 2 years. 37 of the suspects were acquitted. After the verdict was appealed, the long legal battle was concluded in 2001. In the verdict approved by the Supreme Court Criminal Division No.9, 33 suspects were sentenced to death, 4 suspects were sentenced to 20 years and one suspect was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
CASE DISMISSED ON STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
During the proceedings, some perpetrators of the massacre were protected and hidden by the state, while some were smuggled outside the country. Some suspects, wanted with a Red Bulletin in theory, turned out to have worked in public institutions for years. The number one suspect in the massacre Cafer Erçakmak lived and died in Sivas, despite having a Red Bulletin search warrant issued globally, and was buried in the Sivas Cemetery in 2011. After 20 years of no advance for justice, the case was dismissed on grounds of statute of limitations in March 2012.
ERDOĞAN: MAY IT DO GOOD
When answering questions about the dismissal of the Sivas Massacre case on March 13, 2012, the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “May it do good for our nation and our country.” Erdoğan claimed there were “victims” of the Sivas Massacre case and said: “In my visits to Sivas, I saw girls aged 15, 18, 19 who were crying because their fathers were unjustly sentenced to death without any wrongdoings. I don’t believe it is right to serve only a single side politically and ignore these people.”
LAWYERS OF THE MURDERERS AWARDED WITH HIGH RANKS BY AKP
The lawyers that defended the murderers in the Sivas Massacre case which was dismissed during AKP governments were awarded with high ranks in the AKP administration. The murderers were made minsiters, MPs and bureaucrats.
Hayati Yazıcı who was a lawyer in the case was part of the founding of the AKP. Yazıcı entered the parliament as an Istanbul MP in the November 3 elections in 2002, and served as a State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the 60th government, and as Minister of Customs and Trade in the 61st. Other lawyers of the murderers Kemal Kurt, Mehmet Bulut, Bülent Tüfekçi, Zeyid Aslan, Ali Aşlık, Halil Ürün and Hüsnü Turan served as AKP MPs.
DEMAND TO CONRONT THE MASSACRE CONTINUES
In the aftermath, the Alevi community and institutions continue to demand the Madımak Hotel be turned into a Museum of Shame and the Massacre be confronted in a just trial. But these demands have insistently been denied for the last 25 years, and the hotel itself has since been turned into a “Scientific and Cultural Center”, after having served as a barbecue restaurant for years. Names of two of the murderers who also died in the attacks were included in the memorial placard placed in the hotel after it was turned into a cultural center.