The Sivas Massacre: 15 Years Later
Today marks the 15th anniversary of one of the most horrific atrocities in Islamism's war on intellectual freedom. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet describes what happened in the city of Sivas on that terrible day:
On July 2, 1993, a group of Islamic fundamentalists surrounded the Madimak Hotel in which many intellectuals were staying for the Pir Sultan Abdal Festival in Sivas, known as a stronghold of Islamist movements.
The demonstrations to protest novelist, Aziz Nesin, who translated and published Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and who criticized Islam, turned violent and the fundamentalist crowd set fire to the Madimak Hotel.
Nesin was saved by security forces, but 37 other intellectuals and participants of the festival, who stayed inside the hotel, were killed. Security forces and officials were criticized for not stopping the massacre.
The Sivas massacre was by far the worst act of violence carried out in response to the publication of The Satanic Verses. Incredibly, many of the perpetrators of this atrocity have yet to be brought to justice. The Turkish paper Today's Zaman explains:
The killers were arrested and tried, and after some 13 years of trials, convicted. However some were later released under a law known as the “rehabilitation project,” which gave partial amnesty for terrorist crimes committed in 2003. Some perpetrators are still at large. The city’s inhabitants claim that some of the perpetrators were even not from the city and that some passersby were wrongly convicted.
To mark today's anniversary, supporters of free expression, many from Turkey's minority Alevi sect of Islam, staged a demonstration in honor of those murdered. Among their demands are that a museum be erected on the site of the Madimak Hotel and that all of the perpetrators finally be brought to justice.
The Sivas massacre was not only directed at Aziz Nesin and The Satanic Verses; it was also one of a number of attacks directed at Turkey's Alevi minority. According to the Hurriyet article cited above, "Alevis are the second largest religious community in Turkey, although no official statistics are available. The Alevis' interpretation of Islam differs from Sunnis, and represents a more liberal wing of Islam." It is no coincidence that the Pir Sultan Abdal festival was named after a 16th century Alevi poet who was hanged by the Ottoman authorities for his outspoken and heterodox views. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Alevis should be willing to defend to defend free expression and that they would find themselves targeted by Islamists.
In June, a number of Turkish Alevi leaders published an appeal regarding the commemoration of the Sivas massacre. It is they who should have the last word:
Turkey must remove this shame from its past and also illuminate its future. In our opinion the solution is to convert the Madımak Hotel into a museum, to identify the real, hidden perpetrators, and to apologize to the Alevi Community. To prevent new Madımak massacres, therefore, it is of great importance to stop initiatives and efforts to forget July 2 and to ensure that the Turkish state and society confront it. Thus commemorations to be held on July 2 in Sivas are critically important.
Alevi organizations have been waging a determined struggle for fifteen years to expose the Madımak Massacre, and not only Madımak, but all massacres which devastate the culture of tolerance and reinforce darkness. And we consider it important to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who defend secularism, emancipation of the individual and labor, and democratization of the State. We call on our friends to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the Madımak Hotel on July 2.
As we do every year, to commemorate our loss, we will leave carnations in front of the Madımak Hotel on 2nd July in this year too. Once more we shall demonstrate our commitment to make the Madımak Hotel a museum. We strongly appeal to others to join us in these commemorations. We believe that your support will contribute to realizing the dream of a Turkey where different cultures and beliefs can live in tolerance and that your support will constitute an effective response to those who try the cause the Madımak Massacre to be forgotten.