Eraydın Aytekin / Sivas, July 2 () - The Sivas massacre, an arson attack on mostly Alevi intellectuals inside the city’s Madımak Hotel staged by radical Islamists that killed 33 intellectuals and two hotel personnel, was commemorated on its 22nd anniversary on July 2 in Turkey’s Central Anatolian province of Sivas.
Families of the victims were joined at the commemoration ceremony by newly elected Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Zeynep Altıok, CHP deputy and lawyer of the victims Şenal Sarıhan, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Figen Yüksekdağ, and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s wife, Selvi Kılıçdaroğlu.
The group marched through Sivas and ended at the site of the infamous Madımak Hotel, where they laid carnations and gave speeches in memory of the loved ones.
The attack against the 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 legendary Turkish 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 of fundamentalists 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.
Altıok, the daughter of the late poet Metin Altıok, who was among the Alevi intellectuals to have died at the hotel, said July 2, 2015 was the first time she had come to Sivas since the incident took place.
“It is, of course, meaningful to be here after 22 years with a different responsibility. I am here today with our families. We are conducting this struggle together. We will continue it forever,” Altıok said during the commemoration.
Yüksekdağ said the sorrow in people’s hearts regarding the massacre was still fresh, as the judicial process had not been conducted lawfully.
Earlier in the day, Sivas Governor Alim Barut, Deputy Mayor Erdal Karaca, Sivas State University Rector Faruk Kocacık, Cem Association head Ali Dağ, and other local notables, marched through the city to reach the site of the Madımak Hotel. There they laid carnations at a memorial built inside the building, which is currently being used as a science and culture center.
The building, which became a symbol of discrimination faced by Turkey’s Alevi population, was expropriated in 2010 and turned into a science museum. However, families of those who died in 1993 demand it be turned into a “museum of shame.”
Widespread security measures were taken in the province before and during the latest commemoration. Police stopped and searched vehicles carrying people from outside the province, and checked the identities of people entering the city.
Among those killed in the Madımak Hotel arson attack were poets Metin Altıok, Behçet Aysan and Uğur Kaynar, writer Asım Bezirci, Dutch anthropologist Carina Cuanna, as well as popular Alevi musicians Muhlis Akarsu and Nesimi Çimen. Aziz Nesin, the renowned writer and humorist, was rescued by firefighters – but nevertheless was beaten by his saviors as they escaped the burning building.