Victims of Sivas Massacre remembered on 31st anniversary

Turkey marked the 31st anniversary of the Sivas Massacre, where an Islamist mob set fire to the Madımak Hotel in the central Sivas province, killing 35 people. DEM Party, CHP, and TİP chairs joined the commemoration and demanded justice for the victims.  

Özel, Bakırhan, and Baş join the commemoration, holding a banner that reads "The Madımak Hotel Museum of Shame."

Duvar English

People on July 2 gathered in front of the Hacı Bektaş Veli Anatolian Culture Foundation in Turkey’s central Sivas province to mark the 31st anniversary of the Madımak Massacre. 

The crowd began a march toward the Madımak Hotel, after semah dancers from the Mersin Cemevi of the Alevi Cultural Associations performed a ritual dance in front of the foundation, according to reporting by the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair Özgür Özel, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party co-chair Tuncer Bakırhan, and Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) chair Erkan Baş attended the commemoration, along with deputies and representatives from their parties. 

During the march, participants chanted slogans such as "Don't forget Sivas," "Those who burned Sivas founded the AKP," "Our right to equal citizenship cannot be denied," and "We are right, we shall win."

Bakırhan of the DEM Party reminded of the government’s response to the massacre at the time, "When this crime was committed, the president of the time called it an 'isolated incident'; the prime minister made a similar statement, saying, 'Thank God, our people outside were unharmed.'”

Bakırhan reminded that the real perpetrators were not identified, and the few people who were sentenced were later released by presidential pardon. 

“This is a crime against humanity. The president cannot pardon those who committed crimes against humanity. We, as the DEM Party, will continue to stand with our Alevi citizens and all those oppressed, exploited, and victimized in this country. We will fight together," he concluded. 

TİP’s Baş added, "We are not only commemorating the pain we experienced 31 years ago. We are also continuing the struggle for a secular country with all progressive, patriotic, and democratic people against the same reactionary forces that still aim to plunge Turkey into darkness. The crowd gathered in Sivas today, and the millions of citizens who couldn't be here but stand with us, demonstrate that this case has no statute of limitations."

Özel voiced two demands in his statement, "This struggle will not end until two important decisions are made. The first demand, shared by us and the families, is for Madımak to become a shame museum.”

Seeing the building currently used as a “Science and Culture Center,” pained the families, according to Özel. 

“They say, 'We didn't deserve this; what science, what culture? Is burning people part of our culture?' They burned those who believed in science, culture, and art here.” 

He stated that the building should be converted into a “Museum of Shame,” to etch the shameful attack into memory. 

The second demand was the recognition as the attack as a crime against humanity, which would lift the statute of limitations currently imposed on the case. 

Özel continued, “We still have hope in the appellate court. Ultimately, these rulings must be overturned, and this must be recognized as a crime against humanity. This is a crime against humanity that threatens all people in Turkey. It is a landmine planted in Turkey's peace.” The party chair added that it fell upon all politicians to clear these mines. 

According to Özel, the recognition of the massacre as a crime against humanity would be a historic achievement and serve as a precedent for many cases that fell through due to the statute of limitations, including the October 10 case. 

Referring to the final hearing of July 1, Özel said that the found the decisions made yesterday were also shameful. 

The Ankara 4th High Criminal Court acquitted defendant Erman Ekici of the charge of crimes against humanity for the Ankara Train Station Massacre. He was the first defendant against whom an indictment was prepared on the charge of crimes against humanity in Turkish legal history. He still received an aggravated life sentence for manslaughter. 

The Sivas Massacre

On July 2, 1993, almost 15,000 people participated in the march towards the Madımak Hotel after Friday prayers, chanting "Sivas will be the grave of secularists." Security forces did not intervene against the Islamist mob who waited in front of the hotel for hours and eventually set it on fire. The fire brigade also intervened late.

Mainly Alevi intellectuals and artists were staying at the hotel, as they were invited to the Pir Sultan Abdal Festival which celebrated Alevi culture and the arts. 33 guests and two hotel personnel died in the fire.

At the end of the long trial process, 33 defendants received the death sentence, and 14 defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging up to 15 years. In 2002, Turkey abolished the death penalty, converting the sentences to life imprisonment. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pardoned two perpetrators, Hayrettin Gül and Ahmet Turan Kılıç in 2023 and 2020, citing their advanced age and health conditions.

The Ankara First Heavy Penal Court on September 2023 dropped the remaining case that concerned the fugitive defendants of the Sivas Massacre Murat Sonkur, Eren Ceylan, and Murat Karataş, due to the statute of limitations.

The main case of the Sivas Massacre Trial was also dropped in 2012 due to the statute of limitations and the files of the three aforementioned defendants were separated.