Turkey marks 25 years since mob attack on Alevi intellectuals

Turkish opposition MPs joined thousands in Sivas to commemorate the massacre of Alevi intellectuals in a 1993 mob attack. (AFP pic)

SIVAS: Turkish activists and opposition on Monday marked a quarter of a century since the massacre of 33 intellectuals largely from the Alevi religious minority in a mob attack on a hotel, one of the most shocking crimes in Turkey’s modern history.

The writers and artists, along with two hotel staff, were killed on July 2, 1993, when an angry mob set fire to the Madımak Hotel in the Anatolian city of Sivas, where they had been holding a conference as part of an Alevi cultural festival.

The Islamist protesters had been angered by the presence of the writer Aziz Nesin who had questioned the authenticity of the Quran and also sought to translate Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel “The Satanic Verses”.

Nesin survived the massacre but died of a heart attack in 1995. Two protesters were also killed, bringing the total death toll to 37.

The massacre has become a major cause for Turkey’s community of Alevis, who adhere to what is usually seen as an offshoot of Shiite Islam and make up the largest religious minority in the mainly Sunni Muslim country.

After a long and convoluted legal process, 33 suspects were eventually given life sentences although activists contend that many of those responsible escaped justice.

Turkish opposition MPs joined thousands marching through the centre of Sivas on Monday, watched by a heavy contingent of 2,600 police, reports said.

At an official ceremony, the government-appointed governor of Sivas Province, Davut Gül, laid flowers by a memorial at the former hotel, now a cultural centre. He said the grief was shared by Sivas and all of Turkey.

“It is not possible to change the past but it is in our power to build a peaceful and happy future with unity and togetherness,” said Muharrem İnce of the opposition Republican People’s Party, who last month ran against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in elections.

“From taking lessons from the suffering we experienced, we will all rebuild Turkey,” he wrote on Twitter, where the hashtag #unutMADIMAKlimda (“I didn’t forget Madımak, it’s on my mind”) was trending.

The main association for Turkey’s Alevis, the Cem Vakfı, said in a statement that “we will not and must not forget Madımak to protect peace and brotherhood in society and to look to tomorrow with hope”.

The opposition Cumhuriyet daily said Monday several defense lawyers for the suspects in the case had gone on to key roles in the ruling Justice and Development Party.