People’s Democratic Party (HDP) presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş symbolically kicked off his campaign July 2 at the infamous Madımak Hotel in Sivas as thousands gathered in the town to commemorate the 21st anniversary of an arson attack in which 35 people were killed, mostly Alevi intellectuals. For his part, the candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, has also sent a message to mark the anniversary.
As the name put forward by the Kurdish and the leftist HDP bloc, Demirtaş vowed to defend the demands of all identities and ensure that justice is served for the Sivas Massacre, which has left open wounds due to a trial process that was halted due to the statute of limitations.
“All the oppressed, we will join hands. The real owner of this country, the poor, the workers, women, the youth: We will free the country. It is only then that we can bring Sivas to account,” Demirtaş said.
Relatives of the victims held pictures of their loved ones and laid carnations in front of the hotel. Families of the victims of the Roboski (Uludere) massacre, where 34 civilians were killed during an air strike in 2011, traveled hundreds of kilometers to attend the event in a show of solidarity.
Members of the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Association from the disaster-struck town of Soma also participated in the commemoration, wearing miners’ helmets to symbolize the 301 workers who died in a mining accident in May. The crowd also read out the names of victims who were killed during the Gezi protests due to police violence.
“There is no bigger message than you standing here shoulder to shoulder. This picture is the biggest message that could be given to those who want to divide and confront society, people and the oppressed. Soma, Roboski, Gezi, the comrades of Berkin [Elvan] are all here today, and there is no better message,” said Demirtaş, referring to one of the Gezi protests’ most prominent victims.
Alevis demands ‘to be fulfilled’
Demirtaş also vowed to fulfill the demands of the Alevis, while accusing the government of perpetuating the impunity of those behind the massacre.
“Those who are governing cannot ask for an account. Because those who need to render an account are them. They are not going to bring anybody to account. It is only by building a real democracy and a real government of the people that justice can be served in Sivas,” he said.
Representatives of Alevi associations also reiterated their demand for the conversion of the Madımak Hotel, which became a symbol of the discrimination faced by the Alevis, into a “museum of shame.” The building was expropriated in 2010, but is currently home to a science museum.
“The fundamentalists burnt it, the state watched. The judiciary absolved [the perpetrators]. They brought the trial to the statute of limitations … We will come here until the Madımak becomes a museum. If it were to be one, we would have commemorated our loved ones at their graves,” said İsmail Saçlı, deputy president of the Alevi Foundations Federation.
The head of the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Foundation (PSAKD), Müslüm Doğan, criticized the fact that any trace remaining from the hotel, including the sign, had been removed.
“Is there any evidence that this is where the Madımak Hotel was? Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan instructed the governor’s office to put ‘Science and Culture Center’ on the new sign, just to ensure the massacre was forgotten. Can this building produce any kind of science or culture?” he said.
İhsanoğlu pledges museum
İhsanoğlu also pledged to turn the hotel into a “museum of an objective lesson.” “I will follow the developments if I am elected,” he said on July 2 during his visit to the Hacıbektaş Veli Museum. İhsanoğlu also visited the grave of Neşet Ertaş, Turkish folk music singer and songwriter.
İhsanoğlu said, “Fanaticism and provocation had created such a disaster among people who had been living together for thousands of years.”
“The struggle for democracy in Turkey is restarting. This is not a struggle of a political cadre designing Turkey for years in their interest, but the struggle of people following their word,” he stated, stressing that that struggle would be civilized.
Turkey’s target is EU membership, İhsanoğlu said, underlining those universal values comply with Islam and Turkey’s culture.
Metin Feyzioğlu, the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB), and CHP deputies also as well as Selvi Kılıçdaroğlu, the wife of CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, attended the commemoration of the Madımak incident in Sivas. “Turks, Kurds, Sunnis, Alevis are all brothers,” Feyzioğlu said.
The attack against the hotel on July 2, 1993, targeted a group of artists and scholars participating in a conference organized by the PSAKD. The event came at the time when legendary 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 were accused of being infidels by a crowd of fundamentalists who were galvanized by some local political leaders.
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, were killed in the attack, while Nesin was rescued by firefighters – albeit suffering a beating at the hands of his saviors as he escaped the burning building.