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2 July 1993: How Turkish Islamists Publicly Massacred Alevi Intellectuals

Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut describes how Turkish Islamists that massacred Alevi intellectuals in 1993 have never been punished for their crimes and even gained political power within her country: “How can a country get democratized and secularized when it keeps murdering its best and most humanitarian thinkers and writers?”
Sivas massacre protest Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

2 July 1993 was one of the darkest days in Turkey’s history in which a cultural festival in the province of Sivas was turned into a massacre by Islamists. 

Aziz Nesin, a Turkish author and humorist known for his progressive political views, was one of the participants of the event. Throughout his career, Nesin authored more than 100 books that received many awards and were translated into over thirty languages. But due to his political views, he was jailed several times and placed under surveillance by the Turkish National Security Service.

Culturally backward countries do not know the value of their intellectuals. Instead of appreciating their talent and trying to come up with answers for the questions they ask; they systematically threaten, arrest or even murder them. And that is why they remain culturally backwards in the first place.

Aziz Nesin was also a brave political activist. After the 1980 military coup in Turkey, the intelligentsia was oppressed and few people had the courage to speak out against the coup. Nesin was one of them; he signed and issued the Petition of Intellectuals that demanded a democratic regime where freedom of speech and association would be protected.

Nesin was a philanthrope. In 1973, he founded the Nesin Foundation whose purpose is to take poor children into the Foundation's home and provide every necessity including a shelter. Starting from elementary school, children receive education and training there and leave the foundation with their own free will upon receiving the skills that will help them stand on their own legs.

However, he was an open critic of Islam and in 1993, he committed the most “inexcusable” crime that a man could ever commit on earth: He got Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses translated into Turkish and started to get it published in a newspaper on 26 May. This attempt of Nesin received outrage all across the country.

On 1 July, a cultural event named after the Alevi poet Pir Sultan Abdal in which several well-known authors and artists --mostly Alevi intellectuals –participated started in the province of Sivas.

Ironically, Turkey was not ruled by an Islamist government back then. On 23 June, the coalition government of the True Path Party (DYP), a non-Islamist, centre-right party, and the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), an Ataturkist, centre-left party -- under the leadership of Tansu Ciller, the first female Prime Minister of Turkey-- took power.

And the authors and poets who participated in the event organized an autograph and talk session on 2 July in the morning.  The local press, however, covered the events in a way that targeted particularly Nesin. The newspaper, Hakikat, for instance, had the headline “They sell snails in a Muslim neighborhood,” a Turkish saying which means “In a Muslim land, they dare do things that are incompatible with Islam.”

In an interview with a news agency on the same day, Nesin said: “I am never disturbed by Muslims. But Muslims should also get used to me and they should not be disturbed by me either. I don’t have to be a Muslim. But I respect Muslims and all religions… I respect Muslims so much, because I come from a very religious Muslim family. Hence, I do not support Islam or Islamic movement. That is my own issue.

“If someone insults [Islam], I won’t tell them not to or if someone insults Christianity, I won’t tell them not to either,” he stated. “Civilized persons offer an answer if they are exposed to an injustice. But not by attacking, killing or snarling. If they are civilized, they will do what civilization requires.”

When the interviewer told him that Muslims were provoked by his writings and by the translation of the Satanic Verses, Nesin said: “They can be provoked; what shall we do about it? But a human does not attack when provoked... Civilized people, enlightened people show their reaction through writing, speaking and expressing themselves. They just don’t attack. They don’t attempt to kill, hit or beat people.”

But Nesin’s opponents were neither civilized nor enlightened. After the Friday prayers, the crowds started to gather in the city centre and started to march, chanting slogans: “Sivas will be the grave of Nesin”.

Then the crowd headed for the Madimak Hotel where the Alevi intellectuals were staying during the event. They were chanting “Down with secularism,” “We want sharia” and “Allahu Akhbar.”

The hotel was besieged; there were thousands of Islamists around it. And they would not disperse. The massacre started with the burning of cars in front of the hotel. And the mob set fire to the hotel. As the chants of “allahu akhbar” were being chanted, the fire was spreading. Only a handful of soldiers and police officers were dispatched to the area and as the deaths of the people at the hotel were approaching, the security forces just stood idly by.

Luckily, Aziz Nesin, who was 78 back then, survived the fire. He walked down the stairs as the fire approached, but Cafer Ozcakmak of the Islamist Wealth Party (RP) recognized Nesin, and told the fire fighters not to rescue him. Then, they threw him to the ground. As he was punched and kicked, he was dragged to a police car and then was taken to a hospital.

The threats, angry protests and the fire lasted for hours. As time passed by and the besieged desperately waited to be saved; the state authorities did nothing to protect them. When soldiers finally had the time to control the attack, 33 intellectuals, mostly Alevis, as well as 2 hotel staff lost their lives in the fire.

The statements made by state authorities were even more shocking than the massacre itself. Tansu Ciller, then Prime Minister, said: “Thank God, our citizens outside of the hotel have not been harmed.”

Suleyman Demirel, then President, said: “This is an isolated incident. There was heavy provocation. As a result of this provocation, people were effervesced. The security forces did their best... There were no conflicts between groups. There was loss of life due to a hotel’s being set on fire.”

Mehmet Gazioglu, then interior minister, said: “People were effervesced and showed a reaction as a result of Aziz Nesin’s known provocation of the faith of the people.”

Even this ISIS-like massacre alone and the government’s turning a blind eye to it was a sign that an Islamist government was on its way to rule Turkey. How can a country get democratized and secularized when it keeps murdering its best and most humanitarian thinkers and writers?

Following the massacre, the governor of the city declared a 2-day curfew. Moreover, many columnists in the Turkish mainstream media - even the “liberal” media - accused Aziz Nesin of “speaking too much”and “provoking people.” So again, the one who just spoke his mind without using violence or calling for violence was blamed for what the murderers did. “If you had shut up and bowed down to threats, you would not have been in trouble.”

Just like in all massacres or deadly attacks committed against minorities in Turkey, the perpetrators of this massacre also got away with their crimes. In March 2012, the case against four people accused in connection with the massacre was dropped. The court agreed with defense lawyers that the statute of limitations meant the case had expired.

When the trial got started on 21 October 1993, one of the defense lawyers was Sevket Kazan, who later became the Justice Minister of the next government of Turkey and even visited the detainees in prison during his tenure as minister.

Many other lawyers of the defendants later joined the current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and even became MPs in Turkey’s parliament.

The 2 July 1993 massacre was not just a local issue. Today, Islamists worldwide are trying to terrorize and subjugate and impose their laws of blasphemy – even in the West - and put all free individuals and societies in a state of mental dhimmitude [living as a tolerated, second-class citizen, ruled by Muslims].

In places where they have power, they take “direct action” - as they did in 1993 in Sivas - and murder people they want to silence. When they don’t have power, they hide behind the excuses of “being offended” and accuse the critics of “engaging in hate crimes” in order to isolate and silence them.

But non-Muslims should not get used to being threatened and silenced. Rather, it is Muslims who should get used to discussion, tolerance and pluralism.

Actually, the scope of the battle is much broader than that. This is not a battle between “Muslims” and “non-Muslims.” This is a battle between freedom and slavery – between those who want to live as free human beings in dignity and those who want to enslave and subjugate everybody who does not want to think and live like them.

These intellectuals were besieged at the Madimak Hotel and were murdered just because they were Alevis, progressives and humanists – some of the traits that Islamic supremacists hate the most.

When somebody writes or translates a book that criticizes your views or beliefs and if you are a normal person, you try to write even a better book to refute their claims. But this is not how the mind of Islamic supremacists works. When you write an article or draw a cartoon critical of their beliefs, they try to exterminate you. And then they cry “Islamophobia “and whine: “The whole world is against us!”

Could it be that people that are afraid of critical thoughts and questions, and who attack others for asking them, are suffering from “truthophobia,” an all-too-rational fear of having truths exposed?

The 2 July 1993 Sivas massacre was just another page of the history of Islamic jihad. In order to understand the root cause of the problem, the continuity of jihad should also be understood. These are not isolated incidents in the Muslim world; these have been common acts of Islamic supremacists for centuries.

And if you want to know more about what Islamic supremacism is, ask Alevis in Turkey, Yazidis in Iraq, Copts in Egypt, Jews, Christians, atheists and members of other non-Muslim communities all around the Islamic world.

And every time you see an author critical of Islamic ideology getting threatened or attacked for expressing his views, remember what happened at the Madimak Hotel on 2 July 1993 in Turkey.

Those who lost their lives at the hotel: Muhibe Akarsu – (35, guest) , Muhlis Akarsu – (45, artist) , Gülender Akça – (25, artist) , Metin Altıok – (52, poet, writer) , Ahmet Alan – (22, artist) , Mehmet Atay – (25, journalist) , Sehergül Ateş – (30, artist) , Behçet Aysan – (44, poet) , Erdal Ayrancı – (35, director) , Asım Bezirci – (66, researcher, writer) , Belkıs Çakır- (18, artist) , Serpil Canik –(19, artist) , Muammer Çiçek – (26, actor) , Nesimi Çimen – (67, poet, artist,) , Carina Cuanna – (23, Dutch journalist) , Serkan Doğan – (19, artist) , Hasret Gültekin – (23, poet, artist), Murat Gündüz - (22, artist) , Gülsüm Karababa –(22, artist) , Uğur Kaynar – (37, poet) , Asaf Koçak – (35,caricaturist) , Koray Kaya – (12) , Menekşe Kaya – (17, artist) , Handan Metin – (20, artist) , Sait Metin –(23, artist) , Huriye Özkan – (22, artist) , Yeşim Özkan – (20, artist) , Ahmet Öztürk – (21 ,hotel employee) , Ahmet Özyurt – (21, artist) , Nurcan Şahin – (18, artist) , Özlem Şahin – (17, artist) , Asuman Sivri – (16, artist) , Yasemin Sivri – (19, artist) , Edibe Sulari – (40, artist) , İnci Türk – (22, artist) , Kenan Yılmaz – (21, hotel employee).

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara.



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