The Ghosts of Sivas: The Madımak Massacre at 20


Today is the Twentieth Anniversary of the Sivas Massacre.   I was in Turkey at the time and remember the utter horror I felt at the news of the events.

In 2012, I wrote:

In Turkey, echoes of past crimes continue to call out for justice.  Under Turkey’s infamous Article 301 statute (in which it is a crime to “denigrate Turkishness”), Temel Demirer is still on trial for speaking publicly about the Armenian Genocide.  Almost monthly, new mass graves are found from the thousands killed by security forces during the 1980s and 90s.   As we have previously reported, investigations of these graves are slipshod and the perpetrators not held to account…

[In July, 1993, a]  group of writers, artists, and intellectuals had gathered at a hotel in Sivas for a commemoration of the 16th Century Ottoman folk poet, Pir Sultan Abdal.  Outside the hotel, a large crowd, almost certainly supported by local government officials, surrounded the hotel, shouting Islamist and nationalist slogans…

With each passing hour, the crowd became increasingly ugly and, as security officials passively looked on, they set fire to the hotel.  Caught between a rabid crowd and the flames, a few, including [writer] Aziz Nesin, managed to escape, but more than thirty perished, including a number of children.

I concluded by noting that “[in] 2011, one of the prime suspects in the case, Cafer Erçamak was found to have died peacefully in Sivas, having “eluded the police” in the comfort of his own home for nearly two decades.  Turkey can – and must  – do better.  Victims of past crimes still call out for justice.  And a culture of intolerance and impunity lingers on.”

Today, we mark the anniversary of the Sivas Massacre with sadness and with determination.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

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