Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Echoes of the Sivas Massacre: Turkey's turning point

The 1993 Massacre and its lasting impact on Turkish society and politics.

Although many years have passed, I distinctly recall the people's reaction in Istanbul upon hearing about the Madimak Hotel's fire in Sivas (Sevastia). "They've set the hotel alight with people inside. They'll be burned alive. The army is withdrawing!"

While this devastating news was whispered from person to person on the streets of Kurtulus (Tatavla), my father and I were shopping for a new radio. This wasn't just any radio – it had advanced medium frequency capabilities, allowing us to connect with international stations. We hoped it would offer a brief respite from the dark cloud over Turkey in the 1990s.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, we cut our shopping trip short and hurried back home to my mother and newborn brother. While our excitement about the radio persisted, the pressing circumstances made us join millions of other Turks, turning on our televisions to watch the breaking news.

The initial footage from Sivas was gut-wrenching. A frenzied mob, devoid of humanity, besieged a hotel where the nation's intellectuals and artists had sought refuge. Astonishingly, security forces were absent. Soldiers who did arrive merely stood by, and the inadequately equipped fire brigade only managed to quench the flames after the full extent of the tragedy was revealed.

The horrifying events of that day surpassed any horror film: 37 people burned to death. The audacity of some media personnel attempting to approach the site where the scorched bodies lay remains imprinted on my memory. In 1993, Turkey witnessed the live broadcast of its citizens being torched. The chilling rise of conservatism had just begun.

On July 2, 1993, Turkey was pivotal in its modern history. Rather than condemning the heinous act, much of the media tried to equate the massacre in Madimak with the perpetrators' motivations. The narrative was twisted: yes, Turkish citizens were burned alive, but there were also "angered" citizens defending society's so-called sacred values. Political parties and organizations seemed to endorse this twisted perception, and the cameras rolled on, capturing every moment as a mob set their fellow citizens aflame.

The timing of this mass murder was deliberate, coming 13 years after a military coup that plunged Turkey into an era of conservatism and nationalism. As the families of the disappeared desperately searched for their loved ones, factions opposing the nation's core constitutional principles seized the reins of law and order.

From that fateful day in 1993, Turkish citizens were embroiled in a distorted version of majoritarian democracy, where conservatism sought to impose its doctrine on society. The foundational tenets of liberal democracy, recognized since the French Revolution, were either marginalized, twisted, or completely absent.

The system's designers have hidden behind the statute of limitations three decades after the Madimak calamity to ensure their actions are protected. There aren't many options for individuals who are suffering from this reality. Recent election outcomes haven't indicated much potential for improvement. Reliving the horror of the Madimak massacre may help us understand the current situation because there isn't any strong pushback. Born out of anti-communism (and containing some "uncontrolled" far-right elements), the 1980s' putchists' idea of constructing a Turano-Islamist regime reached its pinnacle with the cooperation of a frenzied mob, conservative and nationalist organizations, and Anatolian businessmen in the next decade. A stark example of this terrifying undertaking is the Sivas massacre, which we should never forget if we still want to be awake for today's nightmare.

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