Outrage as Sivas Massacre convicts granted early release
By Mehmet Menekse
The surprising pardon by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Hayrettin Gul, sentenced in the Sivas massacre case, raises questions about the seemingly selective use of his pardoning power. Their fate remains unchanged as 1517 ill inmates, 600 critically sick, languish in prisons.
Gul's pardon came on the grounds of "permanent illness," yet he was involved in the February 28 trial as a "victim." The shock doesn't end here. Last year, Ahmet Turan Kılıc, another defendant in the same case with a life sentence, was also pardoned by Erdogan.
Husne Kaya, a mother mourning the loss of her two children in the massacre, expressed her anguish, "They are letting the murderers out one by one. Who cares about our pain?" Kaya's heart-wrenching testimony about her children, Koray and Menekse, highlights the profound sense of injustice the victims' families felt.
Senal Sarihan, attorney at the Sivas massacre case, emphasized that the massacre is a crime against humanity and that such crimes cannot be time-barred. Sarıhan points out the double standards, contrasting the treatment of political prisoners with the Sivas defendants.
The Human Rights Association's Gulseren Yoleri highlights the plight of 1517 sick prisoners, with 600 critically ill, and underscores the discriminatory application of presidential pardons. Yoleri questions, "Why doesn't the President use this power for other sick prisoners?" She further warns that such selective pardons damage society's sense of justice and could embolden similar crimes in the future.
Cafer Ercakmak, the prime defendant who evaded authorities for 18 years, was found to have secretly passed away in 2011 in Sivas. His residence was a mere 400 meters from the governor's office and 500 meters from the police station, raising eyebrows about the laxity in his pursuit.
Another defendant, İhsan Cakmak, was captured 2008 while he was working as a toll booth clerk at an Istanbul Municipality station. His employment was eventually terminated in 2021 following media revelations.
As the aftermath of the Sivas massacre continues to shape political and social debates in Turkey, the president's pardoning decisions remain a hot topic, raising more questions than they answer.
The Sivas massacre
The horrific Sivas massacre remains a stain on Turkey's history. On July 2, 1993, an Islamist mob besieged the Madımak Hotel in Sivas, killing 37 people. Most victims were Alevi artists, intellectuals, and community leaders who had gathered for a cultural festival.
Incited after Friday prayers, thousands of Sunni fundamentalists surrounded the hotel, broke through minimal police barriers, and set the building ablaze. The attackers barricaded exits and obstructed firefighters, trapping victims inside the burning building for eight hours.
The mob was enraged by the presence of writer Aziz Nesin, who had attempted to publish a controversial novel. But Alevis claimed the real target was their minority community, noting that mob members also destroyed a statue of the revered Alevi poet Pir Sultan Abdal.
In the aftermath of the massacre, Turkey's Alevis accused the authorities of enabling the violence through lax security and tacit acceptance of dangerous Islamist policies. Prosecutions began under international pressure but stalled over time. To date, full accountability remains elusive despite appeals.
The Sivas massacre highlighted the precarious position of Alevis within Turkey's Sunni Muslim majority. It underscored the deadly consequences when militant Islamism and state negligence mix. The tragedy remains a raw injustice for Alevis, threatening the nation's democratic and pluralistic aspirations.