|Tens of thousands of people attended the commemoration service on Wednesday for the 37 people killed in Turkey's central province of Sivas on July 2, 1993. Many of those killed were Alevi intellectuals. (UPDATED)
Alevi organizations, politicians, trade unions, professional chambers, nongovernmental organizations, and many artists and intellectuals met in Sivas to commemorate the deaths and give voice yet again to a demand to turn the Madimak Hotel, where the massacre took place, into a museum.
The police took extraordinary security measures for the commemoration services. The deputy leader of CHP's parliamentary group reiterated calls for the Madimak Hotel to be turned into a museum. A restaurant opened in the basement of the hotel years after the massacre that created widespread reaction.
A group of demonstrators attending today's commemoration showed their resentment by breaking the windows of the restaurant.
On July 2, 1993, a group of Islamic fundamentalists surrounded the Madimak Hotel in which many intellectuals were staying for the Pir Sultan Abdal Festival in Sivas, known as a stronghold of Islamist movements.
The demonstrations to protest novelist, Aziz Nesin, who translated and published Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and who criticized Islam, turned violent and the fundamentalist crowd set fire to the Madimak Hotel.
Nesin was saved by security forces, but 37 other intellectuals and participants of the festival, who stayed inside the hotel, were killed. Security forces and officials were criticized for not stopping the massacre.
Commemoration services will be held in Istanbul and Ankara as well as some other provinces. In Istanbul the service will be hosted by Alevi organizations, the Pir Sultan Abdal Association, and the Alevi Unions Federation.
The group, supported by political parties, trade unions and labor confederations will visit the grave of Asim Bezirci, a literature critic and author who was murdered in Sivas.
After a lengthy court process, the court sentenced 33 people to death on Nov. 28, 1997 for their role in the massacre; 31 of these sentences were upheld in a 2001 appeal. When Turkey overturned the death penalty just over a year later in 2002, the sentences were commuted to life in prison.
The Turkish government and officials have been under attack for not granting permission for the hotel to be turned into a museum.
Not only the demands of turning the hotel into a museum, but many issues regarding the Alevis are yet to be solved.
Alevis are the second largest religious community in Turkey, although no official statistics are available. The Alevis' interpretation of Islam differs from Sunnis, and represents a more liberal wing of Islam.
Alevis demand equal treatment with Sunnism and to be recognized as a unique faith allowing free religious expression. The Sivas Massacre is among the most violent acts against the Alevi community in Turkey.