The Madımak Affair

This piece is taken from a part of my PhD thesis defended in 2015. For proposal sample visit this link.

Alevis[1] differ from the Sunni Muslim majority in their practice and interpretation of Islam. Specific rituals and cultural practices play an important role in the maintenance of Alevi identity. Parallel to the Islamist and Kurdish identity movements that resisted the homogenizing policies of the Kemalist identity-building project, the Alevis also initiated efforts to reinvigorate Alevi identity. Many Alevis in urban contexts were active in left-wing political activism until the early 1980s.


During the 1970s, Alevis were victimsof right-wing ideological violence in Malatya in 1978, Kahramanmaraş in 1978 and Çorum in 1980. The 1990s signify a turning point in terms of the official stance towards the Alevis. Since the early 1990s, secular cadres in military and civil bureaucracy encouraged the Alevi revival against the rise of political Islam. Since the beginning of 1990s, the Alevis started to appear in the public sphere more compared to the previous years. According to Çaha (2004: 332), “the impact of the Alevis in social and political life became so clear that even the 28 February 1997 was associated with the Alevi-orientated generals in the military”


Turkey in the 1990s witnessed the rise of identity politics and identity-related debates. It can be said that, with the Madımak Affair happened in Sivas, a city in central Turkey Alevi citizens experienced direct violence. Thirty-seven citizens, most of whom were Alevi artists, intellectuals and musicians who had travelled to Sivas to commemorate Pir Sultan Abdal died when the Madımak Hotel was set on fire by a fundamentalist on July 2, 1993. Security forces failed to intervene in time to prevent the catastrophe (Köse, 2012: 579).


The Madımak Affair is different in form and meaning compared to the organized acts of violence carried out at the end of the 1970s. Bruinessen (2001: 125) claims that the difference stems from the selection of Aziz Nesin who had translated Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses[2] and many other intellectuals as targets, most of whom were the Alevis, instead of a mass assault on the regions populated with Alevi citizens. Nesin in his speech said that he did not believe in the Quran and this was used by the fundamentalists to inflame the outrage of the Sunni community The passage quoted from the journal Cuma, which appeared in Islamist Milli Gazete Daily on February 20, 1993, about five months before the massacre, is worth noting. The quoted passage is as follows:


Edict of Death for Aziz Nesin! A scabby-looking dog howls at the innocent people in the neighborhood, attacks them, takes their peace of away. And when he is put to silence by whatsoever means, there comes the hell of a fuss: ‘Animal Rights’. Yes gentlemen! Should howling be considered as an animal right, silencing it because of necessity will be an even more sacred human right (Pir Sultan Abdal Kültür Sanat Dergisi, 6, 1993: 7).


Photo Credit: TRT World

Another crucial point concerning the Madımak Affair was the treatment of the Pir Sultan Abdal statue as a target, since Pir Sultan symbolized the rebellious and leftist tradition within the Alevi faith (Bruinessen, 2001: 125-126).The Madımak Affair is generally perceived as the outcome of an ascending appeal for shari’a and evaluated as a revolt against the secular republic during that period. The Madımak Affair led the Alevi citizens to act with solidarity. The event has been utilized in most Alevi and Kemalist circles as identical with Kerbela, Kahramanmaraş and Çorum massacres.


The Madımak Affair has also greatly affected the Alevi youth. It can be said that, the Madımak Affair has contributed to the organization of the Alevis and the acquisition of an identity by the Alevi individual. It accelerated the institutionalization of the associations with the Alevi name. It is observed that after this period, the Alevi youth have begun to assemble and organize in Alevi associations. These meetings which were loosely structured and did not have any organizational ties were carried out through references to the religious elements of Alevism.

[1] It is impossible to figure out the exact population of Alevi citizens in Turkey because of the lack of census data based on ethnic and sectarian factors. Estimates range from 5 million to 20 million; exaggerations of the size of the population is also a part of identity struggle (Köse, 2012: 593).

[2] The book Satanic Verses was banned in India within a week of its publication, and within six months had given rise to a virulent international debate over the proper limits on freedom of speech.


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