(Hurriyet Daily News, June/29/2014)
It will be 21 years on July 2 since a group of fundamentalist Muslims torched a hotel in Sivas, burning 35 people alive, including artists, writers and musicians. On its anniversary, you can watch ‘Menekşe’den Önce’ (Before Menekşe)
The documentary ‘Menekşeden Önce’ follows the lives of the survivors and those who lost loved ones through the eyes of a young girl born into a tragedy.
“Time?” asks the woman, her voice bemused and heart-broken at the same time. “It doesn’t heal anything. It hurts more with each passing day.” The woman is a living testament to one of the most horrific, shameful and heart-breaking days modern Turkey has experienced. She is the mother of the two youngest victims that were among the 35 people who were burnt alive by fundamentalist Muslims in the central Anatolian city of Sivas on July 2, 1993.
The Sivas massacre, or the Madımak massacre (referring to the name of the torched hotel), has become a symbol of some of the darkest moments that humanity can endure. From the planning of the attack, including the involvement of the police and some politicians, to the controversial trial, then the case going back and forth with it eventually being dropped in 2012 due to charges against the suspects exceeding the statute of limitations.
The woman’s painful remarks are captured in a feature documentary that looks at that fateful day through the eyes of those who lost members of their family and friends, as well as the survivors. “Menekşe’den Önce” (Before Menekşe) of 2012 is a communal project, that was started by journalist and writer Soner Yalçın. Yalçın was arrested and charged for being linked to the alleged terrorist organization Ergenekon in Feb. 2011 while filming. The film was completed by Yalçın’s friends: Halide Didem, Elif Ilgaz, Zeynep Altıok, Tuğçe Tatari, Ebru Köktürk, Elif Yıldız, Melda Onur, Canan Kaftancıoğlu and Tuğba Ezeroğlu.
The documentary will be screened on the evening of the 21st anniversary of the Sivas massacre, July 2, in six theaters in Istanbul and one in Ankara by the independent cinema platform, Başka Sinema. The film follows the events and the aftermath of the massacre through the eyes of Menekşe, a teenage girl who was born into a family tragedy and carried the burden of newfound hope on her shoulders since the day she was born.
Menekşe’s older siblings, whom she had never seen, were Koray and Menekşe, 12 and 15 respectively, who had died in the fire, with the two youngest victims coming from the same family. Menekşe, we learn, had grown with the ghosts of her two siblings, with photos in every corner of the house and stories of the two recounted endless times since their passing. When Menekşe gets a hold of writer Lütfiye Aydın’s collection of stories, “Gri Gül” (The Grey Rose), a sense of overwhelming curiosity of the heroes from the massacre washes over her.
‘Knife through my heart’
Menekşe sets on a journey to understand what happened on that day from the first person perspective. The writer who sparked her journey, Lütfiye Aydın, is also one of these heroes. She was one of the intellectuals, writers, artists and musicians, gathered in the city to celebrate the 16th century Alevi poet, Pir Sultan Abdal. She was one of the survivors that was injured and who had to live through one of the worst cases of posttraumatic stress disorder, learning to speak, read and write after already having four published books to her name.
Each story recounted to Menekşe is more heart-breaking than the one before: a man coming to life after the electricity cut in the morgue, the harrowing guilt of one witness over stopping a victim from drinking his final mineral water, the voices from a footage of the mob urging one another to light a match, everyone unanimously asking for Madımak Hotel to be turned into a museum, the tearful voices of the survivors and the families, and Menekşe’s mother talking about her children while combing her daughter’s hair.
Among those who have perished on July 2, 1993 were renowned poets such as Metin Altıok, Behçet Aysan and Uğur Kaynar, writers Asım Bezirci, as well as popular Alevi musicians Muhlis Akarsu and Nesimi Çimen. Zeynep Altıok, one of the names that helped finish Menekşe’den Önce, was poet Metin Altıok’s daughter. Altıok describes watching the documentary as “someone sticking a knife through my heart.”
“You almost become ashamed of your own personal sorrow when watching children, young people, and others killed,” said Altıok after watching the documentary. “When you see other people’s sorrow, it brings along another kind of sorrow. I believe this documentary will make everyone feel similarly to how I felt.”