"It was evening prayer time... The imam was reciting the adhan... Some men performed ablution in the mosque courtyard while some others headed to the mosque for prayer," says Mehmet Ali Dikkaya.
"But suddenly the sound of adhan was cut... The only sound people could hear was the scream of children and women..." Dikkaya lost his brother, uncle, cousins and friends in the Başbağlar massacre in eastern Turkey, which happened 22 years ago yesterday.
Nearly 100 armed PKK terrorists attacked the village of Başbağlar in the Kemaliye district of Erzincan on July 5, 1993. A total of 33 villagers were killed in the massacre, while over 200 houses plus the village clinic, mosque and school were burned down.
Dikkaya said that until July 5, 1993, Başbağlar had been an ordinary, peaceful village. "[...] But some people put a black mark against Başbağlar for an unknown reason and laid waste to the village and slaughtered the people."
Dikkaya, who has also been the president of the Başbağlar Benevolent Society for over 20 years, says it was not an ordinary attack. "We do not know the reason why they chose Başbağlar but the attack was planned long ago," he said. Stating that the eyewitnesses and survivors said that the murderers called the victims by their names, Dikkaya said: "They knew the village and the residents well."
Dikkaya pointed out that the village was attacked only three days after the Sivas incident where 35 mostly Alevi artists and leftist intellectuals died when their hotel was deliberately set alight by protesters in central Anatolia. Dozens of people gathering for a cultural event were killed when protesters set fire to the hotel in which they were meeting. Two of the attackers also died in the blaze.
"It cannot be a coincidence that, as the terrorists left, they left a note claiming: 'This was retaliation for the Sivas massacre'," Dikkaya said.
According to a report released by the Parliament Research Commission, which was established to investigate violence in east and southeastern Anatolia between 1992 and 1993, the perpetrators planned the attack years ago but waited for the Sivas incident before acting. The report also said that another shadowy Kurdish group - code-named "Delil [Proof]" - visited an Alevi village in Tunceli two days after the Sivas murders and one day before the Başbağlar slayings.
Report findings claimed that the group tried to pressurize Alevi villagers into carrying out a revenge attack. "The attack in Madımak [Hotel, Sivas] targeted the Kurdish people and the issue has turned into an Alevi-Sunni, Kurd-Turk issue. We will launch an operation in Başbağlar village of Erzincan and you are going to help us," the report accused the group of saying.
"They [everyone] also tried to deceive us but we have never trusted them. We knew that the same unnamed force was responsible for both attacks." Dikkaya said.
State minister Faruk Çelik, who was the first official to visit the village to commemorate the victims in 2010, also claimed that "both incidents were committed by the same bloodstained hands."
"They are two different scenes of the same scenario," Celik said.
According to Dikkaya, there was also negligence toward the issue by officials. "The attack was committed at 8 p.m. and was reported to the security forces by an imam from a neighboring village at around 1 a.m. However, both the district governor and the security forces reached the village 14 hours later. Even the fire truck arrived at the village nearly a day later," Dikkaya added.
Describing the investigation process as another "failure," Dikkaya said justice has not been served yet. "Although an investigation was launched, the perpetrators of the massacre remain unknown," Dikkaya said.
Nearly 20 people were arrested as part of investigation; 18 were later released. Only two people were jailed and sentenced to life imprisonment - for being members of the PKK. Although the PKK apparently claimed responsibility for the attack, during interrogations, jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan said that he had been unaware of the incident. The case was closed in 1998 and remained unsolved until 2013 when then-president Abdullah Gul assigned the State Auditing Board to "investigate the massacre thoroughly."
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