Turkey, already reeling from a connected massacre two days earlier, heard the bad news about a small town in eastern Turkey 27 years ago. The PKK terrorist group had shot 33 villagers dead, the majority of them execution-style.
In a solemn ceremony on Sunday, relatives of the victims and survivors remembered the dead in the town of Başbağlar of Erzincan province.
Townsfolk were going about their business when a large group of terrorists descended on the village, located some 220 kilometers (136 miles) from central Erzincan. According to survivors’ accounts, they were told the killings were in retaliation for the Sivas massacre two days earlier.
On July 3, 1993, an angry mob had gathered around a hotel in the central province of Sivas, some 250 kilometers from Erzincan, to protest what they called the anti-Muslim sentiment of its tenants and guests who arrived from all around Turkey to attend a festival dedicated to a revered Alevi poet. The mob, portrayed as local Sunnis in the media, soon started a fire that trapped guests, mostly Alevi intellectuals and artists. Before security forces stepped in hours laters, 37 died of smoke inhalation.
On July 5, 1993, terrorists took all the women of Başbağlar to a nearby stream and after stealing their valuables, set every house on fire. Five people who challenged the attackers were pushed into burning houses and lost their lives. The terrorists then gathered 28 men who had left the mosque after offering prayers into the center of the village and shot them dead. Hundreds of bullet casings were found at the scene.
Ali Akpınar, the town head who survived the deadly incident, said dozens of terrorists sprayed villagers with bullets while chanting slogans. "Many of our citizens, neighbors and relatives were slaughtered," he said, adding the terrorists also killed livestock and attempted to destroy their school and mosque.
According to Akpınar, the attack was not a random act of terrorism as it was thoroughly planned. He also said the terrorists' attempt to plant seeds of hatred within the Turkish community was rejected by conscientious citizens.
Hafize Türkücü, a 57-year-old woman who lost her husband, brother-in-law and several other relatives in the attack, said she saw more than 50 terrorists prior to the killing of villagers. "Our houses were burnt and I was left all alone with five orphans," she lamented. "Both my children and I have been through a lot."