Maraş massacre

Maraş massacre
Part of the political violence in Turkey in 1976–80
Location Kahramanmaraş, Turkey
Date December 1978
Deaths 105 - 185
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators Grey Wolves[1][2]

The Maraş massacre (Turkish: Maraş katliamı) was the massacre of about one hundred left-wing activists[3] in the city of Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, in December 1978 by the neo-fascist Grey Wolves.[4] Though the tensions were initially ignited by the bombing by left-wing militants of a cinema frequently visited by ultra-nationalists, the incident is best remembered for the subsequent campaign of violence directed against left-wingers, largely Alevis, although some left-wing Sunnis and Kurds were also targeted.[4]


The incident in Kahramanmaraş lasted from 19 to 26 December 1978. It started with a bomb thrown into a cinema attended mostly by right-wingers.[5] Rumors spread that left-wingers had thrown the bomb. The next day, a bomb was thrown into a coffee-shop frequently visited by left-wingers,[5] In the evening of 21 December 1978 the teachers Hacı Çolak and Mustafa Yüzbaşıoğlu were killed on their way home. They were known as left-wingers.[6] While a crowd of some 5,000 people prepared for the funeral, right-wing groups stirred up emotions saying that "the communists are going to bomb the mosque, and will massacre our Muslim brothers".[6]


On 23 December 1978, the incidents turned into a pogrom:[5] crowds stormed the quarters where Alevis were living, destroying houses and shops. Many offices including that of Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), Teachers' Association of Turkey (TÖB-Der), Association of Police Officers (Pol-Der) and Republican People's Party (Turkey) (CHP) were destroyed.[6] During the incidents, over 100 people were killed, more than 200 houses and approximately 100 shops were destroyed.[5][7] The figures on casualties vary slightly. The Independent Communication Network Bianet[8] and the platform Turkish Information claim that 111 people were killed, while the daily Zaman puts the death toll at 105.[9] On 26 December 1978, martial law was announced in İstanbul, Ankara, Adana, Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Elazığ, Bingöl, Erzurum, Erzincan, Kars, Malatya, Sivas and Urfa.

The court cases, opened at military courts, lasted until 1991. A total of 804 defendants, mostly right-wingers, were put on trial. The courts passed 29 death penalties and sentenced seven defendants to life imprisonment and 321 people to sentences between one and 24 years of imprisonment. The Court of Cassation quashed the sentences and because of legal amendments all defendants were released in 1991.


Hasan Fehmi Güneş, who was appointed Interior Minister after the incidents is convinced that the massacre was planned.[5] Ruşen Sümbüloğlu, chair of the "Association of Persons from 1968" in Ankara, claimed that the Counter-Guerrilla was behind the provocation.[5] Fevzi Gümüş, chair of the "Cultural Association Pir Sultan Abdal" is convinced that the CIA and the deep state must have been involved.[5] Turan Eser, President of the "Alevi Bektaşi Federation", spoke at the 29th anniversary of the massacre in Maraş. He claimed that before the events, "counter guerrilla and racist paramilitary imperialist henchmen made efforts to spread the seeds of hatred between those, who were citizens of the same country and had lived together in peace for centuries".[8]

Ökkeş Şendiller, who had been on trial for being involved in the incident and became later a deputy, joining the nationalist Great Union Party (BBP) maintained that the government carried responsibility. A secret document revealed that the secret service (MİT) had planned the incidents.[5] Opinions of witnesses include the following observations:[8]

Seyho Demir: "The Maraş Police Chief at the time was Abdülkadir Aksu. The massacre was organised by the Turkish secret service MIT, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Islamists together... As soon as I heard about the massacre, I went to Maraş. In the morning I went to Maraş State Hospital. There, I met a nurse I knew... When she saw me, she was surprised: 'Seyho, where have you come from? They are killing everyone here. They have taken at least ten lightly-wounded people from the hospital downstairs and killed them.' This was done under the control of the head physician of the Maraş State Hospital. The lawyer Halil Güllüoglu followed the Maraş massacre case. The files he had were never made public. He was killed for pursuing the case anyway."[8]
Meryem Polat: "They started in the morning, burning all the houses, and continued into the afternoon. A child was burned in a boiler. They sacked everything. We were in the water in the cellar, above us were wooden boards. The boards were burning and falling on top of us. My house was reduced to ashes. We were with eight people in the cellar; they did not see us and left."[8]

On 28 December 2007, the radio station Voice of Free Radio and Folk Songs (Turkish: Özgür Radyo ve Türkülerin Sesi Radyosu) broadcast a program, in which Ökkeş Şendiller was interviewed over the phone. Passages of the conversation with Hasan Harmancı are (only quotes from ÖŞ):[10]

"I was chosen as victim. I saw the most horrible torture. The teachers that were killed, were not Alevi. They were left-wing Sunnis. There were clashes, in which people of both sides were killed...[10] I am talking about court documents. They say that the organization Revolutionary War (Turkish: Devrimci Savaş) threw the bomb."[10]

On 30 April 2011, Hamit Kapan, an alleged member of Devrimci Savaş,[11] had been held incommunicado for 300 days and two friends of his had died under torture.[12][13] Hamit accused General Yusuf Haznedaroğlu, leading member of the command for martial law in Kahramanmaraş for being responsible for the torture at the time.[12] The general had tried to blame his organization for the killings.


  1. Rabasa, Angel; Larrabee, F. Stephen (2008). The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation. ISBN 9780833044570. In the 1978 Kahramanmaraş incident, rightwing “Grey Wolves” killed about 100 left-wing activists.
  2. Orhan Kemal Cengiz (25 December 2012). "Why was the commemoration for the Maraş massacre banned?". Today's Zaman. This was the beginning of the massacre; later on, angry mobs lead by grey wolves scattered into the city, killing and raping hundreds of Alevis.
  3. Rabasa, Angel; Larrabee, F. Stephen (2008). "The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey" (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center. p. 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 9, 2014. In the 1978 Kahramanmaraş incident, right-wing "Grey Wolves" killed about 100 left-wing Alevi activists.
  4. 1 2 A modern history of the Kurds, By David McDowall, p. 415
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 The daily Zaman of 25 December 2008 Türkiye'yi sıkıyönetime götüren viraj: Maraş olayları The curve taking Turkey to martial law: the incidents of Maraş; accessed on 1 May 2011
  6. 1 2 3 Maraş Massacre 24 December 1978, website of the Pir Sultan Abdal Kültür Derneği (Cultural Association Pir Sultan Abdal), accessed on 1 May 2011
  7. Radikal Gazetesi
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Remembering the Maras Massacre in 1978 26 December 2007; accessed on 1 May 2011
  9. 'Maraş olayları tezgâh, yüzleşmek istiyorum' "The Maraş incidents are a trap, I want to be confronted, Zaman of 20 April 2008, accessed on 1 May 2011
  10. 1 2 3 Taken from Ökkeş Şemdinler on Free Radio; accessed on 1 May 2011
  11. An offspring of THKP/C (see tree of leftist organizations; accessed on 1 May 2011
  12. 1 2 'İki arkadaşım işkencede öldü' Two friends died under torture, daily Radikal of 30 April 2011, accessed on 1 May 2001
  13. German translation of the article in Turkish to be found at new accusations against the general; Democratic Turkey Forum, report for April 2011, accessed on 1 May 2011

Further reading

See also

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