Scandalous Deaths of Coal Miners Under PM Erdoğan’s Despotic Rule

by Tarık Günersel    /  May 23, 2014  / 1 Comment

The deaths of 301 coal miners in a fire on May 13 have led Turkish writers, artists, and critics to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Erdoğan, whose government is responsible for the “non-accident” and who is using religion and police force to suppress the outrage and protests.

Our hearts are in Soma

'Our Hearts are in Soma.' Photo courtesy of Tarik Günersel.

According to the Turkish constitution, all underground resources are owned by the nation and can only be leased to companies. The government is responsible for each deal.

  1. Wor(l)ds in Danger, a<br />
column by Tarik Günersel
  2. Life is words in action, literature is action in words.
  3. Humans are about to destroy their spaceship Earth. Some of them are aware of this and they try to change the course of events. Will they succeed? Will more humans be alarmed and do something?
  4. Literature is vital and translators are messengers of world peace.
  5. Though I shall focus on the literary scene in Turkey and its problems regarding freedom of expression, I shall not omit the other parts of our planet. Today local is global and vice versa.
  6. Tarik Günersel
  7. Tarık Günersel is a poet, playwright, aphorist, librettist and short story writer. He is the president of PEN Turkey and an ex-member of the PEN International Board. He studied English Literature at Istanbul University. A self-exile after the military coup in 1980, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia with his wife Füsun and their daughter Barış, teaching English. A dramaturg at Istanbul City Theater since 1991, he has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March. His translations into Turkish include works by Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Arthur Miller. His works include The Nightmare of a Labyrinth (mosaic of poems and stories), and How’s your slavery goin’? His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. He has recently initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.

Erdoğan’s successive governments have refused to sign the International Labour Organization’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention, which has already been ratified by 28 countries.

This means that not only Soma Mining, Inc. but also the Turkish government, is responsible for the scandalous mining “accident” that happened as a result of insufficient safety measures on May 13. After the fire, which officially claimed 301 lives (probably many more), Alp Gürkan, the head of Soma Mining, Inc., said that the company was going to build “rescue chambers” in a few months.

Erdoğan wants to become President this summer. So sure of his victory, he declares he will not be a symbolic figure. He wants to be in power until 2024, just after 2023, the centenary of the Republic of Turkey. His words and deeds indicate that he wants his version of Islam to dominate the country’s political and social life by then.

For more than a decade, prior to local and general elections, Erdoğan’s AK Party has repeatedly distributed “free” coal to voters as a bribe.

To help Erdoğan and his government, most pro-government media, including newspapers such as the Islamic fundamentalist Yeni Şafak (New Dusk), Sabah (Morning) and Akşam (Evening), have placed the blame for the infuriating tragedy exclusively on Soma Mining, Inc.

But even some pro-government newspapers, such as Star and Bugün (Today), admit that the state is also responsible.

A Brief Timeline

October, 2013: After several accidents in coal mines, the main opposition party CHP demanded that mining conditions in Soma be examined.

April 29, 2014: PM Erdoğan’s AK Party MPs rejected the proposal in Parliament, even though other opposition parties had signed their support of it.

May 13, 2014: Two weeks later, a coal mine in Soma caught fire. Workers in other parts of the same mine were forced to keep working. Some miners were saved, but at least 301 are reported dead. A worker told a journalist that a technician had previously warned the company about insufficient insulation on some electrical cables, which is what eventually led to the fire and the suffocation of hundreds of people.

Now protests have begun all over Turkey. Following the mine fire, as protesters in Soma demonstrated against PM Erdoğan and President Gül, one of the PM’s aides kicked a civillian who was claimed to be a protester from another city, but who turned out to be a miner, as two soldiers pinned him to the ground. Someone took a photograph of the kick as it happened. That photograph has increased international outrage.

Now protests in Soma are prohibited. Access to the town and the mine area have been blocked by police and soldiers; journalists are not allowed near. The entrance to the mine where the “non-accident” took place has been blocked with a new wall.

PM Erdoğan (or someone in his close circle, who would only act with Erdoğan’s blessing) also sent Islamic fundamentalists to Soma. These individuals have been telling the town’s residents—friends, relatives, and neighbors of the victims, who are in pain and misery—that accidents are the will of God. They have also been distributing pamphlets containing similar messages. Turkey is about to lose its secular regime. This crisis simply can’t go on—not without enormous conflicts and struggles.

And, once again, Erdoğan’s government is using the police force against peaceful demonstrations.

Five people have been arrested, one of whom is Can Gürkan, the son of the head of Soma Mining, Inc.

PM Erdoğan has also demanded that Yılmaz Özdil and Yazgülü Aldoğan, who are columnists for Hürriyet and Posta newspapers, respectively, be fired. Atila Sertel, the President of the Federation of Turkish Journalists, has criticized Erdoğan for this.

In Soma, workers have been required to continue working in the other mines, even though the conditions are not much better.

“PM Erdoğan and his government must resign!”

A joint declaration calling for the resignation of the Turkish government has recently been published by The Association of Theater Critics (Tiyatro Eleştirmenleri Birliği) and the Initiative of Artists (Sanatçılar Girişimi), which represents several arts organizations, including TOBAV (The Foundation of Theater, Opera and Ballet), The Writers’ Syndicate of Turkey, the International PEN Turkey Center, Theater Platform, the Union of Theaters of Turkey, and the International Association of Plastic Arts.

Two Ministers

Faruk Çelik, the Minister of Labor and Social Security, has told Cumhuriyet that the mines were not a part of his scope. “Our ministry is only responsible for inspections. Mines, contracts, and working conditions are under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Energy.” That minister is Taner Yıldız.

Çelik has also said all the coal mines in Turkey should be closed down—as they have been in France and Germany.

Erdoğan’s Provocative Aggressiveness

Deep sorrow and anger are going hand-in-hand in Turkey these days. Unable to control his speech and actions, Prime Minister Erdoğan keeps being outrageously aggressive. He would be a terrible and most destructive president.

This is a deadly crisis, indeed. I think this is the worst and most dangerous situation since the invasion of Turkey after WWI.

About the Author

Tarık Günersel is a poet, playwright, aphorist, librettist and short story writer. He is the president of PEN Turkey and an ex-member of the PEN International Board. He studied English Literature at Istanbul University. A self-exile after the military coup in 1980, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia with his wife Füsun and their daughter Barış, teaching English. A dramaturg at Istanbul City Theater since 1991, he has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March. His translations into Turkish include works by Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Arthur Miller. His works include The Nightmare of a Labyrinth (mosaic of poems and stories), and How’s your slavery goin’? His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. He has recently initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.

View all articles by Tarık Günersel

One Comment on "Scandalous Deaths of Coal Miners Under PM Erdoğan’s Despotic Rule"

  1. Fuat İNCE June 1, 2014 at 7:34 am ·

    Well written. I would like to see more World reaction to the decay of democracy in Turkey.
    A concerned World citizen.

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