Turkey: Soma mining disaster was murder

On 13 May, 787 miners were underground at Soma coal mine in western Turkey, when an explosion propelled toxic carbon monoxide into the tunnels, at the same time knocking out the ventilation and lift system. 301 men are now known to have died. For Soma’s mining community, responsibility for the tragedy – Turkey’s worst-ever mining disaster – has been laid squarely at the feet of the Turkish government and the mining company, Soma Holdings. On the demonstrations that have taken place almost daily since then, not only in Soma but in nearby Izmir, in Istanbul and in the capital Ankara, banners proclaim: ‘It was not an accident – it was murder!’

The Turkish mining industry has one of the worst safety records in the world, with an average of seven miners killed for every million tonnes of coal extracted; before Soma there had been 1,308 fatal accidents in coal mines since 2000. The situation has worsened since Prime Minister Erdogan’s AKP party privatised the mines in 2004. In Soma itself there had been warnings as far back as 2010 that the mine lacked adequate ventilation systems and alarms, and the wall supports were faulty. High levels of toxic gas had been building up for days before the accident. Accusations have surfaced in the Turkish press that, in April, the AKP turned down an opposition proposal to investigate safety regulations at Soma. The owner of Soma Holdings, Alp Gurkan, is an AKP member.

The arrogance and brutality of the Turkish ruling class has also been exposed. Erdogan’s response to this tragedy was to comment that ‘this is what happens in coal-mining’ and equate it to accidents in British mines in the Victorian age. When he visited Soma, he was video-taped slapping a man in the face; his aide kicked a protester who was on the ground. The aide then received a week’s paid sick leave for bruising his foot.

Those demonstrating their anger have been treated as criminals. Protests in Soma itself have now been banned and checkpoints set up after riot police attacked a demonstration of mourners on 16 May with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. However, as the working class continues to turn out across Turkey to condemn the government and mine owners, police have been forced to make 25 arrests, including Soma Holdings general manager and operational manager.

Cat Wiener

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

 

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