Since news of the Soma mine disaster broke last night there have been many responses, both from football clubs and from government officials in Turkey. Sadly, the latter have been less than encouraging. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had an opportunity to win over his detractors by taking a conciliatory tone in the wake of disaster. Unfortunately he decided to stick with his harsh and unrelenting rhetoric, which does not bode well for the country’s future.
As the death toll rose to 274—the biggest industrial disaster in Turkish history–Erdogan made his move in an interview with the Soma municipality. Perhaps, in fact, Reuters wrote it best:
“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” he [Erdogan] said, reeling off a list of global mining accidents since 1862.
Reel off he did. Hurriyet.com carried the Turkish version here from which I got the italicized portions below. His comments were, frankly, embarrassing. A sampling is below, taken from what I assume to be the interview with reporters at the Soma Municipality (so as to excuse the grammatical errors even in the Hurriyet transcript):
The video is here starting from 14:00:
İngiltere’de geçmişe gidiyorum, 1862 bu madende göçük 204 kişi ölmüş. 1866 361 kişi ölmüş İngiltere. İngiltere’de 1894 patlama 290. Fransa’ya geliyorum 1906 dünya tarihinin en ölümlü ikinci kazası 1099. Daha yakın dönemlere geleyim diyorum, Japonya 1914’de 687. Çin 1942, gaz ve kömür karışmanın neden olduğu sayılıyor ölüm sayısı 1549.
Değerli arkadaşlar yine Çin’de 1960 metan gazı patlaması 684. Ve Japonya’da 1963’te yine kömür tozu patlaması 458. Hindistan 375. 1975’te metan gazı alev aldı, maden çatısı çöktü ve 372. Bu ocakların bu noktada bu tür kazaları sürekli olan şeyler.
Bakın Amerika. Teknolojisiyle her şeyiyle. 1907’de 361.
I go to the past in England. 1862 in a mine there was a cave in 204 people died. [In] 1866 361 people died [in] England. In England in 1894 [there was an] explosion 290 [died]. I’m coming to France, [in] 1906 [was] world history’s second most deadly accident, 1099 [died]. I say we should come to more recent history, in Japan in 1914 687 [died]. China 1942, because gas and coal mixed the death count was 1549.
My dear friends again in China in 1960 a methane gas explosion caused 684 [deaths]. And in Japan in 1963 again a coal dust explosion [caused] 458 [deaths]. In India 375 [deaths]. In 1975 methane gas caught fire, the roof of the mine collapsed and 372 [died]. In these places in coal mines these kinds of accidents are things that constantly happen.
Look [at] America. With its technology [and] everything. In 1907 361 [died].
I can only shake my head. I don’t need to go into the details of the history of Turkish industrial accidents—Reuters has that covered. But the fact that the leader of a country that is listed as one of the world’s leading economic powers—a founding member of the OECD and G20—should resort to statistics from two centuries ago is astounding. Does he mean to say Turkey is comparable to England in 1862 and the United States in 1907? This is an insult to the development Turkey has seen under the AKP and to its standing in the world today. Given these words, it does not surprise me that protests broke out across Turkey today . After all, this is symptomatic of the rampant privatization that has occurred under the AKP government—unions argue that “safety standards were not improved once formerly state-run facilities were leased to private companies” (the mine in question in Soma is privately owned). Corruption isn’t only morally wrong, its dangerous.
I write this because I believe that Prime Minister Erdogan, as the leader of a democratic country, should have been more conciliatory in the wake of tragedy instead of dredging up numbers from the distant past in order to provide context for a terrible tragedy. That said, I prefer to let the dust settle and allow families time to grieve before pointing fingers of blame (even if the direction those fingers will point in is fairly obvious). With that, I present some heartwarming news from the football world, which Hurriyet.com has collected (http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26418723.asp and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26414735.asp ).
Many teams have started a #TribunHasilatlariSomaya campaign, and there have been many responses:
– The supporter groups of Ankaragucu—themselves a team formed by workers at a munitions plant during the Turkish war of independence—will donate money they collect to the families of those who lost their lives in Soma.
– Galatasaray will donate the proceeds from an upcoming friendly to the victims and their families as well.
Also internationally Barcelona added their voice of support to Liverpool’s.
From England (whose mining tragedies were listed by the Prime Minister) condolences came from Chelsea and Sheffield United.
Schalke 04 from Germany, a miners club themselves (their nickname is Die Knappen—the Miners) from Gelsenkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia, added their voice as well in a meaningful show of solidarity.
Respect to all these clubs for bringing international recognition to this tragedy that may well have repercussions for Turkish politics in the not so distant future.