More than 300 bodies have been recovered from a mine in Soma, Turkey after a fire broke out and caused the worst industrial disasters in the Turkish mining industry’s history. While search and rescue efforts have been called off, the effects of this disaster will linger for decades.
An explosive political situation is evolving as Turkish protestors and advocates are growing angry about the way the event was handled by the country’s prime minister, Recep Erdogan. Erdogan has been a polarizing figure in the news as Turkey struggles to redefine itself in the light of the 21st century, and he’s made a number of fatal mistakes in the course of this horrific incident.
24 people, including mining executives, are under investigation as Turkish officials attempt to determine what caused the massive mine fire (similar to the one seen above), and who bears culpability for the massive loss of life. One significant concern is that the mining company may have cut corners on safety (a similar accusation was seen with the Massey mining disaster in the United States), leaving workers exposed to a much higher risk of injuries on the job. As Turkish families prepare to reclaim bodies and bury their dead, anger is growing over the speed of the investigation, the number of indictments, and what’s perceived as government callousness, with Erdogan at the head.
On Wednesday, Erdogan made statements underplaying the disaster, saying that these kinds of events are to be expected in the industry. When confronted by a protestor, he told the man not to “be nasty,” and later, an image of one of his aides kicking a protestor who was being restrained by police emerged. Erdogan’s perceived insensitivity has pulled scores of protesters into the streets across Turkey, where they are meeting with stiff resistance from police and other officials as they attempt to put the protests down.
They can try, but they may not succeed — Erdogan reportedly can’t even poke his nose out in public without being jeered at and catcalled by Turkish passers-by, and he’s losing the public relations battle on this one. His failure to act quickly and compassionately in the wake of the disaster is being chalked up as yet another piece of evidence that it might be time for him, and his party, to leave office, and ordinary Turks are being increasingly vocal about it.
Many of Turkey’s neighbors have been subject to large-scale anti-government protests in recent years, for a variety of reasons — Greece, for example, has been struggling with insolvency, while the Arab Spring confronted repressive politics in numerous nations across the Middle East. Sitting as it does at the border between Europe and Asia, along with the Middle East, Turkey finds itself in a unique political, social, and cultural position. It would appear that regional instability may be spreading to Turkey, and Erdogan may not be able to control it in the face of rising rage over the terrible events of Soma.
Photo credit: ozgipsy.