Two special operations policemen were trying to drag a protester away by both of his arms on May 14 in Soma, in the west of Turkey, where the largest mine disaster of Turkey took place on May 13. A young man then emerged from one of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s escort cars’ convoy. The good looking man with a nice haircut and slim fit dark suit started to kick the protester on the asphalt, as two policemen firmly held the latter down. He then went back to the car, leaving the disaster area together with the PM’s convoy.
His name is Yusuf Yerkel. He is 30-years-old. He is an advisor – apparently on foreign policy, as well as speeches and articles in English – to Erdoğan, and he also works as a deputy for the chief of the PM’s Cabinet. He is one of the princes of Erdoğan, one of the “A-Team” as they like to call themselves.
Through a fake Twitter account allegedly owned by him, in addition to the one under his name - (Yes, despite Erdoğan hating Twitter, his advisors use it extensively for manipulative purposes) - he announced that he would later make an announcement. But before saying so, Yerkel also said the protester was a member of an opposition youth organization and had sworn at him and Erdoğan. He said this to justify his unacceptable actions.
No, nothing happened to him. The police did not ask him any questions because of his acts. He is still on duty in the PM’s office; no probe has been opened against him.
I do not want to speculate, but he might possibly be appreciated for his actions to protect his superiors.
This is because just minutes before the incident, Erdoğan did something spectacular. He did something that was done by a prime minister - any prime minister of any country - probably for the first time ever. There were protests by relatives of the miners as he was heading to his car convoy, following a press conference where he said that deaths were in the “nature” of mining. He then changed his direction and started to walk toward a group of protesters, saying “Come and boo at me, here to my face.”
Before the video appeared on May 15, reporters misinterpreted the scene, saying that he was hiding from protesters at a nearby supermarket, surrounded by a squad of (perhaps 20) bodyguards. After the video emerged - there are other interpretations - some suggested Erdoğan was actually chasing two or three people. In the supermarket, Erdoğan’s arm is seen coming up and down twice, according to this partly clear video, before he turns back and gets into his car. (Questions include whether he slammed, or jostled, a protester who had been stopped there by the police officers.) Yerkel, his advisor, then comes out of the car, right after he steps in and kicks another protester being held firmly by two policemen.
There is another picture that I have to tell you. Two hours before that, when Erdoğan arrived in Soma and was at the site of the mine, he was welcomed by the owner of Soma Mining Company, Alp Gürkan. He shook hands with Gürkan and received a briefing, too.
That could be considered normal if the Soma prosecutor, who had immediately opened a probe into the disaster, had been able to ask a few questions to the owner of the disaster site. Or if questions could be asked to anyone from the company, which had been praised by Labor Minister Faruk Çelik as a company “passing all inspections” with flying colors, as if nothing had even happened there. As of yesterday evening, nobody has been questioned by the prosecutors about the mine accident. The only people questioned are the protesters who tried to understand what happened to the miners down there; their brothers, fathers, friends.
The death toll in the largest ever mine accident in Turkey had reached 282 by the morning hours of May 15, with more than an estimated 100 miners still trapped inside.
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said in a press conference yesterday afternoon that the fire in the pits had still yet to be taken under complete control, adding that in some parts they could not pump in fresh air, possibly because of the cheap carbon monoxide-based fire-extinguishing system used in the mine. PM Erdoğan had announced the day before that almost all of the deaths were because of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It would be more proper for a democratic government to focus more on the rescue work and also carry out a thorough investigation, instead of focusing on suppressing protesters already in pain and grief.
There is another point that could be worrying for the Turkish system. Erdoğan seems to have shifted to a new governance style, which could be called “physical governance,” at a time when Turkey heads for the presidential elections in August and Erdoğan is the only apparent candidate so far.