Is this our next president?
The huge disaster Turkey is being confronted with helped the entire nation revisit humane values, the spirit of solidarity, and the power of being united during hard days. The country, as a whole, is not only mourning the victims, but is also seeking ways to bind up the wounds. Almost all social, entertainment and sportive activities have been cancelled; political leaders have postponed their trips abroad and the government declared three days of national mourning.
A disaster of this magnitude, killing at least 284 workers with some dozens under debris, would of course lead to questions on the government’s responsibilities along with the operator of the mine, Soma Holding. On May 16, Friday, Soma Holding head Ali Gürkan held a press conference and denied claims of any sort of operational negligence. Just after him, the deputy leader and spokesperson of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Hüseyin Çelik, said there were no legal or supervisory problems that can be found on the government’s side.
Both absolved themselves from the tragic mine accident, but the bad news for Soma Holding was signaled on Friday as the pro-government media chorus launched a campaign against the company and its head with headlines focusing on operational negligence. Meanwhile, on May 15 the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) appointed 28 prosecutors to probe the accident.
It’s only natural in democracies to investigate such accidents in detail and to punish those who are responsible, but it’s also normal in democracies for the governments to consider its responsibility as well and move accordingly. Just like in South Korea, where the prime minister resigned after the tragic vessel accident that killed hundreds of its citizens.
Of course, these are principles valid only in normal democracies. In Turkey’s case, the picture is, however, very different and strange. The main reason for this is, unfortunately, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In his statement during his visit to Soma on May 15, he cited centuries-old examples to support his idea that mine accidents were usual and even pointed to a mine accident in Britain in 1838, at the expense of being mocked by national and international media. “Take America with all of its technology and everything ... In 1907, 361 [miners died there],” he added. “These are usual things.”
It’s very normal for any reasonable man to get concerned about the efficiency of an investigation into the incident at the hands of this government led by this mentality. It’s also a matter of concern what lessons will be drawn by the government in the wake of this accident, as well as what measures will be taken to avoid such future fatal accidents.
However, we are now far from thinking these issues over. What overwhelmingly preoccupies us nowadays, however, is the state of Erdoğan’s mental integrity. He gave his public indication of his weakening mental integrity on May 10 during the 146th anniversary of the Council of State when he walked out of the ceremony after accusing the speaker of being “rude” and a “liar.”
He went one step further on May 14 as he slapped a person during a scuffle that erupted after some Soma locals booed at Erdoğan in reaction to the deaths of scores of workers. “Come and boo me, here to my face,” Erdoğan was heard as saying in the scene.
“I was not one of the protesters. I came face to face with the prime minister. As his bodyguards started to push, the prime minister unfortunately did something involuntarily and slapped me while I was walking backwards, because he was angry at the crowd and he couldn’t control himself,” is the statement of Taner Kuruca, who obviously could be counted as the first ever Turkish citizen to be slapped by a prime minister. But Erdoğan’s lack of anger management seems to be contagious.
Kuruca claimed he was beaten by Erdoğan’s bodyguards after he was slapped. Although he was bruised from the bodyguards’ jolts and kicks, he said he would not file a criminal complaint against the prime minister, saying just an apology would be sufficient.
Not only his bodyguards, but also some of his advisors were obviously infected with Erdoğan’s mental integrity problem. Pictures of Yusuf Yerkel, Erdoğan’s trained-abroad 30-year-old advisor, while kicking a protestor held down by two members of Special Forces, have so rapidly spread in the international media, and Yerkel has already become an infamous news icon. At his age, this is not a career to underestimate.
In a country where the prime minister slaps citizens, his advisor would surely kick them. With looming presidential elections, I can’t stop myself asking this question: Is this person our next president? I hope not.