Families flock to the graves of Soma victims on first anniversary of Turkey’s deadliest mining accident

Families flock to the graves of Soma victims on first anniversary of Turkey’s deadliest mining accident

Families flock to the graves of Soma victims on first anniversary of Turkey’s deadliest mining accident

A woman grieves at a grave of a relative as family and friends gather at the cemetery in the Turkish town of Soma in the Manisa district, western Turkey, on May 13, 2015 to mark the first anniversary of the Soma mine disaster in which 301 workers were killed after an explosion on May 13, 2014. AFP Photo

May 13 marked the first anniversary of Turkey’s deadliest ever mining accident, with the families of the victims flocking to the graves of their loved ones in the Soma district of Manisa province amid commemoration ceremonies. 

On May 13, 2014, Turkey was shocked by news that an accident had taken place in Soma. The shock grew when the number of miners killed in the accident hit 301, though the lives claimed could have been much higher, as a total of 780 miners were underground when the fire erupted during a shift change. 

The families of the 301 victims visited the graveyard constructed for the late miners, where each grave was covered with black marble and where each had a Davy lamp, Doğan News Agency reported. Families read excerpts from the Quran, which is an Islamic tradition done to honor the deceased and is sent to the deceased’s soul. 

Sibel Çiftçi, the wife of late miner Ali Çiftçi, said nothing had changed since last year when the accident happened. 

“The responsible people should be punished, from the top to the bottom. We want them to come here and testify before us but it is said they do not have security for their lives. Where was the security for the 301 lives?” said Çiftçi, standing in front of the grave of her husband, according to Cihan News Agency. 

The accident began with a fire about 2,000 meters from the mine entrance, at a depth of 150 meters. The Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) initially announced a power distribution unit was the cause of the fire, but the Soma Mine Company denied this on May 16, 2014. Three days of official mourning were declared on May 14, 2014 by the government, after the extent of the disaster became clear.

A commemoration ceremony organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association was held before a monument to the killed miners in a central roundabout in Soma. 

Manisa Governor Erdoğan Bektaş was protested as he gave a speech during the ceremony at the Soma Mining Martyrdom Monument. 

The families of the victims chanted, “He is still speaking,” “Clear off! Our pain is enough for us” and “We do not want anyone here,” while Bektaş gave his speech. 

İsmail Çolak, the father of late Uğur Çolak, said their pain and sorrow was the same as it was the day after the accident, adding the government “could not understand their pain.” 

“We want justice. Our only demand is the lifting of the shields of the civil servants who are being protected by the state. We demand that the shields of the Energy Ministry, the Labor Ministry, the General Directorate of Mining Affairs [MİGEM], the Turkish Coal Enterprises [TKİ] company union, and the inspectors conducting the inspections, to be lifted,” Cihan News Agency quoted Çolak as saying. 

No official resignations followed the accident. 

A total of 45 suspects are currently on trial over the tragedy, with eight former managers from the Soma Coal Mine Company that ran the mine accused of “killing with probable criminal intent.” 

The trial into the accident started only a month ago on April 13, during which suspects in the case denied responsibility for the accident which precipitated anger among the families of the 301 victims.

One of the most heart-breaking scenes after the accident occurred when a miner rescued in the late hours of May 13 from inside the fire-hit mine asked a nurse if he should take off his boots so that the stretcher would not get dirty.

The next day, in an infamous photograph that was seen around the world, prime ministerial adviser Yusuf Yerkel was captured kicking a prostrate mourner on the ground, during then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tense visit to the town.