No resolution in sight two years after Soma mining disaster

No resolution in sight two years after Soma mining disaster

MANİSA – Doğan News Agency
No resolution in sight two years after Soma mining disaster

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There is no resolution in sight for the families of 301 mine workers who were killed in the deadliest mining disaster in Turkey’s history, as the cause of the “accident” remains uncertain and only eight of hundreds of suits for damages have been finalized amid country-wide commemorations to remember the victims. 

A total 301 mine workers were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning on May 13, 2014, after an explosion at the Soma Coal Mine Company’s mine in the western province of Manisa. A total of 708 miners were inside the mine when a fire erupted during a shift change.

Two years into the disaster, which was followed by an official declaration of three days of mourning by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the court remains uncertain about the cause of the fire, the chairman of the Soma Coal Mine Company has not faced trial and only eight compensation cases have been concluded. 

According to reports, the company also resorted to “dishonest” legal moves to avoid paying compensation. The firm allegedly showed some 182,134,867 Turkish Liras it received from the Turkish Coal Enterprise (TKİ) was assigned to a bank, rendering the bank the priority creditor of its debt. The majority of the families of the victims have yet to receive their compensation from the company. 

On the other hand, a total of 2,832 mine workers from the same mine company were dismissed from duty with a text message they received late at night. The first of a total 24 severance payment installments was paid seven months after the workers’ dismissal, reports claimed. Four other installments were paid on March 16, after the company’s chairperson, Alp Gürkan, sold one of his real estate properties to pay his debts. 

Meanwhile, the trial of 46 defendants, six of whom were arrested pending trial, continued at the Akhisar Heavy Penal Court. The suspects were accused of “possible premeditated murder” and “causing the death and injury of more than one person with conscious negligence.”

Regardless of a lack of developments on the legal front, the families and friends of the 301 miners who were killed two years ago commemorated their loved ones at the special cemetery in Manisa constructed by the local municipality, where the graves of the miners were made of black marble and lanterns were placed above the graves. 

A special commemoration ceremony organized by the local governor’s office was held at 11:00 a.m., while labor unions including 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 visited the cemetery after leaving flowers at the coal miners’ memorial in Manisa’s Beşyol at 12:30 a.m. 

Labor and Social Security Minister Süleyman Soylu on May 12 visited Soma and the coal miners’ cemetery, where he stressed that their priority was to ensure another disaster like the one in Soma never happened again. 

“Our real responsibility is to take steps ensuring workplace health and security, make efforts in this direction shoulder-to-shoulder and never experience a similar incident,” he said, after leaving carnations at the miners’ graves and offering a dessert which was made to commemorate the victims, in line with Turkish tradition. 

“The accident from two years ago was a serious lesson for Turkey, from our government and state to employers and labor unions,” Soylu said, stressing he did not find it appropriate to explain the steps taken following the incident as they were measures “they had to take.”

However, main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Group Deputy Chairperson Özgür Özel disagreed with Soylu, arguing only half the promises made after the disaster have been realized.

“Turkey’s 45,000 mine workers are as safe as the 301 workers who entered [the mine in Soma] on May 13, [2014,] and could not get out. If our sons go inside mines and come out without being killed, it is not because the parliament is fulfilling its duty but because God is protecting them,” he said.