In Turkey, it’s better to be sorry than safe

In Turkey, it’s better to be sorry than safe

We Turks are sorry. The whole world is sorry.

On a day of national mourning, we journalists must be relatively quiet and brief. I shall try to be so.
The fact is that Turkish coal mines are nearly six times more dangerous in fatal accidents than the Chinese ones. Soma, where the tragedy happened, had come to the particular attention of the opposition parties a long time ago.

For instance, a motion submitted by the opposition to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate the mine was rejected by the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). We have bitterly learned that it is true that if some people think it is not safe, it probably is not. Or perhaps we already knew it – after 3,000 or so deaths in mining accidents. 

The government’s most recent inspection at the Soma mine – at the end of March – found out that the mine was “successful” in terms of workers’ health and safety. None of us would probably wish to think of the consequences if this mine had been found to be “unsuccessful” in terms of workers’ health and safety.

Death can be a mere triviality, even if it comes in high numbers. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, feeling an unnecessary need to defend his government in the face of the tragedy, was absolutely right in going back to British history and citing a mining disaster that killed 204 people in 1838, another tragedy that happened in 1866, killing 361 miners, and an explosion in 1894 that claimed 290 lives; before he mentioned a similar accident in America in 1907 that killed 361. He also reminded us that in 1942, in China, 1,549 miners had died due to a mixture of gas and coal.

He was right to say that death was part of the nature of this business. He was right to think the average Turkish voter would not hold his government responsible for the tragedy, because they won’t. “Can you believe this,” Mr. Erdoğan asked, referring to the decades-old mining accidents in Britain, America and China. 

I do. But I do not think he really needed “to defend.”

During his election campaign before the March 30 local polls, the owner of the mine, now the scene of a tragedy, was kind enough to give his miners “a day off,” provided they attend Mr. Erdoğan’s election rally in town and cheer for the prime minister. The miners showed up, cheering, with their typical yellow hardhats. The mine’s owner quickly dismissed criticism for “the day off,” saying “he pays for the miners, so he could send them to the mine or to the prime minister’s rally, as he wished.”

The men with yellow hardhats cheered for the prime minister. It was a fine day off work. They looked happy. Their boss was happy. And so was the prime minister.

In Soma, Mr. Erdoğan’s party won nearly 45 percent of the vote – just like in the rest of Turkey – on March 30, more or less on the same day as Mr. Erdoğan’s party refused a parliamentary investigation into the safety of the mine that killed hundreds of miners a couple of days ago.

But, again, Mr. Erdoğan needs not worry. This columnist would bet all his money on the probability that Mr. Erdoğan would easily win in Soma if there were elections a day after the town buries its dead miners.