Not easy for Erdoğan to play the victim in Soma

Not easy for Erdoğan to play the victim in Soma

Those who listened to or read Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday would be excused for thinking that the issue topping the country’s agenda is not the country’s biggest-ever mine disaster in Soma, which has claimed at least 301 lives so far, but two columnists who criticized his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government over the event.

Without naming names, but making it obvious thanks to the preemptive publications of pro-government media for the last two days, Erdoğan has openly asked Aydın Doğan, the head of the Doğan Media Group, “to show the door” to Hürriyet’s Yılmaz Özdil and Posta’s Yazgülü Erdoğan, both of whom write for newspapers belonging to the group.

I see no point in repeating what these two writers said and I would not put my name under what they said, but I would defend their rights to say their words; you know, as Voltaire said centuries ago. I also believe that a prime minister putting public pressure on a media boss to fire two employees because of what they have written or said is political pressure on the press and – I don’t know when – but one day it is possible that this expression from Erdoğan will be highlighted as evidence against press freedom in Turkey.

Another point of discomfort in Erdoğan’s speech was his stance regarding Soma, which can be summarized under two points:

The first point is the government’s efforts to avoid any share of responsibility for the biggest mine disaster in Turkey’s history. It was the government that refused to sign an International Labor Organization (ILO) document on mining safety that recommends new investments for mine owners; it was with government party votes that the opening of a parliamentary investigation into – in particular – Soma mines by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was rejected (only two weeks before the disaster); it was Energy Minister Taner Yıldız who had previously praised the safety measures taken by the company at Soma, and it was Erdoğan who said the high risk of death was “in the nature of” mining, that is, that it is destiny.

Yesterday, pointing out the criticisms, Erdoğan said, “No one should fall into the trap of being a tool of those who are trying to abuse Soma for use against the government.”

The second point is the effort to reverse the picture of Erdoğan and his adviser Yusuf Yerkel trying to stop the boos and jeers by applying personal and physical force against the actual victims of the Soma affair with the pro-government media. A young miner, Taner Kuruca, who had said he had been slapped by Erdoğan and then beaten up by his bodyguards, has changed his statement four times in three days – God knows under what circumstances. He will soon perhaps apologize for being beaten up.

The seven-day medical leave given to Erdoğan’s advisor, who repeatedly kicked a protestor who was being held on the ground firmly by two policemen, was apparently authorized for knee injuries because of those kicks, not due to a prior attack by the protestor, as had been alleged by the AK Parti and government people.

All the efforts to reverse the picture have been poorly played, and do not have the professional touch of perception manipulation that we have seen from the AK Parti before.

The reason for this situation might be that Erdoğan and his close aides well know that Soma is neither Gezi, nor the graft probe of Dec. 17.

During Gezi, Erdoğan could convince his supporters by saying that international forces trying to stop Turkey’s ascent were bent on toppling his government. During the graft probe, the enemy was the Gülen movement within the state; that is, a plot by his former moderate-Islamist ally, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the U.S.

Who might be the “enemy,” the source of antagonism, in the Soma disaster? Erdoğan knows that whatever he says, it may fall short of convincing the Turkish people, including the 45 percent who voted for him in the March 30 local elections. Soma is a deep wound in Turkey’s conscience.

Because Soma is neither Gezi, nor Dec. 17, Erdoğan is heading for the presidential elections without any card to play from Soma. His attempt to play the victim has not played well so far.

Since he made his desire to become the next president clear, amid incumbent President Abdullah Gül’s decision to remove himself from Erdoğan’s path, what could be the reason stopping him from announcing his candidacy? Could it be the uncertainties regarding the sustainability of his party - which is suffering from a number of deep wounds - in his wake?

Or is he waiting for something else? For example, is something to be gained from the antagonism around his May 24 speech in Cologne, where he will not be welcomed by German politicians, but by Turkish supporters there? Or is he waiting for May 29, the 561st anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul from the Byzantine Empire? Why do you think Erdoğan is still not announcing his candidacy?