Will Turkey ever learn something?
The day that was supposed to be celebrated as Turkey’s “Republic Day,” Oct. 29, was rather a time of mourning this time. Because Turkey had yet another horrific mine accident. In the south-central Anatolian province of Karaman, near the town of Ermenek, 18 miners suddenly got buried under hundreds of tons of water. As I was writing this piece, they were still considered as “trapped underground,” but few hoped they would reach the surface alive.
How did this disaster happen? As some experts argued, one of the abandoned branches of the mine was gradually filed with rain and other sources of water. As the new vein in the mine approached this invisible sink, the water cascaded through and flooded the whole facility. It was a man-made disaster caused by the administrators’ stupidity, negligence, and perhaps also ruthlessness toward those who they sent underground.
But what about the political authority that is supposed to oversee all mines and check their safety? Turkish Labor Minister Faruk Çelik visited the mine after the disaster, and said: “This mine should not have gotten a license… I think such [unsafe] mines should be shut down.” As if it was me or you who would take the mines’ license back or shut them down!
To be fair, Çelik also admitted the underlying problem. “Whenever we attempt to close a mine, the employer brings in 50 people to mediate,” he said. Those people who “mediate,” apparently, were those in power whom the owner of the mine could call and ask for help. The media defined this as “local nepotism.” It could also be called a corrupt, unprincipled, primitive state system.
This state – and the society that generates it – unfortunately takes very little lesson from all the pains caused by its own misdeeds. That is why the same disasters keep happening again and again. Just in May, 301 Turkish miners died in Soma, in one of the most horrific mine accidents in world history. It turned out that the government had not given any attention to the warnings of experts regarding the lack of safety measures in Soma. (Just a month before the disaster, an opposition deputy had asked for a parliamentary investigation for the mines in that region, but his query was overturned by government deputies.)
Now, regarding Ermenek, it turns out that the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) had submitted a report to the government a year ago about the unsafety of mining in that region. The area has too many underground water sources, the report said, and coalmines would be dangerous unless these basins are drained. But nobody in government, as you can expect, ever listened. Nobody, as also you can expect, will take responsibility and apologize, let alone resign. They will probably blame and punish mine owners, which are indeed responsible, but they are not the people we can know or question.
The bottom line is that some horrible things in Turkey never change, because hardly anybody takes any responsibility and infers any lesson. The same thing is true in politics as well, as those in power do the same horrible things again and again – such as defining an “enemy within” and launching witch-hunts against them, while they themselves can be the victims of the next campaign.
All this reminds one of Einstein, who was surprised with the habit of “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This, he said, was the definition of “insanity.” And that is something one can find in Turkey in spades.