Will prayers wash the miners’ blood from our hands?

Will prayers wash the miners’ blood from our hands?

We are all murderers. As of yesterday, we have the blood of hundreds of coal miners on our hands. 

At least 245 workers died in a coal mine in western Turkey after a transformer exploded on May 13. Hundreds were trapped hundreds of meters below the soil, where they descended every day for eight hours, for a mere 1,300 Turkish Liras ($630) a month.

For years, the miners have been bidding farewell to their families before leaving for work, knowing that it could be their last day in the mine. We knew that, but we kept silent.

The coal mines were privatized – most sold to businessmen close to the ruling party – and the owner of the mine in Soma was proud to have reduced the cost of mining coal from $130-140 to $23.8 per ton, “thanks to the operational methods of the private sector.” We did not ask how.

Turkey has the world's highest rate of deadly accidents per million tons of coal produced, with the numbers on the increase in the last decade. Even China managed to reduce mine worker deaths to just over 1,000 from around 7,000 a year in the same period. We did not care.

Eight workers were killed in accidents in coal mines around Soma throughout 2013. We ignored it.

A parliamentary motion submitted by a main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker to investigate work-related accidents at coal mines in Soma was rejected by the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers on April 29. We did not report it – we did not even know such a motion existed.

Since the story first broke, officials, politicians and citizens have been calling on everybody to pray for the souls of the killed workers and for those trapped in the mine. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said yesterday that prayers would be held at mosques across country, and that sermons during Friday prayers would focus on mining.

These are more like efforts to play down the size of the disaster than sincere feelings. From the first moment, officials have been calling the killed coal miners “martyrs” and the explosion “fate,” as if they were the victims of a noble cause and nothing could have been done to prevent the deaths.

When 30 coal miners died in a methane explosion on May 17, 2010, in a mine in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan again blamed fate. “Unfortunately, this is in the fate of this profession,” Erdoğan said when he visited the site two days after the explosion. “My brothers who take on this profession do so knowing this.”

It looks like the government’s stance has not changed since. Instead of finding out who is responsible for the situation and punishing them severely to ensure that officials will be more careful about precautions, they send prayers for the workers killed in the mine, once again blaming destiny. And if you ask why miners die in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdoğan will say that you know nothing about mining and give you the number of coal miners who died in Britain in the late 1800s.

If you question why hundreds of workers died before our very eyes, it is most possible that you will be accused of trying to "manipulate the deaths" to put the government in a difficult position. One pro-AKP human-like organism, who claims to be a journalist, wrote on his Twitter account that “the real culprit behind the disaster, which came two weeks before the anniversary of the Gezi protests, should be found.”

Pray for the victims of the disaster, pray for their families, pray for thousands of workers who had to go into the mines yesterday instead of mourning for their colleagues. But praying will not wash the blood from our hands; we are all accomplices to this murder.

And so is the government.