Outrage in Turkey after Erdoğan says ‘fate’ to blame for mine explosion


An explosion at a state-owned mine that left 41 dead and trapped miners underground for hours has sparked public outrage in Turkey, with simmering anger at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that “fate” was to blame.

Erdoğan rushed to the northern Black Sea coast town of Amasra on Saturday, arriving as rescue teams worked to contain a fire at least 300 metres (985ft) underground that officials suggested was probably caused by the buildup of flammable gases in the mine, known as firedamp.

Erdoğan initially suggested “fate” was ultimately responsible for the deadly incident, before emphasising that a team of three prosecutors dispatched to Amasra should work to find the cause of the blast. “The administrative and judicial investigation will reveal what caused the blast and who, if anyone, is responsible,” he said, speaking while surrounded by a crowd of miners, rescue workers and local officials.

He added: “It is of course unforgivable for us that accidents with significant death tolls continue to take place at our mines. We don’t want to see any deficiencies or unnecessary risks at our mines.”

The Turkish president’s initial suggestion that deadly mining disasters are a natural consequence of a risky industry echoed his controversial response to Turkey’s worst ever mining disaster, which killed 301 people in the town of Soma in 2014, where he said that “these things happen”, leading to furious reactions and protests. Prosecutors also found that a second fatal mining disaster later that year that killed 18 people was preventable.

Opposition politicians, trade unionists and observers all questioned whether the government’s pledges to increase worker safety in a dangerous industry in the years following the Soma disaster had succeeded, with many pointing to a severe lack of accountability for fatal errors among state officials and potentially lax enforcement of regulations.

The explosion at the state-owned TTK Amasra Müessese Müdürlüğü mine, in a region considered a bedrock of support for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), presents a challenge for the ruling party, which will seek to showcase its record of overhauling the country’s infrastructure throughout the past two decades in an election expected next year. Polls increasingly show Erdoğan could snatch victory from the country’s fractured opposition if they remain divided in their attempts to unseat him.

The government also sought to keep a tight grip on the official narrative, with Erdoğan and even some state institutions issuing stern warnings against spreading alleged “disinformation”, amid demands for increased accountability to prevent further deadly mining accidents.

“There are questions that have to be asked, just a day after the parliament passes a law criminalising disinformation, so of course everyone is extremely worried that the authorities won’t be allowed to do their job properly, and are scared of the truth not coming out, or a cover-up. On top of all that, the president blames fate,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Europe and central Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

As search and rescue efforts at Amasra continued almost a full day after the blast on Friday evening, with rescue workers trying to locate all 110 miners who were inside the facility at the time of the explosion, lawyer Sercan Aran chronicled what he said was the state’s efforts to prevent him from reaching the Bartin region, which surrounds Amasra, in order to help victims’ families. Police in Ankara stopped his car and questioned him, he said, and told him that the Bartin governor’s office would not allow him and other lawyers to enter the area and that “we should turn back”.

Local union leaders expressed outrage at what they claimed was a widespread pattern of negligence in a dangerous industry. “If you send miners hundreds of metres underground without taking the necessary precautions, without inspection and without creating safe conditions, you cannot call it an accident. This is downright murder,” said Emin Koramaz, the head of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects.





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