Atatürk's Republic

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Disasters in Soma

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The mining disaster in Soma has scraped off the shallow veneer of Turkey’s economic “miracle” and exposed its serious human costs.  The AKP launched the Turkish economy into the 21st century without adopting modern standards in labor laws and occupational safety.  Ironically, when speaking at Soma yesterday, Erdogan tried to put Soma in perspective by citing death tolls from mining disasters in other industrialized nations.  His main examples occurred during the last half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.  Arguably his choice of statistics is more of a Freudian slip than a simple sign of ignorance.  The height of the industrial revolution in the west enjoys parallels with Erdogan and the AKP’s growth-at-any-cost mentality.

The AKP government has proven no better than previous governments at preventing man made or responding to natural disasters.  Multiple studies have shown that occupational safety conditions in general, and mine safety in particular, have not improved over the AKP’s time in government.  In fact, comparing a study of 1999 data to the latest 2010 TEPEV statistics reveals that the rate of fatalities per million tones of coal doubled in 10 years.  Both Turks and the international community alike have been happy to look the other way despite frequent and high profile fatalities.

Erdogan’s tone-deaf response to the disaster prompted angry crowds to mob and protest the Prime Minister in Soma.  Solidarity protests were organized in Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities across Turkey.  The scale of the disaster and the government’s botched response has led to the quotidian speculation that we are finally witnessing the fall of Erdogan.  At the moment the protests over the disaster remain small and local enough that once again gas and TOMAs will probably be enough to tamp down dissent.  Erdogan’s unsympathetic speech yesterday was similar in tone and content to a speech he gave in 2010 after another mining disaster.  His career was apparently unscathed by the 2010 speech, granted it probably did not receive as much publicity at the time.

However, I do think this incident is demonstrative of significant cracks in the facade of “national will” that the AKP has built around itself.  The Soma mine disaster’s significance lies in that it directly affects, and has angered, a portion of the AKP’s base constituency.  Even a usually staunchly pro-government paper has called for the Energy Minister’s resignation.  Yesterday was also the first time the grievances of (a portion) of the AKP’s supporters lined up with those of the student and residual Gezi protestors.  A series of botched government responses to natural or man-made disasters could possibly lead to a significant drop in AKP support. (Though there still remains the problem of the divided opposition…)

Soma will not single-handedly bring down the AKP but, like Gezi, it is one of a series of events that exposes the party’s waning political acumen.

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Written by ataturksrepublic

May 15, 2014 at 1:40 pm

4 Responses

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  1. It could have been funny reading Erdogan’s ancient examples, if they were not tragic incidents themselves and were not being used to justify another mining tragedy in Turkey. I think Gul should accept premiership (if offered) and try to save Turkey, even if it takes years. AKP voters will realize, in the next few years, that Erdogan has done his job. Now his awesome legacy must be saved by taking power away from him.

    Raja M. Ali Saleem

    May 15, 2014 at 9:02 pm

  2. […] of who and what they can legitimately include in their smear campaign.  As I stated previously, Soma will not bring down Erdogan.  However, it would be ill-advised for Erdogan to repeat the […]

  3. […] AKP government in general and Erdogan in particular are being bared in quick succession.  Just as Soma revealed the shallow and inhumane nature of the AKP’s neo-liberal domestic policies, the […]

  4. […] sign Erdogan’s famous political charisma may be wearing thin came in the immediate wake of the Soma mining disaster last spring, in which lack of proper safety precautions and equipment contributed to the death of […]


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