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Zonguldak Accident Draws Attention to Turkish Miners’ Plight

Zonguldak is a mining city on Black Sea coast of Turkey, and the name of the city originates from Turkish zondalik, which means swamp. After the death of eight miners in an accident which occurred in a gas leak in a mine on January 7, that is how all mines around the city seem like to the miners – an endless swamp.

Miners in Zonguldak. Picture is taken by gecetreni on flickr.

Kozlu, where the accident occurred, is a town in the central district of Zonguldak Province, and also has a tragic history for miners. In 1992, after a firedamp explosion in the mine, 263 miners died. This was the biggest disaster in the 150 years of Zonguldak's mining history. But it was not the only one. In 1983, Ereğli, a town in the central district of Zonguldak Province, again turned into a graveyard for 102 miners after a firedamp explosion. Just three years ago, on May 17, 2010, the death of 30 miners in the same city shocked the whole country once again. After years and years, the only thing that changes is the number of deaths. Even that could not prevent Turkey in passing China to top the list of the numbers of miner deaths per 100,000 miners in the world, according to the International Labour Organisation.

The signs of the accident on January 7 had some similarities to previous ones. A subcontractor company was running the mine, which does not have the required qualifications and has no previous experience on mining, because it is a construction company. Even the government tries to stay away from the responsibilities of the accident, in their inspection on the mine by the inspectors of ministry of internal affairs shows that the subcontractor did not fulfill basic safety and health requirements.

According to the report on Turkey Anthracite Society Kozlu Anthracite Processing Company (the same mine that eight miners died) which was prepared by the court of account in 2011, ‘it is just a lucky coincidence not having a fatal accident in this mine'. As it is clear for all to see, every single department of the government, including parliament, ‘have seen’ these problems about the mine and the subcontractor, but no precautions were taken.

On the other hand, it came out that just one and half years ago, same miners held a protest and a strike that lasted two weeks, and mentioned that they could not get their deserved payments and they were made to work under really bad conditions. According the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, one of the miners, Ayhan Gökgöz (35) mentioned the death of 30 miners on TV during the strike said:

“Bu arkadaşlarımız göz göre göre öldü. Önlemler alınsaydı, hiçbir şey olmayacaktı. İş işten geçtikten sonra ’ah anam bunlar gitti’ denmesin. Sayın Valim, emniyet müdürüm, milletvekilleri sesimizi duysunlar. Biz işçi olmak istiyoruz. Biz çalışma koşullarımız iyileşsin istiyoruz. Yalvarıyoruz yetkililere, Allah için gelsinler görsünler halimizi”

“These friends of ours died so obviously. If there were precautions in place nothing was going to happen. Nobody would say ‘oh so sad we lost them’ after everything is done. Dear governor, chief of security, senator hear us. We want to be workers. We want better working conditions. We are begging officials, for God's sake, see our conditions.”

And another miner simply yelled to the cameras:

“Lamba, maske bile vermiyorlar. Kazmayı küreği kendimiz alıyoruz”

“They do not even give us a flashlight or mask, we even brought our own digging tools.”

And on January 10, 2013, the same miner Ayhan Tokgöz was talking again and this time he said:

Ölen 8 arkadaşımla beraber 30 işçi öldüğünde Karadon Maden Ocağı’na gittik. Beraber ağladık orada. Hatta, ’Biz de böyle olur muyuz’ diye konuştuk ve olduk.

“We with our eight friends laying dead in the mine went near our 30 friends who died in the mining accident when it happened. We all cried together. And even we asked each other ‘Will we end up like that too?’ and we did.”

After the accident, Turkey Anthracite Society Kozlu Anthracite Processing Company's vice director Ali Demirsoy met with the families of the three miners whose dead bodies are still in the collapsed mine. Though his speech surprised the people, as he said “Look you are all veiled women here… It is not important as you are veiled or not, we are in that kind of situation.” It is not the first time of surprising speeches by the officials, after mine accidents in Turkey. After death of 30 miners in 2010, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said “dying is the destiny of a miner” and Omer Dinçer, the minister of labor and social security, followed him a few days later by mentioning “miners died in a beautiful way, without suffering.”

The reactions of netizens were almost in the same direction with each other – even though they had different political views. Hakan Coşar (@hakancoar1) said on his Twitter account:

Daha çok grizu patlamaları ve göçüklerle gündeme gelen madenciler.Güneşin doğuşunu ve mavi gök yüzünü onlardan daha iyi anlayan var mıdır?

Miners are on the agenda only after explosions and collapses. Is there anyone understanding the sunrise and the blue sky better than them?

Twitter user Dede (@mhmmtgkc) mentioned the government official news channel TRT Haber's program during the accident. He twitted:

Daha yarım saat önce patlamanın olduğu işletme TRT Haber'deydi. Yok güvenlik şöyle yok dedektörler böyle dediler yarım saat sonra facia :S

Just half an hour ago, the mine that had an explosion was on TRT Haber. They were praising the security and detectors and just half an hour later, disaster :S

Ernoyan Ç. (@ernoyan) who comes from a miner family as he admitted, brought another angle to the incident by saying:

Madenci bir ailenin çocuğuyum. Dedelerim de babam da madenlerde çalıştı. Ne zaman bir maden kazası haberi gelse yüreğim parçalanıyor

I am a child of a miner family. My grandfathers, my dad worked in the mines, too. Whenever I hear about a mine accident, my heart shatters in pieces

Acz (@aczvefakr) tried to draw attention to one of the miners who gave his life away by saying:

taşeron çalışan muhsin akyüz 800 TL maaş alıyordu. 14 yerine 7 kere, 25 yerine 10 metre sondaj yapıldı diyorlar. muhsin'i devlet öldürdü.

working under subcontractor, Muhsin Akyüz was earning 800 TL per month. They say explorations have been made just 7 times instead of 14,  just 10 meters deep instead of 25. The government killed Muhsin.

On Turkish social platform eksisozluk.com, one of the users, nicknamed as “nekadarmukemmelimsahaneharukayim” entered an entry telling, how usual these accidents start to become:

haberi duyduğumuzda anlamsız hayatlarımıza ara verip yarım dakika bilemedin 1 dakika etkilendiğimiz, sorumlularının hukuken hiç bir ceza almayacakları, köseleşmiş vicdanları sebebiyle suçluluk bile duymayacağı ”iş kazası”dır.

This is a kind of “work accident” which makes us give 30 seconds or at best 1 minute break to our meaningless lives, the kind of accident which will have no charge for the people who are responsible for it, and by the help of their blunted conscience, they will not feel guilty for it.

Zonguldak once again hits headlines as usual with a mine accident. Even there were reactions on the social media, especially on eksisozluk.com (a social platform in Turkey) and twitter, one of them was telling everything all smooth and clearly. Nilüfer Zengin, sister of Köksal Kadıoğlu who lost his life in the accident, cried out at the funeral of her brother:

“Seni bu ocaklara girmeye mecbur kılan bu düzen utansın ağabey. Sana ’girme’ dedim. Sen, ’Girmek zorundayım, ne yapayım kardeşim, özel sektör bu çalışmadan sigorta vermiyorlar’ dedin. Emekliliğine 5 sene kalmıştı ağabeyimin”

“Shame on the system that puts you into those mines. I told you not to enter there, and you said; ‘I have to do it, what else I can do my sister, this is private sector they do not give insurance without working'. Only five more years were left for your retirement.”

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