Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reference to the deaths of 41 coal miners in a mine explosion as “destiny” and as resulting from the type of accident that “will always be” have drawn a storm of criticism.
His remarks were particularly infuriating to those who questioned whether the tragedy on the evening of October 14, in a mine in the northern Black Sea coastal province of Bartin, could even be described as an accident—Emin Koramaz, head of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, alleged on Twitter that the miners had been sent "hundreds of metres underground without taking the necessary precautions, without inspection and without creating safe conditions".
Erdogan, while visiting the vicinity of the tragedy in the town of Amasra on October 15, told reporters while surrounded by rescue workers: "We are people who believe in the plan of destiny.” Such accidents, he added, "will always be, we need to know that too".
The BBC reported how in the village of Makaraci, which lost four men in the explosion, a tearful woman told Erdogan at her brother's funeral: "President, my brother knew, he said there was a gas leak 10, 15 days ago. He said 'they will explode us soon'. How come it's negligence? He said 'they will explode us here'... He knew it."
With parliamentary and presidential elections due in Turkey by next June, Erdogan may have stumbled into a public relations nightmare.
Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu professed his outrage at Erdogan’s response to the miners’ deaths, asking: "In which century we are living?"
"Why [do] the mine accidents happen only in Turkey?" added Kilicdaroglu.
While not withdrawing his comments about “destiny”, Erdogan did add: “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 blast at the mine, owned by Turkish Hard Coal Enterprises, also left 28 injured.
Erdogan also visited miners who were transferred to Cam and Sakura City Hospital in Istanbul due to injuries caused by the blast in the mine (Credit: Turkish Presidency).
Around 110 people were in the mine at the time of the blast. Officials said almost half of them were more than 300 metres (984 feet) deep. Some 58 people were rescued or managed to get out of the mine by themselves.
Turkey saw its deadliest coal mining disaster in 2014. Some 301 people died after an explosion blast in a mine in the western town of Soma. After that tragedy, Erdogan caused fury after remarking: “These things happen.”
After the Amasra tragedy, unions questioned whether mine improvements promised by officials after the Soma explosion have been delivered.