Anatolian Express II: Soma and Toma

Saturday, May 17, 2014 
It's been a busy few days in Istanbul since I arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I haven't been doing anything particularly touristic, at least with respect to sightseeing. Basically, I've been seeing my friends, people I've known, in some instances, for over twenty years. Others are folks I've met along the way during the course of all the trips I've taken back to Turkey since returning to live in the US in 1999--I think I've come to Turkey every year since then. Some people, meanwhile, are new friends, as it seems like every time I come here I meet someone new that I end up keeping in touch with.

Almost all of my friends--and particularly the ones I've been hanging out with this week--despise the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan. Like many other people in Turkey and elsewhere, they're appalled by Erdogan's reaction to the Soma mining disaster.

“These accidents are things which are always happening,” explained the often-embattled politician who sued a journalist last week for retweeting a post critical of him. “Please, we should not interpret what happens in these coal mines as impossible. These are usual things. There is something called ‘work accidents’ in the literature. This does not only happen at mines, but at other workplaces too.”
What “workplaces” is he referring to? Try Britain. The Britain of the Industrial Revolution — 170 years ago. “I went back in British history,” said Erdogan, who’s expected to soon announce his candidacy for the presidential election in August. ”Some 204 people died there after a mine collapsed in 1838. In 1866, 361 miners died in Britain. In an explosion in 1894, 290 people died there.”
“Take America, with all of its technology and everything,” he continued, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. “In 1907, 361 [miners died there]. These are usual things … In 1942, 1,549 miners died in China due to a mixture of gas and coal. Can you believe it?”
A TOMA in action

Even worse has been the police reaction to the protests that have sprung up in response to the tragedy. As was the case last year during the Gezi Park protests, police--now often outnumbering protesters, at least in Istanbul--using tear gas and rubber bullets and water cannons (known in Turkey as TOMA) to break up peaceful demonstrations.
Yusuf Yerkel in action in Soma


Disgust with the government's response to the protests crystallized with the case of Yusuf Yerkel, an 'aide' (who seems like more of a security-type person/thug) to Prime Minister Erdogan who was photographed kicking a protester who was already pinned to the ground by police. The incident took place in, of all places, the site of the tragedy itself: in Soma, during the course of Erdogan's visit to the embattled town in western Anatolia.
Anyway, I need to get a move on right now, but I'll likely be getting back to this subject later. I've also got a bunch of photos from Istanbul that I'd like to post sooner or later, so hopefully they'll be too before too much longer.

Also see:

Anatolian Express: Back in Istanbul

May Day Mahem in Turkey

Erdogan's Interview with Charlie Rose

Isyanbol: the Gezi Park Protests
More links, commentary and other stuff can be found at the Borderlands Lounge.

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