‘There Will Be a Massacre’: The Turkish Government Responds

Turkish men shout at a police officer as they clash with police during a demonstration on May 16, 2014, in Soma, Turkey. Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty

Alexander Christie-Miller’s report “Someday There Will Be a Massacre,” published in Newsweek on May 22, was a powerful indictment not only of the mine owners but also the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His office wrote the following letter to the editor.

The Newsweek article entitled “Someday there will be a massacre” by Alexander Christie-Miller, May 22, 2014, unfortunately contains fundamental errors and a deliberate distortion of the real situation. The article makes a number of claims without any strong evidence, rather [than] presenting them as facts.

The author has clearly selected quotes only to substantiate his highly contentious claims about the mine accident in Soma on May 13. However, these are far from reflecting the true situation on the ground or giving a full picture to the readers.

To give an example: A caption in the piece reads as follows: Miners blame Prime Minister Erdoğan’s corrupt regime for Turkey’s worst industrial disaster.”

The phrase “corrupt regime”  [written not by Mr Christie-Miller but by an editor. Ed.] is a political allegation that is not backed up by evidence. The piece uses this phrase as if it is a proven fact. It is not a quote from anyone and has not been taken from any source, which is why it has not been given in quotation marks. This phrase is clearly the reflection of a personal view. Such a statement is tantamount to calling the United States an imperialist state or Israel a racist country without any qualification, quote or attribution. It is not clear who these miners are. As a matter of fact, this phrase does not appear in the main body of the article itself.

Over the last 12 years the Turkish government has fought aggressively against corruption and passed numerous laws to ensure transparency in state contracts and the use of government finance. The author dismisses all these efforts, rather inserting a highly contentious accusation without even offering a context.

The fact that he is trying to link the Soma mine accident with the corruption allegations of December 17 is indicative of his anti-government generalizations. Everyone is entitled to a political opinion. However, such an opinion should not be presented as objective journalism, particularly in a reputable magazine like Newsweek.

“The destination: an election rally held by Erdoğan, which the workers were paid 50 Turkish lira to attend—the equivalent of about $25, or an eight-hour day shift in the mine.”

This claim, which has appeared in the Turkish media, is based on one person’s statement. There is no information or evidence on when, where or how these miners were allegedly taken to political rallies. Furthermore, presenting this as a fact connected to the mining disaster is a deliberate attempt to distort the facts and feed anti-government sentiment.

“…cozy relationship between the mine’s bosses and Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) that helped set the stage for the tragedy”

It is indeed surprising to see this claim repeated here. This is a claim that has been made by several marginal media outlets without any concrete evidence and without taking into account the denials of both government officials and company owners. The article does not mention the lack of evidence, does not refer to the denials and presents this statement as fact. It also conveniently ignores that technical, administrative and judicial investigations have begun and the government has promised that anyone responsible for negligence and/or a violation of health and security measures will be subject to the due processes of the law in the courts, with no leniency.

“Moreover, it threatens to reignite tensions that have simmered in the country for the past year, starting with the brutal police crackdowns on anti-government demonstrations last summer and continuing with a probe in December alleging corrupt relationships between Erdoğan and his allies and a coterie of construction firms.”

This linking of the Gezi events of last summer, the December 17 allegations and the mine accident is misleading, if not outright ideologically driven. Each one of these incidents is different in nature, scope and consequences. The author may have made a connection between all three in his mind, but the vast majority of Turkish people have certainly not.

There is no doubt that some people protested the government over the tragic mine accident. But thousands, and in fact millions, of people have not; instead, they organized themselves to help, worked with officials and participated in the post-accident rehabilitation efforts. Leaving this part of the story out seems to be a political choice, not impartial journalism.

“Turkey remains one of the few countries not to have signed up for a convention on mining safety by the U.N.’s International Labour Organization, which has 178 member nations.”

This is another case of deliberate ambiguity in reporting facts. Turkey has been a signatory to the ILO since 1932 and has signed 56 of the 185 conventions. On average, EU countries have signed 73 conventions. Each country signs ILO conventions depending on their specific industrial infrastructure and needs.

Singling out Turkey in this particular context and insinuating that this was the cause of the mine accident is not reporting facts, but making political allegations. The piece also neglects to mention that the government has launched a revision of all existing health and safety regulations for the mining industry and has provided the families of those who lost their lives with a comprehensive social security package.

“In the past seven years, Chairman Alp Gürkan has been awarded government contracts worth $33 billion, Turkish media reported last week.”

Another claim made without any evidence. Apparently, neither the Turkish government nor company officials have been consulted to verify this claim. This is nothing but a typical example of one-sided reporting and an unfortunate reflection of a desire to blame the Turkish government.

“Five officials at the company have been arrested on charges of causing death by negligence. A court rejected a warrant for the arrest of Gürkan, ruling there was “no evidence of his responsibility” for the deaths.”

The court procedures are judicial processes over which the Turkish government has no control. As of May 26, 2014, more than five people have been arrested and more have been questioned. Administrative and judicial investigations are underway and will reveal a fuller picture when concluded. Instead of noting these facts, the article is seeking to give uninformed readers the impression that those responsible are not being held accountable. This is simply untrue.

Yours faithfully,

Cemalettin Hasimi

Office of Public Diplomacy, Prime Ministry of Turkey
Başbakanlık Merkez Bina B Blok Zemin Kat No: 38