Relatives of Soma victims rally on Mothers’ Day, demand justice

MANISA: Thousands of people, including family members of the 301 mineworkers who lost their lives in Soma last year in the worst-ever mining disaster in the history of the Turkish Republic, held a rally in Soma on Sunday to mark the first Mothers’ Day after the tragedy.

Around 3,000 people gathered early in the morning outside the Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKI) building in Soma and marched towards the town’s Cumhuriyet Square. Among the participants were the United June Movement, the Social Rights Association, the People’s Liberation Party (HKP), Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a number of unions under the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK).

After the rally, many of the mothers of the 301 miners who died in Soma on May 13, 2014 marked Mothers’ Day by visiting the graves of their sons.

Gulsum Colak, the mother of Ugur Colak, who died in the disaster aged 26, spoke to the Cihan news agency. “They [the Soma victims] only died once. We have been dying every day for the past 12 months. Mothers’ Day no longer exists for us because I have lost my child. He was my first child. I will never forget him speaking or walking for the first time,” Gulsum Colak said. The miner’s 2-year-old son was also at the grave. He kissed his father’s photographs placed on the grave and the stone featuring his name.

Another visitor at the graveyard was Seher Duman, the mother of miner Ibrahim Duman, who also died in Soma. “It is so difficult to handle. [Mothers’ Day] is hard without your child. Part of us is missing. I can’t put this into words,” Duman said to Cihan.

On May 13, 2014, Turkey was shocked by news of an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, a town in the western province of Manisa. A fire that started in the mine rapidly depleted the oxygen in the mineshaft, causing 301 trapped mineworkers to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. A total of 162 others were injured in the blast. The disaster left behind 432 orphans.

The subsequent trial involves 45 defendants, eight of whom are being held in pre-trial detention. According to an expert report read out during last month’s hearing, the accident could have been prevented if the required safety measures had been taken. The report also noted that gas detectors had indicated the possibility of a disaster, but work at the mine was not halted.

The ministers responsible for the mining industry and workplace safety, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz and Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Celik, have been criticized for having failed to ensure the proper level of supervision for workplace safety at the Soma mine. Neither minister resigned following the disaster.

Prosecutors have leveled charges of first-degree murder against Can Gurkan, the CEO of Soma Coal Mining Inc., which runs the coal mine in question, and seven other senior company officials.