Relatives of miners trapped after landslide: ‘Gold for company, death for us’

On the third day following the disaster caused by a landslide at the gold mine in Turkey’s Erzincan province, relatives of the trapped workers lamented, "The company is left with gold, we are left with death."

Nine miners are trapped under the mass after the landslide, and the land are exposed cyanide.

Evrim Deniz / Gazete Duvar

On Feb. 15, three days have passed since the mining disaster at the Çöpler Gold Mine in the İliç district of Erzurum in which nine workers were buried under a thousands of tons of mass caused by a landslide.

When we first entered the Çöpler Village, women were waiting around the mosque built by the Anagold Mining Company, which they define as the “chief responsible” for the disaster. In the funeral house set up below the mosque, men sit around surrounded by gendermeria vehicles while children were watching the Euphrates River, reported to be affected by the cyanide exposure.

Several vehicles of security officials are located around the Çöpler Village.

Two of the four women we greeted while we were walking around the village started to talk to us while the other two women walked away. The women we started chatting with asked us "Have you got any information?" and continued, "My cousin's wife and I have been waiting and we are miserable as no one is giving us any information. We told our husbands not to work there, but the company officials went round the houses one by one, saying, 'You will be rich, you will save your children's future, you will get more salary than a doctor.' The company is left with gold, we are left with death."

The husband of another woman we spoke to was also trapped under the mass. This young woman was accompanied by her seven-year-old son. The woman pointed to her son and said, "My son wakes up and asks why my father is under the ground? Are my father died and did you bury him? If I become a widow with my child at my age, who will look after me? The state? The state officials and our greedy relatives are sitting in the funeral house, talking about the compensation they will receive."

Kenan Öz and Adnan Keklik from Çöpler Village and Ramazan Çimen from İliç district have been trapped under the mass for three days. The company officials and bureaucrats have been regularly visiting the village after the mining disaster to put the villagers and village under control.

We passed through three check points until we reached the gate which was established four km before the mine. Every person we met on the way was surrounded by law enforcement officers right after us.

There were people waiting for their relatives, gendarmerie, Erzincan Provincial Police Chief, civilian police officers, representatives of political parties around the gate.

Security officers are located around the roads leading to the mining site.

We started to talk to a young woman waiting in a vehicle near gate. The young woman stated that she, her mother, brother and her relatives were waiting for their relatives trapped under the mass.

"If you give our name or the name of our missing relatives, they will make life miserable for us," the woman said and continued, "My brother and father also work in the mine. Everyone thinks that we do these jobs because we are greedy, but it is not so. If we go to a big city, there is no house, no job, no life. If we sold our house here, we would not be able to live in a big city even for a year. I heard a gendarme talking to his friend and saying 'they should have gone to another city, they get more money than a doctor.’ Why does my father earn 20,000 liras when the gold extracted from my land belongs to a foreign company?"

Anagold Mining, 80 percent owned by the Canadian SSR Mining and 20 percent by the Çalık Group close to the Turkish government, has been operating in the region since 2009.

We visited a coffee house in the center of İliç distric. While civil society volunteers and lawyers were exchanging information, I listened to a conversation between a young man wearing the work clothes of the Anagold Company and his friend. Speaking in Kurdish, these young men said, "No one can get any information. The authorities are not answering the phone. We know the region best, at least let them take guidance from us."

When the friend of the young man wearing the uniform of the company left him, we started to chat. This young man has been working with a subcontractor company in Çöpler Gold Mine for four years.

He that he was afraid to give his name and continued, "There are hundreds of young people like me working with subcontractors. The area where we work is huge and complex. Some 300-400 people work there every day. Now they are saying that nine people are under the mass, but none of the construction machinery, tonnes of vehicles, people walking around are being investigated. We all know that there are not (only) nine people there.”

Most people from Erzincan's İliç district work at the mining site.

Young man stated that Anagold Company pressured them not to talk to the press. He stated that his friend who tried to get day-off in the day of the accident because his wife was unwell was not given permission and now trapped under the mass. 

“He has disabled children and they are waiting for him at home. Yes, we were paid a lot of money, but we do not work in a dignified way. Doesn't that company know that most of us work with chronic headaches, regular throat swelling, high fever? The families here accepted to work in this mine to give their children a future. They needed money. But what did the state and ministers need, so they allowed us to be poisoned?"

(English version by Can Bodrumlu)