Turkey commemorates 301 lives lost during Soma mining disaster on 10th anniversary

Trade organizations, political parties, and loved ones called for measures to prevent mining accidents as they joined to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soma mining disaster in western Turkey’s Manisa province that claimed 301 lives. 

Protesters carry a banner with the names of the 301 miners who died in the Soma lignite coal mine disaster.

Duvar English

Turkey’s civil society on May 12 commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Soma mining disaster in the western province of Manisa.

Loved ones of the 301 miners who perished in the accident, along with political parties, trade chambers, unions, and non-governmental organizations convened at the Soma Miners Memorial, according to reporting by the daily BirGün. 

“We are here on the 10th anniversary of losing 301 of our loved ones to say ‘Never again.’ We have not, and will not forget Soma,” began a representative from the Soma Labor and Democracy Forces.

The protesters drew attention to the unsafe work conditions at the mine, “301 lives lost due to non-existent work safety precautions fueled by greed.”

The organization detailed the extent of the harm caused by the disaster, saying that 440 children lost their fathers and 255 women lost their husbands in the biggest mine disaster in Turkey. 

The group also remembered miners who died in other mining accidents after Soma. In October 2014, 18 miners died in the southern Karaman province, 16 miners died in the eastern Şirvan district in November 2016, 42 died in the northern province of Bartın in October 202 and most recently, 9 died during the gold mine collapse in eastern Turkey’s Erzincan province. 

The group representative criticized the slow pace of the legal proceedings. The first hearing where 28 public officials are being charged with misconduct was recently held on May 8, ten years after the disaster. 

“This case is crucial for proper safety measures and inspections in mines,” held the miners’ representative and invited all interested parties to the second hearing scheduled for September 12.

Left (SOL) Party representative Gizem Özdem said Turkish courts have handed out light sentences to the defendants, blaming the judiciary for cooperating with the government to support companies instead of workers. 

Soma Mine Disaster

The Soma mining disaster occurred on May 13, 2014, when one of the mine pits was engulfed in flames and carbon monoxide gas, trapping a team of some 800 miners working inside. The deadliest tragedy in Turkish mining history led to the death of 301 miners and the injury of 162 others.

So far, only three defendants have been found guilty of “killing with conscious negligence” and received diminished prison sentences against the wishes of the families.

In the June 2021 retrial, a Turkish court handed out 20 years to Soma mine CEO Can Gürkan and 12.5 years to Turkish Coal Enterprises Institution engineers Adem Ormanoğlu and Efkan Kurt. Gürkan will serve a fraction of his sentence due to a recent amnesty law.

Public officials were not included in the main trial of 2015 as the Family, Labor, and Social Services Ministry did not authorize an investigation against them.

However, the Court of Cassation in 2021 allowed the prosecution of public servants, following a Constitutional Court ruling that found that the victims' families' rights had been violated due to the failure to prosecute these public servants.

The public workers were accused of conducting unlawful inspections at the site of the mine because they had misrepresented the work safety conditions on the ground before the disastrous accident.