Anger and Grief Simmer in Turkey a Year After Soma Mine Disaster – by Ceylan Yeginsujune (New York Times – June 2, 2015)

ELMADERE, Turkey — Through the lace curtains of her window, Beyhan Yilmaz cannot help but see the raw gash of the new coal mine carved through the green hills near her village. She is stung by the sight.

“I used to run away to that hill and have picnics with my husband under the pine trees,” Ms. Yilmaz recalled, with tears trickling down her cheeks. “As if the fact that they destroyed that beauty wasn’t painful enough, now every time I look out the window, I am reminded of the hell where my husband burned to death.”

Ms. Yilmaz, 26, is one of 10 women from Elmadere, in western Turkey, who were widowed by the deadliest industrial disaster in modern Turkish history, the explosion and fire that tore through a coal mine in the nearby town of Soma in May 2014, leaving 301 men dead.

The disaster led to protests in Soma and across Turkey that were broken up by the riot police using rubber bullets and water cannons. The anger here toward the government had barely receded a year later as the widows observed the grim anniversary. Families of victims say that no one has been held accountable and that they have been left to face the future on their own.

“They promised us compensation, a house, and jobs, but we’ve seen nothing,” said another widow, Selma Ay, 30. She said she was still furious at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for trivializing the disaster last year by referring to the deaths as “the fate of miners.”

Ms. Ay wondered, “What has he done since? Built himself a palace, and left us here to hopelessly drown in our sorrows,” referring to the $600 million presidential palace that opened in Ankara last October.

Many of the miners came from agricultural villages in the region, where the traditional livelihoods of harvesting tobacco and raising livestock have faded in recent years as the governing Justice and Development Party has sought to open up and industrialize the economy. Coal quickly became essential for the growth of the country, producing electricity, jobs and heat for the poor, who were regularly given free bags of coal during election campaigns.

The families of the fire victims say men were lured into mining with promises of job security, bank credit and pensions. They endured the harsh working conditions in the mines to give their families a better standard of living than farming had, families said.

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