AHATLAR, Turkey: Sitting on the stairs of his house overlooking the Black Sea, the father of a dead miner accepts condolences from relatives and neighbors. His scarred Turkish village lost three of its young men in this Friday’s mining disaster.
Three out of 41 miners killed in the coal mine explosion in the town of Amasra on Friday were from Ahatlar, a village on its outskirts, where funeral services were held on Sunday.
“My son is gone. I am falling apart, this is ruining me,” said grieving Kemal Yildirim, father of Saban, who was in his early 20s when he died. “Friends gave me the sad news. We hurried to the pit on Friday. He was one of the last remaining ones to be pulled out at 7 a.m. the next day,” he said.
The young miner’s pregnant wife is expecting twins. He was employed by the state-owned Turkish Hard Coal Enterprises’ mine in 2019 after graduating from university.
A relative hung flags outside the house. Shoes piled up on the doormat, and women covering their heads with scarves packed into a room, while men waited under a blue canvas outside, protected from the rain.
Hundreds of people from neighboring villages also gathered outside the house as an imam led the funeral service. Saban’s wife hugged the coffin, which was covered with a Turkish flag.
“Take me, not him,” said the grieving father, so moved he could barely breathe.
Officials said 28 miners were wounded and 58 survived following the blast, which according to preliminary findings was caused by firedamp — a term referring to a buildup of methane gas.
Saban had told his wife “the mine had been smelling of gas inside for 10 days,” his father said. “He was going to take an annual vacation.”
“His dream was to raise his children. I am devastated,” he said.
The sister of another miner killed in the explosion said he too had smelt gas.
Her brief exchange with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday was caught by cameras.
Erdogan attended funerals in nearby villages after arriving at the mine together with ministers and rescuers.
In the village of Makaraci, which lost four men, a tearful sister told Erdogan: “President, my brother knew, he said there was a gas leak 10, 15 days ago. He said ‘they will explode us soon.’ How come it’s negligence? He said ‘they will explode us here’ … he knew it.”
Erdogan, after a moment of silence, was heard answering: “Sorry for your loss, may Allah give patience.”
The government has described the dead as “mine martyrs.”
Mevlut Ozgun, a relative of the Yildirim family, said the three from Ahatlar were “all young sons.”
“They had been miners for only three or four years,” he said outside the house.
“It’s dangerous, causes diseases in the future but what could have they done? That was how they (made) their living.”
Erdogan sparked controversy on Saturday when he linked the killings to destiny.
“We are people who believe in the plan of destiny,” he told reporters, surrounded by rescue workers. Such accidents “will always be, we need to know that too.”
His comments sparked anger among his opponents, and triggered protests in Istanbul with a few demonstrators saying “it was not an accident but a massacre.”
Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who also attended funerals in Amasra, said the state was obliged to ensure the safety of its people.
“In which century we are living? Why (do) the mine accidents happen only in Turkey?” he said.
Emin Koramaz, who leads the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, said on Twitter: “If you send miners hundreds of meters underground without taking the necessary precautions, without inspection and without creating safe conditions, you cannot call it an accident.”