As the death toll from a mining disaster in Turkey continues to rise, the attention of Turks and many observers has turned to Prime Minister Erdoğan. His response to the tragedy has been somewhat shocking. At first he said it was nothing more than an accident, “ordinary”—something that just “happens in coal mining.” He also blamed some of the anger on “some groups, extreme elements.” He visited the area near the mine that collapsed, but his convoy was attacked by angry mourners who shouted “thief!” and “murderer!” He took refuge from the crowd in a supermarket, where he allegedly beat up one of the protesters. Widely shared images of one of his staffers viciously kicking another person, apparently a relative of one of the dead miners, caused further outrage across the country.
Erdoğan’s government is reportedly in bed with the big mining companies, some of which are accused of shoddy safety practices. In the recent mine collapse, 282 people are confirmed to have died and 150 are still missing. Hope for their rescue is fading; no one has been brought out alive since yesterday.
The disaster is stoking anger against Erdoğan around the country as the August presidential elections loom. However, as the result of recent local elections attest, Erdoğan is still widely popular despite numerous corruption scandals and occasionally massive protests against his regime. He has weathered a few storms in his day, and is likely to weather a few more.
In another video making the rounds on social media, one of the rescued miners asks hospital workers, “Should I take off my boots not to dirty the stretcher?” Contrast that with the images of Erdoğan’s advisor beating the relative of one of the dead miners. Imagine if, say, Ben Rhodes or some other advisor to President Obama were to punch the relative of one of the people who died in Hurricane Sandy, and Obama said something along the lines of, “Welp, these things happen.” Yikes.