On 13 May 2014, an explosion at a coal mine in Soma, Manisa, Turkey, caused an underground mine fire, which burned for several days.
In total, 301 miners were killed in the Soma mining disaster in what has become the worst mine disaster in Turkey’s history.
In the days following the tragedy, Fethiye’s expat and Turkish communities and businesses have found kinship and solidarity in their sorrow by raising money and provisions for the bereaved families.
Throughout Turkey, grief, tinged with anger and frustration, has impacted on everyone but while the debates, analyses, arrests, resignations and blame continue there has also been a number of different approaches to find ways to practically support the grieving families.
Cultural and religious differences, together with contrasting attitudes towards how best to support the families of the miners who lost their lives can vary considerably but, nevertheless, this has not prevented Fethiye’s residents and visiting tourists from digging deep and generously into their pockets. As the days have passed, the amount of funds raised has astounded everyone, even the organisers.
On a national level, the government set up a special bank account for the miners’ families and other NGOs have had donations pouring in.
Fethiye’s own mayor, Behçet Saatçı, visited the area in the days following the tragedy to see what help could be provided.
However, as some of the expats living in Fethiye are themselves closely linked to the one-time coalmining communities in the UK, and their personal memories or local histories, invariably documenting disaster, loss, and hardship, sometimes involving their own families, relatives and friends, they took it upon themselves to raise both awareness and money by drawing on a more proactively British model of fund raising.
Funds Raised Has Astounded Everyone
Two of these Fethiye expats are the owners of Kismet Bar, Ian Offler and Nigel Robertson, who decided one evening to ‘do something to help’. They consulted with FETAV and the Municipality, to make sure what they proposed was officially sanctioned and on receiving their blessing they set about organising a fund raising event.
Little did they realise that this modest tribute to the families of Soma would raise a staggering 43,050 TL within the first week.
Following the model often used in the UK, Ian and Nigel had teeshirts printed and made black ribbons to sell. Ian even cut a special CD under his stage name, Paul Wynter.
All this is eventually expected to raise additional hundreds of Lira. They also asked people and shops to donate dry goods like macaroni, sugar and tea along with provisions for the home like cleaning products, soap and toothpaste.
They even received packets of disposable nappies and toys for the youngest children and babies.
All this is estimated to total a further 10,000 TL, with many of the contributions coming from Hazel’s Bar, The Bar in Hisarönü and Eddie’s Place in Üzümlü.
Ian describes how their support for the Soma miners’ families came about:
We thought we could maybe do something to help the bereaved families in Soma, in a small and modest way. We had no idea it would take off like it has. We are absolutely overwhelmed by the response and can only thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for their generosity.” In the days following their decision, other restaurants and bars also organised fund raising events and last Sunday a team set up a stall at the 3Cs Fair in Çalış. The queues of people at the stand were a testimony to the level of local support.
So far the money raised, which is all being administered by FETAV, totals an astounding 33,050 TL in cash and 10,000 in food and provisions. This includes funds raised by VoJo’s (6,000TL) and Lee’s Bar in Çalış, The Talk of the Town (15,000 TL), in Hisarönü and Kısmet Bar and Val’s Bar in Fethiye (19,960 TL including the 10,000 TL in food contributions).
Nigel says that, following advice from Fethiye’s mayor, Behçet Saatçı, the money and provisions donated will be specifically used to help families in Elmadere, a hamlet particularly hard hit; the tight-knit community of 90 families lost 11 men, leaving families without a breadwinner and with little hope of their finding any long-term relief from their hardship.
Mustafa Şıkman, Honorary British Consul said,
Fethiye’s Turkish community has been encouraged by the foreign nationals living here to think of a very different way to raise money for people, particularly children, in need. Over the years, since FIG became the first organisations of its kind in Fethiye, 3Cs and Embrace have also been formed, all of them gradually becoming an accepted of Fethiye’s volunteering and fundraising community. This time everyone in Fethiye can see what an excellent contribution is being made by our expat community.”
As fundraising continues, the organisers are working closely with Mustafa Şıkman and FETAV. Their current plan is to take a lorry of supplies to the hamlet on Saturday 31st May. They are also discussing plans to use some of the funds to set up a trust to support the families’ educational and day-to-day needs in the future.
As a result of the massive ground swell of compassion and support for the devastated mining communities of Soma, communities have been united in grief in far away and very different places, such as Fethiye, and this if nothing else, their proactive cohesive approach could be a long lasting legacy not only for the dead miners and their families but also Fethiye’s diverse and multicultural community.