60 thousand people were again forced to work in the mines. This time boys under 15 were exempt, while those 16 and older would become slaves. Leave was cut, and an extra three hours in overground work was added to daily shifts.
The poet İlhan Berk, a teacher in Zonguldak in the 1940s. “Two things were very clear here,” he writes. “History, of the rulers and of the ruled. The history of the ruled was buried underground. It was as if it never made it above ground. The ruler was a man of the world; illuminated, white, prosperous. If he did go underground, it was only because he wanted to conduct his task above ground better, to inspect, and nothing more.” He tackled the matter in his poetry as well. “I've seen such people,” he said, “even death would be afraid to go after them… They either go down into or emerge from the pits… At the blow of a whistle, the entire city stands up… And until the next whistle… not even a hiss. I slept, I awoke, it was the same sounds… Then I understood that mankind had the shortest life span of all.”
The workers began to flee. The state tried to increase productivity with ingenious methods, such as taking families hostage, especially wives, to get them back.
From 1940 to 1947, the period of force labour, 700 workers died. The ratio of fatal accidents was 37 times higher than the countries the Republic modeled itself on. There seemed to be no escape from this modern slavery called obligation. The single party dictatorship ended, a new government came to power in 1950, but nothing changed. The obligation revoked in 1947 was imposed occasionally until 1960.
Instead of all this, we could list the official targets of Turkish Coal Enterprises: 1. Increasing productivity. 2. Improving coal quality. 3. Reducing production costs.
Yes, three. There is no number four. In such lethal work, there is no concern for “extracting coal without risking human life.” “Reducing costs” is important, but that doesn't include people.
The Turkish Coal Enterprises proudly records its date of establishment as 1848, but provides no data for the period before the 1939 accident at the pit in Kozlu, which killed 23 workers. Presumably, costs were pretty low during those 90 years.
A 1921 requirement placed on employers reveals how miners were perceived and treated until the 1920s. It demands that “henceforth, employers must record the number of workers and the wages paid.” Until 1921, no one wrote down how many people entered the mines, and how many died.
The Mining Martyrs Monument in Zonguldak bears the names of 4500 miners. In 2005 82 miners died, in 2006 35, in 2007 38, in 2008 43, and in 2009 76.
When I began this movie in 2010, the figure was 19, then it rose to 52. Imagine the figures for the late 1800s and the early 1900s, meanwhile, let’s return to the present.
Let us first lend an ear to Los Hermanos Barron: 16 Toneladas
In our cute coastal town of Zonguldak, coal is found right at the shore. The monster that occasionally devours those who go down, throws up its leftovers. Citizens have fun in their modest huts erected along the coastline, and make the most of the opportunity afforded to them by nature and progress.
The days of the primitive hunter-gatherer tribes are long gone. Tribes have been replaced by individual entrepreneurs.
The miner is not an individual entrepreneur. And certainly not individual. With their helmets and their lunch bags in hand, it is assumed all the world’s miners look alike.
However, it is only the black dust on their faces. As the poet says, “Their faces are darkened, not by shame but with coal dust / This is how to earn the daily crust.” Orhan Veli’s lines caused no discernible drop in coal production.
Miners live in villages and towns of the region. You hardly recognize them once they wash their faces and change into clean clothes. Indistinguishable from the penniless, unarmed people from the slums of big cities, heading towards the factories.
The baskets their wives and sisters carry give away their district. In the 1880s, Van Gogh lived in a mining district in Belgium to live among the miners, and painted these pictures.
The painter, in a letter, said that the entire message of God could in fact be summarized as “a light shining in the dark,” and that the miners felt particularly attached to these words. Does it seem strange that the miner sought mercy from one even stronger than the world that proclaimed darkness as his lot, and afflicted him with armed guards when he rebelled?
No, it isn’t. Yet Bolivian miners came up with a different interpretation. “God cannot be ruling over this darkness, the ruler of this place could only be the devil,” they said. They thought like the British miner who in his prayers asks the Lord for “a corner in heaven,” since he has “already spent his time in hell.” And they made figurines of the devil in the mines, and presented them with offerings for protection.
Since time immemorial, miners sought a companion so they wouldn't be alone in the bottom of darkness. Central European miners appealed to mountain sprites, ghost hermits and dwarves.
All these companions are similar: They appear as human beings, animals or flames. They can be your friend, parting the earth to reveal precious stones and aid you; but if you cross them they are unforgiving and will mete immediate punishment. Some are imagined as giants, others as dwarves. This mystical companion could be an old miner, carrying on his old job. That was why the glimmer of his lamp would appear in nooks and crannies, just to disappear immediately after; he would tap on walls, and make abrupt noises from afar. Some believed he should be bowed to, others that it was best not to even mention his name. If he put some of his own oil into your lamp, it never went out again; but if you dared to ask him for a light, he would kill you.
Barbara, the patron saint of European miners, was imprisoned by her pagan father for converting to Christianity. On escaping her execution, she found refuge in the mountains. Meaning, she knows where miners live. A miner that lights a candle to her on her feast day dies a natural death.
Another popular hero among European miners is the prophet Daniel, who escaped from the lions’ den because he trusted in God. An angel led him to a mine, thus, he knows where mines are, guiding miners to them. In Turkey, Daniel is associated with abundance. But miners don't believe he is of any special benefit. Is it that they are more realistic? Perhaps.
It seems the poet Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca agreed with the Bolivian miners. He wrote: "The earth belongs to God, nothing falls to your share / You are underground, you are Godless, why won’t you understand."
Still, the lungs of Bolivian children aged nine or ten are destroyed by miners’ disease. The devil doesn't spare them.
Now let's hear from Die Ruhr Blechquintet: Sixteen Tons
Orhan Veli said “the stream of Zonguldak runs black,” because, in regions politely called “mining districts” you really only see coal, wherever you look.
Places where miners live are also seen through the photos on the wall. A song, from the lips of a miner who died with his son at the Hartley Colliery Disaster in England, a hundred and fifty years ago, can be sung by miners everywhere: Their worries were for those above, not themselves / For their families left hungry… Even war songs speak of the end of the war or topics that cheer you up, but most miners’ songs are either laments, or about the ones left above. The miner is physically at the bottom of the pit, but his soul is above. He has accepted darkness so that others can see daylight.
Let us remember what a “mining district” is.
The free market needs coal, and miners to extract it. Entering the mine you risk your life. It says so at the entrance. And when you get out, you are blessed. So, not everyone goes down. Meaning, you have to force someone to do it. In the early 19th century, 70 percent of Japanese miners were convicts. Convicts and soldiers have been forced into mines in Turkey too.
In the 2000s, a 60-year old man registering his son for the miners’ exam, complained saying, “In the past, you were forced by the gendarmes to go down, nowadays everyone lines up for it. May God watch over us.” In 2006, an exam for 1200 positions received 41 thousand applications.
The “mining district” is thus a region where you go jobless and hungry if you don't work in the mine. In the free market, no one is forced to do anything, everything happens by itself.
By forcing villagers in the region down into the mines, Turkey only belatedly established the free market. When the locals were finally left with no other option, the free market fell perfectly into place.
In this part of the exhibition, we see George Luks’s “The Miner” and Oswaldo Guayamasin’s “Accident” (above). You can see other works of this magnificent Ecuadorian painter of Quechua descent here and here. The 11 million-strong community that speak the Quechua language is today dispersed across Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. It is the language of the Inca civilization that was destroyed by European colonialists. Despite speaking the same language, Quechua speakers in different countries give their community separate names. They are “people” often photographed with their lamas and colorful clothes in the mountain villages of the Andes. Why the quote marks for “people”? Because the word “Runakuna”, the name they give themselves in various parts of Peru, means “people” in their own language.
On 27 February 2005, Ahmet Makal wrote the following about the period of “Obligation/Forced Labor” in an article titled “A Social Nightmare” published in the Radikal 2 supplement of Radikal newspaper: “…Those who today travel to Bartın or Zonguldak, both mining areas, still sense the presence of the ghost of a nightmare that happened 65 years ago. Speaking to people who experienced the period, it is clear how memories of the forced labor implementation have been inscribed in their minds. In addition to the practice itself, the maltreatment of the relatives of miners who fled the workplace played a great part in these bad memories. Incidents of maltreatment included incarcerating wives and children of such workers as hostages in police stations, allowing their release only upon the return of the workers that fled, and even rape. Interviews we carried out in the region provide first hand accounts of such maltreatment, and an old worker who witnessed the period speaks of ‘the evil things done to young brides’…”
In this part, we listen to a few different versions of “16 Tons”. “16 Toneladas” by Los Hermanos Barron, a Mexican band, and “16 Tons” by the Ruhr Blech Quintet from Germany and by Srdjan Popov from Serbia play in the foreground, while Alexis Corner & CCS’s version plays in the background. And also “The Springhill Mine Disaster” by The Dubliners plays –unfortunately- in the background.
Zonguldak, the coastline, 1980s.
Van Gogh, Belgium, 1880s. Below a photograph I took in Zonguldak in the 1980s.
You can find out more about the multi-award winning film “The Devil’s Miner” shot in Bolivia and co-directed and co-produced by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani from the film’s web site or from here. (The image above is from the film’s web site.) You can watch, and even download here the documentary about Bolivian child miners broadcast on Al Jazeera’s “Witness” program. And this link provides ample information about the 6,500 children who have to sacrifice their young lives in the mines of the Potosi region.
The “Miner’s Prayer” that was around at the turn of the century. The existence, distribution and circulation of such a readymade-prayer explain not only the conditions of this period, but of this sacrificial profession in general. “The Mine Boss’s Prayer” is probably much shorter: “O Lord, don’t let this lot die on me so I don’t get into trouble, Amen.” In 1869, in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, (the appalling region we mentioned in the first part) the wooden structure of the Avondale mine caught ablaze and collapsed, killing 110 miners by asphyxiation. It took a year to issue a law on ventilation in mines in PA state. Looking for more information about the prayer above, I came across a news item not from the 1860s, or the 1900s, but from 2010: 29 miners had died in an explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia. For an interview with a miner who lost his son, brother and nephew in the blast, click here. To listen to “Miner’s Prayer” performed by Dwight Yoakam, click here.
İlhan Berk, Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca and Orhan Veli are poets who have written about coal, Zonguldak and miners. İlhan Berk, the poet of “This Poem Smells of Coal” said, “Zonguldak taught me to look at people from the viewpoint of the masses, the concept of class, social structure and human relations.” Mehmet Seyda’s words from his 1970 novel “Burning Stone” are unfortunately not included in the film: “Countless pits covered in black blood dug underground / Upon these pits the city of Zonguldak was founded upon”.
A “mining basin” can perhaps be described thus: It is the place where some people are crammed into a cage and sent into the unknown. Or the place where the content of this news item brings no surprise: “…During recruitment interviews, candidates were given poles to carry, their usage of shovels and pickaxes was tested, and their suitability for the work was assessed by an examination of their palms. Recruitment also took balance between height and weight into consideration…” (The photograph is one of mine, from the mid-1980s, Zonguldak.)