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Mining Disaster Becomes Political Fiasco after Erdogan, Advisor Seen Attacking Mourner-Protesters

A CNN report filed from Turkey on Friday described behavior by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) as part of “perhaps the strangest crisis management the world has ever seen,” as photos and video emerged of Erdogan and one of his top advisors beating mourner-protesters in the town of Soma, which this week suffered the worst mining accident in the country’s history. Government officials have acknowledged that the death toll from the tragedy is now expected to reach at least 300, and controversy over the AKP’s response has steadily deepened since it occurred.

On Thursday a photo went viral showing top Erdogan advisor Yusuf Yerkel kicking a protester who had been forced to the ground by two security officials, an act that Yerkel later justified by emphasizing – among other things – that the protester had insulted Erodgan. Later in the day video emerged showing Erodgan himself engaging in what Business Insider described as “baldly thuggish behavior,” with the Turkish leader punching a protester before the man was set upon by Erdogan’s body guards. One video recording of the incident included muffled audio that has proven particularly controversial. A voice that seems to belong to Erdogan is heard using particularly vulgar language – the functionally untranslatable but deeply ugly word he uses is “ulan” – to denigrate the protester as the assault occurred. Business Insider noted that “there’s little way of knowing for sure that the voice belongs to” the Islamist leader.

According to two Turkish-language experts Business Insider consulted, this roughly translates to “Why are you running, you Israeli offspring?” or “Hey buddy, why are you running, Israeli scum!” (The sentence has some vulgarities that are not easily translated into English.) Merve Tahiroglu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies…walked Business Insider through some of the less translatable portions of the tape. “Dolu could mean offspring, sperm, or seed. I would not translate it as ‘son’ because ‘dol’ is a far more vulgar word,” she said. “Ulan” is similarly edgy language. “It’s a colloquial and culture-specific term,” with no English equivalent, Tahiroglu said. “The best way to explain it would be to say it’s a term men use to address each other when they are in an argument or fight.” The fact that it precedes “Israeli offspring” indicates that that term is being used in a specifically derogatory context, she said.

Whatever the exact phrasing, it was clear that the comments had distinct anti-Semitic overtones. The Economist late Friday evaluated the likely direction of the crisis under the straightforward sub-headline “[t]he tragedy in Soma will also be felt in politics.”

[Photo: ITN / YouTube]