Landslide at Çöpler Gold Mine in Erzincan traps nine workers; rescue efforts hindered

Landslide at Çöpler Gold Mine in Erzincan traps nine workers; rescue efforts hindered

Canan Kaya

A landslide on February 13th at the Çöpler Gold Mine in İliç, a district of Erzincan, Turkey, left nine workers trapped under the rubble. Despite nine days passing since the disaster, rescuers have yet to reach the workers, and the ongoing landslides have forced a halt to the search and rescue operations.

The gold mine, operated by Anagold Mining – a joint venture between Canadian company SSR Mining and Turkey's Çalık Holding's subsidiary Lidya Mining – had received an environmental impact assessment (EIA) positive report and undergone two capacity increases, despite years of warnings. Notably, in 2021, despite a leak of 50 tons of cyanide-laced water, the mine remained open without any preventive measures taken. Journalists striving to highlight these oversights and report the incident's details face various pressures from government officials and company representatives attempting to obstruct the truth.

In light of the potential risk of cyanide and hazardous waste leakage in the area, journalists have been advised to wear masks, and media organizations are called to take necessary precautions. However, in the initial days following the disaster, only reporters from critical television channels were observed wearing masks. Reporters from pro-government channels conducted their broadcasts without masks. One such journalist wearing a mask was Ferit Demir from Halk TV, who was later accused by pro-government media of 'putting on a show' by allegedly removing his mask immediately after broadcasting.

Ferit Demir shared his experience reporting from the site: "We conducted interviews through the wire fences," he said. According to Demir, on the first day, families of those trapped were waiting in one of the two buildings opposite the mine's main entrance, which had both a metal gate and wire fencing. Initially, interviews with the families were possible through the fences until the crisis desk officials moved the families to a higher location and limited their contact with journalists, as they seemed reluctant to allow the families to speak to the press.

Demir highlighted the restrictions imposed on journalists, including a ban on filming outside the mine's main entrance. For instance, at Sabırlı Stream, where cyanide leaks into the Euphrates River, strict rules prevent journalists from filming. Demir mentioned an instance where he was initially stopped from broadcasting live but managed to do so after inviting CHP Bursa Member of Parliament Orhan Sarıbal. After showcasing the stream contaminated by cyanide-laced water, they were promptly asked to leave the area.

He also discussed the challenging working conditions for journalists, emphasizing that state officials dictate what can be shown. On the first day, all journalists, including those from pro-government media, were affected by the smell and suffered throat irritation due to lack of preparedness and absence of masks. Demir, who had masks left over from an earthquake period, distributed them among the journalists. Later, when ministers declared there was no cyanide leakage, pro-government media organizations instructed their reporters to remove the masks to avoid creating a perception of ignoring government statements. However, Demir continued to wear his mask for protection.

He described the smell as akin to bitter almonds, varying with the wind. The experts he consulted mentioned that the gases dissipated after the first three days. Demir faced criticism for momentarily lowering his mask due to rain, which was captured in a brief video clip by pro-government media. However, he stated that he continued to broadcast with a mask for four days. He criticized the pro-government media for focusing on discrediting him rather than reporting on the incident.

Erzincan, located in the eastern part of Turkey, is known for its rugged terrain and historical significance. The Çöpler Gold Mine, situated in the İliç district of Erzincan, highlights the region's rich mineral resources and the complexities of mining operations in environmentally sensitive areas.



Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA) haber alma hakkı, ifade özgürlüğü ve basın özgürlüğü alanlarında faaliyet yürüten bir sivil toplum kuruluşudur. Derneğimiz başta gazeteciler olmak üzere mesleki faaliyetleri sebebiyle yargılanan kişilere hukuki destek vermektedir.