Miner Fiction



Many criticisms were made of the Turkish government in the days following the deadly Soma mining disaster—that its leaders were ethically compromised by their relationships with the mine owner; that the cabinet ministers responsible for regulating the mining industry should be replaced; that a high-level advisor who kicked a helpless protester in the middle of the street should be fired; that Prime Minister Erdoğan himself should not have (apparently) slapped another protester . . .the list goes on.

One set of complaints, however, focused on Erdoğan’s use of history and literature to ground his responses to the tragedy. As the number of dead rose towards three-hundred and one, Erdoğan called for calm, arguing:

In England—I’m going into the past a bit here—in 1862, a mine collapse left 204 people dead . . .Coming to France: in 1906, a pair of coal mine accidents—history’s most deadly—killed 1,099 . . .In these mines, at this point, such accidents continue to occur. Look at America with its technology and everything . . .

Friends, in this sort of mine—a coal mine—we shouldn’t claim that, ‘Here such sorts of things can’t happen.’ These are normal events. Look in literature and there will be events called ‘work accidents’ . . .These sorts of things exist in the job’s structure. We can’t say there are no such things as accidents in mining . . .[1]

Erdoğan was heavily criticized for comparing 21st century mining with 19th century mining; for implying that the frequency of a tragedy absolves officials of responsibility; and for suggesting, on several occasions, that death was the “fate” of miners—as though they were complicit in their own deaths.

While the derision he received is well deserved, there is a kernel of truth to it: mine accidents are not a new thing; in fact, they are frequent events, momentarily inflaming public passion before fading once more into the background. The most galling aspect of Erdoğan’s suggestion that we “look in literature,” therefore, is that it seems to utterly misunderstand the point of that literature. Authors who focus on the plight of workers are doing so precisely because they want us to think about the horrors workers face day-in-day-out.



Translation: A Woman in Aphrodite Incense (1937)

Translation: The Mouth of Death (1979)

In Turkey, there is a tradition of such politically-engaged novels and the two authors translated below—Reşat Enis and İrfan Yalçın—are both exemplars. Both could both be characterized as “left-wing authors.” Yet, since more than forty years separates these two books, it should be clear that such a generalization holds little meaning: to be part of the Turkish left in the 1930s was far different than it would have been in the 1970s.

Reşat Enis (1909-1984) was nearly ten when the Ottoman Empire collapsed; he spent the war years traveling around the Empire’s southern Anatolian provinces with his father, a gendarme officer. After finishing school in provincial towns like Aydın and Çanakkale, he moved to Istanbul to work as a court reporter for the newspapers Milliyet and Vakıt. Throughout his career he worked at a variety of papers, including a stint editing a paper in Adana.[2]

Beginning in the 1930s, he began writing novels that focused on working class Turks—the sort of down-at-heel types that seldom made it into fiction at the time. Among his most popular books was A Woman in Aphrodite Incense (1937), which focused on a number of workers in Istanbul and Zonguldak who had fallen on hard times. The book is unremittingly grim—if a character has a loved one, it’s a safe bet that he or she will promptly die. Though characters do have unique personalities and function as more than mere cardboard cut-outs, the level of misery Enis chooses to inflict on them does at times give a reader the sense they exist merely to exemplify the horrors of capitalist society.

Beyond the level of plot, however, is the level of style and here is Enis’ strength: whatever terrors he chooses to describe, he does so in beautifully thought-out sentences, which made him one of the most popular authors of the 1930s.[3] In the years to follow, however, he has been largely forgotten. His works are not included on the Education Ministry syllabus and, until recently, books like A Woman in Aphrodite Incense could at best be found in used bookstores.[4]

The same could also be said of İrfan Yalçın’s The Mouth of Death (1979) had canny publishers not re-released it in the month following the Soma disaster.[5] If anything, Yalçın’s book is even more merciless than Enis’s in its depiction of mining and rapacious capitalism—fitting, perhaps, given that the Turkey of his decade was a more violent place than Enis’s. Set during WWII, the book recalls for readers the period during WWII when the Turkish government forced all able-bodied men in the Zonguldak region to work as miners.

Far more than Soma, which only opened for production in 1913—and as recently as the year 2000, only employed 4720 people—Zonguldak is the Turkish region most closely associated with coal mining.[6] Mines in the region have been operating since the mid-1800s and, as recently as 2004, the fields were still employing around 12,000 workers—admittedly, a steep decline from 1980 when upwards of 40,000 were employed, and even further from the 1940s when Zonguldak was the third most populous province in Turkey.[7]

The era of forced labor (mükellefiyet) was not unique to the 1940s—in fact, as early as 1869, Ottoman officials had been giving locals the choice between military service and working in the mines—but it was certainly an instance of state officials not living up to their stated ideals. Passed into law in 1940 as part of a broader National Defense Law, the forced labor system required local headmen to draw up lists of men in their villages who were unemployed or otherwise available to work. These men were then required to either work three month shifts in the mines or face fines and other punishments. To some extent, the law merely codified what was common practice in the region: many village men already split their labor between underground mine work and their own farms.

As in Enis’s work, Yalçın’s characters seem to get no breaks in life: workers who mouth off get vicious beatings; people who get on the wrong side of the village head man get shipped off to the mines; and worker’s are constantly taking opportunities to opine to one another on both their own condition and on that of the human spirit itself. From the plot summary alone, one might be forgiven for agreeing with one Turkish critic who found such novels to be formulaic, “less a unique composition than a semi-naturalistic attempt to imitate Russian social realism.”[8]

To make such generalization, however, one has to ignore the book itself. As with Enis’s novel, Yalçın’s writing elevates an otherwise conventional plot. Most interesting—and impossible to convey through translation—is the manner in which Yalçın uses regional dialects.[9] English language writers from Mark Twain to Irvine Welsh have sought to achieve this aspect of language through inventive spelling (and previous Turkish writers like Yaşar Kemal and Kemal Tahir had put regional slang in the mouths of their characters), but Yalçın goes to an extreme. Consider the following example:

—Şu yaşta da ayakta çaluşulur mu be? . . .artuk dayanamıyom . . .

This translates (roughly) as: “Can one work on his feet at this age, man? . . .I can’t take it anymore.’” In standard Turkish the sentence would read:

—Şu yaşta da ayakta çalışılır mı be? . . .ben artık dayanamıyorum . . .

Small differences, perhaps, but a myriad of similar little changes add individuality to the characters’ speech—and much of the book is composed of dialogue. (Small wonder that the Turkish Language Association gave the book an award at the time of its release.[10])

Whereas Enis tends to give his characters color by explaining their back stories and telling the reader what they are like, Yalçın lets his character’s express their personalities to the reader more directly. While this latter strategy may sound better artistically, this is not ultimately a competition and—I would prefer to believe—literature (Turkish or otherwise) has room for both methods.

Reading these works reminds us that, as Erdoğan observed, mine accidents are nothing new. Hopefully, however, reading such literature helps keep miners in mind, rather than easing them out of it.

As always, the translations are mine and therefore any errors as well[11]:




A Woman in Aphrodite Incense (1937) by Reşat Enis [12]



Clack clack.


Clunk clunk.

Pick axe sounds. Old wooden beams, hundreds of meters beneath thick piles of earth, creak and groan. In the narrow dark tunnel, you can hear no sound save the firm blows of picks, the shudder-inducing creak of beams, and the heavy breathing of groaning humans.

In the “shaft,” illuminated by the strength of a fastened safety lamp, the corpses of eight laborers were working tooth and nail. Picks flew continuously.[13] They were suffocating from heat and stagnant air. They had undone the buttons of their patched shirts. Like a flood, sweat poured down their gaunt faces, caked in unknowable amounts of coal dust; down their sunken chests; down their half naked backs. Their angry bodies occasionally trembled under cold drops of water. Sometimes, with hands that had taken on the look of iron shovels, they let this ice-like water flow down on their heads. With this water—its provenance unclear; its smell of gas—they tried to ease the burning inside them. They themselves knew that this gassy water of unknown origins had left many dead . . .Yet, for them now, this concept of death was unknown . . .They had exchanged sunlight and daylight. They had sold their souls for a day’s fortune.

Today, forty carloads will be produced. They will struggle as if dying to fulfill the daily quota; forty carloads are needed . . .Noon has long passed. They do not hear the firm blows of their iron picks; nor do they hear the rumbling of their empty stomachs. The thought of getting their hands on their lunch packets, tied to beams in tunnels further on, never crosses their minds.

Eight hundred meters deep underground, this is life.

Eight hundred meters up on the surface—above these caves and holes, connected to each other like molehills—are rows of beautiful villas and grand mansions. The network of radio antennas on the magnificent mansions stretches to the sky, bringing the world’s music and voices all the way to the capitalists. The antennas listen to things thousands of kilometers away, yet to the moans and pains coming from beneath this very spot, they are numb, deaf.


Kaya splashed the knee-high, muddy water on his burning, throbbing face. He took a deep breath. A bitter smell burned in his nostrils. He was swallowing. His lungs were not expanding; his heart was rumbling as though it would stop. “Blackdamp!” he screamed in a hoarse voice. Giant, black rats were making their frightful escape all around him.[14]

The eight sunken-cheeked laborers with their corpse-like bodies—eyes googly; hair standing on end—had begun screaming to one another as they saw the fleeing rats, “Blackdamp!” “Blackdamp!”

The flames of the locked safety lamps began to lengthen. They were turning green. Methane! Firedamp![15]

Two weak-lunged workers sprawled out in the knee-high muddy, gassy water. The foreman gave a command. They closed off the blackdamp-filled shaft right away. They wouldn’t get their full wage that day. Today, the possibility of removing forty carloads is a distant fantasy.

They walked over to their wrapped lunch packets, hung up on strings to protect them from rats. Oh those nasty rats! If only they didn’t plague the food! These rodents, who had so many times saved lives by warning of firedamp, were like benefactors to the miners—sacred. And in Zonguldak, in front of the memorials to Tall Mehmed, they should erect statues to these rats; just as the ancient Egyptians had prayed to oxen, jackals, and crocodiles, these too were holy creatures.[16]


Kaya returned later from work than usual. Mother and father were waiting at the dinner table.[17] He washed up and sat down. His mother explained, “They’ve buried Kadriye.”

“ . . .”

“I wouldn’t have thought that family to be so poor . . .”

“ . . .”

“It’s a custom: they say, ‘If you don’t want death to come again, give a pair of shoes to the poor.’ They couldn’t even find a simple pair of Little Kadriye’s shoes to give away.

“ . . .”

“Were it to get better, they say, ‘Were we to buy new ones, we’d dress the younger children in them . . .”

“ . . .” The youth left his spoon in his soup bowl: Kaya was a stoic kid, like a rock, now he cried in shame. His mother rubbed his curly black hair, “Would that God give you life as long as her sleep my child . . .”


Phosphorescent fungi stuck to old beams sparkled like a thousand glass eyes . . . these old posts, nearly two floors worth of broken rocks beneath them, with their glass eyes that each flashed grudges, vengeance, and complaints, gave Kaya the sensation of having been sentenced to a life of hard labor. And the youth trembled at the frightful creaking yawns—as though these years’ worth of overflowing earth piles were groaning.

Kadriye had been dead one week today . . .This death had opened the first wound in his young heart. There was no way he could forget her. He’d been loving this neighbor girl for four years.


When he was little, Kaya had been a well-meaning kid. He didn’t fall in amongst the naughty kids who crushed turtles with large rocks and took rats caught in neighborhood women’s traps, covered them in gas, and set them on fire—to avoid hearing the squeals of those wretched creatures he would escape here and there. One day, in the courtyard of the local mosque, he stumbled into a painful mishap: eight or ten brats had caught the neighborhood’s aged dog and slipped a thick rope around its neck, making it run after a small car carriyng some of them. They were whipping and kicking it. The gaunt dog’s howls left them all cackling.

Mild-mannered Kaya saw red. Unable to help himself, he said, “Sinful! The poor animal!” Grabbing the dog’s neck, he tried to free it from the thick rope. Had the mosque’s muezzin not arrived at that moment to perform his ablutions, the eight or ten punks would have beaten Kaya to a pulp.[18]

Following his father into the mine and registering as a miner at fourteen years of age, Kaya suddenly recalled that bitter day in his childhood and the torture which that poor dog had suffered in the mosque courtyard. A foreman explained his to duty to him, and that job stretched on three full years. At a depth hundreds of meters beneath the earth, in dark corridors, in a narrowness as if squashed beneath two stories, like that wretched dog he dragged corves full of coal for three full years.[19] Yet there was a difference between him and that scrawny dog: by painfully howling, it could complain, call for help, and beg for mercy. Kaya’s right to complain did not exist.[20] It was necessary to help his elderly father. It would be a period of suffering.

The thick rope of the corve hung around his neck. He was a four-legged animal, working until the end of his days, heading along the main road as far as the rail cars, dragging his load behind him. The thick rope squeezed at his throat; he couldn’t take a breath. Wounds opened on his neck.

Kaya still couldn’t forget the terror of that first day. Twelve hours had felt like twelve years. When he thought of his crawling below the earth at a five-hundred meter depth, his scrape-covered lower back would break out in a cold sweat. That day he recalled all the stories of workers buried alive. He felt the excitement and grief of men who had come to their senses and discovered themselves taken for dead and interred. He thought of the people working tooth and nail, gnawing, clawing, and finally rising from their graves each covered in his death-shroud like a ghost.

Mine collapses were quite common—nearly every other day; a few—sometimes five or ten—people would be suffocated and who knew which would be the one to crush Kaya? A man buried alive could, with patience and energy, shake away the meter and a half pile on his back. In the case of people left below six or seven hundred meters . . .Yes, probably, Kaya—like anyone facing such a vast cave-in—would forget the earth enclosing him on all sides. He would freak out, claw and scratch. He would be found drenched in sweat and blood. And perhaps the laborers sorting through the rubble would find him—like every casualty—in the little meter of rat-hole he’d dug, suffocated from the lack of oxygen.

For a moment he remained drawn up in a half-feint state, unable to breathe from fear and excitement. He was brought to his senses by the elephant whip of the foreman. The whip snapping against his wounded back made him howl hoarsely like that wretched dog.

Behind his broad forehead and temples, memories of this annihilating job still flowed. Wounds, reopened from hitting against the ceiling beams, filled with coal dust, each taking on a dark blue hue that resembled “tattoos.” Beams were striking him such that he couldn’t keep the shirt on his back. His skin was peeling off. Every night upon returning home, his mother would meet him; water bottle in one hand, cotton packet in the other. She would rub iodine onto the peeling, bloody skin of his back.

Kaya’s choked screams would be heard by the thirteen-year-old girl in the neighboring house, separated from his by only a thin wall; she would cry with him. She felt the pain as much as he did.

They had learned their love for each other on a calamitous dawn; they had promised they would marry one another.


It had been three hours since the night shift had begun. Led by a Rum foreman, ten workers focused on the tips of their shovels and sticks as though life depended on it.[21] Six meters up ran a connecting shaft.

This is a dangerous job! The hollowed out ground above could collapse at any moment. Eleven people could, in an instant, be left beneath this refuse, crushed like clay and small rocks. But who could hope for such a thing! . . .They had now made friends with the Grim Reaper. In the careless work of the “voluntary workers” striking at ties on the ceiling, it was possible to see traces of this weariness that showed indifference to death.

Is this living?

Many times Kaya envied the mules tied to metal stakes in the stables. These little animals pulling rail cars loaded with coal, would pass half their day resting their heads on empty troughs in the piss and manure stinking underground stables. Among them, there were those that had first opened their eyes to life seven or eight hundred meters below ground. Sun light and sun were unknown to them. The beauty of the sky, the millions of twinkling stars in the heavens, the immensity of the ocean, the colors of nature—like those born blind, they were now hearing and learning of these things from their elders who had been unlucky enough to see the world. And surely, laying their heads on empty feed bags, they were happier than their grim ancestors . . .

It was necessary to create a new kind of person. A person swinging his pick at black diamonds should be born in the mine shafts . . .he should open his eyes to the darkness . . .he should not be shown the sky’s beauty, the immense ocean’s blueness, nature’s colors, or the sun’s light . . . like a worm, his life should be given over to the mine . . . for this new species of man it would certainly be less upsetting. (And, finally, after a few generations, these underground humans—like those creatures that live below the ocean, without the benefit of sun light—will be born without eyes. Perhaps for this new species, necessity will leave them with safety lamps shining from their eye sockets!)

They moved on. And as they made their way up the connecting shaft, a strange mildew smell filled their breath. What could it be? Kaya, who had been using his bare arms to wipe sweat from his brow and face, took a handful of mud from the ceiling above and brought it to his nose. It carried the smell of “pulpy,” stagnant, old water. He remembered the tales of his father, a miner who had seen, experienced, and moved past such dangers: above this load they were working on, could be an abandoned mine. And, with time, the streams that flowed below ground might fill up this solitary mine like a cistern.

There was danger. The Rum foreman was a gruff and prickly guy. Holding back, Kaya had gone over to him and explained his fears. But this guy was as stubborn as a pig. He’d looked crossly at Kaya—and Kaya, fearing the crack of the elephant whip on his back, returned to work. He spit on his palms and grasped his pick. After a bit, the soil grew hard. To remove the rocks ahead of them would require dynamite. After news had been passed down the tunnels, the dynamite’s long fuse was lit.


“Watch out! Off to the side . . .The tunnel’s going to burst!” The foreman’s commands were cut off by a great explosion. This was a blast that rocked even the furthest shafts. Their noses clogged, they waited for the cloud to disperse. Yet . . .now, all above them, a strange murmuring had begun. For a short time, they remained, giving meaningless glances to one another.

Then Kaya screamed with fright, “There’s water above us! . . .The water is going to burst! . . .We’ll drown like rats!” He was silenced by the elephant whip cracking over his mouth. But the explosion of water was such that, in trying to get themselves to a safe place, only by hanging onto their yokes were they able to save themselves from being pulled away in the flood.

For two full hours, without stopping, water flowed waist-high from the mouth of the shaft. The ten workers and the foreman had been tossed helplessly into this accident. Only . . . yes, “only” one person was lost. A twelve year old kid who’d been pulling a corve . . .Ömer . . .Kaya’s neighbor . . .Kadriye’s brother . . .he was as good a kid as Kadriye, and Kaya, who loved Kadriye passionately, had thought of him like his own brother and protected him. Sometimes, out of the foreman’s sight, he would approach Ömer. He’d put the strap of the corve over his own neck and give Ömer a little break and a chance to catch his breath,

The scariest thing for Ömer were ghosts—the “mine arab” who lived in the blind and unventilated shafts[22] . . .this poor little kid’s jaw would drop when he found himself across from the gargantuan Arab. Always he would tremble, hearing the Arab roaming about the empty, dark tunnels, the chains on his feet clanking. Kaya—how many times had he seen Ömer in deserted shafts, hidden from the blackdamp, covering his face and crying himself hoarse!

It was as though there were no workers who had not eaten the blows and slaps of the Arab or been pursued by him. He especially plagued the laborers whose minds contemplated dark thoughts; those who weren’t working.

The laborers who weren’t working! Seven hundred meters beneath the earth, those who were dragging corves by their necks, running about like mules to coal-loaded rail cars—without a doubt the one who had set the idea of a “mine arab” in their brains was a shrewd mine owner, a crafty capitalist. A frightful witch, roaming with its legs in chains—could it be other than a myth created by capitalists to control the simple workers whose spirituality allowed for such superstitions? Couldn’t it be that a boss fearful of descending seven hundred meters into the deep had created such a superstition to guaranty that they would stick willingly to their work? . . .

Safety lamps in their hands, they searched for hours for little Ömer until the breaking dawn dimmed their hopes. He was gone—he was gone, and that was that . . .the earth had opened and swallowed him.

“Hey, Ömer! . . .Ömer! . . .”

In the dark and empty tunnels, Kaya’s voice cracked from screaming. He roamed back and forth in blind, unventilated shafts, his throat tingling from long, rough screams; still his head was ringing. His head throbbed as if dynamite had been placed within to open its tunnels and was occasionally being lit. With the tip of his pick he examined the knee-high mud; with his arms he searched and searched: “Ömer. . . Ömer, man . . .Little Ömer. . .Where are you? . . .Did your frightful Arab go after you or something? . . .”

Little Ömer had experienced a gas explosion one day. His father, covered in a wet sack and tucked into a deserted shaft, had searched for the “firedamp” with the tip of a stick wrapped in gas-soaked cloth. Ömer was helping him. How unfortunate! More exploding blackdamp and the father and son hit the ground, light-headed.

Ömer had been unsure what had happened. However, the moment he left the mine alongside his father, he started to scream. His face and back burned so! “Throw me in the water . . .Throw me in the ocean, Dad . . .Drowning would be better than this! . . .”

“In such deep water you certainly would drown; poor little Ömer . . .”

Had Kaya not forced himself, he would have sat down and cried like a child. Ömer had loved Kadriye deeply. On the week of his first paycheck he had come to Kaya and said, “Big brother . . .”

“What’s up Ömer?”

“I gotta buy my sister a little present . . .What should I get?”

“We’ll take a trip to the market, Ömer . . .”

That day, as soon as they were free from work, they had met up and walked to the market. The two of them had bought two glass bracelets that they admired and thought fancy. And, Ömer not having enough money, Kaya had paid the rest.

“I’ll pay you out of my next week’s pay. Brother Kaya . . .”

“For shame Ömer, for shame . . .your sister is like family to me . . .”

Kaya’s hopes had faded now too . . .He exited the mouth of the mine and walked straight to the creek. It was a calm morning. Birds chirped; from a distant ridge, came the heavy, melancholy flute sound of a shepherd leading his flock. Kaya’s clothes had become a shroud of mud and coal dust. His face had taken on an unrecognizable character. He approached and crouched at the creek. He tossed water on his temples, which throbbed and burned as though on fire.

His insides were burning.

As he was filling his cupped hands and bringing them to his mouth, his eyes suddenly opened, white as porcelain. His hair stood on end, down his every side rolled a cold sweat. Was he seeing wrong? Other than another person at the bottom of the water, what else could it be? He looked, his hands stinging. His throat was dry.

From the deep deserted mine, the flood’s waters had poured through the tunnels, brought up the drowned body of little Ömer, and hurled him right on top of this algae-smelling, swampy creek.

Birds chirped.

And . . .from a distant ridge, came the heavy, melancholy flute sound of a shepherd leading his flock.

Kaya set out on the road, hoisting Ömer’s swollen-bellied corpse onto his shoulder; a bit onwards he came across Kadriye. Her hair was scattered, her beautiful eyes wide. Standing over Ömer’s corpse—which had been laid out beside a fence—without yelling, without screaming, without making a noise, she cried. The light of the new-born sun blazed in the red glass bracelets on her white arm. Glass bracelets . . .Poor Ömer . . .

Standing beside his swollen-bellied corpse, they made promises to one another: They would marry! Because he had wanted it that way. Ömer had wanted it that way. “You know,” he would say, “how brave and how good hearted a youth, if it wasn’t Kaya, I couldn’t give my brotherly approval, sister . . .”


Reşat Enis

Reşat Enis





The Mouth of Death (1979) by İrfan Yalçın [23]

Sixteen days after Sargent Recep and his son, Niyazi, arrived at the Asma mine, there came a period of “zar-zor,” when, in order to make up for a shortfall in output, work was carried out without precaution or protection, regardless of the costs. Sargent Recep, a reserve worker, and “a laborer” were working on the surface for one-hundred and forty days.

Sargent Recep threw his pickaxe to the ground, “Working on one’s feet at this age, man? I’ve said dozens of times to the foreman, ‘Boss, I can’t take it. Give me a transport job or something! At age forty-nine, fifty . . .I’m out of breath! Don’t we get sick from the dust?”

No one was making a sound. Sargent Recep leaned his carbide lamp against the wall, “Say something, man! Did a donkey fart? Are we speaking bullshit here?”

He laughed. Kamil, the reserve digger, also started laughing. Mustafa, “the laborer,” hucked shovelfuls of coal into the metal sluice, each toss followed by a burping sound. Half the coal was going into the sluice, the other half was piling up above it. Swinging his shovel, Mustafa said, “Let’s rest a bit, man! Working all morning has whipped me out. Isn’t that right, Sargent Recep?

Sargent Recep took a piece of blackened bread from his pocket and crumbled it up, tossing it into his mouth without pausing. His mouth full, “Sure, sure. Whatever . . .let’s rest a bit . . .How’ll it be: will we stop working this coal face today or will we work til it’s done?”

Kamil had stuck his hands behind his head and was even laying back on top of the coal, “We’re mother-fucked . . .Dry bread, dried-out chickpeas, starting and stopping on this mountain like ants! Isn’t my soul and spirit spent now!

“You didn’t get any bread, buddy?” Sargent Recep asked Kamil.

Kamil clicked his tongue, “I did. I got some in my pocket too . . .my insides are burning from thirst.”

“Get up and drink! Why are you lying there like a pregnant woman?”

“Won’t we die from drinking dirty water?”

Laughing, Mustafa said, “Should I bring you a glass of water buddy? Come on, get up. We’ll drink from somewhere further on. I also gotta get a drink bad . . .”

Kamil rose grudgingly, “Come on, let’s walk, man.”

They walked twenty or thirty meters. The lamp was in Kamil’s hand. Phosphorus in the water trickling below the moldy beams dazzled their eyes. Had Mustafa extended his hand, nothing would have been there. Bending, he groped beneath the beams. A handful of water. “Here’s some . . .come…”

The two of them kneeled. They drank palmfuls.

“Is this water or coal runoff we’re drinking, man?”

“Who cares. Do me or you need such politeness? Nature calls!”

“A little?”

“A bit . . .”

“Mine’s gonna be big . . .”

After they’d walked a bit further, they came to a dead-end shaft, they relieved themselves.

“Oh that smell of yours Mustafa,” said Kamil.

“I suppose your doesn’t stink, huh?”

“It smells, sure, but not that much!”

“If it hits you that way . . .”

Getting to their feet, they walked. Mustafa quietly said, “That shaft where we just pissed?”

“What about it?”

“Two workers died there from blackdamp.”

“When, man? Last year?”

“Yeah, last year.”

“Last year, nothing of the sort happened here. Whoever said that is bullshitting . . .”

“I’ll ask Sargent Recep if you want. You think I’m saying a lie?”


Sargent Recep was laying on his back, singing a Turkish ballad to himself: My shoe filled with sand, to toss I need a shovel. He continued to scratch his belly with his left hand. It was as if he didn’t even see Kamil and Mustafa coming. He jumped when Mustafa shouted his name. “What’s the matter, buddy. Is the foreman or someone coming?”

“No one’s coming or the like. We gotta a question to ask you!” replied Kamil.

“What you gonna ask, man?”

“There’s a dead end shaft a ways on, yeah?”

“Sure . . .”

“That shaft, last year, two guys didn’t die, right?

“This is what you’re asking me?’

“Yea . . .”

“I think I got other things to do, buddy.”

“Aren’t you gonna answer my question? They didn’t die, right?”

“They died, yeah.”

Turning to Kamil, Mustafa said, “What then, kiddo? Was I right or were you?”

Sargent Recep was sticking his hands under his arms, scratching. “You know what they were doing when they died?”

“Noo . . .”

“Those dipshits were drinking rakı . . .They went in there, into a ditch, with their heads all woozy … They passed out, of course . . .There can be a lot of blackdamp in those empty shafts . . .”

Kamil laughed, “Don’t you worry, we filled up that shaft!”

Mustafa was also laughing. Sargent Recep looked on with annoyance, “What are you laughing about! I’m itching, you’re laughing . . .I’m gonna die like a son-of-a-bitch from these fleas! They’re coming by the handfuls!”

Mustafa cut out his laughter. He sat at Sargent Recep’s side. Kamil continued to pull at his trousers. Bending his head down, he sneezed. Sargent Recep said, “Don’t sit up rail-straight, Kamil. Rest a bit.”

“Were they drinking rakı when they kicked the bucket?” Kamil asked as he sat. “Rakı would be good right now! Don’t you drink Sargent Recep?”

“I did, buddy . . .Oh, it’s been five or six months since I put it to my mouth . . .Sometimes the smell comes to my nose . . .”

“Well, if we had some, I’d drink too! You don’t drink Mustafa, bud?”

“I haven’t . . .”

“Have you had good rakı, man?” asked Sargent Recep, ceasing his scratching, “It goes down like milk. Isn’t that right Mustafa?”

“If the foreman caught us drinking rakı, what would he do?”

“What would he do?” said Kamil, as fast as if the foremen were catching them, “He’d beat us like a mother-fucker! Oh, how he’s beat us in the past!”

“Don’t say ‘us,’” said Sargent Recep sternly, “He beat the two of you. Would he beat me, though?”

“Saying you were old might have held his hand , sure . . .”

“And if I wasn’t old, still nobody beats me, son! Do we both work and take drubbings like donkeys?” A small noise followed. Sargent Recep leapt to his feet like a spring, “Someone might be coming, get up, buddies!”

Kamil laughed as though he were going to split open, “Oh, but you’ve become a scaredy-cat Sargent Recep! You who aren’t afraid of anyone? Sit, now, sit . . .I threw a piece of coal just to scare you . . .”

Mustafa too began to laugh. Sargent Recep sat again in the spot where he had just gotten up. “I’m scared for you man . . .what do I care? You’ll get a beating—you!”

“Whatever! Come on now! Give it a rest . . .Honestly, you were scared shitless!”

The three lay on their backs. The carbide lamp’s light flickered occasionally as if it were going to go out. From the distance came muffled mine sounds. After each sound, dull, meaningless silence enclosed the surroundings. In a sleepy voice, Sargent Recep said, “This zar-zor is getting old. I’ll get a raise from the engineer or the foreman, saying, ‘I’ll close this production gap’; they’ll give it for this zar-zor! They’d find it for servants like us. Were we to die, what would it be to them! Our lives are not something to be found in the street? Look here, would they work without safety in a place like this?

“Have you ever seen an engineer die in the mines?” asked Kamil in reply, “Weirdoes like us always go . . .Honestly, every zar-zor, it’s like three or five people are loaded into coffins!”

Seeming to give an ear to his companions’ conversation, Mustafa sprung straight up crying, “Oh mother!” A giant mouse scurried by like a shadow in the darkness. Sargent Recep and Kamil shook with laughter where they lay. “But you didn’t see,” said Mustafa with a shameful air, “That wasn’t a rat . . .it was as big as a cat . . .the smell of the bread brought it obviously . . .”

Still laughing, Kamil said, “What would it do with bread. It definitely came to eat you. You think you smell less than bread? How many months since your face has seen water!”

“And you think you smell less than me, shithead!” howled Mustafa.

Sargent Recep starred at Mustafa, his eyes never lowering, “Musta, buddy?”


“Are you an old woman, bud?”

“Why’s that?”

“Now you’re afraid of rats, huh? Oh, show me your manliness! Get up and piss to least! Get sick or something!”

“Alright, alright, we got it . . .you’ve never got scared once in your life, I suppose. Don’t know about getting scared by a mine arab perhaps? Have you thought that to—”

“What? This is because of a mine arab?”

“You hadn’t thought that yourself?”

Sargent Recep snickered, turning back and forth from where he lay. “Does a mine arab do anything to people, son? If anything, it does good . . .Why am I getting scared about a mine arab? One day, I got rather sleepy . . .because of the dirty mine air, obviously . . .I curled up and lay down in a ditch . . .that was a tough place we were working that day . . .ceiling here, floor there, imagine! We were working endlessly. Later we came to an area where water was at the belly . . .I had got tired, of course . . .I fell asleep in the ditch I’d got into . . .in my dreams they were drowning me . . .grabbing at my throat . . .I opened my eyes and looked at the arab . . . the mine arab . . .It’s true I got scared a bit ago . . .What can you do but admire our arab? Can’t one take my shovel from the ground and dig for me?”

Mustafa was red. Repeatedly shaking his head and looking at Kamil, “Big liar this Sargent Recep is, huh! What did he say to us before? And now? Gonna say something Kamil, bud? Hasn’t he said, upon seeing an arab, he’d scream ‘Mommmm’?”

“Don’t know . . .he might have said something like that, right?”

“You got no business, Kamil! You’re clearly sticking with Sargent Recep—”

Sargent Recep and Kamil were laughing raucously. Mustafa, highly annoyed, yelled, “Bullshit-laughter!”

“Boss, don’t stop anyone from laughing,” grumbled Sargent Recep, “Smiling is life’s flower if you ask me! We swim in wretchedness, but we can still laugh—imagine that! This is a good thing! We should praise this aspect of ourselves always . . .”

“Being in prison would be better than this! At least there’s handmade bread and water from a lake!”

“Shut up already, Mustafa! Don’t talk crazy. One time I got thrown in prison for not paying road tolls, I nearly lost it . . .”

“True, friend,” Kamil said, entering the conversation, “The worst has it own worse . . .We should think about that old guy and his old lady who were brought in for mükellefiyet. Were such a thing to happen to one of us, what would we be like? What would we do? They shaved that big, old broad’s head, man!”

“As far as that goes, we all die bit by bit for the sins we sucked from our mothers . . .They stayed a full week . . .Was it an easy thing for that big woman to stay among such men? Noo, nooo, Kamil, you’re right . . .The worst has its own worse . . .Would that god hid such badness . . .

Laying on his back, Kamil had been humming a Turkish ballad. Mustafa, his anger seemingly passed, said to Sargent Recep, “This supervisor, Veli Kavas, how brutal he is, man! The gendarme are too, but he’s of a different sort! A monster, I think! As if we aren’t people!”

“They say he’s been in and out of a mental institution; I don’t believe it. There’s violence in his every act.”

“Noo, nooo, it’s true, honest . . .If it weren’t so, could he ever do such torment and torture to us?”

“The one Laz guy did okay for himself, but . . .the Laz do as they will . . .”[24]

“Is it bullshit when the Laz say we’re “curly,” soft and lazy.[25] They’re right, of course. They hit Zonguldak’s kids on the head and take bread right from their mouths . . .The Laz are a plague . . .”

Sargent Recep looked at Kamil singing his ballad and snickered, “Your sound is real bad Kamil! It’s like listening to an excavation; the sound’s the same . . .”

Kamil hushed up.

“Why’d you get quiet, buddy? Just because I said your voice was bad, you take offense?” Kamil didn’t give an answer. The three of them also became silent, as though they were listening to the mining sounds coming from the distance. Suddenly, a sobbing sound could be heard.

“Have you gone crazy Kamil?” asked Sargent Recep, “Because we said your voice was ugly, you’re crying?”

Mustafa was laughing as Kamil said, “My dad came into my thoughts suddenly. He would sit in the garden, at the top of the well, always calling out that ballad. I didn’t even go back for his death, imagine that! Before his death, I didn’t even see him on one trip . . .”

Starting to scratch again, Sargent Recep said, “Hey, what can we do? God puts us through hardship and pain! That’s our fate! Is what will happen tomorrow clear to any of us? Were we to die, the people back in the villages wouldn’t know, and were they to die, we wouldn’t know. They say there’s a war; no one can argue with that . . .”

“He loved me so much . . .I loved him too . . .”

“Kiddo, don’t be a child now . . .are you going to keep crying about everything? Forget about it for a bit. What can we do? We’re all going to die one day . . .come, get up and we’ll work now . . .someone or other comes and we’ll get told off . . .”

They rose and, with what strength they had, started working. Sargent Recep and Kamil swung their picks at the coalface without pausing; Mustafa tossed the coal into the sluice with his shovel. Their speed never faltered; they were working as if the four sides bearing down on them might swallow them. At one point, Sargent Recep said, “No friends, I’m gonna shit all over this zar-zor. So much that we can’t be found. We’ll make a “pig roof” here to protect ourselves . . .”[26]

Kamil and Mustafa looked at Sargent Recep as if to say, “Okay.” Sargent Recep started to dig brusquely. After one or two more blows—a bit more digging—there was a creaking sound. The three stopped and cocked an ear. Sargent Recep, saying it was just a burp, took another swing. The creaking coming from the ceiling grew louder suddenly. Appearing puzzled about what to do, Sargent Recep tossed his pick and from where he stood, shouted, “Run, run!”

If Kamil and Mustafa had wanted to turn back and run, they couldn’t. No time to even open their mouths. From above, debris was coming down. For a moment they could not see a thing. Dust and cloud cut off the surroundings. The coal covering the three workers clothes had turned them into statues. After a moment of shock, Sargent Recep said haltingly, “Keep your hearts strong friends, they will certainly rescue us. They won’t stick us here!”

Two of the three carbide lamps lay beneath the coal rubble; one still burned. After one or two minutes of coming to and shaking the dusty earth off of himself, Kamil began shouting at the top of his lungs. He struck his knees with both hands again and again, saying strange, incomprehensible things. Mustafa remained right where he’d been; he made no sound, one eye fixed on Kamil, one on Sargent Recep. Sargent Recep came to Kamil’s side and began to pat the boy’s head, “Don’t kiddo, don’t do this!” They’ll rescue us, in a bit, for sure! Don’t . . .”

Not hearing what Sargent Recep was saying, Kamil was almost howling, “It got us in this trouble, this deadly coal. It got us . . .”

Not pausing to catch his breath, Mustafa began shouting too, “Save us, save us. We’re dying!” His voice grew weak. He became silent. Then he started again. Kamil was still screaming as loud as he could.

It was as if Sargent Recep were unclear what to say or do. He went from one to the other pleading, “What will come from what you’re doing, man! Don’t scream like children . . .” He wasn’t making himself heard, however. He took Kamil’s head in his hands, “Were you injured or something?” he asked, “There’s something wet on your face.”

Kamil looked at Sargent Recep as if seeing him for the first time. He brought his hand to his face with a sleepy motion, saying nothing. Sargent Recep, investigating with his own hand said, “Sweat. Not blood . . .you’re just sweaty kiddo . . .”

Kamil grew quiet, Mustafa was still shouting. He was hitting the coal face with his fists, “Rescue us, rescue us, rescue us . . .”

Sargent Recep took Kamil’s arm and made him sit, “Sit Kamil, sit kiddo. We shouldn’t rush . . .God will make every little thing easy, for certain . . .Mustafa, Mustafa?” Mustafa was acting as if he hadn’t heard Sargent Recep. Sargent Recep ran over to him and brought two slaps down on his face, “I’m telling you to sit, buddy! Are you this much of a child, man? What’ll come of you screaming? Honestly, I’ll break your head now—rip it to pieces. You’re a stubborn ass! We’ve been saved from all else; God willing, we’ll be rescued from this too. Sit, sit, I’m saying to you . . .”

Mustafa sat beside Kamil with the docility of a child. He wasn’t screaming now; as though in a cave, his voice was thin; what he said, incomprehensible. Sargent Recep stood over the two of them with a fatherly air, “No being fearful, yelling, or calling out,” he was saying, “I’m telling the two of you this: whoever yells . . .with that pick over there, I will rub them out, God help me . . .Those caught in a mine collapse will not make a sound. Breath in and out a bit. As we talk, as we scream, it makes our lungs work like bellows you see. Again I’ll say: I’ll hit those who scream with the pick, honestly! I’m calling the shots here . . .if I say it, it’s gonna happen . . .I was working in the mine at your age . . .”

Sargent Recep looked right and left feverishly and rushed over to the carbide lamp. Knelling, he put it out, “If the lamp burned, it’d quickly use up the air. You don’t know this, but I do . . .”

The debris still hadn’t stopped falling. Sargent Recep searched for the steam pipes with his hands and found them, “They haven’t ruptured, thank God! They haven’t cut out!”

His hand went to his head suddenly. His cap was gone. He bent and searched for a pick on the ground. He found it. Still a cloud of dust enveloped the surroundings. The inside of his mouth and his nostrils had filled with something hard. His teeth chattered. With the pick, he gave a few blows to the steam pipes. With his hands he examined whether it had been punctured or opened. A small hole had been opened. His finger lingered awhile on the pipe. He could feel a slight bit of air coming through. He sat. He put his finger fully on the hole. He removed it. The air wasn’t coming. He waited a moment. Again he pressed his finger. The air came fitfully. The flow of debris from above had stopped completely. He rose to his feet.

Mustafa leapt to his feet and began to shout with his remaining strength, “Save us, save us . . .We’ll die . . .” Kamil joined him. They pounded the coalface with their fists; they were crying like children.

Sargent Recep, shocked, not knowing what to say or what to do, continued begging, “For the love of God and Muhammed, don’t scream!”

Mustafa and Kamil screamed until their voices grew small. The two had grown tired. Sargent Recep continued to check the steam pipe to see whether or not air was coming. It wasn’t. He sat. He removed his slippers and tossed them.

“Ohhh!” shouted Mustafa, “Something passed in front of me!”

“Don’t be afraid. It was my slipper that came!” Sargent Recep stripped bare as he’d been the day he came from his mother; to Kamil and Mustafa he said, “You strip too. I’m naked as the day I was born . . .Will you remain in the rubble or are you going to strip . . .I’m telling you to strip. Strip, man! I’m gonna kill the two of you. Where are you? ‘Where’ I’m saying. Have you stripped?”

Mustafa, speaking as though he were asleep, murmured, “We’re here.”

Walking to where the voice had come from, Sargent Recep made the two sit, “Strip, ‘Strip,’ I’m saying to you!”

“I’m cold!” said Mustafa, “My insides are cold!”

“So be it . . .Strip, both of you . . .If a delayed death is what you want, you’ll strip.”

They stripped. Mustafa’s teeth were chattering, “Ohhh, mamma, ohhh mamma, I’m dying . . .”

Sargent Recep grabbed a pick and began striking randomly at the coalface. He struck a few times then shouted, “We’re here! We’re here! Rescue us!” He waited for a voice from above. Not a sound. The mining noises that had sounded earlier were a shadow of their former selves now.

With a miserable voice, Mustafa cried, “We’re trapped like mice in the end. I’m going to fuck this blocked passage up! I’m gonna shit all over it!

Kamil wailed, “Death! Rescue! Living like this . . .death would be better . . .”

Angrily, Sargent Recep said, “Don’t be crazy man! The surface of the earth is better than being six-feet under! I’m telling you they’re gonna rescue us . . .Honestly, they will . . .I have a gut feeling the others will save us; that’s how I’m feeling now . . .Keep your hearts strong a bit . . .Don’t let yourselves go . . .”

Kamil began to scream again, “Save us, save us . . .We’re suffocating, dying . . .” Suddenly he stopped. He began sobbing—crying as though he were laughing.

Until he quieted, Sargent Recep said nothing. As soon as Kamil had grown silent, he said, “They will save us, I’m telling you. Honestly, they will save us . . .you’ll see.”

“They won’t save shit!”

Sargent Recep hit the steam pipe a few more times, “From the sound, they’ll realize where we are!”

No sound. Beyond the breathing of the three workers, not a sound could be heard. A deep silence pervaded their surroundings. Above them, for a moment, there was a small creak. The three instantly began to shout, “Give us a hand . . .Rescue us . . .We’re dying . . .Save us . . .”


The rescue team arrive at the site two days after the collapse.



İrfan Yalçın

İrfan Yalçın


[1]Bugün bizim acılı günümüz,” Anadolu Ajans, 5/14/14. Accessed 6/16/14. Nor was this the first time he had refereed to mining in such a fatalistic way. Speaking in 2010, he had explained, “It’s the fate of this occupation . . .Gas explosions occur everywhere in the world” (“Başbakan Erdoğan: İnsan olarak bir yere kadar muktediriz,” Zaman, 5/24/10).

[2] Olcay Önertoy, Cumhuriyet Dönemi Türk Roman ve Öykü, İstanbul: Türk İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1984, p. 55. It was in Adana that he gave a young Yaşar Kemal his first reporting gig. (Selim İleri, “Reşat Enis’in çevresinde,” Zaman, 6/25/11).

[3] Yakup Çelik, “Roman: 1920-1960,” Türk Edebiyat Tarihi, Vol.4, Istanbul: T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 2007, p. 263. It was not, however, “the first” novel about miners as some critics claim (“Yaslı sanatın siyah satırları,” Star, 3/15/14)

[4] A. Ömer Türkeş, available at “Siz Hiç Reşat Enis Okudunuz mu?” romanyazilari, 2/2003

[5] İrfan Yalçın (b.1934) grew up in Zonguldak. For many years, he worked as a French teacher, publishing books and translating others (including works by Charles Baudelaire and Jack London). In 1972, he quit his teaching job and moved to Istanbul where he opened a bookshop and continued his writing. The majority of his novels were written during the 1970s before he moved to the small southern town of Köyceğiz. Though his productivity has slackened, he continues to publish. His recent book, Yorgun Sevda (Weary Passion), won a Cevdet Kudret Literature Award in 2009.

[6] Arife Karadağ, Coğrafı Degerlendirmelerle: Soma’da Değişen Çevre, Kent ve Kimlik, İzmir: Ege Ünivesitesi Basımevi, 2005, p. 30.

[7] Nurşen Gürboğa, Mine Workers, the Single Party Rule, and War The Zonguldak Coal Basin as the Site of Contest (1920-1947), Istanbul: Ottoman Bank Archives and Research Center, 2009, p. 22.

[8] Attilâ İlhan, as quoted in Hakkı Başgüney, “Literary Production, Current and Politics Between 1960 and 1980 in Turkey,” Unpublished Thesis, Istanbul: Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, 2013, p. 207.

[9] The only way to translate one language’s dialect into another’s is to pick an “equivalent” dialect. But translating sentences into a “Boston” or “Alabama” accent would result in a text where Turkish miners speak like the cast of The Departed, and that strikes me as worse than ignoring the dialect altogether. At most, I’ve chosen to use “gonna,” and similar contractions to suggest less than perfect speech.

[10] A. Ömer Türkeş, “Yalçın’la geçmişi hatırlamak,” Radikal, 2/6/09. Accessed 6/18/14

[11] Since recently reading Walter Andrews’ introduction to Ottoman Lyric Poetry (Seattle: University of Washington, 2006), I’ve been thinking a great deal about what it means to translate.

Andews argues that there can never be a definitive translation because different translators are attempting to communicate different aspects of a work (10-11); some hope to convey plot; others, humor; others, tone. Choosing one over the other is merely the translator’s choice—not necessarily a mistake. For Andrews, the goal is to remind readers that Ottoman poetry was, first and foremost, poetry; not a museum piece. To this end, the translations by Nejaat Black that he and his co-editor use tend to emphasize the “poetic” sense of the poem at the risk of losing its rhythms and more abstruse allusions.

For Erdağ Göknar, the translator of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, the goal is to convey the way the author plays with the sounds and registers of language (“My Name is Re(a)d: Translating Authority,” Translation in Review, No. 68, 2004, p. 54).

In my own case–however far removed it may be from these experts–my hope is to convey the rythms of the original. The result may be that some sentences sound awkward in English (which some readers might feel “distances” or unecessarily “Orientalizes” the texts). My feeling, however, is that authors structure their sentences in certain ways intentionally, doling out information at a pace that itself has significance. To this end, as often as possible, I try to translate passages in a way that suggests something of the original texts’ structure—and perhaps even some of its music.

NB. I’d like to thank Ceren Buyuktemur who helped me crack some of the hardest translation nuts. Equally important, thanks to Amanda Towle, without whose help I wouldn’t have time to devote to projects like this.

[12] Translations based on Reşat Enis [Aygen], Afrodit Buhurdanında Bir Kadın, Istanbul: Evrensel Basım Yayın, 2009 [1939], pp. 175-189.

[13] These safety lamps or “Davy Lamps” are long thin lamps whose flames are incased in glass and a fine mesh that prevents the flame from igniting gases in the surrounding air. The length and color of the flame signals the methane content of the air (Max Adams, “Humphey Davy and the Murder Lamp,” History Today, 8/05, 55(8), pp. 4-5).

[14] Blackdamp. Coal in mines sucks up oxygen and releases carbon dioxide and water vapor, which mixes with nitrogen. Heavier than the surrounding air, this mixture remains in unventilated shafts, causing suffocation. The word “damp” comes from the German damf meaning “vapors” and refers to any non-oxygen gases in mines.

[15] Firedamp. Methane.

[16] “Tall” Mehmed was the man credited with discovering coal in the Zonguldak region in 1829. In the 1930s, Turkish republican officials sought to turn him into a national hero. He was said to be an ex-soldier and seaman who returned to his hometown intent on finding the natural resources that Turkey needed to drive its modernization. For his efforts, he was rewarded by the Sultan, but then killed by jealous local notables. (Donald Quataert, Miners and the State in the Ottoman Empire : The Zonguldak Coalfield, 1822-1920, New York : Berghahn Books, 2006, pp. 10-13; Mustafa Armağan, “Uzun Mehmet efsanesi,” Zaman, 5/6/06).

[17] Table here is “sini” which actually refers to a large metal tray that Turkish families traditionally sat around to eat.

[18] Muezzins are the men who sing out the call to prayer at mosques.

[19] A corve is a small basket used to carry coal. Kaya is, in other words, working as a “hurrier,” a person who pulls baskets filled with coal up to the surface. Since the tunnels in mines were typically narrow, the job was often given to children. For more historical mining terms, see “A Glossary of Mining Terms,” The Coalmining History Resource Center, or the Eski Madencilik Terimleri Sözlüğü.

[20] In 1930s Turkey, there was no right to strike—and, despite hints by ruling parties that they would legalize strikes—no right was acknowleged until 1961. Even now, the right to strike is prohibited for those working in jobs that protect life and property; funeral and mortuary services; production of coal for water, electricity, gas and coal power plants; exploration, production, refining and distribution of natural gas and petroleum; banking and public notaries; firefighting, aviation, land, sea, railway urban public transportation, and other public transportation on rail (Ali Rıza Çoban, “The Rıght to Strıke in Turkısh Law,” Comparing Constitutional Adjudication: A Summer School on Comparative Interpretation of European Constitutional Jurisprudence, University of Trento, 2009).

[21] Rum means an “ethnically-Greek” citizen of Turkey (or subject of the Ottoman Empire). Translating it in the text as such adds acurracy, but sounds awkward. Saying simply “Greek,” however, might give the impression that he is a Greek national—which fits with the rather exclusive notion that only Turks can be “Turkish.”

[22]According to İrfan Yalçın, the “Mine arab” is a ghost thought to inhabit mines—the mine’s “true owner.” It doesn’t harm anyone.

[23] Translation based on İrfan Yalçın, Ölümün Ağzı, Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 2002 [1979], pp. 58-72

[24]Laz” is the term for people from Turkey’s Black Sea region.

[25] “Curly,” (kıvırcık) was slang particular to the mines in this period. It refered to workers who weren’t considered sufficiently tough—especially those who remained passive in the face of bad working conditions (Ahmet Makal, “Türkiye Emek Tarihinin Bir İzdüşüm Alanı Olarak ‘Edebiyat,’Çalışma ve Toplum, Vol. 3, 2008, p. 15).

[26]“Pig roof” is a style of tunnel reinforcement used to prevent cave-ins.