Children of Turkey caught in the shadow of Chernobyl

PICTURES of balding children with leukaemia have been filling newspapers in Turkey, their angry parents accusing the government of letting their loved ones fall victim to radioactive rain from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

As headlines, such as 'Chernobyl has really exploded now', invade front pages, lawyers are writing columns advising people how to sue for damages, rival politicians are up in arms and several cases have already been filed against officials in the government of President Turgut Ozal, then the prime minister. The worried atmosphere is a far cry from the weeks after the accident in 1986 when Turkish officials followed each other on to television to sip tea from Turkey's Black Sea coast and assure the public that Chernobyl was nothing to worry about.

What happened, the press now asks, to the ton of contaminated tea that was supposed to be buried but mysteriously disappeared from depots? Was it true that Turkey deliberately sold radioactive tea to take revenge on the old Soviet Union, or that radioactive Turkish hazelnuts contaminated chocolates all over the world? Much of this is speculation, even if one official admitted that mildly radioactive tea had been mixed with uncontaminated stock to bring its becquerel reading down to safe levels.

But the scare is not all smoke without fire, according to the new government of the Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel. His Health Minister, Yildirim Aktuna, has offered to pay for leukaemia treatments and to investigate an apparent increase in cancer cases among children in the northern parts of Turkey most exposed to Chernobyl radiation; he emphasised, however, that there was no reason to believe there would be a great increase in cancer cases, and that the many worried parents in northern Turkey should relax.

The figures of those affected by the nuclear explosion 700 miles north of Turkey are still confused. Most of the radioactive cloud was blown away from Turkey at the time, but an early report said 100,000 Turks might have been in areas of radioactive rainfall. The governor of the Black Sea province of Trabzon said cancer cases had risen from 19 in 1987 to 232 in 1992, and the number of children with cancer had risen from none to six a year.

Other specialists say cancer statistics are hard to interpret in this developing country of 60 million people. But there was an unexplained increase in child cases of leukaemia three years after the Chernobyl explosion, a time delay similar to that observed after the atom bomb exploded in Hiroshima in 1945.

'Before Chernobyl, we treated 45 to 55 cases (of child leukaemia) a year. There was no rise until 1989, when we treated 94 cases, and 1990, when there were 72. Now the level is back to normal,' said Gunduz Gedikoglu, president of the Children's Leukaemia Foundation. The proportion of cases from the northern coast had, however, stayed constant at about 4 per cent in Dr Gedikoglu's hospital.

The affair has been put to political use in a variety of ways. The government loves to blacken every act of Mr Demirel's main rival, Mr Ozal. The alleged scandal is also a wonderful stick for academics to beat the hated Higher Education Board, set up by the leaders of Turkey's 1980 military coup. The board had banned all scientists from commenting on Chernobyl. Turkish journalists even say the scare is useful in raising health consciousness in a country where many Turkish men still seem to believe that Turks are immune to Aids.

Specialists say the calm reaction of Mr Ozal's government, even his famous alleged statement that a little radiation is good for you, may in the end be technically vindicated, but that he was wrong to stifle all independent warnings of radiation dangers.

'Panic is being created because of a wish to take revenge on the thick-headed approach of the previous period,' said Turkan Akyol, a state minister in Mr Demirel's government. 'This is as dangerous as the radiation . . . think of the feelings of pregnant mothers on the Black Sea.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions