Suicides due to misery and economic conditions have been on the rise in Turkey for several years. When purchasing power and debts go along with the disappearance of social solidarity in a society geared to success and consumption, life becomes unbearable for some…

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The economic problems, unemployment, despair, a feeling of injustice, anger, impose a leaden weight on daily life. It is a well-known fact that economic crises constitute a very important risk factor for suicides. Misery, the lack of social bonds, extreme polarization of opinion keep people in search of survival on the fine line bordering suicide.

The following cases of suicide, among so many that are not known, can no longer appear as isolated cases, but rather as pieces from a puzzle of economic and social distress in a country sunk into crisis mode.

We will spare you the abominable comments Turkish-speaking readers can find with a few clicks on social networks, particularly on Twitter, where hatred for others pours out. Just as do the headlines in the media rags at the beck and call of those in power, in an effort to erase the “murderous” nature of the policies applied. We will not translate how these victims, these human beings who, out of despair, put an end to their suffering are sometimes dragged through the mud, their life tainted, how they are declared to be deranged or weak, when not accused of “low morality”…

In this article you will not see portraits of the victims under their every angle…

Two sister and two brothers

End of 2019, a wave of indignation followed the suicide of two sisters and two brothers living in the Fatih neighborhood in Istanbul. On November 5, Cüneyt (48), Oya (54), Kamuran (60) and Yaşar Yetişkin (56) killed themselves by ingesting cyanide.

All of them bachelors, they shared the same apartment. All four had inherited heavy debts from their mother who had died two years previously. The family had been unable to pay eight months worth of rental and was late on payments of power and gas. One brother and one sister suffered from epilepsy. Only two of them had paying jobs. One of the brothers was a courrier. As for Oya, she bore the financial load of the entire family, she was a music teacher and also worked as a model in the Fine Arts department at Mimar Sinan University during the school year, thus finding herself without revenues during the holidays.

Following the discovery of their suicide, the grocer where the family was a customer, said: “I’ve known them for 15 years. Oya Yetişkin was the last one I saw. She did some shopping around 5 PM on Saturday. Afterwards, there were no further news. Their friends worried because no one answered the phone. We warned the police” and he adds that the police on arriving at their home found a note pasted on the door: “Warning there is cyanide inside”. The grocer continues “They lived together, they were alone with their financial problems. On Saturday Oya told me ‘my salary was seized’.”

Adding insult to injury, on Wednesday morning, BEDAŞ, the power company, came to cut off the service of the deceased family. They had been unable to pay their last two bills. They owed 607,16 Turkish lira, the equivalent of 92,65 €.

A whole family

A few days later, on November 9 2019, a whole family perished in Antalya… Selim Şimşek (36), Sultan Şimşek (38) their children Ceren (9) and Ali Çınar (5) died, also by cyanide. The letter left by the father said he had not worked for 9 months and that the family could not overcome the financial difficulties.

Two collective suicides by cyanide, following one on the other.

“I only have one Turkish lira left”

On January 5 2020, Sibel Ünli, a young third year student in Turkish language literature at Istanbul University threw herself into the sea after sharing the following message on Twitter: “Can I feed myself with 1 Turkish lira? No credit left on my university restaurant card, I have only one lira left. One lira means forty centimes.” Her family later denied their daughter had committed suicide for financial reasons. Reality? Pride? There is no way of knowing. You find a bit of everything on Twitter. Sadness, anger, understanding, guilt… But also a flow of insults including vomiting the following “given her physical appearance, she didn’t deserve to live.” Whatever the reasons may be that led Sibel to kill herself, finances or discrimination, this criminal wave on social media carried as many disgusting comments as it did reactions expressing sadness and empathy. Is this not indicative of a society lacking social connections, and the social sharing of compassion and solidarity?

“My children are starving!”

Recently last February 7 in the morning in Hatay, in front of the Antakya Prefecture a man arrived carrying a can of gasoline. His name was Adem Yarıcı, 42 years old. He was the father of two children and had divorced only two weeks earlier…He had been looking for work for over a year and attempting to survive by shining shoes. In the middle of the square, he cried out in tears: “My children are starving! Don’t you understand? I need work! Or I’ll self-immolate!” He set himself on fire with the lighter he was holding in his hand. He died in the hospital. His elder sister said later she had given her brother 20 Turkish lira to buy cigarettes. “I asked him where he was going. He didn’t answer. We learned later that he had immolated himself.” As for his mother, she declared she would take care of his children from now on and appealed to President Erdogan for aid. “My Erdoğan, my heart, I kiss you on my child’s forehead. I hope you will always lead us. We will be happy, if you help us.”

Did Erdoğan hear this mother’s voice?… “A few hours later on the same day, the Turkish Minister of the Treasury and Finances Berat Albayrak, who is also President Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, found himself in the neighboring province of Osmaniye, also on the frontier with Syria. He was promising local businessmen that unemployment figures would fall dramatically in 2020 thanks to the success of the new economic plan he has been leading since July 2018”, Murat Yetkin mentions in his article covering the state of the economic crisis in Turkey.

So many cases…

It would be impossible to mention all the cases in one long funerary procession. But for once, let’s replace the cold figures of statistics by real people…

Sıtkı Aydın self immolated before the National Assembly in January 2018. Because she had been out of work for a long time. Mehmet K. committed suicide in March 2018 because he could no longer pay off his debts. Sociology professor Merve Çavdar committed suicide in April 2018, because her posting has not been done. That same month, Süleyman K., construction worker, killed himself because he could no longer pay off his debts. In October 2018 it was Ersin Turhan’s turn because his posting as a teacher had not come through. Still in October 2018, Ismail Devrim ended his life because he was unemployed and could not afford to buy the pants for his son’s school uniform: “Why should I live if I can’t provide for my children, if I can’t even buy a pair of pants for my son?”

Not only office workers, construction workers or the unemployed…

There were several suicides over debts in September and October 2018: Ramazan Kavalcı, shop owner, Halil Ünlü, businessman, Dilaver S. promoter and hotel manager, Mehmet N. diamond wholesaler. Güral Vural Arı also killed himself for economic reasons in October 2018. He was a lawyer. Debt-ridden, his salary seized, Ali Yümlü killed himself that same month. In November, Kekil A killed himself over his debts. In February, for the same reason, it was the turn of Hasan Ulaş Devrim a promoter in the public sector…

The list goes on in 2019 also

In June 2019, in Adana, Egemen S, 35, jumped for his eighth-story apartment. He was depressed over his debts…In Diyarbakir, Ilyas Hocaoğlu was fired from the City Hall in the Sur neighborhood. His companion Nese Hocaoglu, no longer able to deal with the financial problems, committed suicide. In Kocaeli, Yesim G. 46, in financial duress hung herself from the natural gas pipe while her companion had gone out to find money. In August 2019, Süleyman Sahin, a 60 year old farmer, depressed over the economic crisis, shot himself in the stable of his home.

In November, Onur Soğukpınar, 37, father of 2 children, employee in a printing compagny hung himself at work, again for financial problems…In Istanbul, the bodies of Bahattin Delen, his compagnion Zübeyde and their 7 year old son Ali Delen were found in their home. Following an inquest by the prosecutor, “the father first killed his companion and his child then he committed suicide, for financial reasons”. November 2019 in Izmir: Ali Kabasakal tells his companion who is suggesting they go to the market “wait a minute, I’ll take a shower.” He killed himself in the bathroom with his hunting rifle. In his pocket, he had only 1,5 Turkish lira…

On December 18 2019 in Çorum, Oktay A. hung himself at home. According to his companion, the family had financial problems, there was nothing left to eat in the house. She had gone out to see her parents and to pick up their child’s things, when she came home, she found her companion lifeless.

This poverty does not fall from the sky

We can’t mention all cases of course… without trivializing them, so similar are all these stories of life and death, all with poverty as the common denominator.

But this poverty does not fall from the sky, nor is it the expression of the Heaven’s will on earth. In a society dominated by political and economic corruption, exercising a more-than authoritarian power, where divisions, exacerbated nationalism and religious bigotery serve as appetite suppressants, suicide becomes a human reaction, in the absence of a possible political awareness.

In order to counter constant, well-meaning Orientalist comments, one must constantly repeat that Turkey is not “a developing country”. This country, and Erdoğan never ceases proclaiming it, is a regional power with the ambition of shining on the world stage. But its capitalist principles are those of an ultra-liberalism where everything is permitted, from institutionalized corruption to embezzlement and monopolization of produced wealth.

The disintegration and the breakdown, whether willed or not, of social laws based on redistribution and sharing in the areas of housing, health and old age, the progressive destruction of social bonds, frenetic individual consumption as a model, a world of all against all, all these ideologies that were denounced during the Gezi Spring lead people into despair when the political power’s choices ruin the economy. These same people, plunged into ignorance and maintained there through censorship, education reforms and the predominance of bigots find themselves confronted by politicians who, in a proportion of 80%, defend and promote this system in which, to make matters worse, nationalism serves as a cover. They submit until, individually, life becomes impossible.

These suicides are revelatory, but they slip under collective awareness. One can thus understand why they become excuses for insults and letting off steam in order to exorcise their disturbing and question-laden persistence, when faced with the bigotery and false humanism from the preachers on the one hand and Erdoğan’s Great Turkey neo-Ottoman language on the other.

Photo : Adem Yarıcı, 42 years old, set himself on fire in Hatay

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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