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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