Kevser Abdülkadiroğlu, İsmail Devrim, Emine Akçay, Soner Semih Sipahi, Gökhan Vural Arı, Merve Çandar, İsa Erdoğan… They are among the 351 people who committed suicide due to cost of living, debt and unemployment between 2013 and 2018. The steady rise in work-related suicides and suicide attempts is alarming.
İsmail Devrim (46) from Kocaeli, because he couldn’t buy trousers for his son… Emine Akçay (26) from Seyhan, Adana, because she couldn’t pay her rent and buy firewood… Soner Semih Sipahi (18) from Muğla, Fethiye, because his mother Emine Arslan was imprisoned for not being able to pay the bills of her children’s school… Gökhan Vural Arı (28), an unemployed lawyer from Istanbul, because he couldn’t repay the loans he took to open his own law firm… İsa Erdoğan (23) from İzmir, Merve Çandar (25) from Aydın, Kevser Abdülkadiroğlu (21) from Kastamonu because they did not get their assignments as teachers for ages… They all committed suicide.
A construction worker Sıtkı Aydın burned himself in front of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM). Ö.A., unemployed, attempted suicide climbing to the roof of AKP’s party quarters in Hendek, Sakarya. Sebahattin Demirbozan, unemployed, attempted suicide climbing to a crane in the construction field of the Taksim mosque. S.A. attempted suicide climbing to the fifth-floor window of the Derince District Governor’s office in Kocaeli. Mustafa Birgül, unemployed, burned himself in front of the Balıkesir City Hall…
Numbers and reasons
Working conditions, unemployment and poverty drive more and more people to commit or attempt suicide. According to Assembly of Workers Health and Work Safety (ISIG) numbers fifteen people in 2013, twenty-five in 2014, fifty-nine in 2015, ninety in 2016, eighty-nine in 2017, seventy-three in 2018, overall three hundred and fifty-three workers committed suicide in five years. According to ISIG, the three foremost reasons are debts, mobbing and unemployment.
Turkish Statistical Institute classifies suicide causes in various categories ranging from cost of living to commercial failures, from health problems to family conflicts and romantic relations. In the last years “cost of living” has climbed up to the second place among all these factors.
We don’t have any up to date numbers for suicides committed outside the workplace. The official figures on Turkish Statistical Institute’s (TÜİK) website are from 2018. According to these figures, in 2018, 246 people took their own lives because of cost of living.
TÜİK classifies suicide causes in various categories ranging from cost of living to commercial failures, from health problems to family conflicts and romantic relations. In the last years “cost of living” has climbed up to the second place among all these factors.
But even the institutions that publish these stats warn us that the real numbers could be much higher: since suicide is religiously considered a sin, in many cases suicides are kept secret by the victims’ families.
But whatever the figures are in Turkey, studies from all around the world clearly indicate the correlation between unemployment and suicide. The link between economy and suicide gets even more blatant in crisis periods. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around forty-five thousand people commit suicide each year because of unemployment. Seventy-five percent of those occur in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). Another study shows that just after the 2008 global crisis, suicide numbers have been multiplied by nine.
Victims of government decrees and teachers awaiting assignments
Apart from the economic crisis there are a considerable number of people who lost their jobs with a government decree (Kanun Hükmünde Kararname – KHK: a decree having force of law issued by AKP during the state of emergency). An article from bianet claims that since the beginning of the state of emergency until 1 January 2018, 43 people who lost their jobs with a KHK committed suicide. One of the most known is the case of Fatih Traş (34) who was an assistant professor in Çukurova University prior to his signing the peace petition which caused him the suspension of his contract and left him unemployed.
Engin Karataş, a teacher and a member of the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen) who also lost his job with a KHK explains the tragic dilemma put upon thousands by this KHK persecution: “Either I’ll endure all this injustice in silence and end up having a heart attack like my friend Bülent Uçar from Malatya, or I’ll kill myself like Dr. Orhan Çetin in a desperate attempt to be finally heard by everyone.”
Teachers and future teachers go through hardships that seriously increase suicide numbers. Only in 2017, fifty-two teachers and future teachers committed suicide. If you add to that the year 2018 and the first half of 2019, it makes more than a hundred suicides in two and a half years amongst teachers and future teachers. Just last week Kevser Abdülkadiroğlu (21) who graduated from Samsun Ondokuz Mayıs University as a mathematics teacher and had never got her assignment took her own life in Kastamonu.
Studies and reports
A report prepared by the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Labour Offices and presented to the media by the party’s vice-president Veli Ağbaba on October the 27th 2018, establishes that in the last four years suicide rate has gone up by 300 percent. Ağbaba reminds that work-related suicides are globally known as “karojsatsu” and that more and more workers are dragged to suicide because of debts, overwork and fear of losing jobs. Ağbaba points out that, “The increase of suicides doesn’t only concern blue collars, they also concern white collars. Only in 2017, the suicides of one hundred and twenty-two people working in the health sector, among which three doctors, fifty-three nurses and sixty-six other personnel is the proof of this situation.”
Tekin Bingöl, a CHP MP from Ankara who has studied the rise of suicides according to different professional categories, stated last week that, “in the last six years work related suicides has increased by five.” In his report, he gives figures for suicides of health workers, teachers and teacher candidates while drawing attention to the situation of lawyers. According to the report there’s an unemployment rate of six percent among lawyers and that twelve lawyers committed suicide in the past year because of cost of living and increased pressure.
Parliamentary questions and motions
Most of the time victims’ families don’t make any statements. Most victims don’t leave any note. Some of those who do, explain their anger and despair of a situation they’ve been drawn into and they ask the forgiveness of those they leave behind. Some of them express themselves live in social media just before taking action. That was the case of Mahmut Uçar (75), a farmer from Kuyucak, Aydın, who committed suicide on April the 30th and Zeki Özer, from İncirliova, Aydın, who took his own life, live on social media. His last words were: “I’m ashamed of living in this country.”
The increase of suicides doesn’t only concern blue collars, they also concern white collars. Only in 2017, the suicides of one hundred and twenty-two people working in the health sector, among which three doctors, fifty-three nurses and sixty-six other personnel is the proof of this situation.
Labour organizations try to raise awareness about work related suicides by publishing reports and opposition parties’ MPs bring these reports to the attention of the Assembly with speeches and motions. But the speeches are never paid attention to, motions never get any response and propositions to constitute investigation commissions are systematically rejected by the government and its allies.
Just before the Eid holidays CHP and HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) proposed motions for new investigations about unemployment and work-related suicides. On May the 22th, HDP’s Adana MP Tulay Hatimoğulları Oruç addressed a parliamentary question to the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Security Zehra Zümrüt, about the “numbers of unemployment and workers’ suicides”, asking the numbers of suicides committed by unemployed people, the exact figures on unemployment, the reason why the Social Security Institution’s [Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu – SGK] data aren’t published and the government’s projects for the employment of young people and women.
On the 23th of May, HDP group in the Assembly submitted a motion to constitute an investigation on “the disturbing rate of youth unemployment and young population’s problems”. The motion demanded constituting a “commission to determine to find solutions to the problems of more than 13 million of unemployed youth between the ages of 15 to 24. These problems vary from unemployment to education, from regional discriminations to prisons.”
According to an article from 27th of May, CHP Gaziantep MP İrfan Kaplan stated: “Economic crisis and unemployment are important factors increasing suicide attempts.” He submitted a motion to ask the immediate creation of an investigation commission by the Assembly. The motion reported that, “Under 17 years of AKP rule no solution to the unemployment issue has been found, on the contrary unemployment rate kept increasing year by year.” The motion also urged for the development of a mapping of suicides related to the economic crisis and unemployment and for the prompt resolutions about the issue.
Even though the Grand Assembly refuses to look into the situation, the economic crisis keeps on taking lives in 2019. Public opinion is getting used to news about workers’ deaths, suicides don’t even get the attention of social media and the victims and their families are left alone. While the mainstream media explains these suicides as a result of mere depression, the power alliance between government and big capital maintains its silence about the suicides. How many more people will take their lives until this silence will finally be broken?
“They” and “disguised murders”
On October 17, 2018 the daily BirGün published an article about two miners of Hema/Denfa mine owned by Hattat Holding who protested against unpaid wages by climbing on 260 feet tall crane in Bartın’s Amasra district. The two workers, Hüseyin Caner and Vedat Suna told the newspaper: “The truth is, if I die the state will take care of my wife and child, it’s a crime that I still live. If I die they’ll be entitled to retirement pension. How come staying alive can become a crime? Is it the only way to take care of my family? There’s death at the en of this road. Death may change things, that’s what they want. Maybe if one person dies, things will get better.”
It’s not very hard to guess who the workers refer to by saying “they”. But if the issue was only “they”. This text, almost two centuries old, is still relevant for the current state of things:“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another, such injury that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”
Translated by Alican Tayla