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Third family suicide in Turkey draws attention to economic hardship

Media criticised for its focused coverage of the cases, as some believe it may have triggered copycat suicides
The July 15 Martyrs Bridge, or Bosphorus Bridge, Istanbul. (AFP)
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A family was found dead in Turkey on Friday in what appears to be the third collective suicide in two weeks as economic conditions deteriorate in the country.

The Bakirkoy district governor’s office said in a press release that preliminary information indicated that cyanide was used, much like two other suicide cases in the same month.

Upon receiving a tip from neighbours about a chemical smell, the police entered an apartment in Istanbul’s Bakirkoy district and found the bodies of a couple and a child.

'We believe that due to his depression, he poisoned his wife and child and then committed suicide'

- Istanbul prosecutor's statement

Istanbul prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the father, Bahaatin D, a jeweller, was in huge debt due to his off-books online trading.

“We believe that due to his depression, he poisoned his wife and child and then committed suicide,” the statement added.

In a similar fashion, last Sunday another family of three was found dead in the city of Antalya. Police said Selim Simsek, the family's patriarch, left a note in which he said that had been in a tough financial position for the past nine months due to unemployment.

The police assessment suggested that he also first poisoned his wife and child and then killed himself.

The string of suicides started in Istanbul earlier this month, after police found four siblings, in their 40s and 50s, dead in the Fatih district.

Information gathered by authorities suggested the Yetiskin family members had killed themselves by cyanide because of the huge debt they had been carrying for the past few months.

In a sign of the financial pressure they were under, the electricity company cut the power to their house the day after their death due to unpaid bills, which sparked a public outcry.

Hardship or copycat?

The suicides have triggered a heated debate among the Turkish public on whether the economic conditions or the focused media coverage have resulted in copycat suicides across the country. 

Some pointed out to the fact that the Turkish economy had slipped into recession last year as the lira depreciated 30 percent against the US dollar, along with skyrocketing inflation.

Considering the increasing cost of living as well as high unemployment, our citizens are now getting through maximum financial difficulty

- Veli Agbaba, CHP 

Despite the indications of a rebalancing in the economy in the third quarter, the lira lost a further 11 percent in value this year, while the unemployment rate was 14 percent in August, a record high over the last 15 years.

Veli Agbaba, deputy chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party in the country, said in a statement this week that family suicides were caused by financial difficulties and worsening conditions.

“More than half a million people lost their jobs in the past year alone according to the official statistics. Considering the increasing cost of living as well as high unemployment, our citizens are now getting through maximum financial difficulty,” he said.

The government has hiked electricity prices by 70 percent in the last two years. In August alone, the price of natural gas was increased by more than 30 percent. 

Huseyin Yilmaz, a veteran journalist, said that the media’s role in the suicides should not be underestimated.

“Another cyanide incident. Unfortunately people who say that disproportionate media coverage of these incidents trigger similar suicide attempts seem to be increasingly correct.”

Turkey’s media watchdog, RTUK, also warned the media to abide by the regulations to preserve “social cohesion and health” in their suicide reporting.

Meanwhile, reports said the government was working to curb easy access to the cyanide. Although the number of people who kill themselves is relatively low in Turkey, the official statistic shows there has been an increase since 2012.

Last year, 3,161 people killed themselves. The statistics indicate economic difficulties as being among the chief reasons for the suicides.