The murder-suicide deaths of three families in Turkey appear to have been motivated by financial troubles. The political opposition says unemployment and a weakening lira are literally driving people to their deaths.
On Friday, police in Istanbul's Bakirkoy neighborhood opened the door to an apartment after neighbors complained of a chemical smell. Inside, police found three dead bodies.
A 38-year-old jeweler had poisoned himself, his wife and their 6-year-old daughter with a cyanide solution used in mining. The man's financial straits had grown dire ahead of the murder-suicide. The case, like two others in which families were found dead of cyanide poisoning, shocked Turkey.
Earlier in November, residents in Istanbul's Fatih neighborhood found a note on the door of an apartment. "Warning: This apartment is contaminated with cyanide," the note read. "Call the police. Do not enter." When police did go in, they found the bodies of two males and two females, all between the ages of 48 and 60. They were siblings.
In the coastal city of Antalya, police found the bodies of a woman, her husband, and their 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. They had died after ingesting cyanide. Media reported that the man, who was unemployed, left a suicide note reading: "I beg forgiveness, but there is nothing more I can do."
The deaths have focused attention on impoverishment, debt and unemployment in Turkey. Media reported that power was shut off to the apartment in Fatih as soon as the bodies were out: The siblings had not paid their electricity bill for several months.
'Problems get worse'
The deaths have been rehashed on news and social media sites, as well as by political leaders. "Why did this happen?" Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said in a recent speech. "One sees it in the women digging through garbage bins looking for food. We need more social welfare. We need more sustainability."
And observers note that the cases have common traits. "It's wrong to think of suicide as being a purely individual decision; purely psychological," said Hacer Foggo, a poverty researcher with the aid organization Cimen Ev.
Foggo said suicides often arose at moments of widespread societal desperation. "Society doesn't see these people," she said. "They feel helpless and alone. When that is compounded by economic fear and when essentials like food, water and electricity fall away, those problems get worse."
Issue of access?
Government officials have blamed the deaths on the easy access to cyanide in Turkey. There have been calls for regulations and bans.
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The Nationalist Movement Party, the far-right coalition partners to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justive and Development Party (AKP), called for a ban on hydrogen cyanide in June; so far, nothing has happened. Now the Family and Social Policy Ministry, led by the vice chair of the AKP, has convened a commission to investigate the suicides and present a public report.
Unemployment in Turkey is currently 14%, and youth unemployment stands at 27%. Inflation has led to cost spikes for important consumer goods such as food, medicine and fuel.
According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, there were 3,161 suicides in 2018. The institute does not report an increase in numbers since the economic crisis began in the summer of 2018.
There has been a 27% increase in suicides since the AKP came to power in 2002. The suicide rate has been consistently high for the past seven years.