Suicides On the Rise in Turkey Amid Post-Coup Purge

Police officer Zeki Cezayirlioglu. He committed suicide on Sunday.

Turkey’s post-coup crackdown unravels into a full-blown social crisis as more and more people — dismissed police officers, purged officials, and ordinary inmates — commit suicide after facing torture, mobbing, discrimination and tremendous pressure in their social environment.

On Sunday, a 44-year-old police officer has become the 46th victim of suicides, according to The Globe Post tally, since the failed coup last summer. He shot himself dead at home shortly after he was restored to his position by the latest emergency decree.

Zeki Cezayirlioglu, a police officer with 23 years of experience in the profession and who was at Karabük Police Training Center when he was dismissed by a previous government decree, faced mobbing and insults when he returned to his office. That plunged him into psychological trauma and disorder.

He first attempted to suicide last week by taking pesticide but saved by doctors at a city hospital after his family took him to an emergency unit. The distressed police officer was overwhelmed by the kind of treatment and discrimination by his former colleagues when he went back to his office after authorities acquitted him of terrorism-related and coup charges, the same accusation that was directed against more than 135,000 public servants who were dismissed by government decrees.

Jolted by insults and office mobbing, the despondent police officer shot himself by his gun at home while his wife and his two children were present at home. His suicide hit media headlines, but did nothing to spark a wave of anger. Still, his death points to a wide-spread epidemic — social trauma, an extreme state of despair — that engulfs the Turkish society. The nation has been in grip of fear and mayhem as the post-coup purge has targeted every layer and segment of society.

Other cases of suicides have striking similarities with the police officer’s tragic situation. Purge, unemployment, imprisonment, fear of arrest, social alienation, mobbing, insults in public have been among factors that plunge people into a state of extreme depression, sometimes even pushing them to a decision to end their lives.

What is more jarring is the fact that dozens of suicides took place in prisons in suspicious conditions. An official explanation for causes of deaths did nothing to dispel suspicions of families who harbor legitimate doubts about possible political murders of their beloved ones. A recent emergency decree gave additional concern to families of prisoners who were jailed in the post-coup crackdown by the government. 

Forensic medicine experts constitute significant numbers of the 1,699 officials of the Justice Ministry who were purged last week, fueling concerns about professionalism and impartiality about autopsy reports over potential prison deaths.

The rise of suicides reflects a growing acute problem in the aftermath of the failed coup, which had sown lasting division and discord within the society. The government’s unrelenting crackdown on opponents of all creed took an unprecedented level, condemning more than 135,000 public workers into unemployment, stripping them of any social security and safety measures. They are no longer allowed to apply for a public job again, ejected from public housing and their passports seized. These measures are final and will hold even if they are acquitted by courts. 

More than 50,000 teachers saw their licenses revoked after they were dismissed by decrees. Nearly 40,000 police officers who have been purged are even unable to work as private security guards. Media even reports cases that some teachers now work as street vendors and construction workers to make a living. The purge has created a wide-ranging social tragedy for hundreds of thousands of people who face alienation, social and political discrimination, and joblessness.

This comes along with an unraveling economy as Turkish markets are tumbling with weakening lira against dollar and euro, rising unemployment and inflation, ballooning current account deficit and outflow of foreign investment. Moreover, government’s confiscation of hundreds of companies, worth of over $10 billion, also sinks confidence of the private sector. Along with businessmen, thousands of ordinary people lost their property, were dispossessed of whatever wealth they had.

All of these factors contribute to the gloom of people who found themselves at cross-chair of a multi-faced political crackdown. Under depressing conditions of the state of emergency, nationwide fear pervades society amid every-day mass arrests, detentions and periodic purges in thousands.

A detailed report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), global rights group, illuminates widespread use of torture, mistreatment of inmates in prisons. A crippled media rarely reports allegations of torture despite pleas by families and first-hand witness accounts of lawyers or prison guards.

The torture of coup plotters and coup suspects is even endorsed by a senior member of the ruling party who heads Parliament’s human rights subcommittee, which is in charge of investigating abuses and torture claims in prisons. AKP Deputy Mehmet Metiner told reporters that the committee will not investigate torture claims about alleged coup plotters, and even urged army members detained over coup-related charges to end their lives themselves by suicide. Photos of tortured military officers were even published by official Anadolu news agency days after the coup attempt. 

And in the days after the failed coup, reports of suicides immediately poured into national media. But families are skeptical about what authorities say about reported suicides, as many of them suspect that their beloved ones would be victims of extra-judicial execution or political murder in prisons.

In one of the first reports, non-commissioned officer Ferhat Daş, a tank commander, killed himself after confronted by people during coup attempt on July 15. People asked him who stood over a tank that whether he defines himself a patriot or a traitor. According to an account of friends, Daş told people that he was called by his superiors for a supposed military training and had no idea about the putschists’ true intentions. He killed himself in front of his soldiers.

On July 20, five days after the coup attempt, Lieutenant Colonel Hasan Yücel, commander of a battalion at the military headquarters, General Staff, in Ankara was said to shot himself at his room after “plunging into depression”. But his family has not been satisfied with the official explanation.

In another case on the same day, District Governor Necmi Akman from western province of Manisa shot himself after he was dismissed in first government decree in the post-coup purge. In third case on the same day, Mutlu Çil, deputy police chief at a local police station in Ankara, was reported to kill himself after preparing the purge document about his superior at the office. More than 900 police officers were purged in the first wave though many of them fought against putschist troops.

In a heart-rending incident, teacher Gökhan Açıkkolu was allegedly tortured to death by the police and prison officials in Istanbul in late July, according to his family. The authorities denied the family a funeral service and his body was not accepted to a cemetery in Istanbul.

Col. İrfan Kızılarslan, Chief of Staff at Kastamonu Gendarmerie Regional Command, is the highest ranking commander who reportedly committed suicide after being jailed despite the fact that his units did not take place in the putsch. His body found dead in a prison in central province of Tokat. The family spoke about heavy torture but the investigation into his death was soon dropped.

Prosecutor Seyfettin Yiğit who had made many enemies in the government after his investigations into corruption claims in the government’s housing agency a few years ago was also found dead in Bursa prison in early September. He was arrested in the aftermath of the coup. His family disputes claims of authorities about suicide. These are just a few cases among the 46 suicide incidents that rattled families but did little to stir an action on behalf of the authorities to deal with the roots of this endemic problem in the post-coup era.

The majority of the cases shrouded in mystery amid genuine suspicions of families about the way police officers, colonels and other military officials died in prisons. While some of the suicides took place out of sheer despair and despondence after purges, families cast doubt about deaths in prisons. Hundreds of wardens and prison guards were replaced in the past six months, raising concerns that the authorities are replacing loyalist guards in prison to cover mistreatment. 

The government’s systematic effort to hamper independent investigations, its purge of forensic medicine doctors, frequent change of prison guards, dismissal of thousands of prison workers only fuel questions about its real motives and reinforce suspicions over the real causes of prison deaths.

For suicides occurred outside prisons, there is little to stop the trend as long as the state of emergency continues, wide-ranging purge campaign and far-reaching political witch-hunt persist.