Media smear campaign follows family suicides in Turkey - Elif Shafak

Reports of suicide incidents involving two Turkish families last week were followed by extremely judgmental and politicised media coverage in which the victims were accused, shamed and posthumously judged, author Elif Shafak wrote in the Guardian on Wednesday. 

The Turkish police last week discovered the dead bodies of four siblings - two women and two men - aged between 48 and 60 in their home in Istanbul’s mainly conservative Fatih district. 

The family, which committed suicide by taking cyanide, lived in unemployment and poverty, with the wages of one sister, a music teacher, used to keep creditors at bay, their friends said after the incident. 

Another family of four - father Selim Şimşek (36), his children Ceren (9) and Ali Çınar (5) and wife Sultan Şimşek (38) - were found dead in their home in Turkey’s southern province of Antalya on Saturday with a note by the father citing financial difficulties and unemployment.

Initial examinations by experts point to death by cyanide poisoning in the incident. Three police officers and three medics were hospitalised after inhaling the air upon entering the apartment, prompting an evacuation of the eight-story building.

In 2018, official statistics say that 3,161 people ended their lives in Turkey, where suicide is generally regarded as a sin, Shafak said. 

“Suicide is always an immensely difficult and sensitive issue, and we never fully know why a person ends their own life,” the author said. "But in a country where there is no freedom of speech and no room for a sensible, nuanced debate on anything, the reaction to these cases has been ugly, to say the least.”

“After the initial shock of the tragedy, what followed was extremely judgmental and politicised coverage in which the victims were accused, shamed and sentenced one last time,” she said. 

Reporters and commentators who said economic hardships were the main reason behind the two tragedies were accused of being traitors or having an agenda.

“Times of financial crisis and political instability have a devastating impact on how people view not only the present but also their hopes of a better future,” Shafak said. 

“Yet there is something else that is as important yet rarely spoken about: the loss of dignity. Whenever and wherever democracy is shattered to pieces, and human rights, freedom of speech, diversity and pluralism are trampled on, self-worth is also taken away from people,” she said.