If suicide were poverty related, half of Turks would be dead: AKP mayor

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A district mayor from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Mersin has said, while talking about a recent suicide allegedly related to poverty, that if suicides in Turkey were actually poverty-related, half the country’s citizens would have taken their own life, the Anka news agency reported on Thursday.

Muhittin Ertaş, a member of the Akdeniz district municipality from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), brought the suicide of Abdullah Ertem, a construction worker and father of six, to the municipality’s agenda, stating that Ertem took his own life as a result of depression due to economic difficulties his family has been facing.

“What is the reason behind such suicides? Who can offer a solution to this problem? There are those who do politics in this country. We all know that extravagance is forbidden by our religion [Islam]. Thus, we are all responsible for this,” said Nuriye Arslan, another member of the municipality from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

In response to Ertaş and Arslan, district mayor Mustafa Gültak from the ruling AKP argued that suicides in Turkey aren’t poverty-related and that if they were, half the population of the country would have killed themselves.

“This isn’t the first time someone committed suicide in Turkey. What you call suicide can’t always be related to poverty. Go and talk to the psychiatrists if you want. Are the people who commit suicide always the poorest and the most miserable? If that were the case, then half this country and most of the world’s population should have committed suicide. Are poverty and debt reasons for suicide?” Gültak asked.

“Eighty percent of India is poor. [People in] Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa are all poor. … They say people [in Turkey] commit suicide due to poverty. Why are the people in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which have the highest rates of suicide, killing themselves, then? The reason behind the suicides [in Turkey] isn’t poverty but psychological problems. Don’t put this on the economy,” he added.

Alpay Antmen, a CHP lawmaker for Mersin, criticized Gültak’s statements and accused him of being insensitive in the face of poverty-related suicides, in a statement he released on Thursday.

“A father of six commits suicide but the mayor of the ruling party [Gültak] doesn’t feel the least bit sad about it. He is about to put the blame on our citizen who took his own life due to poverty,” Antmen said.

He added that while Turkey had been compared to European counties before the AKP government came to power in 2002, it was now being compared to poor tribes in Africa.

“At least one citizen commits suicide every day in Turkey due to unemployment and poverty under AKP rule. … But the government isn’t aware of that. Hunger has become a problem related to the security of life in the country because of the AKP,” the MP argued.

A report drafted by CHP deputy Tekin Bingöl in late May revealed that 150 people had died by suicide in Turkey due to financial problems in the first five months of 2021, which corresponds to a quarter of the total number of suicides since the beginning of the year.

The already deteriorating economy, where double-digit inflation and a slump in the lira’s value is hitting living standards, has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic and measures imposed to contain the spread of the virus, putting many people into poverty.

According to a survey conducted in May by leading local polling company MetroPoll, 26.6 percent of Turks say they can’t meet their basic living costs, while 54 percent state that they barely do.

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