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TurkStat raises eyebrows for stopping release of elderly death statistics amid pandemic

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The Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), which is at the center of an ongoing controversy concerning the reliability of the data it releases, has raised eyebrows with its latest statistics on the elderly, in which the data on death and the causes of death for the elderly were omitted, local media reported on Friday.

The institute on Friday released the “Elderly Statistics” for 2021, with the data on death and causes of death for the elderly, which were included in the statistics released in previous years, omitted for the first time this year.

After Turkey announced its first coronavirus case on March 11, 2020, the institute in 2021 stopped releasing the “Death and Causes of Death Statistics,” which come out every June, leading to the omission of the elderly death statistics for 2021.

TurkStat’s decision not to release data on death and causes of death is alleged to be an attempt to mask the true scale of COVID-19-related deaths in the country, according to the Turkish media reports.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been criticized for lacking transparency in its handling of the pandemic, with the credibility of the country’s official coronavirus numbers having been called into question many times after the pandemic broke out.

Members of medical chambers and healthcare worker unions and associations across Turkey issued statements last week as the country marked the end of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that the country’s real death toll was more than double the official figures.

Healthcare professionals said in statements that the country’s true COVID-19 death toll had surpassed 250,000, while official data from the Health Ministry showed it to be just over 95,000.

TurkStat also has been receiving growing criticism from opposition parties and government skeptics for not releasing accurate figures for important statistics such as inflation and unemployment, instead presenting statistics that fail to reflect the market realities. The institute is accused of manipulating the numbers in order to mask the scale of the country’s economic deterioration.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday fired Umut Serhat İdman and Nurettin Kaya,  two vice chairmen at TurkStat, shortly after he removed Professor Erdal Dinçer from the helm of TurkStat in January, after the institute released data showing that last year’s inflation hit a 19-year high of 36.1 percent.

The dismissals are just the latest in a series of firings by Erdoğan, who has replaced the head of TurkStat four times since April 2019, leading to claims that he was not pleased with TurkStat figures when they were higher than his expectations.

According to the TurkStat data released on Friday, Turkey’s elderly population, which includes people over the age of 65, increased from 6.6 million in 2016 to 8.2 million in 2021, making up 9.7 percent of the country’s total population.

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