A former academic who had been fired by government decree after a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 died by suicide on Sunday evening, adding to the growing number of public servants to take their own lives since a post-coup purge.
The death of Fehmiye Çelenk, 44, was announced by Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu on Twitter. “More sad news, another former public servant has died by suicide,” he said. “The mother of three entered a deep depression after she was illegally fired.”
Gergerlioğlu said Çelenk was a smart and hardworking woman whose mental health had deteriorated after the government purge.
Çelenk had been working in the geography department at Sakarya University before her dismissal. She is the latest former civil servant to die by suicide since the purge.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government declared a state of emergency (OHAL) following the abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that remained in effect until July 19, 2018. During the state of emergency the AKP carried out a purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight by issuing a number of government decrees, known as KHKs, firing 130,000 civil servants from their jobs due to their real or alleged connections to “terrorist organizations.”
A report drafted by Rafet Irmak and Aziz Yıldırım, two former academics purged by the Turkish government after the failed coup, revealed that 78 purge victims or their family members have died by suicide since October 4, 2016.
According to the report, titled “Suicides in the OHAL Period – Gravestones as Evidence of Genocide,” depression and difficulties in daily life caused by emergency decree-laws led to a number of suicides. The report stated that the rate of suicide among post-coup purge victims and their families is 35 percent higher than the suicide rate announced by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).
Turkey’s former public servants were not only fired from their jobs; they were also prohibited from working again in the public sector and getting a passport. The government also made it difficult for them to work formally in the private sector. Notes were put on the social security database about dismissed public servants to deter potential employers.
According to a joint report by the Justice for Victims Platform and Gergerlioğlu, the two-year-long state of emergency declared after the abortive putsch caused immense suffering among public servants who were dismissed from their jobs by the government as well as their families. Gergerlioğlu claims that these suicides are the result of a systematic policy towards the victims of the purges.
According to the victims’ family members taking part in a survey, the biggest problem they have been facing is economic hardship (97.9 percent) followed by psychological problems (88.6 percent), loss of social prestige and social exclusion (83.7 percent), disintegration of social circles (83.1 percent), unemployment/lack of employment (80.4 percent) and lack of social security (73.2 percent).