Parents worry about children’s mental health after teen dies by suicide over father’s imprisonment

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Parents over the last two days have expressed concern about the mental well-being of their children after 16-year-old Bahadır Odabaşı died by suicide on January 13 due to depression caused by the imprisonment of his father in a post-coup purge.

According to Deutsche Welle Turkish service (DW), families said their children experienced social alienation and were excluded by their friends. Some parents said even teachers openly called their children terrorists, leading to psychological problems.

Following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions, summarily dismissing by means of emergency decree-laws, known as KHKs, more than 150,000 public servants including academics, teachers, military personnel, diplomats and police officers, for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations.”

According to a statement by Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu a total of 319,587 people were detained and 99,962 were arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement.

The Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, is accused by the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding the failed coup and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Menekşe Türen, a former public servant and a mother of two, said her teenage daughters were experiencing severe psychological problems caused by social exclusion. Türen was summarily fired and imprisoned for six months in 2018. Her husband is still under arrest for alleged links to the movement.

“Once their teachers and friends find out about their parents, my daughters are labeled ‘children of terrorists’,” she said. “They have become very introverted in recent years.”

Türen said as a family they were condemned to “civil death” because they were forced out of their homes, schools and jobs.

“I don’t want what happened to Bahadır [Odabaşı] to happen to my girls, but we suffer from injustice and hopelessness every single day, and the emotional toll is unbearable,” she said.

Acun Karadağ, also a former public servant summarily fired by an executive decree, said her arrest caused irrevocable damage to her daughter’s life.

Karadağ  was one of a number of former public servants protesting their abrupt firing on Ankara’s Yüksel Street. She was arrested in August 2020 and sent to prison during the COVID-19 pandemic despite suffering from chronic heart disease. She was twice subjected to an unlawful strip-search and was released in January 2021.

“When I got arrested, our lives were turned upside down,” Karadağ said. “My daughter was preparing for the national university entrance exam, but she couldn’t continue because of the stress caused by my imprisonment.”

Karadağ said her daughter was only able to start university three years later.

Journalist Sevinç Özaslan said since the death of Bahadır, she has received many messages from parents who said they were worried about the mental state of their children. Many parents said they were also worried for the future of their children if they happen to be arrested.

 

Human rights activist and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said many children whose parents were affected by the purge experienced psychological problems. “Bahadır [Odabaşı] is the latest suicide case, but he’s not the only one,” he said. “If authorities don’t put a stop to this social marginalization, I’m afraid we’ll hear about more suicides.”

Gergerlioğlu said families paid the price of the purge together, since spouses, children and even grandparents were subject to social exclusion. He added that families were put in a vulnerable situation leading to anxiety and depression.

According to data released by the Brussels-based human rights monitor Solidarity with OTHERS, 82 people in Turkey have died by suicide as a result of the purge.

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