Turkey’s postponed social problems come to surface

Turkey’s postponed social problems come to surface

Amid a lot of news reports concerning Turkey’s military operation into Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s scheduled visit to Washington or strong-worded criticisms by senior Turkish officials against Western nations on the fight against terror, two major incidents drew the attention of the entire Turkish nation last week.

The first came from Istanbul. Four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, with the youngest having been 48 and the eldest 60 years old, have altogether committed suicide in their house. Autopsy results have shown that cyanide was detected in their bodies, and details of this tragic suicide made clear that the four siblings - all single - were suffering from financial problems.

The owner of the grocery store where the family members shopped at for the last 15 years told the media that they had an unpaid account with more than 2,000 liras of debt. On the day the police found the bodies of four siblings, the authorities from a local electricity distribution company cut off power at their house, because of accumulated debts, increasing the level of tragedy.

Opposition lawmakers have presented this tragedy as yet another example of the economic downgrade, with serious impacts on the lives of ordinary people despite the government’s efforts to put out another picture on the economy. Against the criticisms, Vice President Fuat Oktay denied the claims that the tragic suicide of four siblings had nothing to do with the economic problems of the family.

The second news came from Aksaray, a Central Anatolian province. The incident that has pricked the entire Turkish nations’ conscience took place at a local primary school where parents protested the presence of autistic children in the same school as their kids.

According to reports, the school has 42 students who require special education needs, with most of them being autistic. The school management has already separated them from other students as these kids are being filled in a special classroom and using a special bathroom. The families of autistic students have been asked to use the rear-entry door so that they would not be seen by the rest of the students and their parents.

It seems even the school management’s discriminative, inhumane and conscienceless acts could not ease the anger of the parents. Some 50 parents have almost raided the school, protesting the school management for the presence of these autistic kids in the same school with their kids and even booing the autistic children.

The government in its entirety has shown a good and swift reaction to the incident. The Education Ministry has launched a probe and deployed an inspector to look into the claims, stressing that discriminating autistic or any disabled children neither fits the Turkish social values or the education system. In the meantime, the principal of the school has been suspended.

Although these two examples have different root causes and need to be examined separately, they still show the major negligence on socio-economic problems the masses have to face on their own.

Despite government rhetoric on the recovery of the economy based on figures over the inflation rates, the economy is still the number one problem in Turkey, affecting a very good majority of the society, with those who are below the poverty line have grown in the last decade. Unemployment –particularly the youth unemployment- is a major economic and social problem and ways to address them have not yet yielded results. The cost of living is very high and price hikes on electricity, natural gas, and other fundamental needs do affect millions of people.

The incident against the autistic children in Aksaray explains the widespread ignorance of basic values and human rights. Although scores of nationwide awareness campaigns have been devoted to autism and other similar issues to avoid discrimination or baseless objections, this incident proves that there is still a very long way to reach out to each citizen. As seen in Aksaray, some people think that autism is a contagious disease and want to get rid of any kind of interaction with an autistic person.

Turkey is a big country with 82 million citizens plus five million refugees. It has huge economic and social problems. Education continues to constitute a major structural problem before human development and improvement in the quality of social life. Meticulous care is needed for addressing every social problem, but efforts to this end seem to be insufficient and less sophisticated.

Two main reasons for this can be cited: The ideological grounds that mislead efforts to solve them and political priorities in the last decade.

Turkey, for a very long time, has been kept busy with major developments concerning the political infrastructure, including consecutive local, parliamentary and presidential elections, as well as a historic shift from parliamentary to the presidential system, following a bloody coup attempt. Also, developments in Syria that led to three major military interventions by Turkey in the context of fighting terrorism has further dominated the country’s agenda. As a result, this has put Turkey in a quarrel with almost all countries from the Western and Muslim world.

Resolving deep social and economic problems requires long-term plans, energy, and engagement with civil society and other related bodies. Postponing them will only cause a heavier price on society. The government needs to review its political priorities and should start a new campaign to deal with the urgent social and economic problems of the people.