The deaths of 16 women and young girls in the past three months in the eastern city of Van, mostly ruled as suicides, are reminiscent of a past epidemic of suicides especially among young women in the eastern region. Experts are now investigating the cases, Milliyet daily reported.
The Family and Social Policies Ministry and local nongovernmental organizations in the city established a joint committee to investigate the deaths of the women who died either by gunshot or hanging.
Though no apparent motive or connection between the deaths exists, the string of fatalities recall a suicide epidemic in Batman, a southeastern city some 300 kilometers from Van. From the start of the 2000s until 2006, dozens of women committed suicide in Batman. A United Nations rapporteur had linked the suicides in Batman to forced marriages and domestic violence.
Now, the joint committee will look into allegations that the mysterious deaths in Van were linked to family pressure on those taking their lives, including an 11-year-old girl who was found dead in her family's stable in a village. Her family had claimed she was accidentally strangled by a rope she had found. An inquiry by security forces is still underway. Activists from local nongovernmental organizations claim that although suicides may not appear suspicious, they are still "murders," as women and girls are often pushed to suicide due to a number of factors from underage marriages to prevention from attending school by their families.
Münevver Ölmez, an official from the Van Women's Association (VAKAD), a nongovernmental organization, said social pressure might have played a role in the suicides. Speaking to İhlas news agency, she said girls who are forced to drop out of school to help the household are often neglected and heavily burdened with chores. Ölmez added that her organization visited the families of the deceased, but parents were either unaware of the problems that pushed the victims to suicide or deliberately hid the problems. She also stressed suicides are more prevalent in impoverished villages.