A two-year-old child, Yunus Binen, reportedly died of hypothermia on Dec. 11 in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır due to a 15-day power cut by electrical company Dicle Elektrik Dağıtım A.Ş. (DEDAŞ). In fact, new reporting by online news outlet Artı Gerçek has shown that the baby died because he had asthma and could not use a critical oxygen device.
Artı Gerçek spoke with Yunus’ parents, Özcan and Meryem Binen, in the weeks following their son’s death. The parents and their two remaining children live in a house heated by a wood stove in the Silvan district of Diyarbakır. Özcan told Artı Gerçek that when DEDAŞ was allegedly working on electricity in the neighborhood, their power was off for fifteen days.
“This took a very long time. Since the machine that supplied my child with oxygen was not working, we sometimes took him to neighbors or relatives. When we left, our old electricity cables were stolen. I applied to DEDAŞ many times and asked for the electricity to be turned back on,” Özcan Binen said.
After repeated applications to the company, technicians came to replace the cables, but the electricity still did not come on. The family took the baby to the hospital, and when they came home, they saw that the new cables had also been stolen.
DEDAŞ told Özcan he had to “go get his cables.” He didn’t know how to find the cables, and to replace them would cost 3,280 liras. He didn’t have the money but knew he had to re-connect the power to save his child. He searched amongst friends and neighbors for loans but was unable to scrounge together the funds by nightfall.
“There was no electricity that night and my child's illness was progressing. The boy began to moan at 2 o'clock in the morning,” Özcan said. “We saw that he couldn't breathe. We took him to the hospital using our neighbor's car. Unfortunately, we lost our child.”
Even after Yunus died, DEDAŞ refused to re-connect the family’s electricity,” Özcan said.
“My child's death was covered in the press. Many people, including representatives of political parties and state officials, called. There was still no electricity,” he said.
Finally, the neighborhood headman (muhtar) called DEDAŞ and asked if they wanted another child to die. That night, they came and connected the electricity outside of working hours.
“I wish they had done this earlier,” Özcan said.
Though Yunus is gone, the Binen family is still struggling with the grief and cost of his illness and death. The family is deep in debt and says they lost everything during the pandemic. They had to take Yunus to the hospital nearly every day and were drowning in hospital bills.
“We are in debt. We borrowed money from banks and individuals. We lost everything. There is nothing left in our hands,” Özcan said.
As the weather got colder this winter, he said they didn’t even have coal or wood to burn to heat their home.
“We set up the stove, but there was no wood,” Özcan said. “I started to burn our old clothes, worn-out shoes. I saw that the children were cold, so I smashed the sofa built and burned it in the stove. The kids were warm that night. In the morning, I went and collected a bag or two of wood from the garden and continued. Now we have no firewood. I go and collect twigs left and right and burn them.”
Özcan has been looking for work for months, but has been unable to find it. He applied to Turkey’s employment authority, but says only those with connections are able to find work.
"Look, I don't want charity from anyone. I want a job. I applied many times and they did not accept me. […] Only those with connections are accepted. I want a steady job. Let's provide job opportunities to those who deserve it, not those with connections,” he said.
DEDAŞ has long been a subject of contention in Turkey’s southeast. Residents say their power is routinely cut off for days or weeks at a time, even when there is no ongoing construction. In recent years, this conflict has come to a head.
In July 2017, people protesting DEDAŞ power cuts held company personnel hostage in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, while in July 2020, during the pandemic, villagers in the southeastern province of Mardin went on a hunger strike to protest DEDAŞ requesting debt payments and cutting off the power necessary to retrieve water from wells. The villagers took the matter to court and won, but DEDAŞ still refused to reinstate their power.
In July 2021, farmers in Mardin staged a sit-in to protest the company’s failure to provide the necessary electricity for field irrigation, and in Aug. 2021, eleven people in Şanlıurfa were arrested when they protested DEDAŞ’ power cuts by erecting a road blockade.
In a statement issued by the company following Yunus’ death, DEDAŞ said that there was no valid subscription at the Binen address at the time of the boy’s death and that there was no record of Özcan Binen’s applications. They say that they tried to reconnect the cables but were unable to do so because they did not find anyone at the address until they re-connected the power on Dec. 17, six days after Yunus died.