The suicide of a university student has highlighted the financial difficulties facing youth in Turkey, with the student’s social media posts focusing on being unemployed, indebted and impoverished.
“I have nowhere to go and my life is not worth living,” Sibel Ünli, who was a third year literature student at Istanbul University, said in a Twitter post dated Oct. 9, 2019.
The 20-year-old student’s dead body was found in the sea in Istanbul on Jan. 4, days after her family reported their daughter missing.
Ünli’s social media posts provide an insight on how students are trying to continue their lives in Turkey’s most expensive city.
“I wish to find a job in the new year,” she said in a tweet.
“Can I eat with one lira? I have no money left on my cafeteria card,” another one of Ünli’s tweets read.
Students protest increased meal prices
The news of her suicide came amid ongoing protests at Istanbul University, one of the largest state universities in Turkey, over increased cafeteria prices.
The students were previously able to eat three times a day for 3.5 liras per meal in the cafeteria before the university administration cancelled breakfasts and limited the number of meals that can be eaten for 3.5 liras. Students who want to eat a second meal on the same day are forced to pay 18.50 liras, which amounts to some 450 lira a month.
Thousands of students from across Turkey are enrolled at Istanbul University. Being away from their parents, most rely on the cafeteria to eat for reasonable prices.
The administration’s decision is also being criticized over the university’s large budget, with many saying that such a budget shouldn’t have include cuts to student meals.
‘We are students, not customers’
Following the administration’s decision that was announced on Dec. 31, 2019, students carried out a protest in front of the university, carrying banners that read, “We are students, not customers,” “Budget cuts can’t be reflected on students” and “Universities are not commercial organizations.”
“Due to the increased prices in our country, the purchasing power has significantly decreased. Students have been struggling with high costs of living. Hence, these cafeteria decisions drag students into a financial bottleneck,” the students said in a statement.
“We need to be careful with our budgets everyday, even though we don’t have any source of income. We are now forced to think whether we can eat a second meal when we are also concerned about finding jobs and paying debts,” they said, while warning the administration that they will stage a boycott if their demands are not met.
The students on Jan. 2 wanted to submit their petitions to Rector Mahmut Ak for the reversal of the decision, but were met with police brutality that was widely condemned on social media.
Award-winning actor Haluk Bilginer voiced his support to the students, saying that a rector who sleeps with a full stomach while his students are hungry “is not one of us.”
‘Capitalism killed our friend’
Following Ünli’s suicide, academics began sharing the hardships their students are facing.
“One of my students was bringing tea bags from home and was getting hot water from the canteen for free to drink tea. That student quit drinking tea after the canteen started to sell hot water,” Tarık Şengül, an academic, said.
“Students aren’t even able to drink tea!” he added.
Another academic, Çiğdem Boz, said that she had students who had to work for nine hours to be able to drink soup at the end of the day.
Sibel Ünli’s friends, meanwhile, released a press statement late on Jan. 4, saying that capitalism is what killed their friend.
“No one should say, ‘The cause [of Ünli’s suicide] is not this system’ when 60 percent of the people are using antidepressants and suicide ratios are increasing. Sibel’s murderer is capitalism and this rotten system,” they said.
Distributing soup to homeless
Ünli was also a Curious Cat user, where she was asked questions, with one being about what she would do if she had 20,000 Turkish liras.
“I would pay my KYK debt,” Ünli said, referring to the Higher Education Loans and Dormitories Institution, KYK in short, which is Turkey’s official student loan institution.
Another question concerned her earlier remarks on being hospitalized. She was asked the reason behind her hospitalization, to which she replied by saying, “major depression” – a disorder also known as clinical depression.
Ünli, who was distributing soup as a volunteer to the homeless, was also subjected to cyber bullying on social media over her appearance.