K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English
The Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) postponed the release of the widely anticipated "Death and Cause of Death Statistics 2020" bulletin until further notice, as the opposition claims that the order might have been given by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to hide real COVID-19 numbers to attract tourists.
TÜİK has been criticized domestically and internationally for being manipulated by the government and providing unemployment, growth, and inflation statistics favorable to President Erdoğan.
The recent move to postpone publishing death data for 2020, when the pandemic peaked, has dealt a further blow to the institutions’ reputations, which have already suffered a heavy loss of confidence and credibility due to the contradictions and inconsistencies within inflation, unemployment, and growth rate data.
Previously released data by TÜİK showed that financial problems, commercial failure, and poverty have been identified as the main causes of 5,806 suicide cases in Turkey between 2002 and 2019. The percentage of suicides due to economic problems increased from 7.3 percent in 2018 to 9.4 percent in 2019.
TÜİK’s statement that the release of the "Death and Cause of Death Statistics 2020" bulletin was postponed until further notice as “the studies on statistics produced from administrative records have not been completed yet” raised eyebrows among the public and criticism from the opposition.
“This attitude by TÜİK confirmed predictions that the death numbers were manipulated and that COVID-19 cases were hidden. This government is unable to keep track of its citizens who have died, conceals the cause of death, and lies to its citizens and the rest of the world,” main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Erdoğan Toprak told Duvar English.
“The excuse that statistics derived from administrative records cannot be completed is a confession of administrative failure and government incompetence,” Toprak added.
“Either there is a serious lack of coordination or the data provided to TÜİK is so contradictory, inadequate, or non-existent that they were unable to produce logical data. Furthermore, it is possible that President Erdoğan ordered TÜİK not to release this data in order to protect the tourism industry, which is he expects to generate a large amount of revenue in the midst of the financial crisis,” the deputy argued.
“The government, which has made a habit of manipulating the number of COVID-19 cases, ignores public health by allowing many economic and social activities to begin too soon, and is now on a tourist hunt by concealing the number of deaths and their causes,” Toprak concluded.
COVID-19 related deaths much higher than official numbers
In Turkey, it is widely assumed that the government has been tampering with COVID-19-related data since the outbreak began. Experts, opposition mayors, and professional organizations like the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) have long claimed and presented data that the government is concealing the truth from its citizens and the rest of the world.
In terms of government practices and publicly available data on the pandemic, the TTB led the charge against official statistics with evidence since the early days of the pandemic. Officials have been forced to accept TTB's claims on multiple occasions after long resistance, such as in the case of COVID-19 patient numbers.
“As the TTB, we are convinced that the number of COVID-related deaths is significantly higher. We proved that patient numbers were manipulated. This case is no exception. According to our research, the real number of deaths is 3 to 3.5 times higher than official figures, above 150,000”, Dr. Ali İhsan Ökten, TTB's deputy chair, told Duvar English.
“In terms of deaths per population, we are among the leading countries," he added.
Dr. Ökten shared the criticism of the opposition, public, and experts directed at TÜİK for not releasing the death statistics for 2020.
“TÜİK had to do it this month, but they could not because of unreliable, false, and inconsistent data provided to them. They do the math and it does not add up,” he added.