In the aftermath of the public murder of Başak Cengiz with a samurai sword in Istanbul by Can Göktuğ Boz, daily BirGün has found that samurai swords, replicas of swords from Turkish television swords, and various other forms of lethal weaponry are widely available for purchase in Turkey. Guns and other forms of firearms are also easily accessed and poorly regulated.
In one instance, BirGün found that one can purchase a replica of the sword from the popular Turkish soap opera “Resurrection Ertuğrul.” The maker of the swords said that after he receives the order, he builds the weapons by hand and ships them to his customers.
“It will be with you within ten days,” he said.
When BirGün reporters went to Eminönü, a shopping district in Istanbul, they were easily able to acquire and handle the knives and swords on display.
Violence in Turkey, especially against women, has increased sharply in two decades of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule. In 2008, the first year the Platform to Stop Violence Against Women started recording femicides, 66 women were violently murdered in Turkey. In 2020, that number was 410. In the first ten months of this year, 340 women have already been murdered.
This weapon availability is not limited to swords - the number of guns and hunting rifles has also increased. According to statistics collected by the anti-gun violence group Hope Foundation, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 24, 2021, 2,592 incidents of gun violence have been recorded in Turkey. Some 1,470 people died and 2,693 people were injured.
Between 2015 and 2020, according to statistics collected by the group, gun violence has increased by 69%. They fear, however, that the actual level of gun violence is much higher but goes unrecorded by local authorities and the press.
Gun registrations are also up - according to the Gendarmerie General Command’s annual report, 17,751 people applied for a gun license in 2020, up 34% from 13,206 in 2019. These statistics are misleading, however. Many firearms are unlicensed in the country, passed down through inheritance and family property, or bought on the black market.
Psychologists also say that the background and mental health checks for gun purchases in Turkey are insufficient. Speaking to BirGün, psychiatrist Dr. Ayhan Akcan said that medical evaluation for gun purchase is insufficient.
“In the psychological evaluation, in particular, several key traits need to be examined: neuroticism, psychosis, a tendency to addiction (especially towards gambling and the internet), general psychological health, rates of obsession, excessive jealousy, signs of schizophrenia, a tendency towards violence, and grip on reality.”
Dr. Akcan said up to a third of people who apply to purchase a gun could have a psychological issue. These tests need to be done upfront, and stringently recorded. However, he notes, they need to be done tactically and the black market needs to be regulated - more tests could lead to more people buying underground.
Many of those affected by gun violence are women. In 2019, for example, a 17-year-old high school student named Helin Palandöken wrote on social media that she had a stalker and that she was “scared to go out.” A few days later, she was shot dead with a shotgun. Her murderer - her stalker - killed her with a gun he bought on layaway. The payment for the gun was made in nine installments.
Another young girl named Selen Cebeci, 10 years old, died when a stray bullet hit her when someone her relatives fought with opened fire on a family event.
“Someone fired a single shot [at us] with an unlicensed shotgun, and three people died that day from the pellets that came out of a single bullet,” Selen’s mother Sinem Cebeci said. She said the family has been unable to recover, and she says the man received a reduction in sentence because he was “provoked.”
According to the Umut Foundation, this gun violence goes unaddressed due to the close ties between gun manufacturers, gun users, and the state. Over 98% of fire weapon murders in Turkey are carried out by former police officers or security personnel. Further, those that produce weapons in the country have close ties to the ruling party.
This impunity exacerbates an already toxic link between masculinity, power, and weaponry in Turkey. Since the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, in which thousands of AKP supporters took to the streets with weapons, there has been an emphasis by the ruling coalition on individual protection and mercenary justice.
“After July 15th, there was an increase in individual armament. We get so many calls! They ask us, 'We saw [what happened on] July 15, how are you going to ban guns?’” Ebru İlke of the Hope Foundation said.
The pandemic and escalating economic crisis have also exacerbated gun violence.
“People with psychological disorders are now killing their mothers, fathers, and close relatives because they cannot find a job and suffer from economic difficulties in recent years,” said İlke.
When the Hope Foundation tries to contact authorities for gun death and injury statistics, they are ignored. This makes it hard not only to prosecute perpetrators but to actually understand the scope of the problem in Turkey.
“We think the problem is much larger than the numbers we've announced. We have tried to get information from CİMER [Communications Center of the Presidency] and other relevant ministries many times, but could not get a response. We do not think that most of the local events are reflected in the press,” İlke said.
Though there is regulation for these weapons in place, they are rarely enforced. There is a penalty for selling unregistered weapons, but no penalty for owning one. There are also hundreds of thousands of “lost” and stolen weapons in Turkey - especially since the July 15 coup attempt - that are not registered in the system. Just 14,682 guns went "missing" or were stolen in 2014. By 2017, that number skyrocketed to 106,740.
There is now a culture of gun violence, impunity, and a lack of gun regulation in Turkey, says Yaşar University law professor and member of the Hope Foundation board Prof. Dr. Timur Demirbaş.
“There is legal regulation, but it is not implemented,” he said. “Even if there is a penalty in place, there is total impunity.”