Like so many tea houses in Turkey, Erdal Senozpak in Izmir served as a social meeting place nearby. But as a result of the pandemic, the bottom of its existence fell away.
Tea houses, like cafes and restaurants, had to stay closed for long periods and there was no financial support. Senozpak had to borrow from the bank and as the pandemic continued, his debts accumulated. Until he saw no way out.
On Sunday afternoon 1 May, the second day of the new strict lockdown, he shot himself through the heart. Neighbors found him in his teahouse, in a pool of blood on the ground.
Colleague tea house-owner and good friend Ismail Hakki Kirdi immediately went there. “We knew he was through it,” he says. “He knew no way out. He found his way out in suicide. Our friend.”
“Definitely dozens of cases of suicide.”
It is the last in a series of shocking suicides of owners of tea houses in Turkey. A month earlier, Nuri Çengelo lu deprived himself of life in another neighborhood in Izmir. And around the same time, a tea house owner in the city of Mersin chose the same way out.
According to their own research by the opposition and trade unions, dozens of suicide cases have occurred in the past year among small retailers and catering establishments, including tea houses. Official figures are not there, research is done on the basis of news reports. In fact, dozens of suicides were counted every month among the entire population, and in April this year more than a hundred.
The opposition wants to change that. “We have seen suicides rise in the last six months,” says Atila Sertel, parliamentarian for the largest opposition party CHP. “This is a result of economic problems and aggravated by a lack of financial support during the lockdown,” he says. “Entrepreneurs go under it.”
More than 100 musicians
The music industry has also been hit hard. The union for musicians previously reported that over the last corona year more than 100 musicians committed suicide.
“ The government has offered loans and packaged them as a support package, entrepreneurs had to put themselves into debt,” says Parliamentarian Sertel. “The loan disaster is getting bigger by the day.”
The Turkish Government has come up with various support packages, but critics say that most of the money has gone to health care and large companies and banks. The government insists that they have indeed met citizens financially.
There are all kinds of support funds that people can write to. But in practice there is too little or sometimes nothing at all, says tea-house owner Ismail Hakki Kirdi. “I employ three men of staff, have to pay the rent and bills. And in the last 14 months I have barely been able to get 5000 Lira (500 euros) in total. It‘s not enough.”
No extra support for new lockdown
When a new strict lockdown was announced last month, the opposition asked for an additional support package. That didn’t come. The government is being reproined of ignoring the economic problems of citizens.
President Erdogan asked citizens to be patient in a speech this weekend. “If there are entrepreneurs, workers who are struggling, we ask for forgiveness of all.” This week, eases will begin.
The opposition is asking the government for direct financial support for entrepreneurs. In addition, they demand greater openness about suicides caused by economic problems. “From the palace you see only rose gardens”, says Atila Sertel. “But Turkey cries blood.”
Ismail Hakki Kirdi, who is also chairman of the Tea House Trade Union, sits down smoking bong behind his closed shutters. He still can‘t believe his friend is dead. The President’s blessings are of little use to him. “We have 2750 members, who should I help first? I don‘t know.” He himself has debts.
Near Erdal Senozpaks teahouse it is quiet. The property is now for sale. “He was loved,” says Eyup, who repairs washing machines across the street. “It’s hard for a man, not to be able to support his family,” he sighs. “The hopelessness is intolerable.”
On the façade hangs the sign with the name of the teahouse: Umut. Hope, in Turkish.