Turkish ‘Robin Hood’ at work amid economic turmoil

Turkish ‘Robin Hood’ at work amid economic turmoil
His work done in Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood has moved on to Istanbul's Tuzla district.
By bne IntelliNews November 18, 2019

An anonymous Robin Hood is at work in poor neighbourhoods of Istanbul amid excruciating reports of families in Turkey collectively taking their own lives with cyanide in the face of the country’s economic turmoil.

An anonymous benefactor has reportedly been paying off debts at grocery stores and leaving envelopes of cash on doorsteps or sliding them under doors.

Residents of Tuzla, a mainly working-class shipbuilding district on the Asian side of the Turkish business and cultural capital, were left gobsmacked last week when their shopping debts at several grocery stores were cleared by an unknown male benefactor.

“Someone came and asked me to show him the notebook where I record customers’ debts,” Coskun Yilmaz, the owner of one of the shops, told Demiroren news agency, the Guardian reported.

“There were four people with large amounts outstanding and I told him where they lived. He came back again after talking to them and paid all the debts. I also learned he gave extra cash to those families,” Yilmaz said.

“I asked him his name and he told me: ‘Just call me Robin Hood’.”

Envelopes slipped under doors

It is thought the same benefactor in March slipped envelopes containing Turkish lira (TRY) 1,000 ($175) under the doors of needy families in other working-class neighbourhoods in Istanbul. It was a time when food costs hit a peak in the wake of the currency crisis that led to soaring inflation, climbing unemployment and a mean recession. The Turkish ‘Robin Hood’ may also have been the mystery person who paid off TRY25,000 in Tuzla district grocery store debts as an Eid present in June.

“[The man] told me he was there to pay the debts of those who cannot afford it,” Tuncay Yasar, another grocer in Tuzla, was cited as saying.

“I have been here for 30 years and it was the first time I came across such a deed. My customers were very happy and wanted to see him but I don’t know who he is. He did not give his name and said he was doing this ‘only to earn God’s blessing’,” he said.

Figures not believed

While annual inflation has now officially dropped to 8.6% from a high of 25%, many Turks do not believe the figures. Unemployment is still on the rise and electricity bills have gone up 10-fold in the past year.

Turkey has in November been shocked by three apparent familial suicide pacts in quick succession blamed on rising poverty. November 15 brought news that a third economically distressed family had collectively committed suicide using cyanide.

Last week, a man, his wife and two children, aged five and nine, were found dead by police officers in their home in Antalya, southern Turkey. The unemployed father left a note saying he had been jobless for the past nine months and couldn’t go on, NTV reported on its website. Cumhuriyet newspaper said the deaths may have been due to cyanide poisoning. “I apologize from everyone, but there’s nothing else to do. We are ending our lives,” the father’s suicide note in Antalya read, NTV added.

Back on November 5, four adult siblings were found dead in their Istanbul homes. These deaths also appear to have been the result of a collective suicide involving cyanide poisoning. State-run news service Anadolu Agency quoted a friend of the deceased as saying that they were suffering from chronic economic hardship.The poverty threshold for a four-person household stands at Turkish lira (TRY) 6,705 ($1,162) per month, according to a monthly survey by the Turk-Is labour confederation cited by the news agency. That’s more than three times the monthly minimum wage of TRY2,020.

Turkey’s largely pro-Erdogan administration media have used up a good deal of column inches dismissing claims that the suicides can be linked to rising poverty. The voter base of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) is mainly working-class.

— International helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org