The Suicide And The Digital Samaritan

The Suicide And The Digital Samaritan

10 Jul 2019

As a teen I went to school in Northern Cyprus. My dad is Cypriot Turkish and my mum Mainland Turkish. This matters over there. A majority of Northern Cypriots would, despite being legally Turkish, rather describe themselves as Cypriot. One, they’re proud of their island and their history. But two,  and unfortunately, “Mainland Turks” can have a stigma attached. It’s associated with low paid workers and the bottom shelf.

There is a schism between the two groups, Cypriot Turkish and Mainland Turkish. It’s not major major, but with a clear divide in culture, different accents and the Mainlanders more patriarchal in their outlook, it’s definitely there. And for teens - who struggle to fit in and find their identity as it is - having two defined groups makes for a complicated social order. Being a teenager is difficult for the best of us - and a cultural divide really doesn’t help. 

So when I was in school at 16 or 17, a Mainland Turkish girl younger than me started hanging around with my group. She knew my mother was Turkish (and I didn’t speak with a full-on Cypriot accent) so it made sense. She socialised a bit with my group of friends - offering to braid our hair and all the other silly teenage girl stuff - but the friendship petered out before it got started. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a Mean Girls kind of set up. We were kind and friendly but she was younger than us, and we were going through different things. Me and my group were hitting that real coming-of-age time and she simply wasn’t there yet.So it was short-lived. But to be totally honest we didn’t, maybe I didn’t, try hard to build a connection with her.

I get a lump in my throat when I say that because this girl, tragically and needlessly, took her own life in 2008. We only had rumours to go on, but we heard she struggled with her family; her father in particular. Apparently she just wasn’t able to deal with it any more. I kicked myself so hard when I heard. My dad is Cypriot, not Turkish, but he was extremely overpowering too. I’ve had eleven years to think about the what ifs: what if I had tried to build a friendship; what if I’d seen my and her similarities not just differences. I could have showed her how I dealt with the demons; shared some hope for the future and told her that life doesn’t begin and end in your parents’ house. That the future is unwritten and things do get better. 

Time passed. One day I caught a Facebook notification telling me it was her birthday, encouraging me to send her greetings. If anyone has been in that boat it’s weird and upsetting. On the one hand, I was glad her profile hadn’t been shut down and it was a place people could go to remember her - an outlet for their feelings. On the other hand, it didn’t feel right that she was drifting on in cyberspace. I’ve known others who have passed away, and their Facebook profiles have - presumably actioned by friends or family - been taken down. Facebook introduced its Memorialise feature in 2009. Yet with this girl, like clockwork her birthday triggered a notification…

It continued for years. I was shocked that no one had dealt with it. And further upset by the thought - however true it was - that no one had bothered to look into it. It brought back the guilt from all those years ago.  

So I decided to do it myself. 

A bit of digging and I uncovered Facebook’s process for memorialising a page. On the surface it was easy enough, but ten years had passed … and how was I, a virtual stranger now settled in the UK, going to track down proof-of-death for a girl I barely knew? Then again, Northern Cyprus is a tiny country with a tiny population. For decades, deaths have been diligently reported in the local press.  So that was the first place to look. I took to Google, put as much information as I could remember about her, and was pleasantly surprised (if that’s not a weird thing to say) when I found the notice of her death. 

I completed the request to Facebook with the death notice attached. I submitted it and some time later it was accepted. Oddly it gave me a small sense of comfort. In many ways it was something I was able to do to help this girl, albeit ten years too late. Her page is now a memorial: Remembering Cigdem Demirtash. And although the birthday notifications have stopped, I still think about her on the same day … each and every year.

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