Mehmet Atif Ergun on Figen’s Death: Speaking of Suicide

Source: Mehmet Atif Ergun, “İntiharı konuşmaya dair (Speaking of suicide)”. Lambdaistanbul, August 26, 2014,

To offer suicide as if it were murder is to disperse and disarm counter-hegemonic discourses inside the one that is infused in violence.

I learned of Figen’s ordeal with police torture through that photograph, where she dared to expose her vulnerability over an Ataturk bust and the arm of a police officer; I learned of her ending her own life through a short yet searing sentence on Twitter. And I have come across an article by Halil Kandok, published both in Kaos GL and in Radikal while jointly translating a news article on her suicide with LGBTI News Turkey. In the article, Kandok asks:

Figen did not commit suicide out of nowhere. She committed suicide because of society’s normative pressures and because the state failed to protect her. That is, she was pushed to suicide, to death. Is this a suicide, or a murder committed by a secret weapon, the weapon of hatred?

What is suicide?  Who commits suicide?  For a nation where life and death are left to chance and violence is part of everyday life, answering these questions may be of significance. From what has been written on Figen’s deed, Figen did not end her life but was murdered. She was helpless and deedless, she was silenced, her existence erased. She was purged from society. Her very last moment was imbued with that “animal fear,” as the poet [Nazım Hikmet, 1961, “Straw-Blond”] says, that was created in her by her murderer, and not of her own thoughts, anxieties, her own self.

Yet, was it not those very soldiers, the ones who “had shoulder helmets on their shoulders but no heads / between their shoulders and their helmets nothing / they even had collars and necks but no heads” nor eyes, the ones “whose deaths are not mourned”, in whom “you could see their fear, animal fear”?  The ones with “arms, swastikas on their arms” –did we not already encounter them in Figen’s photograph?

Suicide is a deed realized by the person doing the deed, a sorts of a last-disobedience. It is an existential show of power: it is the expression of the argument that “my life is mine to take and no one else’s,” that is, of the claim to one’s right to live, through a radical deed. It is one of those moments where one takes away any power that the assailant might have had and where the assailant is left impotent. When we attribute this deed to the person whose aim it was, in the first place, to erase this other, to expunge her very existence from society, are we not participating in the fantasy mounted by that person by way of our framing of the debate and of the tongue?

Suicide is also a deed that resists existing traditions (“life and death are god’s business” etc.) and laws (e.g. “kendini öldürmek [lit. to murder one’s self] –both murder and attempted suicide are infractions of the law”) and that manages to move out of their realm. Indeed, it is a “crime” and a “lunacy:” are we to forget what it means to be “normal,” what it breathes, what it consumes?  To end one’s life, to thence reclaim the right to live, is an attempt to exit the existing system. Actually, it is the only known method of exiting the system and its fiction (or should I say ‘the fiction and its system’? ). “Suicide” is the writing of the failure to abide by the conditions of life, death, and normality, and as such it is the disclosure of the absurdity of their arbitrary social limits and conditions. That is, “suicide” is the writing in words of an insurgency that is expressed with the whole being of a person who was moved by that insurgent deed. I think that when we discourse on suicide as a deed of whomever commits suicide, we not only open to debate these written and oral rules, but we also contribute to the continuity of the speech act of the individual who ended her own life, acting against those who wanted her to cease to speak and to exist.

To offer suicide as if it were murder is to disperse and disarm counter-hegemonic discourses inside the one that is infused in violence.

For instance, one of the arguments in Kandok’s article is: “If we are able to survive despite homophobia and transphobia, this in itself is a great success.” As such, one has to conclude that Figen has failed, is defeated. But it was Figen herself who, in the first place, managed to remind us of this argument (“one cannot live in this atmosphere: those who consent to breathing in this atmosphere in order to become ‘normal’ and ‘human’ are born dead in their homicidal rage”) and allowed it to be expressed in writing, to be heard. It was Figen’s action (not her death) that succeeded in birthing the writing and the speech (and we once thought this was a feat of gods).

If we are to bend our tongue a little more (it is language after all, it bends), within the context of Kandok’s article, Figen has left herself voiceless. “To remain silent to discrimination is a weapon of hatred that murders LGBTI people.” As such (and however much the author does not mean to say so), Figen has silenced herself and thus has transformed herself into a weapon of hatred. Is it not those who wanted Figen expunged who were perceiving Figen, by way of a violent projection, as their source of hatred?

Kandok already places these arguments in between the lines when he argues that “exceptions don’t break the rule.” The danger of constructing suicide as murder… In so far as Figen’s existence was an exception (non-normative, subjective, unique, that which disrupts and disfigures rules and laws), the author’s above argument begins to play along with the story constructed by those who have been attempting to hurt and murder this exception because she was an exception (as the poet says, “because they were afraid [so very terribly] afraid”).

Even her walk, her way of sitting, her gaze, her looks were enough to incite fear in those who “tried to be normal.” So much so that, in that sheer panic and anxiety, they tried, and therefore failed, to expunge her from their field of view. Figen was not murdered. The murderer was neither the state nor the police; this was not a trans murder. She fought back against the idea of having to keep breathing this air that we breath daily, to keep coexisting with this horrible atmosphere that we offer each other, and within the framework of her fight, she ended her life. That deed is one that radically questions the lack of being of those police officers who, so terribly afraid that their gender, their sexuality, their normality could be castrated at any moment, did not know where to attack. That deed was one that rendered null and void the very meaning of those commanding officers who, looking at their motionlessness, have already become impotent, and of those cogwheel-humans who were touched by police torture within their bureaucratic hell but failed to touch it back, that is of those who watch and who walk.

Take a look at a random person who happens to walk by you. The humanity of that person, her/his concealed obsession with normality, and her/his life has now been made nonsensical. Simply by accepting to breath her/his humanity and normality comfortably, and as if that were not enough, by actually desiring to breath that, s/he has become one of those “soldiers who cannot be mourned.” In other words, writings on Figen may rather need to emphasize the last remaining solid bridge between “us” and “them,” that is, the concepts of vulnerability and fragility, rather than attributing Figen’s own deed to others.


Having suicidal thoughts? Please, please stop long enough to read this. It will only take about five minutes:

To the best of our knowledge, the online and IRL resources below will provide you with a safe and non-judgmental space.

IRC / Chatlines


Sexual Assault Resources

If you know of any other suicide resources where you live or work, please do let us know so that we can add them to our website. To contact us, email us at , or see


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