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Sensing Erdogan’s election victory, young Turks increasingly reflect on life abroad

Sensing Erdogan’s election victory, young Turks increasingly reflect on life abroad


ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Hasibe Kayaroglu hoped Turkey’s presidential election would bring change.

Instead, a few days before a Sunday run-off that looks more and more like the coronation of conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the engineering student is thinking more than ever about living abroad.

“Young people no longer have hope. Every night the only thing we talk about with my roommate is how to leave,” Kayaroglu said.

Five other young residents of Istanbul and Ankara interviewed since the general elections on Sunday May 14 said the same thing to AFP.

They all blame Erdogan, who nearly extended his two-decade rule to 2028 after a disappointing performance by secular rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Many more young Turks are discussing their departure on social media, frustrated with their deteriorating prospects and daily lives.

“We live in a beautiful country that is not well run – and it’s getting worse,” said Emre Yoruk, who also plans to follow the path taken by tens of thousands of young Turks each year.

“That’s why a lot of young people go abroad.”

Kemal Kilicdaroglu (L), chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and presidential candidate, takes a selfie with a young woman outside the Anitkabir at the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, during the celebration marking the 103rd anniversary of the founding of the Grand National Assembly, national sovereignty and Children’s Day in Ankara on April 23, 2023. (Adem Altan/AFP)

A Konrad-Adenauer Foundation survey published in early 2022 showed that 72.9% of Turks in the 18-25 age bracket said they would live abroad if given the chance.

“This figure is high even among young people supporting the AKP or the MHP,” said sociologist Demet Lukuslu, who studies youth culture at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University, referring to the party of Islamic origin in Istanbul. ‘Erdogan and his far-right allies.

“Young people complain about the economic situation, but also about the general climate, which makes them feel bad and over which they have no control.”

‘Sense of duty’

Polls show that Erdogan’s left-wing rival is the preferred candidate of young people, who are generally less conservative than their elders.

But Kilicdaroglu won just 44.9% of the national vote, underperforming expectations and trailing Erdogan by nearly five percentage points in Turkey’s first presidential run-off.

Ezgi, 25, said she had “lost hope” for Kilicdaroglu and would only vote on Sunday “out of a sense of duty”.

“If Erdogan wins, I will leave Turkey,” said the Istanbulite, who fears that disclosing his surname will cause him “trouble”.

Like some other women, Ezgi is particularly worried about the election of four lawmakers from the radical Islamic Kurdish Huda-Par party, which has joined Erdogan’s alliance.

The party rejects women’s rights and has ties to groups implicated in extrajudicial killings dating back decades.

Erdogan retained control of parliament on May 14, although his reshaped alliance is even further to the right than before.

“I deeply love my country, but I don’t want to end up like the women in Iran,” said Ezgi, who works in marketing and plans to emigrate to the Netherlands with his older sister.

Young men walk past collapsed buildings on a street in Antakya on May 13, 2023, on the eve of presidential and legislative elections. (Can Erok/AFP)

“Despicable whims”

Emigration and the brain drain from Turkey did not figure prominently during the campaign, whose second round is dominated by debates over the deportation of millions of Syrian and other migrants.

But Erdogan ranted about the “despicable whims” of young people, who “knock on the doors of other countries just to get a nicer car or a better phone”.

Kilicdaroglu also urged Turkey’s best and brightest to come back and help build a better country.

“Come back, young people. This country needs you,” he tweeted in response to a video of a dozen graduates from a prestigious Istanbul university, all of whom have gone abroad but pledged to come back. he asked them.

One such student, Omer Altan, who is completing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the Technical University of Denmark, believes Kilicdaroglu still has a chance to come back and win.

“He will fight tooth and nail,” Altan said.

“More and more young people and old people are considering going abroad,” he added, blaming the “inequalities and corruption” of modern Turkey.

Still, the 25-year-old plans to return regardless of Sunday’s result.

“Erdogan’s re-election could also push me to come back to try to do good things. There will be a greater need to do good if Erdogan wins,” Altan said.

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