Turkey faces rise in brain drain over political and economic concerns

Turkish men shout slogans in front of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, July 17, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 July 2020

Turkey faces rise in brain drain over political and economic concerns

  • Over 330,000 people left the country last year, according to recent official data

ANKARA: Dr. Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, lecturer at London Metropolitan University, has lived abroad for nine years. He even married and had a child, miles away from his home country and parents. He always maintains that “it is emotionally very hard to be a member of the diaspora.”

When asked, however, whether he would be willing to return to Turkey to an academic post with a higher wage, he politely declines, saying, “There is no stability and predictability even in the academic sphere, let alone in politics.”

Recently, several foreign academics who were called from abroad to teach at Sehir University in Istanbul found themselves jobless and hopeless after the university, founded by Turkey’s former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, was shut down by an overnight presidential decree. The decree followed a longtime dispute between Davutoglu and his ex-ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the former founded his own breakaway Future Party.

An expert on Turkish politics as well as diaspora studies, Ozturk said that people were becoming increasingly disappointed with the widespread nepotism in the country, especially after the economic deterioration.

Ankara’s opposition-affiliated Mayor Mansur Yavas recently announced a list of those who were unfairly employed in the municipality during his predecessor’s time, government-aligned controversial figure Melih Gokcek. 

“Democracy is something that influences daily life,” Ozturk told Arab News. “Young citizens are losing their hopes of finding a job based on their merits if they don’t know any high-ranking people. Many people feel that even their basic freedoms are being taken away from them.”

He added that it would be nearly impossible to “win back” that generation in the short term, as young professionals are choosing to leave altogether in what amounts to a brain drain for the country.

Turkey witnessed a 2 percent increase in its number of emigrants in 2019, compared to the previous year.

A total of 330,289 people left the country last year, according to recent official data from the state-run Turkish Statistical Institute. About 40.8 percent of those who emigrated from Turkey were between the ages of 20-34.

Seren Selvin Korkmaz, executive director of the Istanbul Political Research Institute, said recent studies showed that young people were leaving Turkey mainly for better working conditions and living standards, job opportunities and freedom.

“Migration becomes an exit strategy from everyday struggles. In the country, youth unemployment is more than 25 percent. Many of these young people are still financially dependent on their families or are working for low wages,” Korkmaz told Arab News.

Under these conditions, she explained, young people do not envision a future for themselves.

“I think this creates a ‘violence of uncertainty’ for them. In addition to unemployment, authoritarian tendencies in the country — including social media bans and threats to freedom of thought — impact the youth and make them worry for their future,” she added.

SODEV, a Turkish foundation, recently asked young people between the ages of 15 and 25 whether they would live abroad if given a chance.

Almost half of those who identify as supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) government said they preferred to live abroad — a sign which, experts think, shows they have lost their faith in the country’s future.

According to this same survey, released in May, 70.3 percent of respondents believe that a brilliant young Turk would never be promoted professionally in the country if he or she did not have any political and/or bureaucratic “connections.”

According to Korkmaz, the current young generation in Turkey is in a much more precarious position compared to their parents.

“They do not have job security. Education under the AKP’s neoliberal policies is not a guarantee for upward mobility anymore. Also, professional identity, based on the harmony between the education one receives and the job he or she performs, is eroding in the country,” she said.

“Young people feel disappointment after graduation. They are hopeless, and current political parties and actors are unable to attract them,” Korkmaz added.

Experts say that recent government threats to further control platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Netflix have triggered much anger, especially from Generation Z — those born between 1995 and 2015 — who see social media as one of the last remaining bastions of freedom in the digital age.

In the upcoming 2023 parliamentary elections, young voters are expected to make up 12 percent of the electorate and are therefore considered a critical element that politicians in the country have to consider.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.