Turkey faces rise in brain drain over political and economic concerns

Special 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

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.