Hasibe Kayaroğlu hoped Turkey’s presidential election would usher in changes. Instead, days before a runoff Sunday that increasingly looks like a coronation for conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the engineering student is thinking more than ever about living abroad.
“Young people have no more hope. Every night, the only thing we talk about with my roommate is how to leave,” Kayaroğlu said.
Five other young residents of Istanbul and Ankara interviewed since Sunday’s May 14 general election have told AFP the same.
They all blame Erdoğan, who came within a whisker of extending his two-decade rule until 2028 after a disappointing performance by his secular rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Many more young Turks are discussing leaving on social media, frustrated with their deteriorating outlook and everyday life.
“We live in a beautiful country that is not run properly — and it’s getting worse,” said Emre Yörük, who is also thinking of following the path taken by tens of thousands of young Turks every year.
“That’s why a lot of young people go abroad.”
A Konrad Adenauer Foundation survey published in early 2022 showed a whopping 72.9 percent of Turks in the 18-25 age bracket saying they would live abroad if given the chance.
“This figure is high even among young people supporting the AKP [Justice and Development Party] or the MHP [Nationalist Movement Party],” sociologist Demet Lüküslü, who studies youth culture at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University, said, referring to Erdoğan’s Islamic-rooted party and its far-right allies.
“Young people complain about the economic situation, but also about the overall climate, which makes them feel bad and over which they have no control.”
‘Sense of duty’
Polls show Erdoğan’s leftist rival being the preferred candidate of young people, who are generally less conservative than their elders.
But Kılıçdaroğlu won only 44.9 percent of the national vote, underperforming expectations and trailing Erdoğan by nearly five points entering Turkey’s first presidential runoff.
Ezgi, 25, said she has “lost all hope” for Kilicdaroglu and will only be voting Sunday “out of a sense of duty.”
“If Erdoğan wins, I will leave Turkey,” said the Istanbulite, who is afraid that disclosing her last name could land her in “trouble.”
Like some other women, Ezgi is particularly uneasy about the election of four lawmakers from the radical Kurdish Islamic Hüda-Par party, which has joined Erdoğan’s alliance.
The party rejects women’s rights and has ties to groups implicated in extrajudicial killings dating back decades.
Erdoğan retained control of parliament on May 14, although his reshaped alliance is even more right wing 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 is thinking of emigrating to the Netherlands with her older sister.
Emigration and Turkey’s brain drain did not feature prominently during the campaign, whose second round is being dominated by debates about expelling millions of Syrian and other migrants.
But Erdoğan has complained about the “despicable whims” of young people who “knock on the door of other countries just to have a nicer car or a better phone”.
Kılıçdaroğlu has also urged Turkey’s best and brightest to return and help build a better country.
“Come back, young people. This country needs you,” he tweeted in response to a video by a dozen graduates from a prestigious Istanbul university who all went abroad but pledged to return should he ask them to.
One of these students, Ömer Altan, who is completing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the Technical University of Denmark, thinks Kılıçdaroğlu still has a chance to come from behind and win.
“He will fight tooth and nail,” Altan said.
“More and more young 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 outcome.
“The re-election of Erdoğan could also push me to come back to try and do good things. There will be a greater need to do good if Erdoğan wins,” Altan said.
© Agence France-Presse