Exo­dus Im­pe­rils Fu­ture Of Tur­key


ISTAN­BUL — For 17 ye­ars, Pre­si­dent Re­cep Tay­yip Er­do­gan won elec­tions by of­fe­ring vo­ters a vi­si­on of res­to­ring the glo­ries of Tur­key’s Ot­to­man past. He ex­ten­ded his country’s in­flu­ence with in­crea­sed tra­de and mi­li­ta­ry de­ploy­ments, and he rai­sed li­ving stan­dards with ye­ars of eco­no­mic growth.

But af­ter a fai­led 2016 coup, Mr. Er­do­gan em­bar­ked on a sweeping crack­down. Last ye­ar, the eco­no­my wob­b­led and the li­ra plun­ged so­on af­ter he won re- elec­tion with even grea­ter powers. As fa­vo­ri­tism and aut­ho­ri­ta­ria­nism seep de­eper in­to his ad­mi­nis­tra­ti­on, Turks are vo­ting dif­fer­ent­ly — this ti­me with their feet.

They are lea­ving in dro­ves and ta­king ta­lent and ca­pi­tal with them in a way that in­di­ca­tes a broad and alar­ming loss of con­fi­dence in Mr. Er­do­gan’s vi­si­on, ac­cor­ding to go­vern­ment sta­tis­tics and ana­lysts.

In the last two to three ye­ars, not on­ly ha­ve stu­dents and aca­de­mics fled, but al­so en­tre­pre­neurs, busi­nes­speop­le and thousands of wealthy in­di­vi­du­als. Over 250,000 Turks emi­gra­ted in 2017, ac­cor­ding to the Tur­kish In­sti­tu­te of Sta­tis­tics, an in­crea­se of 42 per­cent over 2016, when ne­ar­ly 178,000 ci­ti­zens left the country.

Tur­key has se­en wa­ves of stu­dents and teachers lea­ve be­fo­re, but this exo­dus looks like a mo­re per­ma­nent re­or­de­ring of the so­cie­ty and threa­tens to set Tur­key back de­ca­des, said Ibra­him Sirk­e­ci, director of trans­na­tio­nal stu­dies at Re­gent’s Uni­ver­si­ty in Lon­don.

The flight of people, ta­lent and ca­pi­tal is being dri­ven by fac­tors that ha­ve co­me to de­fi­ne li­fe un­der Mr. Er­do­gan. They in­clu­de fe­ar of po­li­ti­cal per­se­cu­ti­on, ter­ro­rism, a de­epe­ning di­s­trust of the ju­di­cia­ry and the ar­bi­trari­ness of the ru­le of law, and a de­te­rio­ra­ting bu­si­ness cli­ma­te, ac­ce­le­ra­ted by worries that Mr. Er­do­gan is ma­ni­pu­la­ting management of the eco­no­my to be­ne­fit him­s­elf and his in­ner cir­cle.

One of tho­se lea­ving is Mer­ve Bay­in­dir, 38, who is re­lo­ca­ting to Lon­don af­ter be­co­m­ing one of Tur­key’s pro­mi­nent hat de­si­gners in the fa­shionable Ni­s­an­ta­si district of Istan­bul.

“We are sel­ling ever­y­thing,” she said du­ring a re­turn trip to Istan­bul last month to clo­se what was left of her bu­si­ness, Mer­veBay­in­dir.

Ms. Bay­in­dir took part in the 2013 pro­tests against the go­vern­ment’s at­tempt to de­ve­lop Tak­sim Squa­re in Istan­bul. She said she re­mains trau­ma­ti­zed by the vio­lence and fear­ful in her own ci­ty. Mr. Er­do­gan de­noun­ced the pro­tes­ters and, af­ter en­du­ring ar­rests and ha­rass­ment, ma­ny ha­ve fled.

Thousands of Turks like Ms. Bay­in­dir ha­ve ap­p­lied for bu­si­ness vi­sas in Bri­tain or for gol­den vi­sa pro­grams in Greece, Por­tu­gal and Spain, which grant im­mi­grants re­si­den­cy if they buy pro­per­ty at a cer­tain le­vel. Mr. Sirk­e­ci esti­ma­tes that 10,000 Turks ha­ve used a bu­si­ness vi­sa plan to mo­ve to Bri­tain in the last few ye­ars.

Ap­p­li­ca­ti­ons by Tur­kish ci­ti­zens for po­li­ti­cal asyl­um al­so jum­ped three­fold in Bri­tain in the six months af­ter the coup at­tempt, and six­fold among Turks ap­p­ly­ing for asyl­um in Germany, he said. The num­ber of Turks ap­p­ly­ing for asyl­um world­wi­de jum­ped by 10,000 in 2017 to over 33,000. A lar­ge pro­por­ti­on of tho­se fle­eing ha­ve be­en fol­lo­wers of Fe­thul­lah Gu­len, the Uni­ted Sta­tes- ba­sed pre­acher char­ged with ins­ti­ga­ting the 2016 coup, or people ac­cu­sed of being his fol­lo­wers.

At least 12,000 of Tur­key’s mil­lio­nai­res, around 12 per­cent of the wealthy class, mo­ved their as­sets out of the country in 2016 and 2017, ac­cor­ding to a report by AfrA­sia Bank.

Mr. Er­do­gan has re­vi­led as trai­tors busi­nes­speop­le who ha­ve mo­ved their as­sets ab­road as the Tur­kish eco­no­my be­gan to fal­ter. “Par­don us, we do not for­gi­ve,” he war­ned. “The hands of our na­ti­on would be on their col­lars both in this world and in the aft­er­li­fe.”

Ms. Bay­in­dir, the hat de­si­gner, said li­fe in Tur­key had be­co­me ten­se. “Now when I co­me he­re I don’t see the sa­me Istan­bul. She does not ha­ve en­er­gy any­mo­re. She looks ti­red,” Ms. Bay­in­dir said. “Me not wan­ting to co­me he­re is a big, big thing, be­cau­se I am one of tho­se people who is in lo­ve with the ci­ty its­elf.”


Sin­ce a fai­led 2016 coup, Pre­si­dent Re­cep Tay­yip Er­do­gan of Tur­key has tigh­te­ned his grip. Com­mu­ters in Istan­bul.

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