The new apathy: emotional break-off from Turkey

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest against the dismissal of academics from universities following a post-coup emergency decree, outside the Cebeci campus of Ankara University. 10 February 2017. Depo Photos/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.While
Turkey’s recent political and social events have received a lot of
media attention and are particularly disturbing, it is important to
remember that many of Turkey’s citizens have spent their whole lives
under the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and are in fear of its
discriminatory attitudes towards passive and active opposition.

Young citizens are experiencing an emotional break-off
from Turkey. They are becoming apathetic and distant from their country,
bewildered by its politics and paralyzed by the feeling that they
cannot change anything. They are slowly separating
themselves from politics, from social life, and from the country’s
problems.

With the recent economic slump
and the failure of its policies abroad – in particular its policies
towards the Syrian civil war – rising totalitarian mentality has shown
its face in Turkey to anyone who opposes the government’s actions.
Beginning in 2013, a strong wave of social opposition has shown the
ruling party that their policies are not accepted by a big part of
society; a realization that they have attempted to deny, beat down and
repress.

Continuous terror attacks, a lack
of transparency in government processes, insecurity in the judiciary
system, the plundering of public spaces for the purpose of capital gains
(most of which benefit foreign investors), and clientelist relations
in state affairs have caused irreversible damage to a large part of
society.

Terror and the refugee flow

The
Syrian refugee flow to Turkey has raised the country’s population by
approximately 3.5 percent, with the estimated number of refugees currently close to 3 million. Turkey is one of the first
countries to carry out an open border strategy for refugees coming from
war-torn areas in Syria and is currently the biggest host of refugees in
the world, a massive humanitarian undertaking.

While European and western countries, who have agreed to
receive a limited number of refugees, are heralded as bastions of
humanism, Turkey has received criticism for having not done
more – a criticism that is entirely unfair, given the limited financial
resources and the near to nonexistent international aid.

According to the
European Commision the number of refugees living outside of the camps is
90 percent and the total number of refugees given is over 3 million. The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey has said that the total
expenditure on refugee resettlement has reached $7.6 billion.

In addition to its economic
effects, the Syrian War has caused a major security crisis in Turkey.
While it is of course true that the vast majority of refugees are not
terrorists or security risks, the same violent forces that destabilized
Syria and created the flow of refugees are currently endangering and
destabilizing Turkey.

Since June 2015 alone, Turkey has experienced many
terror attacks such as suicide bombings and shootings, which have
killed over 500 civilians. Terror, fear and political
instability in Turkey have affected tourism badly, with the number of
tourists falling rapidly from 41 million in 2015 to 31 million in 2016.

Giant investment projects

Istanbul
is the biggest city in Turkey and is host to over fourteen million people,
approximately eighteen percent of Turkey’s total population. Despite the common
opinion that it would be best to stop investing in Istanbul and to
invest in new and/or currently underfunded cities’ development in order
to take some of the population burden off of Istanbul’s shoulders, the
government insists on giant, Istanbul-based projects.

For example, they
have proposed building Europe’s biggest airport, and have completed a
third bridge crossing Bosphorus and a tunnel linking Europe to Asia under the Bosphorus. In
addition to draining public funds, these plans come with massive
environmental destruction, with particular damage to parts of Istanbul’s
biggest forest, the Belgrad Forest.  

This
process of stealing Istanbul from its people and selling it for capital
gain has given rise to large public protests. One such example is the
2013 Gezi Protests, which were sparked by the government’s decision to
tear down the park which gave its name to the protests, Gezi Parkı, and
build a shopping center over it.

The
process works something like this: first, they make public places
inaccessible, such as parks, historical buildings, and culture centers.
Second, they try to convince public that these spaces aren’t necessary
anymore. Finally, by developing new construction projects, which include these public places, the process of stealing public space from citizens
is completed. These places become nothing but nostalgic memories,
leaving people with the paralyzing feeling that something has been lost,
yet that there is nothing that can be done about it.

Post-coup attempt purges and patronage

Putting
its destructive effect on society aside, last July’s coup attempt
gave the government a golden opportunity to purge its opposition from
education, the judiciary, government offices, unions and the media.

Since the coup attempt, nearly 4,000 academics have been purged from
Turkish universities. In addition to thousands of people
fired from police departments, judiciary positions, and high schools,
the vast majority of academics who have lost their jobs are not related
to the coup attempt. Their “crime” was signing the ‘’Peace
Declaration’’, a letter to the government that can be seen as one-sided,
but that clearly did not constitute any form of violence or crime. The stifling situation in academia, the unending purges and the
lack of justice have left educated people and students in fear and doubt
about the future.

The final hit: referendum for the presidential system

The
possibility of transitioning to the presidential system has long been
debated in Turkish politics. A debate that the ruling party has brought
to a climax in the form of a referendum scheduled for the 16 April
2017.

Including major changes to the country’s current constitution,
the new system would declare the president the strongest person in the
country, giving him the ability to undercut parliament and take over
its legislative authority. A lack of checks and balances,
an elimination of transparency, the risk of dictatorial tendencies, and
the suppression of parliament’s power are the main concerns among the
opposition. In short, handing the president a legal right to rule for
another two terms, if he is elected in 2019, does not seem appealing to a
huge segment of society.

The president’s
fear of losing the upcoming elections has dragged Turkey into irrational
political moves on the international arena, such as the recent diplomatic
crisis with the Netherlands, and a new wave of right-wing populism that has
brought discriminatory discourse into society. With only a few weeks
left before one of the country’s most important elections, the rising
paranoia in the ruling party may bring more diplomatic crises to light, causing even more damage to Turkey.

Fully
overwhelmed by all of this, young people in particular are experiencing
a numbness and profound disconnect from Turkey. Students and
college-educated individuals in particular are deeply concerned about
their country’s future, and have unwillingly begun looking for a better
life abroad. The rise in Turkish youth applying for masters degrees and
jobs abroad is a sign of a new wave of brain drain, which must be paid
attention to by the state – before it is too late.

What
we urgently need, to stem the spread of apathy and hopelessness, are more
inclusive policies. We need to put an end to the mainstream
acceptability of discriminatory language in politics and in the media,
and to give civil society, and minority groups in particular, a
say in state administration.  

Strict policies of repression and
totalitarian changes in the country's constitution threaten to undo Turkish
society altogether.

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