Spurning Erdogan’s Vision, Turks Leave in Droves, Draining Money and Talent
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 unbroken economic growth.
But after a failed 2016 coup, 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 cronyism and authoritarianism seep deeper into his administration, Turks are voting differently — this time with their feet.
They are leaving the country in droves and taking talent and capital with them in a way that indicates a broad and alarming loss of confidence in Erdogan’s vision, according to government statistics and analysts.
In the past two to three years, not only have students and academics fled the country, but also entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and thousands of wealthy individuals who are selling everything and moving their families and money abroad.
More than a quarter of a million 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, and other analysts.
“The brain drain is real,” Sirkeci said.
The flight of people, talent and capital is being driven by a powerful combination of factors that have come to define life under Erdogan and that his opponents increasingly despair is here to stay.
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 Erdogan is unsoundly manipulating the economy to benefit himself and his inner circle.
The result is that, for the first time since the republic was founded nearly a century ago, many from the old moneyed class, in particular the secular elite who have dominated Turkey’s cultural and business life for decades, are moving away and the new rich close to Erdogan and his governing party are taking their place.