Professionals forced to leave Turkey behind amid ongoing government crackdown

Turkey is experiencing a new wave of emigration from the country, with qualified professionals increasingly throwing in the towel on the country for various reasons since 2015.

“I would have wanted very much to be of help to the people in my country,” says physical therapist Fahri Bilen, who left Turkey due to a criminal penalty he received.

For practicing physician, Serhat Sizgin,who was forced to do the same, the problem lies with the leaders of the country.

“The government has turned its eyes away. Turkey is losing. We are going to Europe ready. We’re meeting the demand in Europe,’’ Sizgin notes.

The much talked about increase in migrations out of Turkey began after the November 2015 snap elections, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an outright majority in parliament after narrowly losing it months before. The departures from Turkey accelerated in the aftermath of the attempted coup attempt on July 15, 2016. At least 1,000 Turkish citizens sought refuge in Greece as of December 2017, American public broadcaster NPR reported then.

A mix of Turks from different social and political backgrounds are making up the another immigration wave today, following the migration in the aftermath of country’s last hard military coup of 1980.

“Each of Turkey’s various military coups has triggered a surge of conflict-induced emigration, and the events of 2016 fit that pattern,” news website The Conversation wrote in an analysis in February. “But at the same time, much of this migration was underway before the coup attempt.”

The above analysis questions the extent to which there is a wide scale “brain drain” in Turkey. While there have been a rise in asylum requests from Turkish citizens to countries in the European Union, it is difficult to pinpoint the scale of the loss to Turkish industries, particularly higher education. However, more than 6,000 academics have been sacked from public universities through state of emergency decrees since the attempted coup, The Gatestone Institute wrote this week. Dozens of academics have also been targeted at private universities, the institute said.

There are various reasons motivating those who have left.

Bilen, a Kurdish man who left Turkey for Sweden due to criminal punishment he was facing, said he could never fully integrate into Turkish society.

“I tried to integrate into the country I was born in. If you put aside your past, your history, your identity, you can be completely integrated. You will be a good Kurd,’’ Bilen said.“Because I did not do those things, I was not a good Kurd. I was forced to leave my country.”

Longtime active Kurdish politician and author Hasan Hayri Ateş left Turkey with his partner due to judicial penalties he received. Noting that his family has always been on the move due to Turkish state policies, Ateş says, “My family due to the 1938 Dersim Genocide experienced exile from their hometown. They were forced to stay in Balikesir for 10 years in exile.

Turkey’s state policies against the minority Kurdish population - roughly 15 percent of Turkey’s population - has always forced Kurds migrate throughout history, he says, adding, “Today, we are living exile in a much harder way.”

The story of teacher Şermin Bingöl’s journey out of Turkey begins with a sensationalist story in the pro-government Islamist Yeni Akit newspaper.

“In this high school, there are no religious courses, but there is PKK propaganda,” the Yeni Akit headline read, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for over three decades and designated a terrorist organisation by Ankara.

The story upended Bingöl’s 13-year career. She left Turkey for Germany.

“It was actually the school that was targeted, I  was left alone and forced to leave,” she says, adding that she had no one to turn to after she began to receive threats following the allegations.

“There was nothing I could do,” she adds.

Bingöl recounts how she burned some of her books in her home out of fear of being targeted by the government in the crackdown on Kurdish groups following  the failed coup attempt of 2016.

“I can still smell the books I burned,” the teacher notes.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.