Young Turks in despair, blame Syrians, research says

Young people in Turkey are not hopeful about the future of the country, blame politicians, society and Syrian refugees for their problems and want a less precarious working life giving them more independence and a more fulfilling social life, new research shows.

“I mean it is getting worse, it is obvious from the economy,” said an unemployed 25-year old university graduate who participated in focus group discussions organised by the independent think-tank Istanbul Political Research Institute (IstanPol) for the study “The Precarity of Youth in Turkey: The Perception of Work, Subsistence and Life”.

The study included employed and unemployed university and high school graduates, and those neither in employment, nor in education. It showed young people particularly blame politicians for their situation.

“When I say politics, I do not only talk about the government for example, I am also talking about the incompetence of the opposition party,” said a 24-year-old unemployed university graduate, who also criticised society as a whole.

“On my behalf, I should say that I am tired of politics. In our company, in our sector, there is always politics, including my boss,” the study quoted a 29-year old man as saying.

In local elections last year, an alliance of opposition parties won mayoral seats in five of the six most populous provinces in Turkey. In Istanbul, opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu focused his campaign on young people and children to clinch victory in the city of 15 million people and end the 25-year dominance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its predecessors.

“There is excitement for the next elections. For example, in large cities like Istanbul the other party won. Now there is a chance that it can win the presidential elections,” said a 21-year old working man.

Young people in their early twenties represent a different generation that has spent most of their lives under an Islamist government, in a country that has become politically polarised. But instead of referring to such factors, those in the IstanPol focus group discussions heaped blame on the roughly 4 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

 “They are trying to send them from our country, but I mean sometimes we talk, I get some information from what Syrians say, they say ‘why would we leave here?’,” said a 26-year old woman. “The state’s assistance is enough (for them), lots of job opportunities, no need for insurance, nothing. They will not leave here,” she said.

“I look at them and say ‘is it me living in their country?’. They live so comfortably, I mean I would be wary if I went to their country, but they live freely. I at the moment live like a refugee in the place I live,” said another male participant.

Young people complain their Syrian peers distort the labour market by accepting jobs below the standard wages.

“While we ask for 2,500 (lira), they work for 1,200, 1,100,” a woman said.

The economic downturn in Turkey that started in 2018 has particularly hit young people. The latest data published this week by the Turkish Statistical Institute shows that some 24.5 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed. While the level of youth unemployment is high, what is more alarming is that participation in the labour force among young people is declining and the percentage of those neither in employment, nor in education is increasing - 25 percent as of November 2019.

Some 2.5 million people between the ages of 15 and 34 are unemployed, according a report by the Young Unemployed Platform, a group working on young people’s economic rights. Unemployment among university graduates is at 18.6 percent.

In many ways, young people in Turkey and their peers in other countries face similar problems; a more precarious working environment due to greater flexibility in the labour market, more difficult paths in transition from school to work, an increasing dependency on the family as a safety net.

The IstanPol findings indicate the problems of young people in Turkey have remained almost the same over the last five years, comparing them to the results of a more comprehensive study in 2014 conducted by pollster Konda and Istanbul Bilgi University.

Some 71 percent of 2,508 young people in 2014 said that they had found their latest job through family, friends and acquittances, while 69 percent said their main source of income was family or a spouse.

The IstanPol study shows that financial help from family is crucial for young people. Those who are unemployed are dependent on allowances from their families, but even who do have jobs say they cannot make ends meet without help from their families.

For many, private sector employment means working in small or larger family businesses, which implies less institutionalised and more unstable forms of work. As a result, finding a job in the public sector has always been regarded by Turks as a way to ensure a more stable life.

IstanPol’s study shows this perception has been changing since a coup attempt in 2016, as some 130,000 public servants were sacked during two years of emergency rule that followed.

“They thought that once you entered into the public sector, your place would be safe, but … they can turn you upside down, I mean it does not work that way,” said a 22-year old women student.

Young people complain about political favouritism in the public sector, but in the private sector they also talk about bosses asking them for personal favours, informal working relations and promotions based on family relations rather than performance levels.

The 2014 study showed 91 percent of young people had never travelled abroad, only 27 percent went to summer resorts for holidays. For many, social life meant going to a movie with friends, or going shopping.

“Of course, holidays, social life,” a 27-year old woman told the IstanPol survey when asked whether she had postponed something she had wanted in her life.

“I mean I can put it like this, most of the time you postpone going to the places or postpone spending time for yourself,” said the 29-year old man.

Young people say they lived with depression, in constant anxiety for the future, and trying to cope with feeling they had failed their families.

“I have been depressed for a long time,” said a 24-year old high school graduate, who said he was anxious both about his own future and the future of the country.

A 22-year old participant said she felt empty. “A bit anxious, because of the economic situation and unemployment, but I am trying not to be pessimistic. And, this may be a bit political but, when you feel like everything is going worse continuously … I mean when there is nothing going well, you miss the old days.”