Young, educated, unemployed, and hopeless

Going to a good school, getting a good education, and finding a good job—this is how you survive in Turkey, and just about anywhere else. After achieving financial independence, you leave home, get your own place, and begin your adult life.

Being young usually means living free and independent. But here, young people’s lives have been going in the opposite direction.

More than 2.5 million people are unemployed in Turkey, where the unemployment rate is 10.8 percent, according to an October report from the Turkish Statistical Institute. The rate increases to 13.3 percent for university graduates, and it is even higher for female graduates, at nearly 19 percent.

To understand the real-world impact of these numbers, Ahval spoke to several university graduates who have been dealing with a dark job market and watching their dreams slip away.

The economic crisis has forced Ebru, a 25-year-old graduate of the film department of a private university, to accept a number of questionable jobs.

“I got a job at a private television station, but I saw that everyone there was only looking to entertain themselves, so I resigned,” she said. “I needed to make money, and I worked in a lot of different places outside of my field, but at each job, I felt I was losing a little part of myself. After a while, I applied for work at a call centre. The employers promised to pay for insurance, but they didn’t. Whenever I didn’t make my sales quota, I was mobbed in the office. In the end, I couldn’t stand it, so I quit.”

Ebru turned to Twitter to find a job. After facing a wave of harassment, she was invited to interview for a director of advertising position. The interview lasted for hours and stretched over two days, then came the big surprise.

“We discussed some short films they wanted me to shoot, and they said I had a lot of potential and offered me the job,” she recalled. “Except they weren’t going to pay me anything and said they wanted me to be like one of the family. I was really suspicious, but I had to accept. After we made the agreement and were getting ready to leave, the boss said he had to call his wife. I was shocked when he told her, ‘We don’t need a waitress anymore, I’ve found one!’ It’s true—I went in to be a director and came out a waitress.”

Ebru is still looking for a job, but she now does her research before agreeing to any interviews. She talks about the loss of status from not being able to earn money.

“You lose face with your family,” she said. “Here I am, an unemployed 25-year-old woman still living at home. I can tell they’re judging me by the looks they give, the subtle things they say. I can tell they think I just don’t like working and enjoy sitting around the house. This tears me apart, really.”

Ezgi is also 25 and a film school graduate. She has done all kinds of jobs, from waiting tables to factory work.

“I wanted to work in my own field, but everywhere I went, nothing,” she explained. “Finally, I was offered an interview for an assistant director position. They were shooting outside of the city for a private TV station. Two days after I accepted the job, I found myself on a tour of Anatolia: one day we were on the Aegean coast, and the next we were somewhere in the East. We tried to get money from the municipalities because supposedly we were going to broadcast those shoots on the TV channel. Some municipalities gave us money. When we couldn’t get money from them, we tried to get gas or food. It wasn’t ethical, and I got more and more uncomfortable.”

Ezgi, who is Alevi (Turkey’s largest religious minority), faced bullying and harassment while she was at that job.

“I tried not to make it obvious I was Alevi,” she said. “Wherever we went, we tried to fit in with the local culture. If the municipality supported a certain political party, we did too. All that time, I didn’t complain about co-workers watching porn or making sexist or discriminatory comments, but I couldn’t stand it when they made slurs against Alevis. That’s when I quit.”

Even though Ezgi worked for 20 days, they did not pay her. “They promised they would, but then they sent a message saying I’d let them down, so they wouldn’t pay me,” she said. “After that, they harassed me by message for a long time. It’s hard being unemployed, but there’s nothing else I can do. I couldn’t work in that environment.”

Mesut is an English-speaking, 28-year-old graduate of Istanbul University School of Economics. Like Ezgi, he has jumped from job to job since graduation. One position nearly killed him.

“I wanted to work in tourism, but couldn’t find a job for a long tim,” he recalled. “Finally, I found work in a tourism agency. It wasn’t bad at first. Even though it was a minimum wage job, they gave me insurance. But afterwards, it was a disaster. My two days off per week became one day because it was so busy. Then I had no days off. I worked 100 hours one week. At the end of that week I passed out and wound up at the hospital. I got some veiled threats from the agency because if I’d opened a case against them, I would’ve won. They told me I’d never work in that industry again, so I shut up.”

In his hospital, he told his fiancée of two years that he planned to quit his job. She told him he was lazy and broke up with him.

“I worked really hard and told myself everything would sort itself out one day,” he said. “I wanted to marry the woman I was in love with. At the hospital, my fiancée said, ‘I thought you’d have money, but you’re no man’ and dumped me. I also fought with my family. Unemployment has taken away my love and my hopes. I don’t know what I’ll do now.”

Kerem is 30 years old, with a graduate degree in environmental engineering, but he has not found work within or outside of his field.

“I wanted to be an academic, but for teaching jobs, they’re looking for someone apolitical or who shares their own views,’ he said. “They said this right to my face. So I started looking for work in engineering, and there was nothing no matter what I did.”

Unemployment, and family pressure, finally got the better of him.

“I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to lie,” he explained. “Maybe they’d quit asking me for money after that. I did some sales demonstrations and worked as a clown to earn a little, but that work started to drop off because of the economic crisis. For the last two months, I’ve been leaving the house as though I’m off to work. I just wander around in the streets. I’ve lost 20 pounds from stress and walking.”

Kerem has lost his family, and worries about the future of Turkey.

“I don’t care about money or unemployment -- for me, it’s about this country, which I love with all my heart,” he said. “My country has taken my family from me. They think I have work, but they don’t trust me. It’s totally different from my parents’ time. For them, they did whatever work they could find, but young people now want what they were promised, and it’s futile.”