Starting the New Year with Turkey’s brain drain
“Three of my friends have left for the United States recently,” a young friend of mine told me. His comment shows how the tendency to settle abroad is gaining momentum.
One settled in Miami, the other in Chicago. A third has found a way to go to Nebraska.
“I have no idea where Nebraska is in the U.S.,” he said. “It is somewhere in the middle of the U.S.,” I answered.
What is it that forces educated youngsters in their 30s to leave their country and go to the U.S. with their luggage in their hands to start a new life?
Lately, I have been hearing similar migration stories. There is a serious rise in the numbers of those travelling to Greece and Spain to look for a house to buy.
Only shortly after this conversation I came across a news story on the BBC website. The photograph in the story titled “Turkey’s brain drain” showed a tall bearded man standing in a room full of boxes with books packed in them. That man was Bülent Somay, one of the country’s most valuable intellectuals, and among the academic staff of Bilgi University.
The story of Bülent Somay, who is leaving Turkey to lecture in a university in Brussels, marked the introduction of the news story.
The article did not only cover academics leaving Turkey but explored the wider, ongoing brain drain from the country’s secular segment.
The most striking part of the BBC article dealt with Jews leaving Turkey.
As Spain and Portugal recognize the right to nationality for those who were forced to migrate 500 years ago to the Ottoman Empire, more than 4,500 Turkish Jews have applied for nationality to these two countries.
The BBC spoke to a Turk of Jewish descent who was preparing to move his whole family to Spain. “It breaks my heart that I’m leaving, but I can’t breathe here anymore. My thoughts are not wanted, the way I want to live is not wanted...You need to be Muslim, Sunni and pro-government,” he said.
In addition, he said he felt as though his Jewishness made him a target in Turkey.
As I read about the increasing tendency among Turks of Jewish descent to leave the country, I recalled the activities undertaken in the early 1990s to mark the 500th anniversary of Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition.
Turkey used this opportunity to tell the whole world how it was a tolerant country throughout its history and how the Ottoman Empire embraced Jews fleeing inquisition.
In fact, if you examine the official rhetoric, Turkey is still a tolerant country for Turks of Jewish decent. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has issued the following statement: “In line with our understanding of civilization, built on perceiving differences as richness and treating every one fairly under all circumstances, we will continue to maintain the climate of peace and calm, based on mutual respect and love, in our heavenly homeland.”
Is there not a contradiction between this message on the websites and the tendency of our Jewish citizens to leave Turkey?
What is the meaning of a migration process that has begun to work in reverse after five centuries?