13 reasons why Turkey’s youth is unhappy

13 reasons why Turkey’s youth is unhappy

Nazlan Ertan - nazlanertan@gmail.com
13 reasons why Turkey’s youth is unhappy

AFP photo

Looking at the rhetoric around Turkey’s youth, one could safely deduce that Turkey’s youth were the country’s heart! After all, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s founder, entrusted the country to their hands, although it means that they are obliged to learn his speech to the youth by heart – and trust me, you do not exactly beam with gratitude as you haggle over the difficult text! Turkey’s current president also pays a lot of lip service to the youth, saying that his priority is to raise a faithful new generation. (His critics refer to this generation as “dindar and kindar,” an alliteration that can roughly be translated as “faithful and vengeful”).

Even the right-wing National Movement Party (MHP) boasts that its young wing is educated and technology-savvy, though their demonstrations in front of the wrong embassies clearly indicate that they may need to hone up on their skills in using a navigator.

So why aren’t Turkey’s highly skilled and energetic youth out celebrating Youth and Sports Day on May 19 through concerts, camps and dancing on the streets?

First, because many of the “fun” bits, such as the festival in Izmir Kültür Park, have been annulled due to security concerns. Two, because they find very little to celebrate in their lives in terms of education, job aspects and even social relations.

About a month ago, my 18-year-old son urged me to watch a new series on Netflix called “13 Reasons Why” – the story based on the tapes left by a girl who committed suicide. The series is based on a book by the same name by Jay Asher, which sold 3 million copies since its publication a decade ago.

Just as I dived in the sad story of Hannah, a tale of harassment, rape and indifference, and the 13 reasons that brought her to suicide, I came across the news of the last OECD report on student well-being, which, in the words of the articles that covered the story, showed that Turkish students were one of the unhappiest in the world.

One of the five volumes that present the results of the PISA 2015 survey, the report explored students’ performances in school, relationships with schoolmates and teachers, family environments and free time. 

Not surprisingly, they found Turkish students to be at the bottom of the list among the 72 countries.

According to the report, Turkish students excelled in both high anxiety and low expectations.

So if there is anyone among you who’s eager to dwell into the “imagined woes of the selfish Y generation,” bite your tongue. OECD explains to you that the troubles are not imagined but real.

According to the report, 58.8 percent of the students feel very anxious before the exams, even though they think they have prepared well. Some 56 percent say they feel anxiety when they study. Add to this anxiety caused by the recent reports on how the questions of university and other key exam were stolen or given to a certain group of students, you get an idea on the loss of faith and futility.

“Your generation was lucky,” a high school student told me. “You managed to get into the university of your choice. We are so many that we cannot now.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said five years ago that the new universities would ensure that half the people who’d want to go to the university would find one. In 2017, he might have trouble repeating the same sentence after so many universities closed and so many teachers were put either behind bars or sent home to stay in their slippers because their schools were closed.

The old rhetoric we were fed by our parents – “just work hard to get into a good university and you’d be alright because then you’d get a good job, a good career that will last you a lifetime” – does not hold water either. The youth unemployment rate is around 23 percent, twice as much of the national average of overall unemployment. This means that one in four young people is looking for a job but cannot find one.

And if they find one, would it last? About a century ago, the average life of a company was 65 years. Today, it is down to 15. In other words, entering a company at junior level, working there for the rest of your productive years and retiring as its CEO at 65 is pretty slim.

I will refrain from Turkey’s statistics of early forced marriages, harassment at schools by teachers and administrators and the penalties given to young people using their right to peaceful protest. But Turkish young people have more than 13 reasons why they are not celebrating Youth Day.