Critical youth vote
Sunday’s critical referendum has already brought the deep divisions in Turkish society to the surface. There are almost two distinctly separate Turkeys living in big cities. In smaller towns and cities, life is still common, people know each other and lifestyles are common but in megacities like Istanbul, young people get lost as if they are in a jungle. And that is a big threat.
This Saturday on the bus to Anadolu Hisari, I was near the back door. Suddenly an elderly and pious looking passenger started shouting at the young man and his girlfriend sitting together next to him. “You stand up, do not play games with her,” the old man shouted. “I know what you are up to. And you my girl, you go home. Don’t hang out with boys like this!”
We were all shocked. The young man, who looked like he may be a supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was calm yet angry. “I will break your heart sir if you continue,” he said. Then, he and his girlfriend felt the need to get off the bus. Their hopes for a calm Saturday breakfast had diminished on a bus just like that.
This is just a short example of how young people are stuck between tradition, their dreams and daily life. Big cities are full of opportunities and challenges for them. If they get into a good university and make good friends, they may have an easier time surviving. But if all they can hope for is to get a government job, buy a car and live, Turkey’s future may be darker than today. Our young sisters and brothers are struggling to see a bright light at the end of the tunnel for them. That is why it is no shame for them to leave the country and live abroad even though it means living in poorer conditions than today.
People around my age, in their 40s, worked so hard to make the “market economy” work in this country. We worked day and night, tried to go to the best schools, get master’s degrees from Ivy League universities, did grueling internships, worked without pay just to get our feet in the door. Yet after 20 years of career building, we are left with a country that is 70 percent dependent on social aid. Half of this nation is living on government handouts and making their families grow without paying a single lira of tax or working one single day. They are happy to see Erdoğan stay in power as long as they live.
But come and ask once that to a young high school or university student and you will get a slap in the face. They do not feel they belong to this country anymore. They would rather mop the floors in Silicon Valley than live here and eat the leftovers of Aktrolls. They cannot wait for the day of their graduation so that they can move to Europe and live there. Make a surprise visit to Boğaziçi, Bilgi or any good, non-AK Party financed, independent thinking (if you can find one) university and you will be stunned by the energy, brewing anger and disillusionment.
It is OK to vote “yes” or “no.” It is not OK to be ignorant. I am afraid that if we do not show them that their vote counts, young people will feel no need to vote in the future. And once we lose them, we lose the security and the brilliance of our nation. That is why we must keep the promise of a modern Turkey alive.