Brain drain casts a dark shadow over Turkey's future

FILE - Workers attach flags with the national symbol of Turkey to the outside wall of the Kunsthalle in Kiel on Tuesday, August 19, 2003.
FILE - Workers attach flags with the national symbol of Turkey to the outside wall of the Kunsthalle in Kiel on Tuesday, August 19, 2003. Copyright HERIBERT PROEPPER/AP
By Euronews with AP
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Sky-high inflation and currency collapse have hit the economy hard, while Erdogan has eroded rights and freedoms.


Huseyin Buyukdag says he loves Turkey and his job as a teacher. 

But with the rampant economic crisis and growing repression in his country, he and his wife have decided to try and find a better life in Germany.

They are among a growing number of young and educated people looking to leave Turkey, under an increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After Erdogan secured a third term in office in May elections, things are unlikely to change, says Buyukdag.

“Even if I don’t want this, even if I hate this, I will ... leave this beautiful country,” the 27-year-old English teacher told The Associated Press.

Buyukdag and his wife, a nurse, live in the impoverished southeastern province of Sirnak. Their state jobs bring the two roughly up to €1,640 a month - just over the official poverty line of €1,462. 

It’s enough to make ends meet, but far short of what is needed in big cities like Istanbul or the capital, Ankara, and nowhere enough for a young couple to save or start a family.

Turkey has been hit hard by an economic crisis in recent years. The official annual inflation rate stood at 61% last month - though some economists believe the real figure is double that number - and the lira has plunged in value. 

Experts previously told Euronews Erdogan's “unorthodox” understanding of economic policy was behind the country's woes, though they pointed to other significant factors. 

Nearly one-third of Turkey's population is currently at risk of poverty or social exclusion, according to a recent report published by the Turkish Statistical Insitute.

For many, one way out is through education visas to study abroad or work permits.

TurkStat, the government’s statistics bureau, said 139,531 Turkish citizens left the country in 2022, compared to 103,613 in 2021. Those aged 25 to 29 formed the biggest group.

The numbers are a significant increase from 77,810 Turks who left in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak.

Sociologist Besim Dellaloglu attributes some of the exodus of the “uppermost educated layers of society” to a democratic erosion. “I do not have the impression that this migration will be reversed without decreasing polarisation in Turkey,” he said.

Most likely to leave are medical professionals and IT specialists, Dellaloglu said, but also highly trained individuals from all sectors.

In 2022, more than 2,600 doctors applied for the necessary documents from the Turkish Medical Association to be able to practice outside the country. 

Physicians mostly cited small salaries, gruelling working conditions and an uptick in violence by disgruntled patients as reasons for their decision.

In one of his speeches last year, an angry Erdogan said all doctors who wanted to can “go ahead and leave.” He later softened his tone, saying those who left would soon return as Turkey holds the promise of a “bright future.”


Many other Turks prefer to stay, even with an increasingly authoritarian country. 

“I can understand the people who are leaving, some things really need to change,” said Fatma Zehra Eksi, a 22-year-old student from Istanbul who says she is a reluctant supporter of Erdogan. 

“But if we ... leave because we are not comfortable here, then there will be no one left here to change things.”

Serap Ilgin, a 26-year-old copywriter in Istanbul said she grew up with the values of secular Turkey and its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“Leaving is not a solution, on the contrary, I think we need to stay here and fight,” she said.


The growing discontent comes as Turkey marks the 100th anniversary of Ataturk's proclamation of a secular republic, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

For his part, Erdogan has heralded the next era as the “Century of Turkey,” promising to make Turkey a global power.

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