The Turkish President currently has his back to the wall. Unparalleled economic misery, youth unemployment, child poverty, crime and drug trafficking, and the government’s support for political Islamism have become symbols of the Sultan.
The economic crisis in Turkey has driven unemployment to astronomical heights. The statistics clearly show that four million young Turks between the ages of 15 and 24 are particularly affected: youth unemployment is 29 percent.
As poverty worsens due to Erdogan’s economic policies, Turkey’s financial indicators are going haywire. The economic program launched by the government last year to reduce the foreign trade deficit, instead of plugging the hole, caused it to grow threefold in the first ten months of last year. The downturn in the economy is fueling unemployment. In particular, well-trained skilled workers are no longer employed. In an Anatolian city, 72,000 people applied for 230 advertised positions for cleaning workers, including ten thousand with university degrees.
“One in four unemployed people in Turkey has a university degree or a technical college diploma,” said the spokesman for the statistics office in Ankara. “Most of them have studied business administration or management or something like that, partly via distance learning, i.e. not even at a university, but via the Internet. They got a diploma, but didn’t learn anything worthwhile, and that’s why they don’t get any work.” A failed education policy of the AKP government is also primarily responsible for missed opportunities in the professional life of young people. Experts underline the fact that the education system is failing in the labor market. For ideological reasons, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is particularly promoting vocational schools for the training of Islamic clergy – but the graduates of these Imam Hatip schools cannot be placed in any regular business sector.
Since the AKP came to power, these schools have enjoyed great respect, especially in Islamic and conservative circles. In recent years, the Turkish government has made immense efforts to convert these schools, which were once founded to train Quran teachers and preachers, into regular schools. Since taking office, the AKP government has opened around 4,000 such schools. They are almost fully utilized, as the Ministry of Education proudly reports again and again. In recent years, the choices for students have been severely restricted, and many mainstream schools are all too willing to convert to Imam Hatip schools at the start of the school year, as has often happened in recent years. It has affected around 700 middle school students since 2012.
In contrast to state schools, these schools increasingly teach Islamic teachings and the curriculum is increasingly Islamized. Quran instruction is the most important school subject, instead of English or French, Arabic is on the timetable, and there is even the school subject “The Life of the Prophet Mohammed”. Science subjects, on the other hand, are marginalized. The result is that only 14 percent of the graduates from these schools pass the central university entry exams.
Many students complain about the fact that they are placed in such schools without their consent, even though they would not prefer this form of education. Many students of the Imam Hatip schools prefer to switch to other forms of high school, such as science high schools, in the transition from middle school to high school.
But the Erdogan policy does not only affect young people who want to gain a foothold in the labor market. Child poverty in Turkey has also become a crisis. Millions of children no longer get enough to eat. One in four students goes to school hungry, and lately there have been reports of children fainting from hunger at school. In Turkey, where the poverty line is five times the minimum wage, the annual inflation rate for food has reached 102,5 percent even in the statistics manipulated by Erdogan. Young people who have no prospects and no educational or professional opportunities are therefore resorting more and more to hard drugs.
While this part has already been written off by society, another part is in the hands of Islamist sects that have thrived with financial and political support from the government. The state has religiously shaped the education system and legitimized the alternative educational institutions of religious communities. Sects and communities, which the AKP considers a repository of votes, have signed protocols with the Ministry of Education and have been integrated into the official education system, partly into teacher training. These communities, which are beyond any control, made headlines recently because of a scandal. A cult leader had married his six-year-old daughter to a 29-year-old follower. In a country where artists and journalists are arrested for tweeting, neither the girl’s father nor the follower who sexually abused the six-year-old for several years has been arrested. Erdogan did not say a word about the case documented in the court records. After ten days of silence, he finally agreed: “The allegations of abuse are a disaster.”
But it is not only Islamism, unemployment, educational inequality and child poverty that cause inflation, the same applies to food prices. The price of white cheese has tripled over the past year. For the first time, the price of cow’s milk cheese has overtaken that of red meat. That’s because farmers have started slaughtering dairy cows because of a 140 percent increase in the price of agricultural produce. As a result, milk prices have risen two and a half times, and people in the lower and middle classes can only dream of a breakfast with white cheese. However, the government found a solution for this as well: the newspapers controlled by Erdogan published articles with titles like: “Be careful when eating white cheese! Those are the unknown damages.”
As during the Covid-19 pandemic, pronouncements that are clearly untrue are coming from Erdogan and his allied parties, while at the same time, with the public sector under his control, he is handing the bill for the explosion in the cost of living on others. He claims that supermarket shelves in Europe are empty, even though citizens in Turkey leave items at the checkout as soon as they find out how expensive they are. The Turkish president used a similarly perfidious rhetoric when the population protested because Turkey was unable to obtain sufficient corona vaccines. Erdogan then started publicly with the fairy tale that in Europe, where everyone was vaccinated one after the other, vaccinations were “only given for money”.
Six months before the June 2023 elections, Erdogan says of inflation that has quadrupled: “God willing, we will overcome it.” But neither the new loans he took out in Qatar nor the state assets he sold will change the state of the economy. The inflow of capital from Russia, which he is bringing into the country despite warnings from the European Union that Turkey must comply with the sanctions, will do no more than dampen the rise in exchange rates.
The further Erdogan’s system moves away from the rule of law and democracy, the more investments that boost the labor market and create added value give way to black money. His policy of bringing money into the country at all costs has turned Turkey into a paradise for mafiosi. Realizing that the inflow of capital and investment from the West was faltering, the Sultan enacted the “peace of wealth” law. As a result, anyone, local or foreign, can bring money to Turkey as they please. Once the state has collected one to two percent in taxes, the money is integrated into the banking system without anyone questioning where it came from. And the black money didn’t come alone, its owners also came to Turkey. Mafiosi who couldn’t survive in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria and Iran have flocked to Istanbul. Most come from the drug trade. Money flows from rich extremist Islamists are also coming into the country. The rich managers of organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who are financed by Qatar, guarantee a special cash flow.
Things are currently looking bleak for Erdogan and his system for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections this summer. He is currently trying to gain ground with the voters again with a new press censorship, show trials against members of the opposition who have become a danger to him. It doesn’t seem to be of much use at the moment! Apparently he himself has recognized that there is no sign of victory, because recently he admitted for the first time that he may have made mistakes: “With a man who has ruled the country for so many years, there can of course be shortcomings or mistakes.” And pleaded with voters for their support “one last time”: “With the strength we draw from the support we ask the nation for ourselves for the last time in 2023, we will begin to build Turkey’s century and then hand over this sacred flag to the younger ones.”
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