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‘Violence of Uncertainty’

      “This is not the country I dreamed of, I don’t feel I belong to my own country anymore.” 19 year-old Turkish university student

“Freedoms for most youth are more important than prayers. This is what conservative politicians often miss.” Turkish university professor

“Turkey’s vision has always been looking to the West,” Zeynep Gurhan-Canli, University professor

(Day 142 of the federal guidelines for social distancing)

This week I would like to deal with a topic that may or may not fit within the realm of global security, but it certainly sets the stage for upheaval in a powerful country within the Middle East, where, when turbulence begins, it reverberates across all the Middle Eastern nations. That country is Turkey. 

To many, Turkey may not seem such a significant player in global politics, but we forget, to our own demise that up until 1922, the Ottoman Empire, (present-day modern Turkey) was a global power unrivaled by any other. The Ottoman period spanned more than 600 years and came to an end only in 1922 when it was replaced by the Turkish Republic and various successor states in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. 

The Ottoman Empire controlled much of the Mediterranean basin including North Africa, the Sinai Peninsula, present-day Iraq, Syria, and Eastern Europe. Their army ranks were filled with over 100,000 men, mostly conscripts and indentured servants. The classical Ottoman army was the most disciplined and feared military force of its time, mainly due to its high level of organization, logistical capabilities, and its elite troops. 

How does a powerful empire go from being a global force to becoming a democratic nation, and then to spiraling downward from its status as a regional leader?  Turkey as we know it today may not exist in twenty years. Its role as a model democratic state within the Muslim world is in jeopardy.

So much of what is transpiring in Turkey today looms just under the surface, and we will discover that there is so much more than meets the eye as this situation unfolds. The consequences of this unraveling will cause much turmoil for young people. The potential of a government that lashes back at the movement, due to previous actions, is extremely high.


How do we know there is a problem brewing in Turkey, especially among the youth? On June 26th, 2020 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed, in an online forum, the young generation of Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of Turkish youth listened to his online stream. The fact that so many tuned in to his online address should have been a good sign, but it was not. How do we know? The president’s streamed video received 422,000 dislikes and the hashtag #OyMoyYok—no votes for you—became a trending topic on Turkish Twitter. What was the presidential response to the criticism? His office disabled the video comments and announced plans for new regulations to control social media platforms or shut them down entirely.

With over half of Turkey’s population being under the age of 32, a whole generation has grown up under Erdogan’s rule. The president himself recognizes this, but his understanding of the reality of what is happening might be his undoing. In 2012 he made a speech stating that creating a “generation of pious Muslim youth” was a key component of his political agenda. He has determined that Turkey’s future depends on a devoted Muslim commitment by its young people and that the Ottoman days of glory will result as this commitment deepens across its nation.

As of 2019 many Turkish youths labeled themselves as deists, that is, those who believe in a divine being but don’t adhere to the tenets of Islam. Pro-Erdogan media portray deism as just another Western conspiracy, but for young people, disillusionment with religion and the government goes hand in hand. That is a dangerous combination for any incumbent regime.

The Turkish pollster organization, Konda  found in 2019 that Turkish youths were less likely than the wider population to identify themselves as “religious conservative.” They were less likely to fast, pray regularly or (for females) cover their hair. Ipsos, an international pollster, found that only 12% of Turks trust Islamic clerics. SODEV, another pollster, found that 60.5% of youths that support Erdoğan said they would prefer to live in Christian Switzerland with half the salary they would earn in Muslim Saudi Arabia. SODEV’s study also found that 70.3% of respondents think a talented Turkish youth would never be able to get ahead in professional life without political/bureaucratic “connections,” i.e., without the help of nepotism. Only 30% of them think one could freely express his opinion on social media. The number of atheists among youth in Turkey grew from 1% to 3%. People being willing to admit that in a Muslim country is no small thing.

Among other polls, there was a growing number of young people—even students at imam hatip schools—who are rejecting Islam altogether. A 2018 workshop organized by the Ministry of National Education in the traditionally conservative Anatolian town of Konya found that students in imam hatip schools are questioning or abandoning Islam in growing numbers.

Religion is not the only worry among young Turkish students. The quality of education has become one of the top concerns among young Turks. Many believe they can only get a good education in the West. According to a 2013 report, released by the British Council’s Education Intelligence research service, 95 percent of Turkish students said they wanted to study overseas. The British Council’s survey showed that the most preferred destinations for higher education among Turkish youth are Britain and the United States (each with 30 percent); Germany (8 percent); Canada (4 percent); France and Italy (each with 3 percent); Spain, Australia and Switzerland (each with 2 percent); and Sweden (1 percent). 

These 10 overwhelmingly Christian countries account for 85 percent of Turkish students’ preferred destinations for university education. In other words, 85 percent of all Turkish students dream of having a university education in a Christian country, with virtually no one mentioning a desire to study in a Muslim country, including their own. 

In addition to religion and education, there is a political dynamic that Turkish youth-run counter to the current leadership structure. There is new data suggesting that younger Turks have a Western mindset instead of a “religiously conservative/devout” one, as Erdoğan hoped they would. According to one study, 72% of Turks aged 20 or younger support full membership in the European Union for Turkey. This is in sharp contrast with the official teachings of a country where the top Islamic cleric said that “children who do not read the Quran are with Satan and satanic people.” Turkey is already a member of NATO and Europe has been holding EU membership at bay because of Turkey’s increasingly radical Islamic leanings. Turkish youth are very much in support of membership in the European Union over the Islamic block of partnerships.

In 2019, a total of 330,289 people left Turkey to live abroad. Official data shows 40.8% of those who emigrated from Turkey were between the ages of 20-34. Migration has become an exit strategy from daily struggles. In the country, youth unemployment is more than 27 percent. Turkish young adults are moving abroad because they see no life for themselves at home in Turkey.

One of the ways that Turkish youth are feeling the pressure at home is in the area of social media. The Millennial and Generation Z are not going to be denied the use of the internet, even in Turkey. By the end of 2019, Turkey’s censors had blocked access to 408,494 web sites, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos, and 6,200 Facebook accounts. These young Turks are standing up and saying, “We will not live in a world like this.” This creates a potential “brain drain” for Turkey as a nation.

Among other problems that the Erdogan regime is facing, demographics has also become an undeniable bothersome reality. Despite Erdogan’s “have a bunch of babies” campaign, the number of healthy births in Turkey dropped by 3.6% to 1.248 million in 2018 versus 1.295 million in 2017. The overall fertility rate fell to 1.99 from 2.07, meaning Turkey is now reproducing below the 2.1 rate required to maintain the population at current levels. In other words, to top it off, not only are youth leaving, the ones staying are not having enough babies to keep the country at a stable growth level. If you were to add these metrics together the country is shrinking at an unacceptable rate.

What does all this add up to for the nation of Turkey? On one hand, there is a president who is determined to re-cast the republic of Turkey as the leader of the Islamic world in the mold of the old Ottoman Empire. On the other, there is a wholesale rejection by the younger generations of this vision. The Turkish youth are leaving for the West in significant numbers. They are ambitious, street smart, and ready to be integrated into the community of freedom of speech, belief, and opportunity.


It is likely that Turkey is probably not the only Middle Eastern country that teeters on the edge of these tectonic cultural shifts. These youth are looking for a world view that makes better sense. They are looking for peace, freedom of speech, and an opportunity to be all they were meant to be.

There is an opportunity to embrace these youth and resist the temptation to push them off into the corner under the notion that they are “another terrorist from the Middle East.” It is imperative that if we want to see them become part of the global future, that they are afforded the respect and honor that will draw them into the community of faith and freedom, not push them away.

The West is being confronted with the ghosts of its past prejudices; prejudices which I believe are diminishing and maturing into a healthy respect for others, their cultures, skin color, and religious beliefs. One does not need to buy into another’s belief system to respect it. The only way forward is through humility and acceptance.


According to the Institute of International Education’s latest Open Doors report, 10,586 students from Turkey were studying in the U.S. during the 2016–17 academic year. It was said a number of years ago that 80% of international students over a four year study period for a degree, never set foot inside an American home. Completely accurate or not, it might cause one to think about whether we are the kind of people who would invite a Turkish student or any other international student into our homes, for a meal or a coffee. One of the ways that we can overcome the chasm of understanding is by spanning that gap ourselves. Take a step to reach out and get to know a Turkish student in your city. 

Travel to Turkey. Be a cultural ambassador there as you seek to get to know the Turkish people. Turkey is a beautiful country, and the people are among some of the most hospitable I have ever known. 

The follow-up. (from previous articles)

In case you ever wondered if the USA is the only country to have problems with the Coronavirus solutions…

Russia plans a coronavirus vaccination program from October…

Coronavirus: EU says it struck deal with Sanofi for 300 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccine…

The feed-back.

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Resources. (Turkish language) Title translation… Erdogan reiterated his “devout generation” dream and linked the solution of social problems to religion. (English) (English Language),596337 (Turkish Language) (English Language)

© 2019 • More Than Meets