They managed to forget about hunger, but it is again on the horizon, the leader of the Turkish opposition Kemal Kilicdaroglu is sure. Throughout the year, the national currency was weakening, the accumulations of residents were rapidly melting. Merchants are closing shops, people are collecting loans, although they are not sure if they can pay them back. The migration crisis is making the situation worse. And the president’s rating dropped to record lows.
Die but not now
“The situation is very difficult. Many traders do not know how to live further. No confidence in the future. Tourists buy much less. Often we work all day and practically do not sell anything,” says the owner of the souvenir shop Murat from Manavgat.
In October, inflation in Turkey reached almost 20 percent, unemployment reached 13. “Food prices have tripled. The government is trying to do something, but it does not work out very well. Now they have decided to control prices for vegetables and fruits, but in a market economy this is impossible. Y-outh – in endless job searches, “says lawyer Volkan from Ankara. According to him, residents of the country are accustomed to “Black Mondays” – the collapse of the Turkish lira, but no one expected this.
Twenty years ago, in the wake of a similar financial crisis, Recep Tayyip Erdo-gan came to power – along with a team of economists. The republic then lost ten percent of its GDP, the lira was practically destroyed. It was necessary to achieve economic recovery at any cost. And it succeeded. At some point, they even started talking about the “Tu-rkish miracle”. For almost fifteen years, GDP growth has exceeded five percent.
The government followed the precepts of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The central bank did not depend on the authorities. Erdogan combined economic reforms with political ones. A rapprochement with the Kurds began, the leader constantly flew abroad, calling an economy open to investors and protecting capital as his priorities. In 2005, negotiations began on Turkey’s possible accession to the EU – money from all over the world flowed like a river. By 2010, per capita GDP had grown from three to twelve thousand dollars.
We launched large-scale infrastructure projects: a new airport in Istanbul, a third bridge over the Bosphorus, dozens of air harbors in provincial centers, roads, tunnels.
But signs of authoritarianism gradually emerged. The institutions that monitor the transparency of the markets became increasingly dependent on the authorities. The Securities Commission came under the control of the government, followed by large media holdings.
Relations with the West deteriorated, and the flow of foreign investment weakened. Every year the lira depreciated more and more. Many comrades-in-arms broke away from Erdogan, including those who once created a “miracle”. Namely – Ali Babac-an, who headed the Minis-try of Finance and the For-eign Ministry, former Prim-e Minister Ahmet Davuto-glu, long-term finance minister Mehmet Shimshek and the eleventh President of Turkey Abdullah Gul.
In 2016, there was a coup. The recession has begun. But the authorities only tightened the screws by establishing a super-presidential form of government. Many entrepreneurs were accused of supporting the rebels. Their business was confiscated. The president instructed his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, to save the economy, but he failed and resigned in the fall of 2020.
The President wanted to improve the situation with the help of money from Arab countries. But relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have escalated. These states do not like Erdogan’s activity in the Islamic world and the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar remains Ankara’s only ally, but its investments are insufficient to solve the problem. “I spend forty percent of my salary on food.”
In 2013, a little more lira was given in the country for one dollar. Now it’s 9.8. The budget was heavily damaged by American sanctions due to the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, as well as Ankara’s military campaigns in Syria and Libya. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation. In 2020, the tourism sector, which also feeds other sectors of the economy, was missing more than ten billion dollars, 320 thousand people were left without work. This year, the swimming season was opened at the end of June instead of April. In addition, due to the rapid increase in the number of cases, the authorities introduced a hard lockdown.
Many traders and owners of small eateries are fo-rced to close their businesses or take out several loans. “I don’t know if we can give them away. Salaries are depreciating, savings are melting before our eyes. My daughter goes to a private school. You need to pay in euros. It used to cost eight lira, now it’s more than 11. Buying food takes 40 percent of the salary. Sometimes news is leaking to the press that people cannot stand poverty and commit suicide, “says Mustafa from Istanbul.
The fact that “Turkey was overwhelmed by a wa-ve of mass suicides” started talking after two cases that shook the country. In Istanbul’s Fatih district, police found the bodies of two brothers and two sisters between the ages of 48 and 60. Friends are sure that poverty pushed the family to such a radical step. After that, the spouses were found in Antalya, their son and daughter – all dead. A note left by his father said that they had taken cyanide due to unemployment and financial difficulties.
The migration crisis only exacerbates the situation. In 2015, crowds of refugees rushed to Turkey, mainly from neighboring Syria, but also from other Middle Eastern and North African countries. Many thought they would get to the EU. But the Europeans closed their borders. Stuck halfw-ay, the illegal immigrants did not want to return home. For six years, Turkey, according to official figures, has received 3.7 million Syrians. Many are convinced that the numbers are underestimated. In addition, Afghan refugees periodically penetrate Iranian territory.
“The authorities hide how things really are with migrants. But there are mo-re and more of them. Pre-viously, mainly in Gazia-ntep on the border with S-yria, you could hear Arabic speech. Now it is everywhere in the center of An-kara. About Istanbul, I generally keep quiet, there are a number of refugees. is off the charts, “says Ilkhan, a resident of the Turkish capital. In more prosperous times, the population put up with the presence of illegal immigrants. Now the mood is changing. In early November, a scandal erupted – a video circulated on social media in which a young Turkish woman complains that it is harder for her than for migrants: “You live comfortably, you buy bananas in kilograms, and I can’t even eat one.” In response, the Syrians began posting videos on TikTok where they chewed bananas in a defiant manner. The identities of eight were identified, the young people were detained. The authorities expelled them because they “incite hatred” and “provoke”. The population of Turkey is growing rapidly even without the flow of migrants. Last year, more than a million newborns. The burden on the economy is increasing. Erdogan blames the West – this is how Brussels and Washington are taking revenge on Ankara for its independent policy. The authorities are not yet able to hold on to the lyre. Private and public reserves are fairly modest. A significant part was wasted saving the drowning currency in 2019-2020. In 18 months, the head of the Central Bank was changed four times. Known for his intransigence, Naji Agbal managed to rectify the situation a little. But he did not suit the government – he was replaced by banker Sahap Kavdzhioglu, more loyal to the ruling party.
The economic crisis can affect the political situation as well. Erdogan’s ratings are declining. New elections are scheduled for 2023. But, given the massive discontent of the Turks, it is likely that the authorities will decide on an early parliamentary campaign. And it, according to the new constitution, also presupposes the election of the president.
Erdogan and his party have won two referendums and 18 parliamentary, presidential and local elections. But two years ago they gave in to the opposition. And now the posts of mayors in the main cities – Istanbul and Ankara – are occupied by supporters of the Kemalists. These two mayors may become the main threat to the authorities, in addition to the financial and migration crises.