April 13, 2017 / 9:52 AM / in 3 months

Fearing for future, some Turks seek new lives abroad

5 Min Read

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan waves to the crowd in Istanbul August 10, 2014.Osman Orsal/Files

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Lawyer Savas Ersoy and his wife turned down many chances to leave Turkey and work abroad. But after a failed coup, a wave of bombs and the referendum on expanding presidential powers on Sunday, they are packing their bags.

Like other professionals who are leaving Turkey, the Ersoys say they are uncertain about the country's political future and afraid of instability.

"We have been thinking of moving abroad for about a year and a half. However, with the developments in Turkey over the past six to seven months, we have decided to move," said the 37-year-old lawyer.

Sunday's referendum could grant President Tayyip Erdogan new authority and transform Turkish politics. Already the most powerful leader since the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Erdogan has won successive elections and enjoys strong support among pious and conservative voters, mainly in rural areas.

But he is viewed with suspicion by many liberal Turks, who say the secular foundations of the country of 80 million people are being eroded by an increasingly authoritarian president.

The Ersoys are moving to the Danish capital Copenhagen this month after Ersoy's wife, who works in the pharmaceutical sector, took up the offer of a job they had previously declined.

"We have had job offers from abroad before as well. We didn’t accept them, thinking ’Why would we go?’ But the developments after (the failed coup on) July 15, the referendum, this executive presidency issue, things have gotten out of hand," Ersoy said.

"We don’t know what will happen in six months. Bombs are exploding in many parts of the nation. I have a three-year old daughter and Europe is safer."

A "Yes" vote on Sunday would empower Erdogan to appoint ministers, top officials and judges, dissolve parliament and declare emergency rule - powers his backers say are needed to confront Islamic State and Kurdish militants and root out those behind last July's attempted coup.

Erdogan's critics say the changes would remove checks on his power, lurching Turkey closer to becoming an authoritarian state, after a post-coup crackdown in which more than 100,000 people were sacked or suspended over suspected links with terrorist organisations.

Statistics on exactly how many professionals are leaving Turkey are hard to find, but Ersoy's comments echo those of several who spoke to Reuters in the run-up to the referendum.

Gokhan Gokceoglu, who runs a financial consultancy firm in Britain, said a growing number of Turks were trying to follow in his footsteps.

"As someone who lives in Britain, I can say that there is an increase in demand from white-collar and well-educated people in recent times to live in Britain and get citizenship," he told Reuters while on a holiday break in Istanbul.

Secular Fears

Feray Aksit, 36, worries about how Turkey's secular outlook will be affected by the policies of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party, particularly the impact on her daughter's schooling.

She resigned from her job in the telecommunications sector to prepare for a move to Germany, where her engineer husband found work.

"I am the mother of a girl. The uncertainties in the country, changes to education and the curriculum becoming more detached from science has raised some concerns," she said.

"In terms of security, we don’t have the same comfort we did five or six years ago either... At first we doubted whether we were doing the right thing. But after the decision to hold the referendum, we thought the coming years would be uncertain as well," she said.

While many lawyers, economists, engineers and bankers look for work or university programmes to get residency permits in foreign countries, those who do not have those options - but do have cash - buy property to secure their place abroad.

Several European Union countries offer residency permits in return for real estate investment, with minimum levels set at anything from 250,000 euros to several million euros.

Education consultant Tolga Gurses, 42, attended a presentation in Istanbul promoting investment in Portugal as a way of getting residency permits. "There were approximately 200 participants. Though it is a bit saddening, there is great interest in the option to live abroad," Gurses said.

Another target for real estate investment is neighbouring Greece, despite its often fraught history with Turkey.

“There is a noticeable demand for Greece in recent times," said Cenk Tanman, who founded a website for people wanting to invest there. "They prefer Greece as a plan B."

Selcan Turk, who has lived there for 15 years, set up a business for Turks buying property in Greece. She said she brought dozens of people to examine properties in March, and three of those prospects had turned into sales.

"Turks' interest in Greece has increased dramatically in the past five to six months. Even though their economic status isn't too high, they are using all the resources they have," she said.

Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Sonya Hepinstall

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