Spurning Erdogan’s Vision, Turks Leave in Droves, Draining Money and Talent

ISTANBUL — For 17 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won elections by offering voters a vision of restoring the glories of Turkey’s Ottoman past. He extended his country’s influence with increased trade and military deployments, and he raised living standards with years of unbroken economic growth.

But after a failed 2016 coup, Mr. Erdogan embarked on a sweeping crackdown. Last year, the economy wobbled and the lira plunged soon after he won re-election with even greater powers. As cronyism and authoritarianism seep deeper into his administration, Turks are voting differently — this time with their feet.

They are leaving the country in droves and taking talent and capital with them in a way that indicates a broad and alarming loss of confidence in Mr. Erdogan’s vision, according to government statistics and analysts.

In the last two to three years, not only have students and academics fled the country, but also entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and thousands of wealthy individuals who are selling everything and moving their families and their money abroad.

More than a quarter of a million Turks emigrated in 2017, according to the Turkish Institute of Statistics, an increase of 42 percent over 2016, when nearly 178,000 citizens left the country.

Turkey has seen waves of students and teachers leave before, but this exodus looks like a more permanent reordering of the society and threatens to set Turkey back decades, said Ibrahim Sirkeci, director of transnational studies at Regent’s University in London, and other analysts.

“The brain drain is real,” Mr. Sirkeci said.

The flight of people, talent and capital is being driven by a powerful combination of factors that have come to define life under Mr. Erdogan and that his opponents increasingly despair is here to stay.

They include fear of political persecution, terrorism, a deepening distrust of the judiciary and the arbitrariness of the rule of law, and a deteriorating business climate, accelerated by worries that Mr. Erdogan is unsoundly manipulating management of the economy to benefit himself and his inner circle.

The result is that, for the first time since the republic was founded nearly a century ago, many from the old moneyed class, in particular the secular elite who have dominated Turkey’s cultural and business life for decades, are moving away and the new rich close to Mr. Erdogan and his governing party are taking their place.

One of those leaving is Merve Bayindir, 38, who is relocating to London after becoming Turkey’s go-to hat designer in the fashionable Nisantasi district of Istanbul.

“We are selling everything,” she said in an interview during a return trip to Istanbul last month to close what was left of her business, MerveBayindir, which she runs with her mother, and to sell their four-story house.

Ms. Bayindir was an active participant in the 2013 protests against the government’s attempt to develop Taksim Square in Istanbul. She said she remains traumatized by the violence and fearful in her own city.

Mr. Erdogan denounced the protesters as delinquents and after enduring arrests and harassment many have left the country.

“There is so much discrimination, not only cultural but personal, the anger, the violence is impossible to handle,” Ms. Bayindir said. “If you had something better and you see it dissolving, it’s a hopeless road.”

Thousands of Turks like her have applied for business visas in Britain or for golden visa programs in Greece, Portugal and Spain, which grant immigrants residency if they buy property at a certain level.

Applications for asylum in Europe by Turks have also multiplied in the last three years, according to Mr. Sirkeci, who has studied the migration of Turks to Britain for 25 years.

He estimates that 10,000 Turks have made use of a business visa plan to move to Britain in the last few years, with a sharp jump in applications since the beginning of 2016. That is double the number from 2004 to 2015.

Applications by Turkish citizens for political asylum also jumped threefold in Britain in the six months after the coup attempt, and sixfold among Turks applying for asylum in Germany, he said, citing figures obtained from the United Nations refugee agency. The number of Turks applying for asylum worldwide jumped by 10,000 in 2017 to more than 33,000.

A large proportion of those fleeing have been followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher who is charged with instigating the 2016 coup, or people accused of being followers, often on flimsy evidence.

Tens of thousands of teachers and academics were purged from their jobs after the coup, including hundreds who had signed a peace petition calling on the government to cease military action in Kurdish cities and return to the peace process. Hundreds have taken up posts abroad.

Mr. Erdogan has tried to make Turkey more conservative and religious, with a growing middle class and a tight circle of elites who are especially beholden to him for their economic success.

The flight of capital and talent is the result of this conscious effort by Mr. Erdogan to transform the society, said Bekir Agirdir, director of the Konda polling company.

With the help of subsidies and favorable contracts, the government has helped new businesses to emerge, and they are rapidly replacing the old ones, he said. “There is a transfer of capital underway,” he said. “It is social and political engineering.”

Ilker Birbil, a mathematician who faces charges for signing the peace petition and left Turkey to take up a position at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, warned that the country was losing people permanently.

“People who are leaving do not want to come back,” Mr. Birbil said, citing the polarized political climate in the country. “This is alarming for Turkey.”

“I have received so many emails from students and friends who are trying to get out of Turkey,” he said.

Students are despairing of change partly because they have grown up with Mr. Erdogan in power for 17 years, said Erhan Erkut, a founder of MEF University in Istanbul, which teaches innovation and entrepreneurship.

“This is the only government they have seen, they do not know there is another possibility,” he said.

Families are setting up businesses abroad for the next generation to inherit, said Mr. Sirkeci of Regent’s University, adding that many students at his private university fell into that category.

At least 12,000 of Turkey’s millionaires — around 12 percent of the country’s wealthy class — moved their assets out of the country in 2016 and 2017, according to the Global Wealth Migration Review, an annual report produced by AfrAsia Bank.

Most of them moved to Europe or the United Arab Emirates, the report said. Turkey’s largest business center, Istanbul, was listed among the top seven cities worldwide experiencing an exodus of wealthy people.

“If one looks at any major country collapse in history, it is normally preceded by a migration of wealthy people away from that country,” the report said.

Mr. Erdogan has reviled as traitors businesspeople who have moved their assets abroad as the Turkish economy began to falter.

“Pardon us, we do not forgive,” he warned in a speech at the Foreign Economic Relations Board, a business association in Istanbul in April. “The hands of our nation would be on their collars both in this world and in the afterlife.”

“Behavior like this cannot have a valid explanation,” Mr. Erdogan added.

His comments came amid reports that some of Turkey’s largest companies were divesting in Turkey. Several such companies have made significant transfers of capital abroad, amid fears they would be targeted in the post-coup crackdown or as the economy began to contract.

One is the Turkish food giant Yildiz Holding, which came under fire on social media as being linked to Mr. Gulen’s movement.

Soon after, Yildiz rescheduled $7 billion of debt and sold shares of its Turkish biscuit maker, Ulker, to its London-based holding company, essentially transferring the family’s majority holding of Ulker out of reach of Turkish courts.

“Billions of dollars have fled Turkey in the last couple of years, especially after the coup attempt when people started to feel threatened,” said Mehmet Gun, the owner of a law firm in Istanbul.

Ms. Bayindir, the designer, began slowly moving her company to London two years ago. In Turkey she had half a dozen workers and a showroom, but now she designs and makes the hats herself out of a rented atelier in London.

“I could have stayed,” in Istanbul, she said. “‘I would be better off.”

But life in Turkey had become so tense, she said, that she fears civil strife or even civil war could develop between Erdogan supporters and their opponents.

“Now when I come here I don’t see the same Istanbul,” she said. “She does not have energy anymore. She looks tired. Me not wanting to come here is a big, big thing, because I am one of those people who is in love with the city itself.”

Follow Carlotta Gall on Twitter: @carlottagall.

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Trudeau Apologizes for Canada’s Turning Away Ship of Jews Fleeing Nazis

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in Parliament on Wednesday and apologized for Canada’s decision to turn away a steamliner full of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany on the eve of the Holocaust 79 years ago, saying it reflected years of regrettable anti-Semitic foreign policy.

The Canadian government at the time, run by the same Liberal party that Mr. Trudeau leads today, refused to allow the steamliner, the St. Louis, to land in June 1939 after it had been blocked from docking at its original destination, Havana. The boat was filled with more than 900 passengers, most of them Jews who had fled Germany four months before World War II began.

“We apologize to the mothers and fathers whose children we did not save, to the daughters and sons whose parents we did not help,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The United States also refused the captain’s desperate pleas for asylum, as did Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Panama. In the end, the boat returned to Europe, but not to Germany. Jewish organizations secured them visas to Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. But, as Germany expanded its territory, some 254 were captured and killed in Nazi death camps.

“We refused to help them when we could have. We contributed to sealing the cruel fates of far too many at places like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec. We failed them. And for that, we are sorry,” said Mr. Trudeau, wearing a red poppy on the lapel of his suit as is Canadian tradition in November to mark Remembrance Day.

Since he was elected three years ago, Mr. Trudeau has made apologizing a regular ritual, even by Canadian standards. The apologies, in large part, are a reflection of the country’s continued struggle to atone for its colonial and racist past, particularly when it comes to its treatment of First Nations people.

While some have begun to roll their eyes, other Canadians say they are proud the country is making amends.

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Canadians today tend to think of their country as compassionate and tolerant. But its position on Jewish refugees before, during and after the war was infamously articulated by one government official at the time: None is too many.

Britain accepted 70,000 Jewish refugees between the rise of Hitler in Germany in 1933 and the end of the war in 1945. The United States took in 200,000. Vast and underpopulated Canada accepted 5,000.

Mr. Trudeau’s apology came less than two weeks after a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 worshipers, and at a time when anti-Semitism is rising across North America. It was not lost on many that it was delivered the day after an American election campaign marked by refugee-bashing.

“The rhetoric we are hearing across the border is very similar to the rhetoric we heard in the 1930s — the vilification of the other, the vilification of the press. It’s really scary,” said Danny Gruner, who attended Wednesday’s apology with his mother, Ana Maria Gordon, the sole survivor of the St. Louis living in Canada today.

Ms. Gordon, who met with Mr. Trudeau privately, was surrounded by many of her great-grandchildren and grandchildren.

Last week, Mr. Trudeau apologized to a British Columbia First Nation for the government’s treachery in inviting six Tsilhqot’in chiefs to peace talks 150 years ago. Instead of talking, the government arrested them, put them on trial and hanged them.

He has also apologized to Omar Khadr, the only Canadian who was held at the United States military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He emotionally apologized to gay members of the army, the police and in public service who were persecuted — some even imprisoned — because of their sexual orientation.

And he tearfully said sorry to indigenous people in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where for much of the 20th century indigenous children were torn from their families and compelled to attend boarding schools, where many were abused.

“You will not remove the guilt from the perpetrators of the horror,” Mr. Gruner said. “But at least you can come to terms with what the country was at the time, and try to understand where we are at this particular time and where we want to be.”

Judith Steel, an 80-year-old grandmother from Queens, traveled to Ottawa to witness Mr. Trudeau’s apology. She was 14 months old when she boarded the St. Louis with her parents.

They ended up in France, where she was hidden for the duration of the war. Both her parents were sent to Auschwitz in occupied Poland, and murdered.

“I felt the prime minister’s heart. He was just so open and honest,” said Ms. Steel, who cried throughout Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Apologies are a very big part of my life,” said Ms. Steel, who immigrated to the United States after the war to be raised by her aunt and uncle. “What eats you up is the anger, the fear and all the emotions that go with loss. We have to forgive — not for them, but for ourselves.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau mentioned the growing anti-Semitism that has bubbled up in Canada, as it has in the United States, and vowed to stamp it out.

“Canada and all Canadians must stand up against xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still exist in our community, in our schools and in our places of work,” he said.

Canada’s policy toward Jews during and after World War II was exposed by two university professors, first in an academic paper and later in the 1982 book, “None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe. Their findings had a profound effect on the country’s psyche and directly influenced the Canadian government’s decision to open its arms to Vietnamese refugees, accepting some 60,000 people fleeing the Communist government.

That legacy continued as the country accepted around 58,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian war over the past three years.

But after Mr. Trudeau tweeted that refugees were welcome in Canada, "regardless of your faith,” and asylum seekers began to flood across the border from the United States into Canada, the topic of immigration has become politically heated in the country again.

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