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Young Turk voters show deep divisions of Erdogan era

By Reuters - Jun 21,2018 - Last updated at Jun 21,2018

Two young women attend a presidential campaign happening at a pro-Erdogan supporters' kiosk in Istanbul on Tuesday (AFP photo)

ANKARA — Eighteen-year-old student Sena Su Baysal, a first-time voter in Turkey's election on Sunday, can't remember life before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took power but she wishes she had grown up in those earlier times. 

"Turkey used to be a more modern and secular country," she says at home in the capital Ankara, where she lives with her parents. "I would have liked to have lived then."

Mehmet Salih Takil, another student born in 2000, disagrees. He says Erdogan is his idol, and he criticises the "old Turkey".

"I was two years old when Erdogan came to power. My family tells me of the pre-2000 years, life was difficult then. I wouldn't have wanted to live in those years," he said at an election rally for Erdogan in Ankara.

Like the rest of the country, Turkish teenagers taking part for the first time in elections on Sunday have sharply differing takes on Erdogan — the most successful and polarising leader in recent Turkish politics.

His AK Party won elections in 2002 and he took power early the next year, ruling the country since then, first as prime minister and then as president. 

Polls suggest Sunday's vote may be close, with the AK Party possibly losing its parliamentary majority and the presidential vote potentially going to a second round.

Erdogan's supporters, many of them pious conservatives from Turkey's rural heartlands, say he has brought economic growth and restored Islam to public life. Opponents say he has eroded the secular pillars of the republic established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and is plunging Turkey into authoritarianism.


Education system 


But the young Turks Reuters spoke to, all born in the first six months of the millennium, share an overriding concern for education and employment prospects.

Arman Tihminlioglu has chosen to attend university in Germany instead of Turkey, saying that repeated changes to Turkey's education system had worried students. A new curriculum adopted last year excluded Darwin's theory of evolution, university entrance exams were changed and money has poured into "Imam Hatip" religious schools.

"The education system has changed seven times during my high school years. Morale is low for all young people, but it is the people who are responsible for all this. After all, we are ruled by those we elect," Tihminlioglu said.

Welat Aydin, a Kurdish citizen in a remote village in the southeastern province of Mardin, is concerned about the status of the Kurdish language, and a lack of resources in schools.

"We did not receive education in our mother tongue. Education is of poor quality anyway. When there is no chemistry teacher, the literature teacher takes chemistry classes. That is why I did not apply for university entrance exams. I didn't believe I would stand a chance," he said.


Foreign policy 


Zeynep Arslan, a volunteer for the opposition Islamist Saadet (Felicity) Party, has been wearing a Muslim headscarf since she was 12 — a right which Erdogan's government championed — but she faults him for his foreign policy.

"Because I'm wearing the scarf, this doesn't mean that I must ignore the country's problems. This government allows me to cover my head, but it doesn't sever relations with Israel," she said.

In the secular Istanbul district of Kadikoy, Derin Kaleli says she is losing the freedom to choose how to dress. 

"I cannot wear the clothes I like. People in Europe live as they wish. Here I am not as free as I would like to be. We are becoming more and more conservative. We are worried for the future," she said.

Arslan says Erdogan's supporters are too quick to condemn all opposition as traitors, making life almost unbearable. "There is immense pressure on us. We are living in a society which is similar to George Orwell's 1984," she said. 

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