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Turks in Germany predict artist exodus after Erdogan reelection

AFP
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Turks in Germany predict artist exodus after Erdogan reelection
Archive photo shows a German and Turkish flag flying next to each other in front of the Chancellery in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

Turkish artists and intellectuals living in Germany fear that a whole generation of creative young people will leave Turkey after Erdogan's historic election win.

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Turkish artist Bugra Erol, 36, has worked between Berlin and Istanbul over the last few years but his country's decision to re-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spurred him to move his studio to Germany
for good.

"Life has been difficult for artists like me in the last decade and the result of the last election was the cherry on the cake," he told AFP.

"I feel like I spent all my life with the struggle," said Erol, who first came to Berlin in 2017 in search of more artistic freedom.

Erdogan, who enters his third decade of rule with Sunday's historic victory, has overseen the country's worst economic crisis since the 1990s with inflation running at more than 40 percent.

He has also caused growing consternation with his crackdowns on dissent, with thousands of opposition figures and campaigners jailed since an attempted coup in 2016.

READ ALSO: Turkish diaspora voters head to polls in Germany

Refuge for dissidents

Isil Egrikavuk, a performance artist and academic based in Berlin, believes many of her peers will choose to leave Turkey.

"People have been leaving increasingly" since the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and "in the last years these numbers increased also", she said.

"Some people were waiting for the result of the elections, of course, to determine whether to leave or stay. And I think with this result, the brain migration will continue."

Egrikavuk, 42, points to "a bit of relief in seeing that (Erdogan) won with a very close margin".

Turkish citizens voting in Germany

A man casts his vote at a polling station at the Turkish consulate general in Hürth, western Germany. Photo: Oliver Berg / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT

"That shows that he is not so strong any more, half of the country doesn't want him," she said. But she also sees "hopelessness or sadness or despair among the opposition, or people who are more open minded and liberal, who want more freedom".

There are roughly three million people of Turkish origin or descent living in Germany, the largest diaspora outside Turkey.

A clear majority of Turks in Germany voted for Erdogan in both the first election two weeks ago and the runoff on Sunday.

The so-called Turkish guest workers who arrived in the 1960s were often religious working-class people from rural areas and have passed on their values to their children -- many of whom vote Erdogan today.

But Germany has also become a refuge for Turkish dissidents in recent years, attracting artists, musicians and academics who have clashed with the government or grown frustrated with restrictions on their freedom.

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'Still hope'

Some politicians in Germany have also expressed disappointment with the election result, including Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir -- who himself has Turkish roots.

Ozdemir accused Erdogan's supporters in a tweet of celebrating his victory "without having to answer for the consequences of their vote".

Many people in Turkey would have to continue living in poverty and with restrictions on their freedom, he said. "They are rightly angry. This will have to be talked about!"

READ ALSO: Turks in Germany hope for citizenship law overhaul

Exiled journalist Can Dundar, who has been living in Berlin since 2016 with an arrest warrant against him in Turkey, also believes many young creatives will now leave Turkey.

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"The country is unbearable now for (young people) in every sense, economically, psychologically, sociologically, daily life is destroyed, economic conditions are horrible," he told AFP.

But Dundar, who was handed a jail sentence after his Cumhuriyet newspaper published an article criticising the government, has always intended to return home.

"From the first day, it was my target to go back and struggle for the reestablishment of Turkish democracy. And I still want to do so," he said.

He believes "there is still hope" of shifting Turkey away from autocratic rule.

"Turkey is not a proper democracy like France or Germany, but it's not Belarus or Iran," he said.

Likewise, Erol said he will "always be part of the struggle to live the life we want.

"Istanbul will always be my real home."

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