February 24, 2016

Turks in exile

Ihsan Yilmaz

Last week an Economist article was discussing Russian exiles in London. Several big businessmen have fled Russia after prosecutors targeted them in politically motivated investigations.

Now, in Britain, there is a growing community of exiles who have left or have been pushed out of President Vladimir Putin's Russia. The Economist reports that today London is home to not only the autocratic Russian regime's cronies but also to opponents of the regime. Especially the cronies keep buying property in London in case they lose power in Russia and do not want the new guardians of the state to confiscate their properties. Many bright young people are also leaving the country. The result is one of the largest brain drains in Russian history: “Most young Russians in London are neither exiles nor oligarchs, but professionals in search of the careers and intellectual fulfillment they can no longer find at home,” reports the Economist.

There has been a similar heartbreaking process going on in Turkey. The President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regime has been cracking down on its critics. It has jailed several businessmen on groundless charges of terrorism. The only evidence the prosecutors have are the official donations made by these businessmen to foundations affiliated with the Hizmet movement. The regime has also been confiscating the properties of these businessmen, saying that they have been used to fund terrorism.

Last week, Erdoğan met with some Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies and according to the Hürriyet daily, the deputies complained that some businessmen affiliated with Hizmet have been selling their properties. Erdoğan told them that the state would be faster in confiscating their properties. Some of these businessmen are now in several European and American cities looking for havens for their capital. It is not only the Hizmet volunteers who face these problems, even though at the moment they are the main targets. Many more businessmen from other backgrounds are also making plans to invest in places outside of Turkey in order not to keep all their eggs in the one basket – and a lawless country at that.

Similar to the Russian experience, many bright young people and professionals are also looking at ways of leaving Turkey and settling in democratic countries. Many academics are now looking for jobs in the West. Some of them are preparing for visiting professorships that do not pay any salaries. Some people are selling their homes and cars to finance their departures. They are hoping that in a few years' time, despotism in Turkey will end and they will be able to go back to Turkey.

It is not only Erdoğan's opponents who are investing abroad. Similar to the Russian case, many of Erdoğan's cronies are also looking for opportunities to channel some of their money to the West and to the East. Fearing that their kleptocratic regime may not go on for long and they may have to answer some questions about their wealth, they are heavily buying property in different parts of the world. In some cases, they are buying these properties in their friends' names or finding some locals who agree to nominally own these properties. It cannot be known how many of those will give these properties to their real owners if the Erdoğan regime collapses.

Similar to many other third world countries, the poor country's blood has been sucked and wounded by its own kleptocratic elite to the benefit of other countries. What a shame!

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 February 2016, Wednesday