Political transition on the Bosphorus?

Turkey's "woke" Generation Z haunts President Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to win over the millions of young Turks who will soon be of voting age. Yet many of the country's youth are in rebellious mood and openly reject him and his policies. By Sinem Ozdemir and Daniel Derya Bellut

Currently, everyone in Turkey is talking about Generation Z – a term that refers to those young people born around the turn of the millennium. It is a generation that knows no other Turkey than one ruled by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic–conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP). And it is also a generation of digital natives who like to spend lots of time on social media.

The group recently got Turkey's attention as the result of an obscure political decision that moved the date for the country's annual college entrance exams – an existential test that youth across the country cram for every year – up a whole month, from late July to 27-28 June.

Students were furious because they suspected the move was nothing more than a gimmick to benefit the country's ailing tourism industry, which has been is crisis mode since coronavirus first hit. Students say the plan is to get them to go on vacation – despite the ongoing threat of infection – since they will be finished with studying a month earlier than planned. The Turkish government denies such accusations.

"It's awful that the economy and the tourism industry are being given priority over our health," says 19-year-old Asli from Ankara. She took the test for the second time and says she was under a lot of pressure to do better this time.

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#OyMoyYok – not getting my vote

"We're in a situation where we just don't know who to trust anymore," says Fatih, also a student from Ankara. Fatih says it was unclear if the test would really be re-scheduled or not, adding, "This is Turkey, anything can happen."

School leavers turn up to take their university matriculation exams on 27 June in Ankara (photo: picture-alliance)
Brought forward for economic reasons? Many prospective students suspect that bringing forward the central examination for university admission was intended to revive the country's tourism industry, which is in crisis due to the corona pandemic. By shortening revision time by one month, young Turks would have more time for holidays – despite the increased risk of infection. However, the Turkish government has denied this

Recently, young Turks gave the president a taste of their disapproval as only they can. When Erdogan took to YouTube on the day before the exam for a "Meet with the kids" event, the nice words he used to address these potential voters fell on deaf ears. In fact, the youth tuning in were quick to voice their anger. Thousands blasted Erdogan, taunting him with real-time comments, only to then move on to the next platform – like Twitter, where they railed further and launched the hashtag campaign #OyMoyYok (Not getting my vote), which proceeded to spread like wildfire.

Since then, Generation Z has become the object of study. Essentially, the group consists of anyone born between the years 1995 and 2010. Estimates suggest that some 13 million young Turks fit into that group and that they could play a key role in future elections. Many will soon be able to vote for the first time, but no one really knows just how they tick.

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