Far from the stereotype of apolitical teenagers, the members of Turkey’s young generation are politically inclined but not particularly enamored with the country’s parties, according to a researcher who recently wrote a book on the cohort, Generation Z.
“In both poor and rich neighborhoods, young people have a very political standing. A political standing is not limited to being part of the youth branch of a political party — objections to the damage we inflict on nature is also a political position,” Evrim Kuran recently told the Hürriyet Daily News. “But definitely they are not fond of Turkey’s political parties or leaders.”
Political parties have been eyeing Generation Z, as millions of them will vote in elections due in 2023. To what degree is Turkey’s Generation Z involved with politics?
With a median age of 32.4, Turkey is a young country that does not like youth. Of those 7.7 million Generation Z voters, 6.5 million will go for the first time to the ballot box, and political parties are looking at tactical moves to attract their votes. Yet there are 25 million Generation Y voters, people who are between 20 and 40 years old. Political parties should first ask what they have done for these 25 million voters.
As for Generation Z, we have to first define what “political,” or “politicized” means.
Are they partisan? No. Are they political? Yes.
We conducted our research in Ankara, İzmir and İstanbul’s lowest-income neighborhoods, as well as in districts where middle- and high-income families live. In both poor and rich neighborhoods, young people have a very political standing. A political standing is not limited to being part of the youth branch of a political party — objections to the damage we inflict on nature is also a political position. But definitely they are not fond of Turkey’s political parties or leaders.
So they are not indifferent to the problems of the world?
How could they be? We are leaving a terrible world to them: a world with damaged nature, collapsed economies and horrendous unemployment levels. There are 1.3 million unemployed university graduates in Turkey. They are worried, and it is unthinkable for people with worries to be apolitical.
But what makes you say that they are sensitive to problems and that they could mobilize to solve them?
The rate of Turkish youth who participate in a civil society organization is 8 percent. There is also a climate of fear in Turkey. When we ask respondents to define living in Turkey, just 15 percent used positive connotation in the ghettos. [The number] was 20 percent in high-income neighborhoods. There is almost no difference. When asked to define Turkey in one word, “difficult” was the most-used word in both neighborhoods. Then, however, comes “heavenly homeland.” They do love their country a lot, but at the same time in both areas, the first thing they say they want to change in the country is the inequality and injustice. That shows their awareness levels. But they have so many fundamental individual problems that only after solving them can they become more active citizens.
You said they love their country, but it seems a lot of them are looking for ways to go abroad.
An overwhelming majority of students who go to private schools coming from high-income groups want to continue their education abroad and start their career abroad. Those in low-income groups want to get out of their neighborhood.
So if I were to ask you to define Generation Z in one word, would it be “worried?”
I would first ask, which Generation Z? Digitalization has further deepened the gap between rich and poor.
The common point is their definition of the country: it is a difficult country, and they are worried. They differentiate in terms of socialization — the type of music they listen to, for instance. The high-income groups listen to rock, while those in ghettos listen to rap: In both, the language of rebellion is music. Rap star Ezel is the only one person that they all like. That’s because he is very real and genuine. One of the fundamental defining characteristics of this generation is being realist and embracing.
If we allow them, different neighborhoods could embrace each other. They all are open to communication. Their aspiration across the board is to find their dream job. The dream of both the rich and the poor is to be employed. Their dreams could have been much different; they could have been colorful and wild. But both have a problem in finding a job, because this is what they see: university graduates without jobs. And also, on both sides, the first thing they want to change is inequality and injustice.
Isn’t it interesting that this is also valid for those high-income groups which are less affected by inequality?
Their worry is not limited to economic inequality. They know the difference between loyalty and meritocracy. Many say, “You can’t get a job unless you know someone.”
While you say they want to be employed, other research has shown that the young generations are less willing to leave home. They are happy living with their parents, which was not the case with the 50 and above.
This is a value-focused generation. They value their parents and the family. You can call them loyal or dependent. I prefer to call them loyal. In both neighborhoods, they say their role model is their mother or father. But they still dream of finding a job.
In the early 1990s, there were 33 universities and you could get yourself into one of them. The Turkey of today is much different. Today, they stick around home and parents because the street and the world outside is so untrustworthy.
What are the differences between Generations Y and Z?
The activism of Generation Y is noisier. Whatever they do, they want to do it together in groups. Generation Z will fight their wars without fighting; they will struggle from where they are seated. They are more silent but more effective. The 6.5 million people who will be eligible to vote in 2023 might not go to the ballot box.
Can we say that their fundamental worry is to get a good education that can land them in a job?
I would formulate it as an education that can be transferable to real life where they can realize themselves. Turkey ranks second in terms of those with neither in education nor in training (NEET). It is more than 30 percent for the age group 15-27. Their biggest problem is the fact that they have no skills and no options.
Does that raise risks of easy manipulation or radicalization?
Exactly. Crime levels in countries with high NEET rates are higher. When these young people wake up, they have no purpose in life. Being a young country is great. But this great potential could easily turn into a big danger.
Actually, this is a generation that values realizing and developing themselves rather than earning money. Doing something meaningful for their community or their country is important for them. The instinct not to harm humans or nature is higher in this community. They are unemployed but money does not top their wish list.
What would you recommend to politicians?
Be genuine. This is a generation that can detect lies; they are equipped to separate the real from the fake. Don’t be pretentious. This is not a generation fond of famous brands, for instance. They look for outfits that are comfortable, not those that are popular to wear. … Wellness will be a rising trend.
They will look for the brands or leaders that will serve their good and welfare.
*Who is Evrim Kuran?
Evrim Kuran co-founded Dinamo Consulting in 2006 and has been working on generational studies and employer branding ever since.
She is the Middle East director employer of the branding research and consulting company Universum.
She is the author of two books, “From Telegram to Tablet,” in which she wrote the five generations of Turkey, and “Z: Understanding a Generation.”