Why Brexit? Because... Turkey! (Don't Be Afraid of Turkey)

Warning: If you’re a racist, you can walk away now. Or stay and join the discussion.

On May 25, journalist Liz Cookman wrote her opinions about the Brexit and Turkey in the Guardian. It was a humorous take on the matter. At one point Cookman mentioned that her Turkish students found the UK racist – I believe that was just a generalisation for humour’s sake. I am writing this as a response to the Brexit reasoning based on fears of Turkey entering the EU, to Cookman’s article, and to the comments made about the article on the Guardian opinion website. I read quite many of the comments, and found some racist (some were openly so) and others quite reasonable. Some comments suggested Turkey was a poor country, and most of its citizens would prefer to live in the EU. Those comments also lacked to reflect what the buying power is.

On 23 June, the UK is going to an EU referendum about whether to leave or stay in the EU. One of the strongest arguments for Brexit (the UK leaving the EU) suggests that the EU cannot keep Turkey out and that the EU could see many of Turkish citizens seek work in the UK. Cookman thinks the strongest argument behind the Brexit being Turkey's (also Macedonia, Serbia, Albania etc.) possible entry to the EU is a ridiculous one. I do too. Inspired by her article, and the Guardian users' comments, I decided to write this article - hopefully you can find a few bits of humour in it. The goal of this article is not to suggest Brexit should not happen or that no Turkish person is willing to live in the EU. It is also not a post about why Turkey is beautiful.

As a person who grew up in Turkey, who spent most of her life there, and yet also an international having lived in a few European countries and currently living in Northern Ireland, I felt the urge to explain a few things.

I once believed that we could change the world - if we had enough willpower. That is why I studied Political Science and International Relations for my undergraduate. This was back in the beginning of 2000s, in Istanbul, Turkey. We had a few courses about the European Union. For many people I knew, the European Union was like a utopia. It was the ultimate political form.

Even though I liked the subject, I started seeking my ideals elsewhere. When I first went on with my studies in Europe, I have been asked several questions about where I come from. “Do you ride camels?”, “Are women obliged to wear burkas or headscarves?”, “Can you dress up like this (no headscarf, just ordinary clothes, dresses, skirts etc.) in your country?”, “Can you go out at night and drink?”, “Do you speak Arabic? You use the Arabic alphabet, right?”, “What about the elections? Do you have any?” and so on. I saw a repetition of the prejudices behind these thoughts in the comments section of Cookman’s article.

I remember when we were discussing Turkey’s wish to enter the EU with a group of friends, when asked why a friend does not want Turkey in the EU as an EU citizen himself, my friend answered “I don’t want a country with death penalty to enter the EU.” Capital punishment has been abolished in Turkey as of 2004. My friend was not aware of it. It is sometimes easier to have prejudices or it is not always possible to keep up with the current affairs. However, if one has a strong opinion about a matter, it is better to know the facts about that matter.

I like to talk facts. I criticize whatever problem I see, and try to find solutions. If we will discuss something, it is good to know the facts. One fact is that the Turks are not Arabs. No problem if they were but they are not. I started with this assumption because it tells how some commonly held ideas are not true. In fact, the current inhabitants of the Republic of Turkey have several different origins. Turkish borrows many words from Arabic but the two languages are not at all related; Arabic is a Semitic language whereas Turkish belongs to the Uralic-Altaic family. Turkey uses the same alphabet as the UK and many other countries – except for the few letters that represent a few Turkish sounds that do not exist in British, and lacks a few letters for the English sounds. The same is valid for all countries that use the Latin alphabet. German has the ö and ü letters for instance.

Theoretically – except for the coup times – Turkey is a democracy, and has a laic constitution. The Turks usually pride themselves on being among the first nations to achieve women’s suffrage. Having said that I have first-hand experience with some issues in Turkey, and problems with the practice of democracy is one of them. Maybe what we think we know is not entirely correct. How about some research?

What I am saying is that before we discuss a subject, we need to know our facts. If we are discussing Turkey’s membership application to the EU, it is better to have an idea about what Turkey’s like especially when it comes to people’s everyday life and habits.

I will come back to this in a moment. One common argument about migration is that there is a huge economic reason behind it. While it is often true, there are also several cases of migration which are not economic. My husband and I are here in NI, UK on a legal status with a temporary working permit. Both of us lived outside of our home country before meeting each other. We like to travel, and explore different cultures. I am not sure if we will stay in the UK longer, and I can easily say that our decision to live in different places is not an economic one. However, not everybody is as lucky. If security were a problem, we would have definitely considered emigration.

It was the peak of the anti-government riots when we were sure that we wanted a change of scenery. Not that the riots were not just, on the contrary, it was one of the best times of our lives – meeting people who share the same values with us, feeling in a utopian environment, and having hope but it did not last long.

We thought we could go anywhere. Well, almost. As long as it was safe, and not extremely unstable. Though, because of our job type, the places we could go were both varied and limited. When my husband got the offer for his current position, we were both employed full time in Istanbul. It was not a very hard decision to make because we never had the idea that NI or the UK was racist. We had positive experiences on our visits to the UK before, and I had the chance to work with British and Irish in one of my jobs while living in Barcelona and enjoyed their work ethic and company. I often thought that the UK is one of the most welcoming countries for immigrants and expats.

We were not forced to move from our country. We are not seeking an economic improvement. And we are not citizens of the UK but just temporary expats here who do not have a definite plan for the future. In our particular case what matters most is the easiness of everyday life, and communication, respect for human rights and democracy. And we enjoy those here. While the locals might complain, the expats and newcomers can see the best bits of a society. NI has proved to be home, and our visits to the rest of the UK have been welcoming too.

I once joked when asked why we are here that it was because the Game of Thrones was shot here. I am not saying that money is not important. For some of us there are only more important things such as feeling safe and happy. Having little or no social pressure...

I like Europe, and I know many people in Turkey who do like this little continent. However, I was never a fan of (Turkey’s entry to) the European Union after taking the courses about it. It is complex. It is full of regulations. It is a union. I am not pro membership of Turkey in the EU. Of course, I would like Turkey and the EU to have good relationships but I wish that for all countries in the world. And also it would be great to enjoy free travel without obtaining a visa, as several Turks like Europe, but again that does not mean that I would like Turkey to become a member.

Why?

It is not that Turkey or the EU is bad. They are just not right for each other. Turkey has its own unique cultural aspects, and Europe does have more cultural similarities among its current members. The majority of Turkey having a different religion than the majority of Europe can cause problems indeed. But there are more things that would not click.

When in Turkey I enjoy my cheese. I enjoy my local food. I enjoy the spring, and the convenience of late shopping (even if it is groceries), and fresh fruits and vegetables. That being said, I do not want people to work late hours. Three shifts, and good pay would be the solution, though, I leave the practical solution to the experts.

If Turkey enters the EU, it would have to give up on some local tastes, for instance. Instead of becoming an EU member, I would rather want Turkey to improve its democracy and human rights on its own. It might take the EU as an example at times. You could liken me to a Brexit fan if you want. Just to oversimplify things. Even though I think that the UK is an important member of the EU, I have no say in the Brexit matter, and I hope the people of the UK will decide on the best option for them.

My point is that not everybody in Turkey is pro Turkey’s EU membership nor they are dying to live in an EU country. Would most people want to experience better defence of their human rights? Yes. The EU regulations affect the agriculture and the production of several local goods including different types of cheese, yoghurt, and the street food - the things that the people are used and are unique to Turkey. Can you opt out of all the regulations? The regulations also affect other parts of the economy and the trade. When abroad people can miss the things that they got used to. I am bringing this up in particular because while the EU membership speeds up improvements in areas such as law and politics, whereas, some regulations might have impact on the everyday life. Also I know Turkish people who miss some certain things when abroad. These are not particularly the things that I miss. I am only writing about my observations, and trying to reflect the sentiments of many expats.

Not every well off or educated Turkish citizen would love to – even - travel. Some people like their home so much. Some people hate travelling. And trust me most Turks like their country or at least are used to their lives there. They love the sun, the food, the shops opening till late and on Sundays. They like their cheese, breakfasts, and bread. They usually have strong ties with their friends and family. They like to speak their language, and not worry about helal food or the prayer times. They do not like to worry about money – this is very important. Most people I know in Turkey, would like to feel safe about it. I see a huge misunderstanding when the economically more stable countries’ citizens talk about the immigrants. Turkey is not the best economy in the world. When it comes to complaining about its unemployment, I would be among the first to question the politicians. Though, when you think of Turkey, do not think about millions of people dying to flee to Europe the first minute they are allowed to. The people in Turkey pay a lot for oil, dairy products, gas heating, and meat but they also enjoy some life standards that they would not want to give up. It is very important for most people in Turkey to own a house, a car, live in an urban area, have some savings, and enjoy good food and clothes. While there are many who live on the minimum wage, others who speak a European language, and are qualified are not willing to give up their lifestyle in Turkey. It is not fair to say that the average wage in the UK is this and it is that in Turkey because the rents, the food, the clothes, the public transportation, and some goods might be cheaper depending on the city. One should compare the buying power, and the availability of culturally preferred items. Turks love their food, tea, water, fruits, access to public transport, and health, furniture, clothes or the intangible aspects of their culture such as feeling at home and among friends. There is also a great deal of help among family members and friends when it comes to childcare, grandchildren’s’ needs or any kind of emergency. Who can you ask for money if move abroad? The landlord?

Turkey is the second country in the production of counterfeit or pirated goods. Nothing to be proud of but they find a way to meet the needs of people – some people would not like to give up on the relatively cheaper hairdressers, fashion products, eating out, holidays, etc.

The UK citizens, as holders of one of the most “powerful” passports in the world, possibly do not know how hard it is to obtain a visa to enter a country. You need to provide several documents -most of the time very private details such as bank statements - you need to pay ridiculous amounts of fees, and moreover you face different levels of humiliation when at the border or at the consulate applying for the visa. Most Turks would certainly love to have a free movement inside the Schengen area for quite many like this lovely continent. It is also true that several of them would want to move to Europe. Though, not everybody in Turkey speaks a foreign language, not everybody is able to get a passport as you need to go through other bureaucratic steps for the passport, and plus pay the fee.
Quite many educated, and highly paid people I know in Turkey would not like to leave it forever. Yes, bad weather is relative. But most Turks enjoy the sun, and the UK weather is bad for them. There are still very good public universities where you pay no fees in Turkey, and when the SGK is not enough, most private hospitals accept the SGK patients for a mostly manageable fee.

There are legal and illegal immigrants, as well as expats and students from Turkey in Russia, Germany, Spain, The States, Japan, and pretty much everywhere. Those have already been willing to move. Those have probably paid to go abroad, pass language or other types of exams, and agreed to miss their loved ones. They might not stay in those places for ever. Voluntary migration – be it for economic reasons or a more peaceful life – is not for everyone. When people want to live in a place, they do what they can do. And if such people move to your country, why not be proud, because they already like you? When people are comfortable where they are, they will not seek to move even if it is made easier for them. If you lived in a place other than home for longer than a couple of weeks, you might know how difficult it can be to be away from your loved ones, your memories, and your hometown. Moreover, when you live in a new place, you usually start over. You need to prove yourself. It is almost like being reborn – except that you have to take care of yourself on your own. There will not be many people to help you when you are a sick if you have just moved to a new place.

I lived in different countries. It does not mean that I will stay here in the UK forever. I returned to Turkey in the past. I can return there again or go somewhere completely different. To come here we not only paid for the visa but also the NHS. We pay taxes here, and I believe that we contribute to the community, as much as the community is helping us adapt. We are respectful to everyone, and all we ask for respect in return.

My own experience says there is no complete heaven (on earth). Unless we move to the moon. And all places are beautiful because this is very subjective. Some people can see beauty in a swamp. But certain things are unique.

Most Western countries enjoy human rights, democracy, justice, and economic and political stability more than the rest of the world. However, some people are happy where they were born and raised.

Do not fear the people in Turkey coming to Europe. The situation of the Turkish workers in Germany was different because they were actually offered jobs. They knew that they would be financially safe. So if you have strong thoughts about Turkey and its people, you might want to do some research or ask a local. They would tell you what they like about it and what not. Of course you have the right to have no interest at all. At least, you would not be wrongfully forming ideas about the whole of people, and disregarding the values that made Europe what it is.

P.S. Please check the definition(s) of White and the Caucasian race(s). It might not be as you have thought. I could as well be purple though, but I am not.
Once again, the link to Cookman's article:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/25/vote-leave-turkey-british-migrants-turks-ankara-eu

PPS:
To add more spice to the discussion: While I enjoy visiting archaeological and cultural sites, the turquoise waters, museums, and art galleries, and would visit a new place every week if I had the chance to, for argument’s sake we can say that if one misses such places there are many museums in Europe, and sea sides and great nature, but some food is unique to a certain place. You can read books in your native language, watch movies and TV series in your native language even when you’re abroad. Though you cannot change the weather, always find your local tastes – be it food, music, dresses or handicrafts. What you miss also depends on the person but it is usually the things that you cannot replace/substitute that you miss the most. One can miss the drinking water let’s say but an archaeological site is not among the daily missing lists for everybody.

I once believed that we could change the world - if we had enough willpower. That is why I studied Political Science and International Relations for my undergraduate. This was back in the beginning of 2000s, and in Istanbul, Turkey. We had a few courses about the European Union. For many people I knew, the European Union was like a utopia. It was the ultimate political form.

Even though I liked the subject, I started seeking my ideals elsewhere. When I first went to continue my studies in Europe, I have been asked several questions about where I come from. “Do you ride camels?”, “Are women obliged to wear burkas or headscarves?”, “Can you dress up like this (no headscarf, just ordinary clothes, dresses, skirts etc.) in your country?”, “Can you go out at night and drink?”, “Do you speak Arabic? You use the Arabic alphabet, right?”, “What about elections? Do you have any?” and so on. I saw a repetition of the prejudices behind these thoughts in the comments section of Cookman’s article.

I remember when we were discussing Turkey’s wish to enter the EU with a group of friends, when asked why a friend does not want Turkey in the EU as an EU citizen himself, my friend answered “I don’t want a country with death penalty to enter the EU.” Capital punishment has been abolished in Turkey as of 2004. My friend was not aware of it. It is sometimes easier to have prejudices or not always possible to keep up with the current affairs. However, if one has a strong opinion about a matter, it is better to know the facts about that matter.

I like to talk facts. I criticize whatever problem I see, and try to find solutions. If we will discuss something, it is good to know the facts. One fact is that the Turks are not Arabs. No problem if they were but they are not. In fact, the current inhabitants of the Republic of Turkey have several different origins. Turkish borrowed many words from Arabic but the two languages are not at all related; Arabic is a Semitic language whereas Turkish belongs to the Uralic-Altaic family. Turkey uses the same alphabet as the UK and many other countries – except for the few letters that represent a few Turkish sounds that do not exist in British, and lacks a few letters for the English sounds. The same is valid all countries that use the Latin alphabet. German has the ö and ü letters for instance.

Theoretically – except for the coup times – Turkey is a democracy, and has a laic constitution. The Turks usually pride themselves on being among the first nations to achieve women’s suffrage. Having said that I have first-hand experience with some issues in Turkey, and problems with the practice of democracy is one of them.

What I am saying is that before we discuss a subject, we need to know our facts. If we are discussing Turkey’s membership application to the EU, it is better to have an idea about what Turkey’s like.

I will come back to this in a moment. One common argument about migration is that there is a huge economic reason behind it. While it is often true, there are also several cases of migration which are not economic. My husband and I are here in NI, UK on a legal status with a temporary working permit. Both of us lived outside of our home country before meeting each other. We like to travel, and explore different cultures. I am not sure if we will stay in the UK longer, and I can easily say that our decision to live in different places is not an economic one. However, not everybody is a lucky. If security were a problem, we would have definitely thought about migration.

It was the peak of the anti-government riots when we were sure that we wanted a change of scenery. Not that the riots were not just, on the contrary, it was one of the best times of our lives – meeting people who share the same values with us, feeling in a utopian environment, and hopeful but it did not last long.

We thought we could go anywhere. Well, almost. As long as it is safe, and not extremely unstable. Though, because of our job type, the places we could go were both varied and limited. When my husband got the offer for his current position, we were both employed full time in Istanbul. It was bıt a very hard decision to make because we never had the idea that NI or the UK were racist. We had positive experiences on our visits to the UK before, and I had the chance to work with British and Irish in one of my jobs while living in Barcelona. I often thought that the UK is one of the most welcoming countries for immigrants and expats.

We are not forced to move from our country. We are not seeking an economic improvement. And we are not citizens of the UK but just temporary expats here who do not have a definite plan for the future. In our particular case what matters most is the easiness of everyday life, and communication, respect for human rights and democracy. And we enjoy those here. While the locals might complain, the expats and newcomers can see the best bits of a society. NI has proved to be a home, and our visits to the rest of the UK have been welcoming too.

I once joked when asked why we are here that it was because the Game of Thrones was shot here. I am not saying that money is not important. There are only more important things such as feeling safe, and happy for some of us. Having little social pressure.

I like Europe, and I know many people in Turkey who do like this little continent. However, I was never a fan of the European Union after taking the courses about it. It is complex. It is full of regulations. It is a union. I am not pro membership of Turkey in the EU. Of course, I would like Turkey and the EU to have good relationships but I wish that for all countries in the world. And also it would be great to enjoy free travel without obtaining a visa, as several Turks like Europe, but again that does not mean that I would like Turkey to become a member.

Why?

It is not that Turkey or the EU is bad. They are just not right for each other. Turkey has its own cultural benefits, and Europe does have more cultural similarities among its current members. The majority of Turkey having a different religion than the majority of Europe can cause problems.

When in Turkey I enjoy my cheese. I enjoy my local food. I enjoy the spring, and the convenience of late shopping (even if it is groceries), and fresh fruits and vegetables. If Turkey enters the EU, it would have to give up on some local tastes for instance. Instead of becoming an EU member, I would rather want Turkey to improve its democracy and human rights on its own. It might take the EU as an example at times. You could liken me to a Brexit fan if you want. Just to oversimplify things. Even though I think that the UK is an important member of the EU, I have no say in the Brexit matter, and I hope the people of the UK will decide on the best option for them.

My point is not everybody in Turkey is pro Turkey’s EU membership. Not every well of or educated Turkish citizen would love to – even - travel. Some people like their home so much. Some people hate travelling. And trust me most Turks like their country or at least are used to their lives there. They love the sun, the food, the shops opening till late and on Sundays. They like their cheese, breakfasts, and bread. They usually have strong ties with their friends and family. They like to speak their language, and not worry about helal food or the prayer times. They do not like to worry about money – this is very important. Most people I know in Turkey, would like to feel safe about it. I see a huge misunderstanding when the economically more stable countries’ citizens talk about the immigrants. Turkey is not the best economy in the world. When it comes to complaining about its unemployment, I would be among the first to question the politicians. Though, when you think of Turkey, do not think about millions of people dying to flee to Europe the first minute they are allowed to. The people in Turkey pay a lot for oil, dairy products, gas heating, and meat but they also enjoy some life standards that they would not want to give up. It is very important for most people in Turkey to own a house, a car, live in an urban area, have some savings, and enjoy good food and clothes. While there are many who live on the minimum wage, others who speak a European language, and are qualified are not willing to give up their lifestyle in Turkey. It is not fair to say that the average wage in the UK is this and it is that in Turkey because the rents, the food, the clothes, the public transportation, and some goods might be as cheaper depending on the city. There is also a great deal of help among family members and friends when it comes to childcare, grandchildren’s’ needs or any kind of emergency. Who can you ask for money if move abroad? The landlord?

Turkey is the second country in production of imitation goods. Nothing to be proud of but they find a way to meet the needs of people – some people would not like to give up on the relatively cheaper hairdressers, fashion products, eating out, holidays, etc.

The UK citizens, as holders of one of the most “valuable” passports in the world, possibly do not know how hard it is to obtain a visa to enter a country. You need provide several documents, most of the time very private details such as bank statements, you need to pay ridiculous amounts of fees, and moreover you face different levels of humiliation when at the border or at the consulate applying for the visa. Most Turks would certainly love to have a free movement inside the Schengen area for quite many like this lovely continent. It is also true that several of them would want to move to Europe. Though, not everybody in Turkey speaks a foreign language, not everybody is able to get a passport as you need to go through other bureaucratic steps for the passport, and plus pay the fee.

Quite many educated, and highly paid people I know in Turkey would not like to leave it forever. Yes, bad weather is relative. Most Turks enjoy the sun, and the UK weather is bad for them. There are still very good public universities where you pay no fees, and when the SGK is not enough, most private hospitals accept the SGK patients for a mostly manageable high fee.

There are legal and illegal immigrants, as well as expats and student from Turkey in Russia, Germany, Spain, The States, Japan, and pretty much everywhere. Those have already been willing to move. Those have probably paid to go abroad, pass language or other types of exams, and agreed to miss their loved ones. They might not stay in those places for ever. Voluntary migration – be it for economic reasons or a more peaceful life – is not for everyone. When people want to live in a place, they do what they can do. And if such people move to your country, why not be proud, because they already like you? When people are comfortable where they are, they will not seek to move even if it is made easier for them. If you lived in a place other than home for longer than a couple of weeks, you might know how difficult it can be to be away from your loved ones, your memories, and your hometown. Moreover, when you live in a new place, you usually start over. You need to prove yourself. It is almost like being reborn – except that you have to take care of yourself. There will not be many people to help you when you are a sick if you have just moved to a new place.

I lived in different countries. It does not mean that I will stay here forever. I returned to Turkey in the past. I can return there again or go somewhere completely different. To come here we not only paid for the visa but also the NHS. We pay taxes here, and I believe that we contribute to the community, as much as the community is helping us adapt. We are respectful to everyone, and all we ask for respect in return.

My own experience says there is no complete heaven on earth. Unless we move to the moon. Most western countries enjoy human rights, democracy, justice, and economic and political stability more than the rest of the world. However, some people are happy where they were born and raised.

Do not fear the people in Turkey coming to Europe. The situation of the Turkish workers in Turkey was different because they were actually offered jobs. They knew that they would be financially safe. So if you have strong thoughts about Turkey and its people, you might want to do some research. Of course you have the right to have no interest at all. At least, you would not be wrongfully forming ideas about the whole of people, and disregarding the values that made Europe what it is.

P.S. Please check the definition of White and the Caucasian race. It might not be as you have thought. I could be purple though, but I am not.