Swiss citizens in Turkey: between earthquakes and elections

Turkey is a popular emigration destination: in the last 12 years, the Swiss diaspora in Turkey has doubled. Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Earthquakes, high inflation and the suppression of critical voices: the people of Turkey are going through difficult times. But a turnaround could be on the horizon. In mid-May the country will hold presidential elections. How do the Swiss abroad see current events in their adopted country?

This content was published on May 4, 2023 - 09:00

Our conversation with Michelle Salan had to be postponed at short notice.  “Unfortunately, today we have no electricity,” writes the Swiss native from Oguzeli, a town in south-eastern Turkey. Electricity cuts are common these days. The patchy power supply and the internet outages, though, are not as bad as the lack of running water, says the 52-year-old.

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Salan has lived in Turkey for two years. In January she married her Turkish boyfriend. Since the earthquake in early February, a deep crack has appeared along the wall of her apartment building. Experts, however, have now declared that her apartment is safe to return to.

As Salan does not speak any Turkish, she reads Swiss media to stay informed. “Many things don’t even make it to Europe,” she says. She watched the coverage of the disaster in February and noticed that it died down very quickly. "But the earth is still shaking and a few weeks ago we had bad floods," she points out.

Michelle Salan's home: Since the earthquake, the cracks run deeper than just across the façades. zVg

Feeling the effects of inflation

Salan, who lives in the earthquake zone, is in the process of packing up her belongings. She has decided to head back to Switzerland – at least for the time being. "My pension fund is empty," she says. Her elderly father and daughters in Switzerland are further reasons why she wants to go home.

Michelle Salan is moving back to Switzerland. zVg

The high rate of inflation in Turkey influenced her decision. Food is getting more expensive every week, petrol prices are skyrocketing, and rents have gone up considerably. "In winter, the locals had to think about whether they wanted to heat [their homes] or eat," says another Swiss native living in Turkey.

According to The EconomistExternal link, inflation jumped to nearly 80% in mid-2022. The domestic currency, the lira, has slumped. The central bank caved to pressure from the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and kept interest rates low despite high inflation. Yet the Turkish economy has managed to stay afloat, even recording 11% growth in GDP in 2021. “Much of that is the result of Turkey’s many commercial strengths,” writes the newspaper.

With 85 million mostly young consumers, the country has a large domestic market. It has long been a hub for trade between East and West, and the country's business culture is deeply rooted. "The proportion of the population that aspires to be entrepreneurs is high by international standards," says The Economist.

Turkey an attractive destination for immigrants

Swiss native Selin Grögli and her 50 dogs live 1,000 kilometres north of the earthquake’s epicentre, in the province of Kocaeli on the Sea of Marmara.

Selin Grögli has dedicated herself to animal welfare in Turkey. zVg

Grögli, who has called Turkey home for six years, has just hired a new assistant at her dog sanctuary who hails from the earthquake zone.

If the sanctuary were a multi-storeyed building, he would not have accepted the job. "He is traumatised," says Grögli. Everyone she knows in Turkey has lost at least one family member in the disaster.

At first the 55-year-old had no desire to emigrate to Turkey. But she got stranded at the border of northern Cyprus six years ago. In order to enter the country, her dog would have had to go into quarantine, a step she wanted to avoid. So she set off for Turkey.

Since then, she’s come to appreciate the advantages the country has to offer: "The climate is good, the health system works, and you can learn the language," says Grögli, who communicates in Turkish with ease.

In 2022, 5,342 Swiss nationals were living in Turkey - that's around 2,000 more people than ten years ago. "You get a warm welcome here," says Salan. She enthuses about the country’s natural beauty, which she says is as varied as Ticino’s, the southern Swiss canton.

Will Erdogan remain in power?

Change could soon be coming to Turkey. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on May 14. The opposition group Nation Alliance consists of six parties and could agree on a common candidate: Kemal Kilicdaroglu. He could topple Erdogan from his position of power, which he has held for roughly 20 years.

"No matter who takes over the top job in Ankara, nothing will change for me," says Grögli. Her home is so remote that politics in the capital hardly affect her. In her view, however, the country is divided. The veterinarian who treated Grögli’s dogs, for example, has sold his clinic in Antalya. "He won't start anything new until after the elections,” she says.

Grögli speaks often with the locals, most of whom would vote for the opposition. Salan's Turkish husband is also hoping for a change in leadership.

Erdogan promised more than 20 years ago that building regulations would be rigorously enforced in the future. But houses that were supposedly earthquake-proof collapsed during the February earthquake, killing tens of thousands of people. This triggered sharp criticism of the president.

A severe earthquake shook the province of Kocaeli, where Grögli lives, 24 years ago. It helped President Erdogan come to power. Perhaps a new president will come to power in the same way.

Translated from German by Sue Brönnimann

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