Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.
Almost 40 percent of people in Turkey do not have a home. In these circumstances, we will focus on students, who are the most trapped, struggling with the most misery, and seen as overpopulation or a burden (parasite?).
There is a significant housing crisis in Turkey. However, this problem is separate from other issues. The housing crisis is a problem that intersects with almost all aspects of human life, such as eating, drinking, dressing, heating, and education. We should consider these infamies together, as it negatively affects all these problems.
The problem of shelter is a problem of living, or rather, of being unable to live. It is absurd to think that class is not at the root of this problem in Turkey, where class warfare continues with all its fierceness, where the masses spend their lives working, and where inequality flows in all the capillaries of social life. In a world run by capitalists, nothing remains uncommodified. Our homes also suffered from it. In the last forty-fifty years, people’s homes with at least a roof over their heads have been put on the market as an investment tool. As a result, people left at the market’s mercy became homeless.
According to the 2020 European Statistical Office (Eurostat) on living conditions in Europe, almost 40 percent of people in Turkey do not have a home. That is very heartbreaking. In Turkey, 40 percent of people don’t have a home where they feel they belong, a life they can live without thinking about their future rent at the end of the month, without putting up with the landlord’s hideous. That means 40 percent of people spare their food, drink, and heating to have a house, even at exorbitant prices.
However, we are passing through the days when even homeowners tighten their belts. Because there is a robust capital attack in Turkey, this is a topic to be discussed elsewhere. In these circumstances, we will focus on students, who are the most trapped, struggling with the most misery, and seen as overpopulation or a burden (parasite?). We will look at this from Ankara, the capital of the country, the spatial and ideological center of the Republic.
“We are not living, just breathing”
Students do indeed live like insects. Just like insects nest in the nooks and crannies of houses, dwelling in the dirty corners and chasing crumbs, the students in Ankara are forced to live in the basements or below-ground-level flats of the city, in houses that no one would want to live in under normal conditions.
In Ankara, as in other cities, young people fight poverty and sometimes hunger. They live in dreary houses with damp, crumbling walls and dripping taps. According to Eurostat’s abovementioned data, Turkey ranks second in Europe in terms of living in such problematic flats. Nevertheless, its effect on one’s mood should not be ignored. Moreover, they pay hefty rents for these 60-70-year-old houses, which are one step away from being in ruins. Rents are now around three to four thousand Turkish liras, depending on the district. If it’s time to pay for natural gas, water, electricity, and internet bills following the rent, there is barely money left if not. You can hear young people saying: “We are not living, just breathing.”
The number of students working while studying increases
So how do young people in Ankara survive?
How do young people survive these days when Acun Ilıcalı’s famous program Survivor becomes a parody of social life? In the past twenty years, scholarships and loans given by the state have decreased from one-third of the minimum wage to one-sixth. Current scholarships and loans are 850 Turkish liras. By the way, it should be mentioned. These loans are the most prominent burden on young people’s shoulders and one of the most significant factors that drag them into futurelessness and psychological depression.
Considering today’s economic conditions, it is not difficult to guess that a student’s financial support from their family is minimal. In addition, circumstances have increased our anxiety threshold.
The number of students working while studying is increasing rapidly. However, it is known that Ankara is far behind compared to Istanbul in terms of wages and working conditions in the “table-waiting” market that comes to mind as a “student job.”
Students can’t afford breakfast
The number of meals most of us eat has dropped to two. Because of that, students can no longer have breakfast. Instead, lunches at school are preferred because they are relatively cheaper. Thus, by skipping a meal they are “saving” from their nutrition.
Çankaya Municipality gives free dinners to university students every weekday. The demand for this service is so high that often there is no end to the line. Students do not hesitate to wait in line for hundreds of meters for food in the cold of winter; because they have no other choice. To cover at least one meal for free, people risk getting cold.
Of course, there are also meals with simits, pastries, or snacks; there are quite a few. Thus, understandably, we are fed very poorly; its results are pale skin, dull eyes, acne-prone faces, etc.
Shelter problem spreads to all areas of life
During Ankara’s infamous winter season, it is tough to warm up. In this regard, lack of money does not leave chasing us. Natural gas and electricity prices are so high that a student who would be able to turn on a combi boiler or use a heater has to pay huge bills. Students who have no choice spend their days in libraries, shopping malls, or Starbucks, where they don’t have to order drinks constantly.
In such dire conditions, education cannot be considered a priority for students; because we live at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. To equip ourselves academically, we must at least have a warm home and a boiling bowl of soup. Nobody has money to buy books. Sometimes, we even brood on the photocopy of many course books or notes. Let’s reiterate that; the shelter problem permeates every aspect of life.
Turkey’s youth and young people in Russian classics
Who is responsible for all this? It is the state that opened a university in every city, without any academic or pro-student concern, only to revive that city’s economy and make money for enterprises. It is the state that uses university education to delay youth unemployment. It is the state that cuts the scholarships or loans of young people, leads them to starvation because they oppose injustice, economic crisis, and poor quality education, and says, “we cannot shelter.” It is the state that forced Enes Kara into committing suicide by trapping him in congregation-owned dormitories, just like it forced the other thousands of young people. It is the state that guards the capitalists.
Nowadays, young people in Turkey are often compared to the melancholy, miserable, poor young characters in Russian novels. The actual reference is Raskolnikov, the terrific protagonist of The Crime and Punishment. Meanwhile, for inspiration, one can look at the English and French classics, which also reveal how the people were pushed into poverty in parallel with the development of capitalism. Thus, we can see the universality of this problem that has haunted the lives of societies. But, unfortunately, the stories of these young characters often end sadly.
We don’t need finales that make us feel small or indifferent in the face of endless problems; we need stories to show that we can get out of this siege of misery. And the youth can write this with their own power.