Turkey to age more rapidly than expected?

Turkey is the youngest country in Europe and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Is this good news? Lend an ear to Abbas Çelik, the chairman of Society of Immigrants to Diyarbakır, and you shall learn why not.

Turkey to age more rapidly than expected?

A particular theory about the root of the term "türk" suggests that the name comes from "türemek" -- to reproduce, to mushroom.

Leaving the plausibility of the theory aside, Turkey's population is increasing in an unprecedented way in Europe. While the average age in some European countries moving toward 65, in Turkey it is around 20. Turkey is the youngest country in Europe and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Is this good news? Lend an ear to Abbas Çelik, the chairman of Society of Immigrants to Diyarbakır, and you shall learn why not.

"According to recent research we completed, 60 percent of Diyarbakır's population is between 16 and 25 years old. This is a young population that came with immigration and is underemployed. Most of them work daily jobs, like selling handkerchiefs and cigarettes and cleaning carts. They are left uneducated. Eleven to 12 people stay in one house. This produces victims of immigration, drug users and purse snatchers," Çelik says.

Professor Velittin Kalınkara is the head of Association for Research into Problems of Advanced Age. He says the high rate of population increase among Turks is one of the causes of the recent decision made by Germany about legislation that would make it more difficult for extended families to join their Turkish relatives. "The population increase in Turkey has something to do with ethnic origins or religious beliefs," he says.

Former Undersecretary of Health Dr. Aytun Çıray classifies countries into three groups by means of birth and death rates: developed countries with low birth and low death rates, developing countries with high birth rates and decreasing death rates, and underdeveloped countries with high birth and death rates. "Turkey is among the developing countries. The population planning differs according to which category the country is in. In developed countries it is only about preventing unwanted births. But in countries like Turkey it is about balancing economic development and population growth, bettering mother-child healthcare and decreasing the number of children that need to be taken into state's custody," Çıray explains.

Population-related problems of Western countries are the result of the increasing average age and health expenditures for age-related illnesses. In Turkey the problem is about employment, education and the socialization of young masses. Nurcan Mislioğlu is the general coordinator of Turkish Family Planning Foundation (TAP). She thinks the causality between concentration of population in cities and more developed regions and economic and social problems is mutual: The more concentrated the population in a region, the more economic and social problems you have, and economic and social problems in certain regions encourage immigration to other regions in the country.

Çıray warns that the movement of population move is also related to security. "On the one hand people moved to places they feel secure; on the other, to a certain extent they are encouraged by the security establishment to do so," he says. Çıray thinks these voluntary or forced moves add a second dimension to the demographic problems of Turkey: overpopulated houses in overpopulated cities. "It is questionable whether people living in these houses can have a healthy mindset," Çıray says.

Dr. Vedat Doğan is the director of Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) Geriatrics Coordination Center. He is aware of the problem Çıray mentions. "We must eliminate demographic inequality among regions by introducing a balance between the Marmara, Aegean and Mediterranean regions with increasing populations, and the eastern Anatolian, central Anatolian and southeastern Anatolian regions with decreasing populations in terms of equal opportunities and economic development. The living standards of regions with an outflow of population should be increased," he says. Doğan is in a position to inform what the government is doing about these issues: "The AK Party government has made great efforts to introduce standards to every part of the country. Mass housing projects are being implemented. The provinces that will be provided with incentives for development have been identified, and investments to these provinces are being fostered."

If demographics are such an important issue, the government is supposed to have a grand policy about it. Kalınkara reiterates that Turkey has the State Planning Organization (DPT) and that this organization is responsible for agricultural and demographic planning. This planning should include economic incentives to keep people in their hometowns. "If the products produced in the rural areas are purchased by the government at low prices, then the rural people will migrate to urban areas in order to have better living conditions," Kalınkara criticizes. "Farmers make their own decisions about which crops to raise. If you decide which crop should be raised, then you can readily guide the people who raise that crop. Now agricultural lands are being fragmented, and people migrate to cities. In the cities more people can find employment opportunities, even with a minimum wage."

According to Kalınkara the state need not intervene in the number of children a family can have. Rather, the state should increase awareness about economic realities of the country, so as to lead people to judge reasonably. Mislioğlu warns that there is a difference between population planning and family planning. "Family planning is about health care, about education, about increasing awareness. It is not about limiting the number of children a family can have. In that sense there is no population planning in Turkey," she says. Doğan agrees, but with dismay. "What we understand from population control is allowing people to have healthy children at any time they want and in any number they wish. No restriction or encouragement is made. We only suggest that people have healthy children that they can take care of. Turkey has its own mechanism of demographic dynamics that has intrinsic checks on population. No additional mechanism is currently being planned," he says.

Mislioğlu's solution is to inject "expectations" into the people. "Larger numbers of children are seen in the lower economic echelons of society. The middle class has expectations for themselves and for their children. So they care about the number of children they can afford. Poorer families have no such expectations and no such worries. As their future expectations grow, they will start questioning the number of children they should have," she explains.

She thinks that overemphasizing the growing population dwarfs the real problems of aging in Turkey. She says the birth rate is rapidly decreasing in Turkey but that the population will continue to increase for some time. "Half of the Turkish population is under 26, yet this population is entering its reproductive age. The population will continue to grow for a quarter of a century, but the number of students enrolling to primary education will no longer grow," she says.

Doğan thinks Turkey's future problem will be identical with that of the world: a rapidly aging population. "Turkey's current young population is a window of opportunity that needs to be utilized. This window necessitates translating this young population to production, to development and social energy. This window will stay open for 20-25 years. If we can utilize it, we can become one of the 10 largest economies in the world," Doğan says. But he warns that the real problem on the horizon is an aging population. "We should be ready for that day," he says.

Associate Professor İsmail Tufan is a Mediterranean University expert on geriatrics. He says there are two rapidly aging countries in the world: South Korea and Turkey. "Our birthrate is getting low. Do we have a solution to the ever-exacerbated aging problem?" he asks.

Tufan warns that services created and policies formulated for the elderly today will also be applicable to the young people who will eventually age. "Thus, policies for the elderly are directly related to youth policies. The quality of today's young people offer hints about the age problems we will face in the future," he says. According to him, scholars, the media and the government should take this issue into consideration and discuss it.

Çıray thinks policy making and demographics have a mutual relationship. Politics needs to formulate solutions to the demographic problems, but demographics define the face of politics also. "Population displacement has political repercussions," he says. "A young population living in the suburbs votes in a reactionary way. An educated population with better living standards votes according to their future expectations; the people in the suburbs vote according to their past anger. The votes that went to the Young Party (GP) are the votes of this angry youth. These people have deep fears about life and the future. They want to punish somebody. It is as if they say, 'If I have to suffer such a life, I should vote in such a way that everybody's life should turn into a limbo.' In their subconscious they know that what they are doing is not right. This is not a healthy situation," Çıray explains.

Mislioğlu thinks that the fact that a larger portion of the population is still under 18 should have implications for political parties. "In the future political parties will need to attract more and more young voters," she says.

Tufan agrees, but he thinks that aging has also political implications. "Voting trends of the voters change depending on age," he says. Accordingly, "4.2 percent of the population is above 70. Suggesting that a person above 70 can be considered as having lost all his or her qualities is to say that about 4.7 million voters do not have the capacity to cast votes."

Sunday's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Temmuz 2007, 13:57