16,000 People Left Istanbul For Izmir. Why?

It can’t be just because of the traffic.

As I always tell people, everything in Turkey is political. The bank you use, the football team you support, the restaurants you go to and whether you drink on a Saturday night: there’s a political significance to your actions, even if you don’t always realize it.

The migration of white-collar workers from Istanbul to Izmir is likely no exception.

According to the Turkish government’s statistical department, TurkStat, more than 16,000 people left Istanbul for Izmir in 2016.

A Daily Sabah report quotes a manager for a consulting company to explain why:

“We are seeing an 80 percent increase in the number of managers over the age of 40 who want to leave Istanbul in the last six months to seek employment in Izmir,” Özlem Veryeri Taşkaya of Hugent is quoted as saying.

But the devil is in the details.

Daily Sabah also writes, “Izmir is known to offer its residents a peaceful and tolerant way of life with great education opportunities for students.”

The key word is “tolerant.” I don’t even know if it’s the right word. But Izmir can be described in much stronger terms.

The city is a stronghold of the opposition Republican People’s Party and is sometimes called “gavur Izmir,” a.k.a. “infidel Izmir.” The nickname can be taken to refer to the relaxed attitude about religion, or the fact that the city used to be very Greek and Christian. Take it as you will.

Its no secret that living in Izmir is a dream for some secular, well-to-do Turks, a.k.a. “white turks.”

Turkish writer Nazlan Ertan has published a couple of articles in the Hurriyet Daily News, referencing this well-known desire: ‘White Turks’ who want to move to Izmir should think again and Test yourself: Are you a true Aegean hedonist?

What inspired these articles? An apparently viral listicle called 35-and-a-half reasons to return immediately to Izmir. Among the reasons listed: two football clubs named after alcoholic drinks, a legendary drinking house, the wines produced in a nearby village and the fact that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s mother lived here.

All of those are things more likely to excite Turks of a certain political leaning.

And, for some, there may be a another, more unsavory reason to move — resentment and racism against Istanbul’s newly-settled Syrian refugees. Many of the country’s nearly 3 million Syrian refugees live in the city.

So remember to read between the lines. Yes, the traffic in Istanbul is horrible, and Izmir has some very beautiful beaches and countryside that are easy to get to. Those may be the reasons some people left Istanbul.

But there’s got to be more to the story. Because everything in Turkey is political.