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Turkish youth chat next to Bosphorus strait’s Golden horn (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

According to 2011 data, half of the Turkish population (totalling 79,414,269) is younger than 29 years old.

The rapid decline in birth rate (to 2.3 in 2010) points to the likelihood of an aging population by 2040. At the turn of the 2010s, however, Turkey was one of the demographically youngest countries in Eurasia, which explains its obvious social, economic, and cultural dynamism. The numerical importance of young people – which can be explained by urbanization in recent decades, accompanied by improvements in social, economic, and health conditions and the provision of many services in rural areas – raises three issues, regarding their social status, freedom, and political role.

First, it is clear that young people are largely deprived of the means of livelihood and autonomy: according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, whose reliability is questioned, unemployment affected only 18.4 percent of youth, compared to 10.4 percent of the total population; other official sources, however, put the percentage at 26.

Second, it is clear that the social ultra-conservatism existing for several decades in Turkey gives young people little room for manoeuvre in some provincial towns and in large parts of Istanbul and Ankara. Young people may have access to places that are more or less free of these restrictions – as on the famous İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul, Kızılay in Ankara, and Kordon (an esplanade) in Izmir – where cultural resources are abundant, socialization of men and women is permitted, and alcohol consumption is widely accepted, but access to such upscale areas requires financial resources beyond the reach of many young people.

Third, young people played a leading role in politics since 1950; some resorted to armed struggle and paid a high price for their commitment. Since the 1990s, however, their direct political participation has become less forceful, even though more than 750 were detained in July 2012, charged with ‘terrorism’, a term used to refer to any commitment – often more symbolic than organizational – to a left-wing party or to defending the cause of minorities.

In the Kurdish setting, however, youth, mobilized since their teen years, were the backbone of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and political militancy. It is no coincidence that the Kurdish politics, fuelled by years of struggle, have also witnessed an accelerated handover of power to the younger generation of people in their thirties.

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