“…Thought a lot about committing suicide. Even though I chose to live for my children, I no longer expect anything from life,”
B.U., a former accounting instructor said, pouring out his heart when asked only a couple of warm-up questions before our interview.
Dismissed following an administrative investigation at a high school in Turkey’s western province of Kutahya, B.U. recently completed his first month at a factory that manufactures construction materials in the neighboring province of Manisa.
He is a father of two and the husband of another accounting instructor. “My wife and I, both teachers of 14 years, were expelled overnight without being asked a single question. … We had only joined [the] Aktif-Sen [union] on the suggestion of my daughter’s nanny.”
Aktif-Sen, which had some 20,000 members from all segments of society but mostly sympathizers of the Gulen movement, was a typical union of educators operating legally like any other union. All this changed after the July 15 coup attempt. After President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the movement of leading the foiled coup, any and all direct or indirect ties to the movement have been used by the government as evidence of involvement, leading to the arrest of 36,000 people, the detention of 80,000 and the removal of 110,000 from public sector jobs.
“We searched for jobs for two weeks after we were dismissed. No one offered us anything. … So we moved from Kutahya to Manisa. I took on an informal job at a bakery there, working a 12-hour shift for TL 50,” B.U. added before saying that one of his family friends ultimately employed him at the factory.
“My wife still works 10 hours a day for TL 50 at a fish market. All the more difficult because she hates the smell of fish.” In fact, the Kutahya couple is relatively lucky compared to most of the 42,000 teachers who have been forced out of classrooms by the Ministry of Education since the coup attempt.
Those who managed to find jobs generally work off the books. Hard labor is popular among male teachers as sectors such as construction are historically known to harbor Turkey’s unregistered economy.
“My father died when I was 5. I grew up in a village in extremely poor conditions. … I came in second in a countrywide exam taken by those seeking to work for five years in the ministry’s overseas schools, in 2010,” F.K. from Duzce says. A teacher of 15 years, he now works at the construction site of a building.
Meanwhile, Turkey now also university graduates working as bakers, street vendors, carpenters, butchers, seasonal agriculture workers, pollsters, traditional cigkofte sellers, truck drivers, fishmongers, egg sellers and clothiers. In some cases, the teachers who have now found themselves in Turkey’s unskilled labor market even hold master’s degrees.
A mother of four and an English teacher with 16 years of experience, Nihal Kose is among those who have post-graduate diplomas. “We opened an account [at Bank Asya] in order to benefit from an installment plan offered by a private school for my daughter. I also joined that union in order to tap into discounted prices for my son’s medical treatment.”
Any transaction at Turkey’s once-largest Islamic lender, Bank Asya, has become another indicator that Turkish police will come for you whether your employer has dismissed you from your job or not.
Kose says her husband, a high school history teacher, was also dismissed and now works as a construction foreman while she draws furniture sketches for a small atelier. “I am a secular person. I had even been detained as part of an operation targeting leftist groups when I was a university student. Strange, right?” she says, referring to the government’s indifference when it comes to punishing dissenting voices in state institutions.
But she is not the first non-movement person to be purged as part of the post-coup investigations, as thousands from various backgrounds were earlier targeted over alleged ties to the movement or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“Our downstairs neighbor sells underwear. We buy fish from a former social science teacher and eggs from a former religious culture and moral education lecturer,” she says. Snacks can be provided by university graduates as well. M.K., a former Turkish literature teacher, sells walnut, almond, and chestnut at weekly open-air local markets in Afyon.
T.Z., another religious culture teacher with nine years of experience, says he works for peanuts at a butcher shop in Konya owned by his friend. He recently put up his 2010 Passat for sale, hoping to get enough to make it by for some more time.
Newly graduated teachers with less experience have also failed to escape from the government’s sweeping crackdown.
“I was dismissed over my membership in Aktif-Sen three months after I got married. … I now work as a salesman at a shoe store for TL 1,000 a month,” F.P., who has taught at an elementary school in Adiyaman for the past three year, says. Minimum wage in Turkey currently stands at TL 1,300.
“We’re expecting a baby soon and I have yet to even pay off our debts stemming from the wedding,” he adds.
F.P. sounds rather hopeless, saying he thinks news articles published in English language media will not help him and other dismissed teachers recover from their plight. “We have already started turning our back to the European Union.”
“God, these days will hopefully pass, right?” accounting instructor B.U. says despite the difficult situation she and her family find themselves in.
*The author of this article prefers to remain anonymous for the security reasons.
*This article originally at http://www.vocaleurope.eu/butchers-street-vendors-construction-workers-turkeys-teachers-joining-unskilled-labor-force-after-coup-purge/