ISTANBUL — For 17 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won elections by offering voters a vision of restoring the glories of Turkey’s Ottoman past. He extended his country’s influence with increased trade and military deployments, and he raised living standards with years of unbroken economic growth.
But after a failed 2016 coup, Mr. Erdogan embarked on a sweeping crackdown. Last year, the economy wobbled and the lira plunged soon after he won re-election with even greater powers. As cronyism and authoritarianism seep deeper into his administration, Turks are voting differently — this time with their feet.
They are leaving the country in droves and taking talent and capital with them in a way that indicates a broad and alarming loss of confidence in Mr. Erdogan’s vision, according to government statistics and analysts.
In the last two to three years, not only have students and academics fled the country, but also entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and thousands of wealthy individuals who are selling everything and moving their families and their money abroad.
Some 113,000 Turks emigrated in 2018, a sharp increase over the previous year, when more than 69,000 left the country, according to the Turkish Institute of Statistics.
Turkey has seen waves of students and teachers leave before, but this exodus looks like a more permanent reordering of the society and threatens to set Turkey back decades, said Ibrahim Sirkeci, director of transnational studies at Regent’s University in London, and other analysts.
“The brain drain is real,” Mr. Sirkeci said.
The flight of people, talent and capital is being driven by a powerful combination of factors that have come to define life under Mr. Erdogan and that his opponents increasingly despair is here to stay.
They include fear of political persecution, terrorism, a deepening distrust of the judiciary and the arbitrariness of the rule of law, and a deteriorating business climate, accelerated by worries that Mr. Erdogan is unsoundly manipulating management of the economy to benefit himself and his inner circle.
The result is that, for the first time since the republic was founded nearly a century ago, many from the old moneyed class, in particular the secular elite who have dominated Turkey’s cultural and business life for decades, are moving away and the new rich close to Mr. Erdogan and his governing party are taking their place.
“We are selling everything,” she said in an interview during a return trip to Istanbul last month to close what was left of her business, MerveBayindir, which she runs with her mother, and to sell their four-story house.
Ms. Bayindir was an active participant in the 2013 protests against the government’s attempt to develop Taksim Square in Istanbul. She said she remains traumatized by the violence and fearful in her own city.
Mr. Erdogan denounced the protesters as delinquents and after enduring arrests and harassment many have left the country.
“There is so much discrimination, not only cultural but personal, the anger, the violence is impossible to handle,” Ms. Bayindir said. “If you had something better and you see it dissolving, it’s a hopeless road.”
Thousands of Turks like her have applied for business visas in Britain or for golden visa programs in Greece, Portugal and Spain, which grant immigrants residency if they buy property at a certain level.
“People who are leaving do not want to come back,” Mr. Birbil said, citing the polarized political climate in the country. “This is alarming for Turkey.”
Mr. Erdogan has reviled as traitors businesspeople who have moved their assets abroad as the Turkish economy began to falter.