This is what it’s like to spend your whole life growing up in Erdogan’s Turkey

We spoke to three teenagers born 18 years ago this week, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept to power

Late at night on the 2nd of November, 2002 – as millions of Turks were preparing to go to the polls – in a city right on the country’s western coast, Zeynep was born by caesarean section. Around twenty-four hours later – as it was becoming clear something historic was happening in Turkish politics – Şerife arrived into the world in a central Anatolian city nearly 1,000km inland. By the time Hakan was born, just over a week later, in a Kurdish town further east still, Turkey was adjusting to its new political landscape: the Justice and Development Party, the AKP, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had come to power.

By a quirk of the electoral system, the party had won nearly two-thirds of parliamentary seats with just one-third of the popular vote. In previous years, Turkey had been governed by a bewildering array of coalitions and parties; in 2002, none of them won a single seat. As one post-election headline had it – the faces of all the old-guard lined up underneath it – they had been given the kırmızı kart, “the red card”.

It feels a very different Turkey now. Eighteen years on, the party that won that day is still in power, as is its leader, now-President Erdogan. Zeynep, Şerife and Hakan are now or soon to be adults: old enough to vote, to have sex, to marry without their parents’ permission.

Zeynep is a self-confessed politics nut who speaks three languages. Hakan barely follows the news at all, preferring instead his long walks among the beautiful mountains of eastern Turkey. Şerife, slightly chafing against her conservative hometown, dreams of leaving it behind and becoming an architect. Asked if she can imagine a Turkey without Erdoğan, she replies, “I can’t. I wish I could but I can’t”.

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It is perhaps an under-appreciated part of the AKP story that much of its early popularity stemmed from the chaos that came before it. Turkey in the late ‘90s and early 2000s was a place of multiple economic crises, of millions made unemployed and three-digit inflation. It was a period of discontent that allowed the party to sweep to power, the country’s first single-party government in 15 years.

Yet this is a history with little pull for those born in November 2002. All three of the teenagers we spoke to, for example, think that politically Turkey was a better place to live before they were alive, though Zeynep does add that “from what I’ve learnt from my uncles, my family, and from history lessons, I know it wasn’t stable at all”.

Read more: Vice