On to the next topic from my assignment desk–and thank you again for all those interesting questions. I assume the question was prompted by Spengler’s surmise that Turkey’s demography is making Erdoğan loopy:
A generation from now, Turkey will cease to exist in its present form. The ratio of Turks to Kurds today (defined by cradle tongue) is about 4:1, but Turks have 1.5 children on average, while Kurds have 4.5. In little over a generation, Kurds will comprise half the military-age population of Anatolia. After decades of civil war and 40,000 casualties, Turkey’s Kurdish problem is as vivid as ever.
Erdogan, like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is inherently incapable of rationality. Turks and Persians both show a total fertility rate of 1.5, which portends national disaster–as both leaders have said repeatedly in public. In Turkey, Iran, and almost everywhere in the Muslim world, women with a high school (let alone university education) stop having children. Paradoxically, the best-educated populations–Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey and Iran–have the same fertility rate as the Europeans. Demographically, the Muslim world has passed from childhood to senescence without ever having reached adulthood.
What’s the rational self-interest of a doomed culture? Rather than return to the Western fold, Turkey is likely to become more and more erratic.
According to the OECD, Turkey’s fertility rate was about 3.9 in 1984, trailing only Mexico’s fertility rate of 4.3 percent. Since then, it’s followed the normal developmental trajectory, dropping to 2.12 percent–a number known as the replacement rate, the number required for population stability. But the downward trend is of course worrying, particularly since it’s still coupled with alarmingly high infant mortality, 17 per 1,000 births, the highest in the OECD. Erdoğan has called upon women to have at least three children, and has even suggested, echoing Mussolini, that the government will give a prize to women who do.
Now, accurate statistics about the Kurdish birth rate are hard to come by, because accurate statistics about Turkey are hard to come by–almost all the statistics you read about its economy, say, or its crime rate turn out to be, on closer inspection, plagued with obvious methodological problems in data-gathering, and often politicized. This issue in particular has been seized upon both by panicked Turkish nationalists and excessively optimistic Kurdish nationalists. It is often said that the Kurdish birth rate is much higher–four times higher is an oft-cited figure–but I’ve never seen a study of this that was not produced by someone with a distinct political motive for producing it. I would guess that birth rates are correlated not so much with ethnicity as with class: Turks who live in poverty in the rural southeast (who are mostly Kurds) probably have a much higher birth rate; as they urbanize and move into the middle class–which many have and continue to do–the birth rate probably norms down.
My overall prediction is that Turkey will probably follow a European development model, more or less. The main reason the AKP keeps winning elections is not that they’re a religious party. It’s because they provide handouts and goodies. They’re a social-welfare party. The demand for this will keep rising. If the economy keeps growing (unclear whether it can, given the state of the global economy), they’ll pump more and more money into the southeast to keep it sweet and try to buy off the Kurds. As we all know, you can only do this for so long. Their economic policy doesn’t really focus on the things you need to have to be competitive once you move past the basket-case stage of economic development: this country isn’t going to be a center of innovation in hi-tech any time soon. The education system is lousy. Economic risk-taking isn’t encouraged. The legal system doesn’t work.
I suspect, though, that if they can solve these problems well enough to keep growth fairly steady over the next decade, we’ll see a real diminution of interest in all things Islamic. My observation about this so-called rising Muslim bourgeoisie is that they’re way more interested in toys–nice cars, plasma TVs, shopping–than God. Remember, just a generation ago, this stuff was completely out of their reach. They’re like kids in a candy store with it now. And just as the real Islamists feared, consumerism is corrupting to the religious impulse. A lot of the Kemalist/AKP divide is just identity politics: The headscarf is often less about real religiosity and more about showing that you’re in with the new power crowd. Underneath it? All the usual anxiety and doubt about faith and God. I actually predict a new, deeper secularization of society in the long run. Religiosity will come to be associated with the AKP, which in turn–like the Catholic Church in France–will come to be associated with corruption. It will be rejected and followed by a hollowing-out of faith, I suspect. The politicization of religion is usually corrosive to religion itself. But this is in the long run. In the short term, we just have to hope that Turkey doesn’t march itself into some kind of disaster.
This post is dedicated to Ricochet member Mert Nomer and his wife Vera, who have just found out that they are expecting a baby girl–their firstborn–in February. Congratulations, Mert and Vera!