You can only predict things after they've happened.—Eugene Ionesco.
With news items appearing about conflict in Syria and Iraq, television reporters reporting from Turkey, and terrorism worldwide, travelers are asking, "Is it safe to travel to Turkey now?"
I'm in Istanbul as a write this (October 23, 2015). The weather is somewhat rainy, but otherwise all is well and I'm having a great time as usual (though dining too well, also as usual.)
Turks are still reeling from the shock of October 10, 2015, when twin terrorist bombs set off at Ankara's main train station killed at least 86 people and injured many more. The terrorist target was a peace demonstration by union and professional organzations, and the Kurdish-issues-focused HDP political party.
My advice has always been to avoid all large gatherings, especially any that are political. Please read the Travel Advisories:
As of 10 October 2015, The United Kingdom's Foreign Office has the following advisory on its website:
"The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to within 10 km of the border with Syria.
"The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:
the remaining areas of Sirnak, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Kilis and Hatay provinces
Siirt, Tunceli, Diyarbakir and Hakkari provinces.
"There were two explosions near the main Ankara train station in the Ulus area on the morning of 10 October. The Turkish Interior Ministry has confirmed at least 30 people were killed and 126 injured. Demonstrations are taking place in Ankara and Istanbul and more are likely throughout the day. We recommend staying away from central Ankara and restricting any movements around the city. You should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings in Turkey and remain extra vigilant. You should follow any instructions given by local authorities."
"Over 2,500,000 British nationals visit Turkey every year. Most visits are trouble-free."
The US Department of State posted a travel warning on its website dated 3 September 2015, which included this:
"U.S. government employees continue to be subject to travel restrictions in southeastern Turkey. They must obtain advance approval prior to official or unofficial travel to the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig. The Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens avoid areas in close proximity to the Syrian border." [Emphasis by TB]
As you can see, this warning includes a useful list of the eastern and southeastern Turkish provinces deemed sensitive and potentially dangerous for foreign travelers.
The Embassy of the United States in Ankara website also issues useful advice.
Here are my thoughts:
In spring 2015, when at home the daily headlines and news broadcasts about the Middle East are terrifying, I traveled in Istanbul, Cappadocia, the Mediterranean Coast and Ephesus, and enjoyed another visit to this marvelous country, with not even a hint of any problem.
(I posted reports of my trip on TTP's Facebook page.)
In June 2015 I traveled extensively in France, including Paris, where two of the most alarming terrorist outrages occurred earlier this year. Am I concerned? Not really. Even if there were to be a terrorist incident in Paris while I was there, the chances of my being anywhere near it, let alone in danger of it, would be minuscule. I'm more afraid of Parisian pickpockets than of terrorists.
In 2013 in Boston, near where I live, terrorists killed 3 people and injured 264. I was safe—on that day, I was in Istanbul! Do I go to Boston now? All the time. DoI worry? No.
In the same week of October 2015 which witnessed the Ankara bombing, students, faculty and staff were gunned down in cold blood on three separateuniversity campuses in the USA.
As of October 2015, the situation in Turkey is more uncertain than it was in the spring, as the October 10th Ankara bombing shows. Current political turmoil, elections coming on November 1, military and police actions in the southeast, demonstrations and some violent incidents in major cities have made many visitors wary.
These conditions are cause for concern as the future is unclear. I will never say "Nothing bad can happen" because it always can, anywhere in the world, and it cannot be predicted.
As the embassies advise, I always "Review [my] personal security plans, remain aware of [my] surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news media for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to enhance [my] personal security, and follow instructions of local authorities."
Terrorism: How Dangerous
The whole point of terrorism is to make people who are basically safe to feel unsafe. It is a tactic used by those who cannot command overwhelming force. It works because there is always a chance one may be harmed in an incident, even when that chance is vanishingly small.
If you had been exiting the main doors of Ankara's train station at precisely the moment when the October 10th terrorist bombs were detonated, you could have been injured or killed...but what are the chances of your being in precisely that location—within 20 meters, in a city covering 24,521 square kilometers—at precisely that second, in all the 86,400 seconds in a day?
Sensational daily news coverage keeps this tiny but real threat in front of us, while the greater threats (disease, auto accidents, earthquakes, drowning, lightning strikes, crazy gunmen, etc.) aren't in our thoughts.
Terrorism is like a freak accident: yes, it can happen. No, the chances of its happening to you are not significant. In Turkey, a country of 78 million, with 38 million tourists, the chances are less than 1 in 116 million.
You'd be more likely to win big in the lottery.
Every day in Turkey, over 78 million Turks and millions of visitors go about their business, living their lives in the pursuit of happiness. In Istanbul, Europe's second-largest city (population: 15+ million), there can be a political demonstration involving a few dozen or hundred people in some district, and 14, 999,800 Istanbullus will not know about it unless they see it in the news.
Here's the salient point: for any
for anyone in Turkey—the
risk of harm from any sort
of political or military event
or violence is very low—almost
vanishingly low—if you avoid political demonstrations and volatile border areas. (For example, I wouldn't visit southeastern Turkey—Antakya, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Mardin, Van, etc.—just now, if only because of the refugee problem disrupting normal life.)
I'll be traveling extensively in Turkey again later in 2015, and perhaps three times, to gather information and update pages on TurkeyTravelPlanner.com. I'll be posting updates on TTP's Facebook page while I travel there. I expect—similarly—to encounter no problems.
Headlines and news
bulletins about violent
incidents make a strong
impression, but they actually make
very little difference to life on
the street in Turkey.
Most visitors find that they have
concerns about safety
only before their
trip, and after they arrive
at their destination they experience
daily life of the place, and don't
think of danger at all—unless
there's a headline.
In 2015, about 38 million travelers are expected to come to Turkey and enjoy themselves. That's more than the entire populations of most European countries, or Canada, or Australia.
Here's an excerpt
from a TTP user who was in Istanbul
several years ago during a political event that turned violent:
"We heard about [the event] on our last day,
but never felt in any danger
during our entire trip. Almost everyone we
talked to was friendly and cordial
and helpful. We love the Turkish people
and their nation and look forward to
returning. It's a fantastic place and
it's sad that they've been trying to
get into the EU for almost 30 years
with no success. If any country deserves
it, they do."
Boston, New York, Washington, Paris, London, Madrid—many
of the world's finest cities have experienced
violent incidents in recent years.
Would you visit these cities? Of course. So would I. If so,
why not Istanbul?
The Real Dangers
The true dangers of travel, domestic
or foreign, are such things as highway
accidents, hurricanes, lightning strikes, earthquakes,
pickpockets (and, for single male travelers, several scams), etc.
Statistically, you are more likely
to be bitten by a shark while swimming or to be injured while skiing than
you are to suffer from war or terrorist
some statistics indicating
that travelers are more liable to
be harmed in bus, train and airplane
accidents, earthquake, lightning
strike, skiing accidents, etc. than
by political activity.
These more mundane dangers should
carry much more weight when you make
your travel decisions.
Once You're There...
On any trip, anywhere, if you're concerned, keep in touch with news media, and to ask your hotel staff about the possibility of incidents in any particular area you plan to visit. Avoid the location of any foreseen event, practice normal traveler safety awareness, and the closest you're likely to get to any trouble is via a news report.
The Decision is Yours
When there are scary news reports, people ask me "Is it safe to travel in Turkey now?" I understand: they want me to make the decision for them, to guarantee their safety.
Of course, I can't. No one can. Future events are simply not predictable, anywhere, until, as Ionesco says, "after they've happened."
I tell travelers they must make
a decision that they can be comfortable
with. If you believe that
uncertainty will spoil
your trip, you should postpone it
until a time when you will feel comfortable
going. Turkey will still be there.
As for me, I have traveled in Turkey
for nearly 50 years and the
worst thing I've encountered is a few
stomach bugs (and those back in the 1970s). I wouldn't
hesitate to go to any of the
normal tourist destinations, and I
wouldn't consider myself in any
danger beyond the normal ones incident
I revise this page to keep you up to date on developments, and I post reports on TTP's Facebook page, but I plan to stay away from any political gathering and concentrate on the myriad beauties of this wonderful destination. More...
Here is the US
Department of State's Consular
Information Sheet on Turkey,
with every possible warning and caution.
Read the TTP
Safety Page, and make
travel decisions you can be comfortable
Government Traveler Records
Many national governments maintain records of travelers visiting foreign destinations so they can alert travelers on the road to dangers as they may arise.
For example, if you apply to join the US Department of State's Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), US diplomats in Turkey will have a record of your personal, passport, contact and emergency information in an online database. If they feel it advisable to alert you to a dangerous situation, the database can make it possible. More...
If you are not a US citizen, your country's government may have a similar program, to which you may wish to apply. It can't hurt, and it may help, if only to allay anxiety.
—by Tom Brosnahan