"Romans" at Aspendos
Theater, Antalya, Turkey
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?"
On 27 July 2015, The United Kingdom's Foreign Office posted the following advisory on its website:
"On 27 July there were reports of possible threats to public transport in Istanbul, in particular the metro stations at Yenikapi, Taksim, Osmanbey and Haciosman and stops on the Metrobus line.
"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 and Hakkari provinces.
"Over 2,500,000 British nationals visit Turkey every year. Most visits are trouble-free."
The Embassy of the United States in Ankara posted a reminder on its website dated 23 July 2015, which included this:
"With the ongoing security situation in southeast Turkey and the possibility of spontaneous demonstrations, the U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance, avoid demonstrations, review personal security plans and be aware of your surroundings. U.S. citizens should follow local news sources for any potential areas of concern. Travel to southeast Turkey is restricted for U.S. government employees, and, if possible, U.S. citizens should defer travel to these areas as well."
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.)
I've recently returned from an extensive trip to France, including Paris, where two of the most alarming terrorist outrages occurred earlier this years. 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.
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. 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, 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 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