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Is it Still Safe to Travel in Turkey?

One of the most common questions popping up on travel forums this past week is whether or not Turkey is still safe for travel. So many tourists have been scared off by recent news of regional turmoil that the beaches are bare and top resorts running at half capacity.

But are people right to be scared off? Is there really a threat to tourists in Turkey?

First, a short situation summary: December-January of this past year witnessed the bombing of Turkish-Syria border cities, most famously Kobani, and the subsequent fleeing of Syrian refugees into Turkey. Most of those refugees have either been settled in refugee camps around Turkey’s South East, or have made their way to Istanbul to try and start a new life their or seek asylum in Europe. There have been scuffles with border police following the Turkish government’s decision to close the border to men wishing to turn back to Syria and take hand in the fighting after seeing women and children to safety.

Flash forward to June: during parliamentary elections the AKP, Turkey’s 12-year ruling party, finally lost it’s majority hold, in great part due to the HDP (Kurdish Party recently united with left-wing liberals) passing the 10% threshold and gaining 80 seats in parliament. There is speculation that the incumbent president and AKP head, Recep Tayip Erdogan, is attempting to forestall government-creating coalition talks and force early elections in the fall. The theory goes that, in order to win AKP support back from those who supported the HDP in the last elections, Erdogan is trying to cast the HDP with the PKK (a pro-Kurdish terrorist organization operating out of Syria) and demonstrate that the country will lose stability without a unified single-party government and strong government head. July 20th witnessed a suicide attack possibly initiated by ISIS in Suruc, a Turkish-Syrian border town. Following the attack, Turkey has bombed several ISIS strongholds in the northern Kurdish region of Syria. Unfortunately for Erdogan, his support has only slipped since the last elections and it is unlikely that an early election would bring the AKP back into power.

So…is it safe? Certain towns in the South East do seem to be having security/stability issues and it is not recommended to travel in those areas. Most likely nothing would happen (you’re still more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack), but to be on the safe side, we’d recommend you avoid Diyarbakir and everything to the south and east. In Istanbul’s tourist areas you may encounter the same problems that pervade every large city: pickpockets, overpriced sandwiches and crowded trolley buses. Take your normal precautions as a traveler, and you should be fine. For everday safety tips, see our more general post here.

As for the Mediterranean coast – it is quite far from the Syrian border and any of the affected towns. Antalya is 1,162 km from Diyarbakir and 1,076 km from Kobani/Suruc. For comparison, Tijuana to San Francisco is less than 840 km – and few would expect the sporadic violence in Mexico’s border city to migrate up to the golden gate city. Having lived in Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago, where just crossing a single street could throw an unwitting pedestrian into hostile territory, I would say that it is quite unlikely travelers will encounter ISIS sunbathing at the beach.

Should I cancel my trip? Unless you were planning on hiking around South East Turkey, there’s probably no need. The rest of the country is still quite stable and enjoys lower crime rates than half the countries in Europe. We can’t promise that nothing will happen. No locale is completely safe – be it your backyard or some city halfway around the world. But it’s quite likely that you would pass your vacation in Turkey without incident – and enjoy deep discounts coupled with quiet beaches. Keep checking the news – but for more objective information remember to read reports from a few different news outlets, both national and international.

As turkeytravelplanner insightlfully summed up the situation:

You must answer this question to fit your personal tolerance for risk. If you believe the statistics and look at it rationally, you’ll probably go. If you’re going to worry about safety a lot while you’re there, the worry may make your trip less pleasant, and so you probably shouldn’t go.

3 year Istanbul Resident Joy at the blog My Traveling Joys came to the same conclusion: Every place has it’s faults, but you should be fine in Turkey.  Read more on her post “Living Safely in Istanbul & American Ignorance”.

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