Is Turkey Safe? Is it Safe to Travel to Turkey?
A Canadian Expat's Perspective
I am a peace-loving, friendly, independent and optimistic Canadian. For the past several years, I've chosen to live in Fethiye, Turkey, where I own and run a luxury Blue Cruise yacht charter business with my Turkish husband, Oktay. Each year, we host visitors from Turkey and the rest of the world as they cruise the Mediterranean.
But acts of terrorism and political upheaval have marred the country's reputation as a warm, welcoming, and safe destination for travellers.
Not surprisingly, friends, family and guests regularly ask, "Is Turkey safe? Is it safe to travel to Turkey?" While I believe the parts of Turkey where I live and where tourists tend to venture are as safe as anywhere else in the world nowadays, I still worry for Turkey, the country I have adopted as my home.
Is Turkey Safe? According to the popular media, it isn't!
I don't worry about my personal safety, but I worry nonetheless.
I worry about sensationalist media reporting and the impact it has on tourism, which is a major source of income - directly or indirectly - for almost everyone I know in Turkey, including me.
Turkey welcomed over 40 million international visitors a year in 2014 and 2015. And, prior to 2016, consistently ranked in the world's top ten countries for tourism. Depending on which report you look at, tourism accounts for anywhere from 10-18% of Turkey's GDP. These numbers plummeted in 2016, due in large part, to inaccurate reporting by the media.
Contrary to media reports, suicide bombers, overhead jets shooting down planes, and machine-gun toting terrorists are NOT the norm here. Yes, there are parts of the country that are incredibly dangerous. Yes, there have been instances of terrorism in the major tourist centers. Yes, the attempted coup was terrifying for those living in Istanbul and Ankara. Unfortunately, news reports imply that these are regular, everyday common occurrences throughout the country. Rest assured, they are not.
Fortunately, tourist numbers made a slight recovery in 2017 and seem to be growing in leaps and bounds in 2018. Sadly, I attribute this growth to the fact that people are becoming immune to the "terror" in terrorist activity. They realize that cowardly hate crimes can happen anywhere - and are venturing back to their favourite holidays spots to enjoy life to the fullest, until the next random act of violence occurs...
So, I don't worry about the impact of terrorism on my own personal safety. But I do worry about the media's role in spreading inaccurate information about terrorism and the ultimate impact on the people of Turkey – people like you and me.
What About the Conflict?
Is travelling in Turkey safe? Do you worry about the conflict with Syria? Or the PKK conflict?
I don't worry for my personal safety, but I worry nonetheless.
Like you, I see reports of the war on the evening news – terrifying images of machine gun fire and grenades and the ruins of bombed-out buildings. What the reports fail to mention is that the fighting is happening in relatively a small region of the country, thousands of kilometers away from Fethiye and Turkey's other popular tourist destinations. So no, I don't worry about my personal safety.
I worry because I personally know some of the young men who will be called to fight for their homeland. Military service is mandatory in Turkey. The soldiers are our neighbours, friends, nephews, and sons. Young men – with parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, and friends – fulfilling a duty to their country. Some soldiers will be injured, and some will die. I worry for them, and I worry for their loved ones.
I also worry about the Syrian refugees who are fleeing their homeland. I lost my home to fire a few years ago. Fortunately, I had friends and family (and insurance) to keep me safe and help me with the loss. The Syrians have nothing. Their friends and families cannot provide help or support as they, too, are facing the same horrific situation. It's causing some refugees to make dangerous decisions. We can help with donations and charity, but even the best of intentions cannot recreate a safe sense of home for someone who has lost everything.
So, I don't worry about the impact of these conflicts on my own personal safety. But I do worry about its harsh impact on the lives of regular people – people like you and me.
Is it safe to travel in Turkey? Do you worry about suicide bombers in local cafes? Or people with guns shooting up the local movie theatre? Or kidnappers with religious or political agendas?
I don't worry for my personal safety, but I worry nonetheless.
I worry because I have friends and family all over the world. Because incidents like this happen everywhere, not just Turkey. And, even though it may sound like it, these attacks are not just made by people calling themselves Muslim. Mind-boggling numbers of mass shootings, kidnappings, rapes and torture happen around the world, every day, by people of all religions and backgrounds and cultures.
So, I don't worry about isolated attacks on my own personal safety. But I do worry that we live in a world where people no longer feel safe. People like you and me.
Fear of terrorism – regardless of country, regardless of faith, regardless of reason – is the new reality for all of us, people like you and me.
Ultimately, the decision to travel is a personal one – and I respect that. I encourage you to consult your government's travel advisories and other trustworthy resources to inform your choice. (Please, don't rely solely on information from travel agents, tour reps and travel bloggers. We all have our biases.) Consider input from a variety of reliable sources, and apply a good dose of common sense to make the best decision for you.
For now, I will continue to live in Turkey because, for me, the benefits far outweigh the fears. (Having said that, I am neither naive nor oblivious to the risks. Like many others in the expat community, I have a solid "exit strategy" in place in the event that all hell breaks loose.)
If you decide to visit this marvelous part of the world, please consider this an open invitation to drop by our Turkish gulet, "Arkadaslik" for a glass of wine or a beer (or a Turkish coffee or çay, if that's your preference) and a chat. We'd love to meet you and hear about your Turkish travel experiences!
Wishing you safe and happy travels – wherever in the world you may go!