In the few days since the New Year’s shooting in Istanbul, I’ve given a lot of thought to my feelings of safety in Turkey. Friends and family have sent messages of concern and support, and social media is full of messages condoning the attack. Opinions are polarized - you're crazy if you go, you're crazy if you don't go. Although I still feel safe in Fethiye, I’m also aware that the situation could change in a heart beat. Oh, if only I had a crystal ball…
Why have I felt the need for increased reflection now? The previous attacks felt removed from my everyday life - impersonal bombings primarily directed at police and military personnel. In some instances, civilians were killed or injured in the violence, but they were rarely the actual targets.
The Reina nightclub attack feels different. It was a pre-planned, smoothly-executed slaughter of civilians. Regular people, people like you and me, who got all gussied up to welcome the New Year with friends at a trendy night club in Istanbul. (To be honest, it’s been a L-O-N-G time since I’ve visited a night club, trendy or otherwise, but you know what I mean. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that I (or someone I know) could have been there.)
As of today, the shooter is still at large. Responsible citizens are contacting the local authorities when they spot someone who resembles the grainy images posted in the newspapers and TV news programs. And, in some cases, vigilantism is rearing it's ugly head as frustrated Turks attempt to take matters into their own hands.
To say that Turkey’s citizens (and other residents) are untroubled by recent events would be misleading. Most are resigned, some are downright terrified – no one is ambivalent. The media's representation that Turkey has been subject to numerous horrific attacks, exaggerated as it is, isn't completely off-base. And while people may not be afraid for their lives, they are definitely afraid for their country.
So if you ask me “Is Turkey safe? Are you worried about terrorism?" my answer remains unchanged from what I felt last year (see full article below). Trust me, I ask myself the same question. Every. Single. Day.
Here's hoping that 2017 brings peace on earth, and fewer lunatics with guns and bombs.
How Safe is Turkey?
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 Arkadaslik Yachting, a luxury yacht charter business with my Turkish partner, Oktay. Each year, we host visitors from Turkey and the rest of the world as they cruise the Mediterranean.
But, as you may have heard, 2016 was a difficult year for tourism in Turkey. Between the attempted coup d'état in July, terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, and armed conflicts in the east, the country's reputation as a warm, welcoming, and safe destination for travel has deteriorated significantly.
Given the increased levels of violence reported in Turkey, friends, family and guests regularly ask, “Is Turkey safe? Are you worried about terrorism?" My answer is “yes, I worry", but not for the reasons you might expect.
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 per 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.
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.
Do I 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.
Do I worry about suicide bombers in local cafes? Or people with guns shooting up the local cinema? 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 often sounds like it, these attacks are not just made by Islamic terrorists. 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.
Is it safe to travel to Turkey? Is it safe to travel anywhere?
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 to any country 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 living in Turkey because, for me, the benefits far outweigh the fears. (Having said that, I am neither naïve 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 country, please consider this an open invitation to drop by 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!
Whether you agree with my position or not, please share this page to increase awareness and encourage discussion.
And feel free to send me your comments by e-mail.