I refuse to be afraid of the horrible,
Statistically, the most dangerous part of your whole trip is the drive to the airport.
In 2015, about 38 million tourists came to Turkey to enjoy its history, culture, cuisine, people, activities and natural beauty.
Several bomb attacks in recent months, notably the June 28th attack at Atatürk Airport, have rightly horrified the world. Their purpose was less to hurt many people than to put political pressure on the Turkish government and economy.
This is how terrorists seek to do greater damage than their limited resources would normally permit: by harming a tiny proportion, they seek to frighten millions and to inflict huge economic damage on their adversaries.
It inevitable that many travelers will be frightened and will postpone plans to visit Turkey, even though the danger from terrorism is statistically very, very tiny. Other dangers are far more to be feared than being harmed in a terrorist attack, and we don’t worry (much) about those other dangers: earthquake, highway and sports accidents, drowning while swimming, or even drowning in your own bathtub—on average, one person drowns in his/her own bathtub nearly every day in the USA.
38 million (the number of travelers who visited Turkey in 2015) is more than the entire populations of most European countries, or Canada, or Australia. So imagine all the people in Canada going to Turkey at once. Should all of them be afraid of harm? If any of them were harmed, what are the most likely dangers? Are they safer at home, or not?
As for me, I was in Turkey when, on March 29th, the US Departments of State and Defense ordered the departure of all dependents of their personnel from UDS facilities in Turkey due to continuing security concerns—because US facilities might be targets of terrorist activity.
On March 31st, the Australian government urged Australian nationals to reconsider travel to Istanbul and Ankara due to security concerns. The back story to this—for non-Australians—is that large numbers of Australian travelers go to Turkey in April for the annual World War I ANZAC Day commemorations on the Gallipoli peninsula. Many of these travelers include a wider of tour of Turkey, including at least Istanbul, in their plans.
If I were a government official responsible for the safety of a large number of my fellow citizens, I would issue such warnings. The chance of someone being injured is there. But the chance of any particular individual being harmed is tiny.
My personal view—obviously, since I was there in Turkey then—is that life goes on and although I could have been harmed, I didn’t expect to be.
This year there are shorter lines to enter Turkey’s top sights, smaller crowds, lower prices, and an even warmer welcome from the famously hospitable Turkish people.
I didn’t go to Turkey to defy the terrorists, or to support my Turkish friends (although I do), or because I am particularly courageous. I went to enjoy myself, to enjoy again its spectacular architecture, profound history and culture, and wonderful cuisine, and I don’t believe I was in any great danger (and I did avoid the Single Male Scam robberies in Istanbul.)
But don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame some travelers for acting on emotion and changing their plans to visit Turkey now. The murder of innocent travelers is horrific and terrifying. Some travelers may believe there are safer places to go on a trip.
But where is “safer?” In recent years, Boston, New York, Washington, London, Paris and many other top travel destinations have suffered attacks by terrorists foreign or domestic. In Orlando, Florida, USA, 49 innocent people were murdered and 53 injured in a mass shooting at a nightclub. In fact, in the USA, 297 people are shot every day in murders, assaults, suicides, unintentional shootings and police intervention. Every day, 48 children and teenagers are shot. Seven, on average, die. Every day.More…
I live in the USA. Am I afraid? No. Do I take sensible precautions? Yes. Are they certain to protect me? No. There is no completely safe place on earth, not even your own bathtub.
Turkey is probably no more dangerous, and may be safer, than where you live.
If every day’s media blared headlines of all violent deaths, we’d all be too scared to leave our homes. (Just don’t take too long a bath…)
I would guess that nearly a million foreign tourists were in Turkey on January 12, 2016: in Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus, along the Mediterranean coast, etc. Twenty-five of them were directly involved in a deadly incident. 9,999,603 were not, just like the 318,899,820 (out of 318,900,000) Americans who were not harmed by gun violence this year.
I follow the diplomats’ advice to avoid large gatherings, especially any that are political, etc. Please read these Travel Advisories:
“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.
“Over 2,500,000 British nationals visit Turkey every year. Most visits are trouble-free.”
“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 separate university campuses in the USA.
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 harm a small number of people in order to make a much larger number of people who are basically safe to feel unsafe. It is a tactic used by those whose resources of force are limited. 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, 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 be hit by an asteroid from outer space, or to win big in the lottery.
If you think you have a significant chance of winning a fortune in the lottery, then you may be afraid you’ll be harmed by terrorists. You’re wrong on both counts, but the lottery costs you only a little money, and perhaps the daydreams are worth it. Just don’t give up a real dream vacation out of irrational fear.
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, area 5,343 square kilometers/2,063 square miles), there can be incident involving a small number of 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 foreign visitor—indeed, 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.)
The Real Dangers
Statistically, the most dangerous part of your trip is the taxi or car ride to the airport.
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. And bathtubs.
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 attack.
Here are 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…
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 destinationthey experience the normal daily life of the place, andforget completely their earlier fears—unless there’s a headline.
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.”
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 goto any of the normal tourist destinations, and I wouldn’t consider myself in any danger beyond the normal ones incident to travel.
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 sketchy situations 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. The Department of State has also created a smartphone app that anyone—US citizen or not—can use to keep track of alerts, warnings, and safety bulletins. More…
Read the TTP Safety Page, and make travel decisions you can be comfortable with.
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