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Should I Go to Turkey Now?

With all the broadcasts and headlines about the conflict in Syria, people ask me, “Is it safe to travel to Turkey now?

Here’s my take on the current situation (September 2013):

Certainly Turkey must be concerned about such a deadly conflict—a civil war, really—in a neighboring country. Refugees from Syria have flooded into southeastern Turkey and need to be cared for, and there have even been a few minor military incidents on the Turkish-Syrian border.

The Turkish government favors strong action, preferably coordinated with the USA, NATO and European allies, to change the regime in Syria in order to put an end to the civil war.

The majority of Turkish citizens seem unhappy about the prospect of the Turkish armed forces becoming involved in the Syrian conflict. It’s not difficult to understand why. It would be their husbands, brothers and sons who would be in the fight and in harm’s way. It would be their taxes that would pay for the involvement. It would be their country that would bear the burden of an unfavorable outcome.

But Turkey, being an important regional power, may not be able to avoid involvement. What will happen is anybody’s guess, and I know better than to try to predict the future.

So how does this affect tourism?

Over nearly half a century I have traveled in Turkey, several times living there for a year or more. I have visited every part of the country. On a few occasions I have been asked pointed questions about my country’sforeign policies, but I have never felt in dangerbecause of my nationality, race or religion (even during the Bush-Cheney administration, when surveys found that Turkey had the most negative view of US foreign policy of any country in the world.)

Indeed, I have felt safer in Turkey than in many places in Europe or the USA (and particularly safe when the Boston Marathon was bombed—and I was safe in Istanbul.)

Whatever your nationality, race or religion, within Turkey’s tourism industry (where you will be spending 99% of your time in Turkey) you are a guest, and welcomed with traditional Turkish hospitality.

You may meet Turks—probably outside of the tourism industry—who will ask questions about your country’s foreign policy, who may express their views about it and its effects on Turkey, but in my experience this will be a normal exchange of views such as you might have at home, or in any country.

Here’s the salient point: for any foreign visitor—indeed, for anyone in Turkey not involved in a conflict—the risk of injury from any sort of political event or violence is very low. Almost vanishingly low if you avoid troubled areas (which, at the moment, include southeastern Turkey from Adana eastward, and south into Hatay/Antakya.)

The true dangers of travel, domestic or foreign, are such things as highway accidents, hurricaneslightning strikesearthquakes, 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 a 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.

Most visitors find that they have concerns about safety only before their trip, and after they arrive at their destination they experience the normal daily life of the place, and don’t think of danger at all—unless there’s a headline.

All that having been said, the final decision must be yours, and you should make a decision that you 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.

As for me, I have traveled in Turkey for almost 50 years and I wouldn’t hesitate to go to any of the normal tourist destinations. I wouldn’t consider myself in any danger beyond the normal ones incident to travel in general. In fact, I’ve got my October 2013 trip all planned and reservations made, and I’m looking forward to my trip.

(Of course, I won’t be going anywhere near the Turkish—Syrian border, and I would advise you to avoid that area, as many countries’ diplomats have advised.)

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 with.

—by Tom Brosnahan


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