“The border means more than a customs house, a passport officer, a man with a gun. Over there everything is going to be different; life is never going to be quite the same again after your passport has been stamped.” — Graham Greene
Turkey, beautiful nature, excellent food, spectacular architecture. And the people, joyful, hospitable and generous. Also a democratic country, secular state and an important NATO member. Populated by 77 million people of whom 99% are Muslim. For its position it’s a natural bridge between the East and the West, it was home to a rich variety of peoples and civilizations. Until some time ago it was a tourist’s dream destination and nearly 40 million foreigners visited the country every year, but today the situation has changed.
President Erdogan is introducing a series of reforms that are slowly turning secular Turkey into a more fundamentalist state. Walking through the city one can notice the Turkish flag on display on shops and homes as an act of protest against the government which is changing the constitution in more fundamentalist forms. Following the reforms of Ataturk, for example, it was forbidden for women to wear the veil. Today, especially in the inland areas, it is very common to see women with the chador or burqa despite the intense heat.
|The CHADOR originated in Iran. It’s black and covers the head and shoulders, however, it leaves the face exposed.
The BURKA covers the body completely, leaving only a small grid before the eyes to allow the view. It was introduced in Afghanistan and until the 80’s it was as seldom used traditional dress. Later, the Talibans made it mandatory to wear it. It is usually blue.
A few days ago the U.S. Department issued a warning, replicated by many other countries.
“The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to southeastern Turkey due to an increased threat of terrorist attacks from both international and indigenous terror groups.” From travel.state.gov
There are many areas in where it is no longer recommended to travel, or if unavoidable it is necessary to take special precautions.
If you decide to go to Turkey keep well in mind that the war in neighboring Syria, the local terrorism and the frequent rallies against the government make the situation complex situation and dangerous in some areas.
Zone of Extreme Risk
Along the border between Syria and Turkey, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has gained control over a good portion of the territory.
It is not recommended then to go within 6 miles from the Syrian border or in the areas of Hakkari, Siirt, Sirnak, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Kilis, Tunceli, Batman, Mus, Diyarbakir and Hatay, Which border Iraq and Syria, due to terrorist threat, abduction risk and violent conflicts.
The eastern provinces of Igdir is a special military zone with restricted access. Travel permissions to enter the area or to climb are no longer issued. Also, danger of kidnapping is present.
Terrorists’ favorite target is tourism. This is a summary of recent attacks.
– On the afternoon of December 1, 2015 there was an explosion at Bayrampasa station of Istanbul’s underground. The Turkish authorities had previously issued a warning for possible attacks directed against Istanbul’s metro network, including stations located in high-traffic areas.
– A suicide bomber killed 10 people in Istanbul Sultanahmet tourist district on January 12 2016.
– On February 17 in Ankara 28 people were killed and 61 wounded. Another massacre had already been perpetrated in the city.
In addition to tourist sites, all the other places visited by western foreigners are a possible target. In view of the upsurge in clashes between the PKK on one side and the Turkish military and police forces on the other, it is strongly discouraged to travel in the eastern and southeastern border provinces.
In Istanbul, in the Kizilay district of central Ankara and on the waterfront area in central Izmir protests take place regularly. They often happen during important national anniversaries and there are likely to be additional security measures in place in major cities on these dates. Stay vigilant and I suggest avoiding those events even if they look pacific. In the rallies in Istanbul, Izmir, Mersin and Adana the Turkish police have repressed demonstrators who protested against a massacre allegedly by government forces in the district of Cizre.
Case History: No Freedom For the Media
In May 2015 two heroic journalists, director Can Dündar and managing editor Erdem Gul of Cumhuriyet newspaper, dared to publish photos, videos and witnesses’ accounts of the passage of weapons to ISIL terrorists in Syria with trucks escorted by Turkish secret services.
Specifically, a truck that would have to change hands from Ankara’s intelligence service to the fundamentalists and was stopped and searched by the Turkish gendarmerie in the south at the beginning of 2014. Allegedly, the truck was found to be loaded with weapons.
The two journalists who had bravely done their job, instead of receiving a medal for their discoveries, were paradoxically put behind bars for three months on charges of “espionage, attempts to overthrow the government and support for terrorism” and the Prosecutor may request a life sentence. Erdogan had warned them that he would pay a “heavy price” for the revelations, that brought embarrassment to the government in Ankara, which was repeatedly accused of supporting the jihadi groups in Syria and leaving its territory open for passage, the so-called jihad highways.
After the Supreme Court ruled their detention as unconstitutional, the Turkish President again went on record staying “I will remain silent to the decision the court has given. But I don’t need to accept it, I want to make that clear. I don’t obey or respect the decision.”
Joe Biden, on a visit to Istanbul in mid-January, stated that the media were being “intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting” in Turkey.
“If you do not have the ability to express your own opinion, to criticize policy, offer competing ideas without fear of intimidation or retribution, then your country is being robbed of opportunity.”
On a similar note, Reporters Without Borders has called Turkey “the biggest prison for journalists”, backing up this claim with statistics at hand.
The most dangerous areas for kidnapping are the border close to Syria, Iraq and Iran in southeast Turkey. It is advised that to adopt extreme in those locations and in the area east of the line connecting the cities of Sivas, Malatya and Mardin Groups, since terrorist organizations such as ISIL and Jabat Al Nusra Front use kidnapping to finance their activities. Reports show that those terrorist organizations are capable of operating across the border and they target foreigners specifically.
Rape and Sexual Assault
Turkey is one of many other countries where in recent years the female murder and sexual assault rates have risen impressively. This plague affects indistinctly locals and foreign women, with a full array of other “smaller” offenses including being harassed, touched, verbally abused and more.
Since you are a woman and traveling you will stand out, the best way to avoid trouble is therefore to blend in. When dealing with men it is best to keep civil but detached manners, as the locals may treat friendliness as a green light.
Also, it is best to wear sober clothes. Try to adapt to the style of the place you are in. Remember that large cities have a looser dress code, although not as loose as by Western standards, while rural areas are much more modest.
In Turkey, the level of crime is not very high, but there are exceptions. I suggest not to accept convivial offerings from strangers encountered by chance on the street, though they may appear friendly or reliable, especially in Istanbul and in tourist areas. There are famous scams perpetrated by a friendly-looking conmen who take tourists, preferably those who travel alone, to sketchy restaurants or clubs, where for an ordinary drink they are presented with very hefty bills. Also, if asked for, do not accept anything such as written messages, parcels, letters to be delivered inside or outside Turkey. Be careful as well that nobody puts anything inside your purse, pockets, or luggage.
It is not recommended to eat or drink in place where there is no menu with prices. If the waiter brings to the table products you have not ordered e.g. chips or peanuts if you have no intention to pay for them you need to send them back immediately.
Unfortunately, even here are some managers who try to take advantage of foreigners. If you have a problem in a restaurant it is useless to call the police, they will not help with that and the only thing that will do is to tell you to go to the Consumer Rights Office to file a complaint.
If you go to Turkey for a short period and you wish to buy a Turkish SIM card for your mobile, you must apply through your Turkish telephone provider to register your mobile phone at the Institute of Turkish Telecommunications, in order to avoid the automatic lock out.
To be able to buy a Turkish SIM card for your mobile phone or tablet you must submit your passport.
As anywhere else in the world, it is severely forbidden to take photos of military locations and buildings, and other governmental premises in general. A fact a little less know to the
foreigners and which may get you in trouble is that it also prohibited to take pictures of all state symbols, and particularly of the flag and of the figure of Atatürk, that you will find everywhere either depicted or as as a statue.
Hotels & Apartments
In recent years there have been many complaints for theft in tourist apartments and hotels, even those which employ magnetic cards for access. Beside the usual recommendations of not leaving valuables in your room, not even if there is a safe, be aware of the fact that reports show that in several instances also clothes were stolen.
The driving situation is very different than in the US. The road network is inadequate, drivers are often reckless and have an aggressive style. In rural areas at night you can easily come across vehicles traveling with their lights off the wrong way.
Especially in the summer there are many accidents. If you are unfortunate enough to have one you are obliged to wait the arrival of the police for investigation. If you do not have the money to pay a possible fine of the car will be seized until the fine is paid.
In the case of speeding, driving while intoxicated and / or under the influence your license can be withdrawn and you can be banned from driving on the territory for a period to be determined. In all those instances the law is less strict than in the US, but keep in mind that insurance provides a very low ceiling, and you can risk to have to pay out of your pocket for compensation for damages.
Most taxi drivers are honest but still, as it happens in many tourist locations around the world there are drivers who are looking to extend the path to the client’s destination to inflate the bill, especially in Istanbul. Check the Istanbul Ataturk Airport site where you can find suggestions about to avoid this inconvenience.
Final General Travel Advice
The whole country is exposed to seismic risk, but not more than certain areas of California. Yet, most buildings are not anti-seismic certified and don’t expect to find the same level of organization in the disaster response after an earthquake.
Another problem is the thousands of stray dogs and cats in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities. Dogs Often travel together in packs and attack pedestrians and joggers. Don’t underestimate their threat, especially when they are in a pack, they attack to tear to pieces just as would a pack of wolves.
Last, but not least, with the globalization many techniques to cheat and scam tourists and travelers have spread around the world. Now we must accept the fact that it is more important to be Clever rather than Polite with strangers we meet on our travels if we want to be safe, so don’t be afraid to appear a little rude if need be, especially when you run into persistent offerings.
Keep those tips in minds and you will be guaranteed to enjoy your stay in this ancient and beautiful land.
She is a Multilingual Senior Crisis and Homeland Security Advisor, with several years at the service of Governments and Corporations. She is the Managing Director for Hemeis Consulting and her company provides Advice and Training in:
Management Consulting | Crisis Prevention | Intelligence Analysis | Counter-Espionage | Counter-Terrorism | Criminal Organizations | Tourism & Hospitality Security | Corporate Crime | Union Strike and Negotiation | Crisis Communication | Crisis of Malevolence | Post-Conflict Recovery | Seminars | Workshops | Conference | Keynote Speeches
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He is a Multilingual Economic and Geopolitical Analyst who works as a team member for Hemeis Consulting. He holds an MA in Law and Economics with honors, an MA in International Relations and a Postgraduate Diploma in Economic Security, Geopolitics and Intelligence. He writes articles for Geopolitical Monitor Intelligence Corp., The Daily Journalist, and Forbes.
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