You may be wondering after 5 major terrorist attacks over the past 6 months, two in Istanbul and three in Ankara, whether or not you’ll be safe if you go to Turkey. Many Turks and residents are now questioning their own safety as well and an empty Antalya booth at the 2016 ITB Berlin tourism fair is one of the few demonstrations of Turkey’s deteriorating security situation that hasn’t been pepper sprayed.
A number of people have already written me they’re canceling their travel plans, the ways things are going, you’re right to reconsider your next trip too.
Lots Of Problems, Few Solutions
Since 1984 the terrorist group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been at war with the Turkish government, resulting in over 37,000 deaths and little else. Most of this violence was in Turkey’s southeast, more than 1,000 kilometers (~650 miles) from major cities like Istanbul. A 2013 ceasefire effectively ended on July 20, 2015 after a terrorist attack by ISIS – to further complicate matters – in the southeastern city of Suruc, killing over 30 Kurdish activists.
Since then a suspected ISIS bombing murdered 103 people in Ankara at a peace rally, later 12 German tourists near Istanbul’s Hippodrome, and now a splinter group of the PKK, the TAK, has begun attacking targets in both cities as well.
Big Country Getting Smaller
ISIS attacks are a relatively new threat, suicide bombings a new tactic, and Turkey’s western cities a new target. All of this, especially the last point should be concerning for travelers since attacks are becoming more frequent in places you’re more likely to visit. Turkey is a large country roughly 10% larger than Texas but the violence is undoubtedly expanding. None of this is very surprising when you consider the neighborhood, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, isn’t getting any better either.
These trends are all troubling in Turkey, especially its west, where such attacks were as rare a phenomena as they are in London or Rome. Would you be hesitant to book a vacation to Spain if there had been three suicide bombs in Madrid’s shopping and transportation centers, plus two, one along Barcelona’s La Rambla, the other at El Prat Airport – all within 6 months? Because that’s the equivalent of what’s happened in Turkey recently.
Target Is The Headlines
Turkey’s military and intelligence agencies are some of the best in the world but no security is absolute – despite government attempts to censor their own failures.
The outlook doesn’t look good because both the terrorists and the politicians are aiming at the headlines. Terror groups looking to make the news often target high-profile soft targets while members of government try to manipulate the press afterward. Terrorists are often cautious as every step leading up to an attack potentially exposes them to getting caught. Two huge bombing attacks in Ankara within a month means they’re feeling confident, assuring more, similar attacks are highly likely.
None of this is to say Turkey’s a war zone or you’ll be dodging missiles on your balloon ride over Cappadocia. Turkey is relatively safe. The ingredients for calm are in the kitchen but the chef doesn’t know how to cook up the right dish. So until the customers get what they’re craving, there’s going to be a lot of geopolitical diarrhea all over the restaurant.
Statistically, as a tourist, you’ll be very safe across the majority of Turkey, even if the numbers aren’t comforting, the reality hopefully will be. Istanbul is one of the safest cities in the world and a sunburn (or in my case alcohol poisoning) is your biggest threat in beautiful Fethiye. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before canceling your travel plans but instead you might want to renegotiate them. A 14.3% decrease in tourism revenue along Turkey’s Mediterranean “Riviera Coast”, one of the safest regions anywhere, means you might be able to visit at one of the best bargains in years.
For me turkey is not the best place to travel right now
Yesterday Turkey normalized relations with Israel which could have played a part in this attack. I was in Turkey last year and left just before the problems started for them in April. I would be hesitant to return right now. I am in Asia, SE Asia and Australia and at this time feel much safer in Mongolia than I would in Turkey.
It’s unlikely, coordinating such an attack, acquiring explosives, scouting the airport, etc. takes months of planning and preparation.
Unfortunately such attacks have become common and likely to continue in high profile targets.