I’m just back from two awesome months in Turkey. Some of my friends and relatives have already wondered if I was safe in Turkey before this week’s explosion in Istanbul happened (on the 7th of June 2016). I usually avoid making any comments about ‘general situations’ or politics, but now I kind of feel compelled to say something about it. So here are my thoughts and experiences.
The first astonishing thing is that the people who seem most scared are the ones who are not there while people in Turkey are living their lives and travelling mostly as always (what else can you do).
How come? I probably don’t have to tell you that what the media show and the reality people experience often don’t match. Who wants to see that people live a normal life on the news… The picture that is more interesting is that of a Turkey falling into chaos and fear. This article for example says that people are scared to go to shopping malls, while I have never noticed anyone who was scared of going to the mall that are usually full. There are security scans and controls at all the shopping mall entrances, just saying… When I walked in Istiklal street the same evening the number of people in the street didn’t seem to vary much from any other evenings.
The concerns about safety in Turkey have several sides to it:
-Is it safe in Turkey? Was I safe in Turkey? (Without wanting to give general safety recommendations)
-Are people scared/Was I scared?
Is it safe in Turkey?
Realistically speaking, there is the awareness that attacks can happen pretty much anytime in Turkey unfortunately, particularly in Istanbul and Ankara, but that it’s very unlikely, given how big the population and the country is, that it would hit us. There are areas in the east of Turkey hat are not advisable to travel to right now for obvious reasons.
To me that’s an undeniable, but limited threat (both geographically and in terms of probability). In my point of view it’s as likely to die in a traffic accident or to be a victim of an attack anywhere in Europe. So even if the risk is higher than before, the probability compared to other things that could kill me is still lower (compare with this article: 10 Things More Likely to Kill You Than Terrorism).
Are people scared/Was I scared?
I guess the feelings vary from person to person. It’s hard to make any general comment whether or not people are scared. For me there was never a feeling of fear. I haven’t sensed a general feeling of fear around me, either. Yes, it feels weird to walk past the spot where an explosion killed a number of people a short while ago.
My teacher told me the other day that she was too scared to go out for a few days after the explosion in March, which was not too far from where she lives. She find that the threat is realistic and higher than elsewhere, however, she seems to be going on with life as always.
Another friend could have been at the place of the explosion. Luckily, the event he was going to attend with his friends at that time had been cancelled because of the safety concerns that day. We walked past that place several times together and he never seemed to be scared or feel weird about it.
I could also have avoided to go to Istanbul altogether, but after considering this I decided that it’s not necessary. I figured that staying away from crowds and touristic areas and attractions at peak times isn’t guaranteed to keep me safe 100%, but that I could minimize the risk this way.
For me the only difference to other trips was that I signed up with the German Embassy to get updates on security warnings. And that I feel almost safer than elsewhere because every single shopping mall, tourist attraction, public transport, literally any public place or building, has security checks, differently from Europe. The security checks weren’t bothering me, like airport security checks do. You just walk through a scanner gate and the bags are scanned separately, either with a scanner stick or going through a scanner, mostly without being opened.
I personally always felt safe.
Besides the safety concerns people also talk about conservative and authoritarian policies and politicians. Without denying that they exist, they had no impact on the way I lived and traveled: freely. I could go out at night and come back alone pretty much at any time of the night (obviously going by taxi in deserted areas outside the center). I dressed the way I wanted. My friends expressed any political opinion they wanted in public places without seeming scared it might have consequences, other than us disagreeing. I saw varieties of lifestyles without anybody seeming openly offended about other people’s choices.
If anybody thinks Turkey is basically a dictatorship, it doesn’t seem to be quite there yet.
But where is the line between making people aware of where things could be going and fear mongering…
The current general discourse about Turkey had a huge effect on tourism. The numbers of visitors of every nationality dropped significantly this year, with a huge impact on Turkeys economy I suppose.
I can’t give anyone a safety rating if they are thinking about travelling to Turkey, but I can say for sure that I personally have never felt unsafe during my trip in Turkey.
All I saw is pretty much what you can read in my blog posts about Turkey: delicious food, beautiful landscapes, amazing historical sites, hospital and lovely people.
I hope other travelers will be able to experience the same.
I also liked the way this blogger put it: https://lovelifeistanbul.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/am-i-safe-in-turkey/