Is Turkey safe?

low angle photograph of concrete tower

If you type in “How Safe is Turkey” in YouTube or a search engine, then you get a host of advice about how safe or unsafe Turkey is. Depending on what the agenda is, you might get a number of different reports. Turkey is no different to any other country. You will find good and bad wherever you go in the world. Quantifying “Safety” is also not an easy thing to do because each person will have a different interpretation of what safety means to them. However, let’s try and put this into some perspective.

The Turkish Tourism industry is booming. With more than 40 million foreign visitors in 2019, Turkey is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Millions of people enjoy low cost seaside family holidays in this beautiful country. So, we have to assume that it can’t be that bad right? The Turkey of today is a far cry from the Turkey of 30 years ago. However, that well known Turkish hospitality still exists, albeit you might have to venture a little distance away from the crowded tourist resorts, to experience it.

So, what is it that sows the seed of uncertainty, or tainted views, when it comes to that simple question, “Is Turkey Safe?” Well, one of the reasons is undoubtedly the fact that it is a Muslim country. With all the bad western press in recent years you might be forgiven for throwing Turkey into the melting pot of more unfortunate Muslim countries. You might think that if you are a single woman then you might be in danger in Turkey, or it may be that the recent failed coup in July of 2016 conjures up visions of a country in turmoil. You might have read about journalists being imprisoned, or Turkey’s excursions into Syria in an effort to secure its border. What justification is there for these concerns when it comes to your personal or family safety?.

Well, just after the coup in 2016 we saw tourism to Turkey plummet. Scroll forwards to the end of 2019 and it is almost back to record levels. You can always check how safe a country is by referring to your home country’s advice on how safe it is to travel to a particular destination. If you are from the UK then you would check the FCO website to see what the current situation is. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey

The Eastern part of Turkey, the border with Syria, is particularly worrying for some. How much is this going to affect you? Turkey is currently making efforts to secure that border region and make it more difficult for people to enter Turkey illegally but also to create a buffer zone, a safe zone, where Syrians apposed to the current government, i.e. refugees, can live in safety. I am not going to dwell on this but if you are sufficiently interested then this information is readily available on the internet. Suffice to say, if you are visiting one of the main tourist resorts in Turkey, then consider this; Bodrum to Gaziantep is a 14 and a half hour bus ride. Other resorts may be closer or further away but often people just don’t understand how large a country Turkey is. It is 3 times bigger than the UK and twice as big as Germany. Culture and regions within Turkey can differ. If you are heading for a major tourist destination within Turkey then you are heading for a very modern, safe and civilised environment. Trust me.

So Turkey is a Muslim country. So what? Are all Muslim countries unsafe? Oman, the United Emirates and Qatar are amongst the safest and friendliest places to live on the planet. They are Muslim countries. Whatever your religious take, we cannot and should not bring religion into this. There are thousands of foreigners living and working in Turkey. Do they feel unsafe? Not at all.

Do single woman live, work, and travel around Turkey? Of course they do. YouTube is full of the experiences of single women travellers and expats in Turkey. As a male or female traveller, depending on your destination, much of daily travelling is a common sense matter. Turkey is a more conservative country, so whilst you might find tourists behaving badly in Bodrum or flirting with boyriends in Marmaris, wearing bikinis in a bar in Fehtiye, if you are a decent, sensible and informed traveller, it is very unlikely that you will experience any problems in Turkey. In practice, you probably have more things to be wary of as a male traveller. Like any country, whether you are male or female, avoid the common scams found mainly in the big cities and never accept an alcoholic drink from a stranger. From pickpockets to dodgy nightclubs, dishonest taxi drivers to rip off tour guides, these do all exist of course, as they do almost anywhere else in the world. I will get round to doing a video about the more common scams one day. Non of them are likely to put your life in any danger but no one likes being ripped off.

So, perhaps you thought that Turkey is unstable? I mean it did have an attempted coup in 2016 right? Well, yes it did. But it was unsuccessful, mainly because the country is much more stable than it was in the past. There are journalists in jail. There are accused terrorists in jail. I am not going to get into the politics of Turkey. To explain the intricate details of Turkish politics, and the influences of the Gülen movement is not something I could explain in this video. It is far too complicated and the subject matter of another entirely separate episode. In Turkey you either love or hate the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. However, for those that accuse him of being a dictator, just remember that he was elected by the people. That is called democracy in my book.

So, still on the subject of safety I am going to deviate a little. How safe are Turkish roads? Well, the roads themselves are pretty safe. In fact they are great roads and the Turkish road infrastructure is very advanced and getting better all the time. The problem is the road users, or some of them. Too many drivers are either driving whilst on the phone, driving too fast or paying little attention to anticipated dangers ahead. Any tourist having driven through Istanbul will be shocked by the aggressive, cavalier attitude of the city’s drivers. They will weave in and out of traffic and literally try and force their way into any gap there is. In short, they are appalling drivers by any standards. Outside of Istanbul, the conditions improve, but you still need to keep your wits about you when driving in Turkey. It is different, and you will find yourself driving differently.

Some people are wary of the number of armed police or Jandarma that they see when they travel around Turkey. Why are there checkpoints on main roads? Well, simply put, these are there for your safety. When you live here for any length of time you start to appreciate that not only are they comforting to have around, but they do prevent a lot of cattle rustling in rural areas and any burglar or criminal is always going to find it difficult to evade the authorities because of the number of checks that are in place, checkpoints or otherwise. In the UK these checks would be referred to as stop and search. Always carry your ID card or passport with you when you are travelling in Turkey.

Often crime does not pay in Turkey. Going off subject a little but giving one example of this. There used to be a lucrative market place in stolen mobile phones. Then Turkey produced a register of phones, recorded and listed by their International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) Number, which all mobile phones and smartphones have. In order to use the networks in Turkey for any period of more than a couple of weeks, then your phone needs to be registered. Because they are all registered your phone becomes worthless to someone else if stolen or lost. The networks just disconnect any stolen or reported lost phones. They just cease to work. This begs the question. Why don’t we do that in Europe?

So, how can you experience an unsafe Turkey? Well you could insult Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. You could insult Islam or you could deface the national flag or the currency of Turkey. You might say defamatory things about the President of Turkey or a government official or police officer just doing their job, but, why on earth would you do this? I mean why would you even do this in any country? Acting like this would be provocative in any nation but citizens in Turkey are not as liberal as they are in Europe and they would take a dim view of insults being handed out against their country or fellow citizens. Only in this instance would I say, if you are a person who believes so strongly in Freedom of Speech that you think these actions are acceptable and reasonable, then, please don’t come to Turkey. We really don’t want you here.

So, on a completely different angle, lets take a look at the world crime index for 2020. Venezuela tops the list as the most dangerous place on the planet along with what you might expect, Afghanistan, South Africa and Papua New Guinea. Coming in at number 50 we have the United States with a crime index rating of 47.20 and a safety rating of 52.80. When compared with Venezuela at an 84.49 crime index rating and 15.51 safety rating the USA looks good. The United Kingdom comes in at position 55 with a crime index rating of 43.71 and a safety rating of 56.29. So, what about Turkey? Well, it may come as a surprise to you to discover that Turkey comes in 82nd place out of 129 countries, which puts its crime index rating at 39.49 and it’s safety rating at 60.51. This information is provided by Numbeo. Numbeo is the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide. Numbeo provides current and timely information on world living conditions including cost of living, housing indicators, health care, traffic, crime and pollution.

What you don’t tend to see in Turkey is mindless vandalism, muggings are much less common than in Europe. Any mugger risks being chased down the street and beaten by passers by. Attacks on the elderly for whatever reason, are really frowned upon, and you could get a heavy prison sentence. The chances of you experiencing any sort of violent crime are really slim.

So, Is Turkey Safe? I have travelled around the globe and have been fortunate to visit many countries. Having now settled permanently in Turkey I am happy to call it home. I would be more comfortable walking around the streets of a major city in Turkey, late at night, than I would be in my home country in Europe. Yet surprisingly, according to the British newspaper, The Telegraph,  British holidaymakers are concerned more about the safety of travel to Turkey than to any other country. Why? I struggle to understand this. With around 2.5 million British tourists coming to Turkey each year you would think that people would “Ask a friend” or know more about Turkey as a holiday destination.

Another interesting twist to this “Is it Safe” question. I wonder how many Turkish people I would have to ask before I got one that thought their country was unsafe? Quite a few I think. How many Americans or Europeans would regard their own countries as safe? I often get asked by Turkish people if Europe is a safe place to travel for them. Do you see where I am going with this?

I used to bring my children to Turkey almost every year while they were growing up. Now they are grown up they still continue to visit each year. I can honestly say that we have always found Turkey to be extremely safe. Again, notwithstanding obvious travel precautions that you would make for any holiday destination, and accepting that there will be someone somewhere who will disagree, and, or, will have a horror story to tell, or an agenda to pedal, Turkey, to me, seems very safe indeed. Perhaps we are asking the wrong question – How safe is the UK? How safe is the USA?

I suppose the biggest risk you have when you come to Turkey is: the risk of putting on weight ~ the food is delightful, you also run the risk of making too many new friends, the risk of spending too much time under the sun on a pristine sandy beach or the risk of an overdose of history and culture.

Enjoy your trip to Turkey and welcome to one of the most westernised Muslim countries in the world, with a secular and moderate Islamic tradition. Don’t forget to buy your Turkish visa online if your country is on the list of visa requirements.

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