Turkey Safety
August 20, 2014 2:37 PM   Subscribe

So. We are Americans planning to spend a week in Turkey in two weeks. Should we reconsider?

We have rented an apartment and are going to Istanbul from our home in the US. In light of the recent James Foley tragedy, how concerned should we be? We are very much American, do not speak Turkish and are fair skinned and blonde. We will stick out. We planned on doing lots of sightseeing and maybe renting a car to explore outside the city for a day or two. Knowing us, we will be wearing tank tops and shorts and sandals (female). We are fitness freaks, lovvvve to be outdoors and were planning on hitting the beach for swimming or figure out a way to go cycling or maybe jogging. The bazaar and Blue Mosque and Bosphorous were on our list. MeFi, do you think we should reconsider and go somewhere else? It's probably going to be a pain in the ass changing flights and accommodations, but it's probably better than being kidnapped. What do you think?
posted by floweredfish to Travel & Transportation around Turkey (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you're way overreacting, and you should go. You're not going to be kidnapped in tourist areas in and around Istanbul.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:43 PM on August 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

No. You will be fine. Istanbul is very, very Western and thronged with foreign tourists. Use the same sort of common sense you'd use while navigating a large U.S. city and you'll be fine.
posted by killdevil at 2:45 PM on August 20, 2014

The US State Department maintains a fairly comprehensive list of travel advisories for locations around the world where there is a legitimate and known/identified danger for travelers. While this isn't necessarily a guarantee that you'll be safe in a destination without a travel advisory, certainly they take into account concerns such as the potential for kidnapping and hostage-taking. Turkey is not currently listed.

Turkey previously experienced some mass demonstrations, which happened to be going on at the time friends visited. They experienced no particular interruption in their travel.

It is also of note that Foley was abducted in Syria as he was investigating ISIS. Istanbul is not close to the border with Syria.
posted by jph at 2:46 PM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

You are staying in one of the most touristed and cosmopolitan parts of the country. You should not be worried at all. Foley himself was kidnapped in Syria almost 2 years ago, so it is not like Turkey is any more dangerous than it was then (presumably you made your plans while he was still a hostage and felt the trip was worth doing).

The beaches in Bursa are worth visiting. Also, definitely make a visit to Cappadocia.

If you want to be cautious, avoid Antakya and the string of cities in southeastern turkey near the Syrian border (Harran, Urfa, Gaziantep, Mardin, Midyat, etc...)

posted by deanc at 2:46 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if you want to go running in Istanbul, go down to the wide paved path that runs for miles alongside the Bosphorus (to find it, go downhill from the Blue Mosque and other touristy spots and you'll run into it). I ran that every day while I was there. Istanbul has more of a strolling than a running culture, so I got a lot of laughs out of the locals on the path, and a lot of "Go, go, go, skinny man!" shouted at me in Turkish.
posted by killdevil at 2:48 PM on August 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

You will LOVE Istanbul. I am Jewish and my husband's heritage is Scandinavian plus, and neither of us felt a moment of discomfort there or anywhere else in Turkey. And Turkish food is nothing less than incredible, as is the stupendous beauty and diversity of Istanbul. Being fit is fine and the Bosphorus path is gorgeous.

Turkey is also loaded with spectacular scenery throughout, and a remarkable treasury of archeological sites. We were pretty impressed with the quality of the roads we saw, and we did a fair amount of travel outside Istanbul. We are planning to go back ourselves for a driving trip, soon.

Turkey's government is mildly Islamic. Terrorism and tourist kidnapping is not a thing. Don't worry and have fun.
posted by bearwife at 3:06 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who just got back to the US from a Fulbright Fellowship in Gaziantep. She was perfectly fine, and I imagine you will be, too.
posted by papayaninja at 3:37 PM on August 20, 2014

Turkey is populated by Turks, not Arabs, who have variety of skin tones, including fair skin, blonde hair, and light eyes. You won't stick out from the other gazillion tourists in Istanbul. You'll be fine. See the Blue Mosque for sure. Go to Cappadocia if you can swing it.
posted by donajo at 3:42 PM on August 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you plan on visiting some of the beautiful mosques, you may want to consider showing some cultural sensitivity by covering your shoulders/arms and knees (i.e. no shorts) inside. Sometimes head scarves will be provided, but you may also keep a small covering with you while exploring. Sure, they might not care since you're a tourist, but it certainly doesn't hurt to be respectful. Safety-wise, you'll be totally fine.
posted by homesickness at 4:27 PM on August 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

I was in Turkey in late June. You'll be totally fine. Turkey (and especially Istanbul) feels more like Europe than the Middle East. Before going I worried a lot about clothing and made sure to pack ankle-length and wrist-length clothing. I needn't have worried so much, especially in Istanbul. Even when you go to the Blue Mosque, they will provide wraps so you can cover up.
posted by Rora at 4:31 PM on August 20, 2014

My aunt and uncle are an American college instructor and a Canadian archaeologist who have been living full time in Turkey for over a decade and a half (upwards of 20 years for my uncle). I just saw them this weekend on their annual pilgrimage to see family in North America. They live in Ankara, way way closer to the Syrian border of Turkey than Istanbul, but still very far away from that border. They have been asked many times about how safe they feel in the country, and they remain very comfortable with their safety there. This weekend, my aunt said, "Previously, I felt like there was something like a 1% chance that within a few years I might feel unsafe in Turkey. Right now, I feel like that chance might be more like 5%. So, just as I have in the past, I feel totally safe right now and I'm still 95% certain that I won't feel unsafe in Turkey in the next few years."

Istanbul is a major world city. Use common sense as you would in any city, but you don't need to be worried beyond that.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:14 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just today I met a nice woman from Istanbul, around 60-ish, who talked up Turkey as a fantastic place to visit. She described Istanbul as a modern city but when you scoop up dirt from the ground you hold history in your hands.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:35 PM on August 20, 2014

My wife and I were in Trabzon, Rize, Istanbul, Bodrum and Yalikavak last year immediately after the civil unrest, and in the midst of Erdogan's crackdowns.

The whole of the place was warm, inviting, and utterly safe.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:09 PM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you so much to all! This was so helpful!
posted by floweredfish at 6:57 PM on August 20, 2014

I recommend that you keep your political opinions/thoughts to yourself when you are talking to locals. I think most would be grossly insulted that you compared/confused their city with ISIS.
posted by acidic at 8:43 PM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this is the equivalent of worrying about FARC guerrillas on a trip to NYC. Turkey is a safe European country, similar to southern Italy. On my last trip to Kas, all the locals were in tshirts and shorts, not burkas. The local buses were fine. Bars and restaurants were fine (I was travelling alone). The trip before, to Bodrum, was a bit of a nightmare because there were loads of drunken Brits in the bars and on the streets, but it was no worse than Colchester on a friday night. Yes you should cover up in mosques, but you also have to cover up in churches in Italy so this isn't some crazy Islamic requirement.
posted by tinkletown at 1:43 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Istanbul is friendly, safe and beautiful. Have a good time!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:11 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

We will stick out.

I'm of Irish/German extraction. I have two friends of Turkish heritage. Both are paler than I am and one has much lighter hair than I do. One has blue eyes, like me.

You will not stand out as much as you think, especially in a city visited by tons of Europeans.
posted by spaltavian at 7:52 AM on August 21, 2014

Yeah, Istanbul is fabulous. You will not stick out at all and to be honest, everyone was very kind and accommodating. Just be culturally considerate, and comport yourself with grace. It was nice to be in a large city where children are still found playing in groups and people were relaxed. Traffic is insane but you know, walk with a large crowd when crossing busy streets like Taksim. The food is FABULOUS and so affordable. It is one of those cities where going out to eat each night made so much sense. No really, chicken doner at the bazaar was $1 and for sit down on a major thorough fare was $6. So you know, eat and have a good time.
posted by jadepearl at 5:59 PM on August 21, 2014

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