Let's Talk Turkey: Is It Safe?
Yesterday's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul was tragic and scary, and immediately people started wondering: Is Turkey safe for travelers?
The State Department posted a response on its Web site's page about visiting Turkey, and the advice offered is inconclusive at best: Essentially, travelers are warned to maintain a low profile (ditch the stars-and-stripes fanny pack) and to avoid "facilities where Americans and Westerners are known to live or congregate, especially hotels, restaurants, housing compounds, places of worship, and resort areas." The rationale: Terrorists may seek out "soft" targets after security is tightened at diplomatic sites.
So, does this put, say, the Blue Mosque off-limits? What about seaside resorts?
I checked in with Ed Daly, Regional Manager for Europe for iJet Intelligent Risk Systems, a firm that advises corporations on travel and asset risk management, who says that, in general, security in Istanbul and at Turkish airports is already pretty tight, so travelers will most likely be fine. Since no group -- not al Qaeda, Kurdish separatists PKK or Dev'sol, a leftist terrorist organization -- has come forward to take credit for the attack, it's hard to predict if there will be more attacks. (The "amateurish" quality of this attack makes it unlikely that it's an al Qaeda or PKK job, says Daly.)
As for travelers' safety, Daly seconds the State Department advice about avoiding "obvious Western chain" restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King. He also says, "I wouldn't tell anyone to avoid hotels. Most of them operate in what we call 'the red zone'," with heightened security measures, especially the big luxury chains. "The smaller ones, the Best Westerns [for example], are low profile already."
He wagers: "If [whoever's responsible for the attacks] is looking specifically for Westerners, they're probably not going after the smaller chains."
As for where, geographically, Americans should avoid, he mentioned the German hikers who were kidnapped by Kurdish rebels on Mount Ararat, near Turkey's eastern border. Daly says, "The British and the U.S. government are willing to recommend against going to Mt. Ararat, the areas where the PKK is active," generally the eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey.
In general, though, Daly offers some sound advice: "A good level of indication is how worried the Turks look." If a place is crawling with gun-toting security guards, then they're probably pretty worried, and you should be, too. If the locals are out and police presence is light, that's a good sign.
I feel like his advice -- be worried if the locals are worried -- can be applied to visiting anyplace new and potentially dangerous. No one walking down that deserted street at night? Take a cab. Policemen strolling calmly down the street? You're golden. Count this as one vote against eating at American chain restaurants on vacation, one vote for chatting up the locals. And, if all else fails, turn to your local newspaper to keep you informed.
By Christina Talcott |
July 10, 2008; 3:12 PM ET
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Posted by: Andy | July 10, 2008 5:18 PM
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