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Country Reports

Turkey Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Security and travel conditions in Turkey (population 80 million) vary considerably across the country. In general, travel is not advised to areas adjacent to the Syrian border or to Diyarbakır, where significant security threats persist. Incidents of terrorism have increased in recent years and remain a threat to security as several armed groups - most notably the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Islamic State (IS) - are active in the country. State suppression of political dissent has greatly increased since the July 2016 coup attempt and the country has since been in a prolonged state of emergency; however, demonstrations of many kinds remain common in Ankara and Istanbul. Crime rates also vary between Turkish cities: rates are generally low in Istanbul and Adana, but are rising in Ankara, though violent crime remains rare.

AREAS TO AVOID

Travelers to Turkey face a risk of kidnapping, particularly in southern regions of the country and close to the Syrian border where IS has an active presence (see TERRORISM). Consequently, most Western governments advise against all travel to within 10 km (6 mi) of the Syrian border and to the city of Diyarbakır.

Since 2015, tensions and clashes between Kurdish militants and government forces have resumed in the southeast. Accordingly, some Western governments advise against nonessential travel to the provinces of Siirt, Tunceli, and Hakkari, and the areas of Batman, Bingol, Bitlis, Diyarbakır, Elazig, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis, Mardin, Mus, Şırnak, Şanlıurfa, and Van provinces not within 10 km (6 mi) of the Syrian border. Curfews have been enforced in Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Mardin, and Hakkari provinces and are periodically imposed on villages and towns throughout the southeast region of the country.

TERRORISM

Various armed groups are active in Turkey, notably IS and the PKK. The frequency and intensity of terrorist attacks has increased considerably in recent years.

Since the summer of 2015, militants from the PKK have been carrying out various ambush attacks - often deadly - against Turkish state targets in the southeast of the country on a near-daily basis. Targets have included police headquarters, pipelines, and state security forces. The resumption of fighting between the Turkish government and the PKK last year shattered a 2013 ceasefire, which had suspended their decades-old conflict; in total, more than 40,000 people have been killed due to this long-running fighting.

Numerous deadly attacks have also occurred in Turkey's main cities:

  • At least 35 people were killed when two gunmen opened fire in the Reina nightclub located in the Istanbul on December 31, 2016, as people were celebrating the New Year; at least 40 more were injured. The attack was later claimed by IS. 
  • On December 10, 2016, two explosions near Istanbul's Besiktas Stadium killed 41 people and injured some 155 others. The first explosion was caused by a car bomb near the main entrance of the stadium; a suicide bomber then detonated his vest in a crowd of police officers in the nearby Macka Park. The Kurdish militant group Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), affiliated with the banned PKK, claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • On the evening of June 28, 2016, an attack carried out by three gunmen/suicide bombers was perpetrated at Istanbul-Atatürk International Airport (IST), leaving 44 people dead and scores of others injured. Attacks also took place in central Istanbul on June 7 and March 19, 2016, leaving a total of 15 people dead and dozens more wounded.
  • A suicide car bombing struck the capital Ankara (Guven Park) on March 13, 2016, leaving 37 dead and over 100 more wounded; the Turkish authorities have since identified the assailant as a member of the PKK.
  • On February 18, 2016, a car bomb exploded near a military convoy stopped at a red light in Ankara, killing at least 28 people and leaving 61 wounded; TAK claimed responsibility.
  • A suicide bombing occurred in the Sultanahmet Square neighborhood in Istanbul's central Fatih district on January 12, 2016. At least ten people were killed and 15 others wounded.
  • On October 10, 2015, a double bombing took place in the center of Ankara (Ulus neighborhood, next to the train station) during a peace rally, leaving at least 109 dead and over 500 wounded.

Extremist leftist groups are also present and sometimes carry out attacks on in the country. The DHKP-C has resumed attacks against the government and authorities.

Despite these numerous attacks, Ankara and Istanbul remain relatively safe cities.

POLITICS

The political situation in Turkey has significantly evolved and state suppression of political dissent has increased following the attempted coup by a group of soldiers known as the Peace at Home Council, which took place July 15-16, 2016. This coup attempt was violently repressed and left 350 dead, including 197 civilians. On July 20, 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency, providing supplementary powers to authorities in order to reestablish order. This state of emergency has since been extended numerous times since.

Of the powers granted by the state of emergency, the most significant is the suspension of Turkey's adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights. Since the declaration of the state of emergency, authorities have arrested over 50,000 people and an additional 150,000 have lost their jobs. Targets of the purges include journalists, members of the armed forces, and individuals suspected of having links to Fethullah Gülen, the man accused by Turkish authorities of playing a central role in the attempted coup.

On April 16, 2017, Turkey held a significant referendum on the expansion of presidential powers in the country. Voting took place amid high sociopolitical tensions and the referendum passed with 51.4 percent of the vote. Protests against the result and alleged voting irregularities occurred nationwide, including in major cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir.      

The next presidential and legislative elections are set to take place in 2019.

SOCIAL UNREST

Political demonstrations and protests are regularly organized in Istanbul and Ankara and sometimes turn violent. In April 2015, the Turkish parliament passed a law authorizing security forces to open fire on protesters in cases of riots.

Protests in Istanbul often take place at Taskim Square, Istiklal Avenue, and in public squares in the neighborhoods of SisliBesiktas, and Kadikoy. In Ankara, protests often take place in the Ulus and Sihhiye squares and in the main Kizilay Square.

Anti-American sentiment has become prevalent in many media outlets since the July 2016 coup, with many hinting that the US may be responsible for political instability in the country. Mostly, these conspiratorial theories stem from the ongoing US military and financial aid to Kurdish troops in the Syrian conflict as well as the pending extradition of alleged coup leader Gülen from the US.

CRIME

Crime rates vary between cities in Turkey. Crime rate are relatively low in Istanbul, although instances of street robbery and pickpocketing may occur in crowded areas and areas frequented by tourists. Use of credit cards and ATMs is generally regarded as safe. Meanwhile, petty crime as well as incidents of prostitution, muggings, and narcotics trafficking are more frequent in the city of Adana. Incidents of random violent crime remain, however, rare in Adana.

Crime levels increased in Ankara from previous years in 2017, much of which is accredited to the rising Syrian refugee population in the city. Though most criminal activity in Ankara involves petty theft and burglaries, a number of violent crimes, such as rape, assault, and murder - most of which target Turkish citizens - also occur, but are largely underreported.

It is strongly recommended to refuse any food or drinks offered by unknown persons due to the risk of drugging and to remain vigilant when among new friends and acquaintances. Sedatives are known to be used by spa masseurs in private spas and hotels to facilitate sexual assault.

MIGRANT CRISIS

Over 3 million Syrian refugees are currently in Turkey, many of whom live in precarious conditions in refugee camps close to the border, while others continue to try to reach Europe. As stated above, crime levels have increased in Ankara with the arrival of Syrian migrants. The migration of Syrian refugees may cause protests in the future.

NATURAL RISKS

Natural disasters also pose a potentially significant threat to visitors to the country. Turkey is situated in one of the most active seismic zones in the world; the north of the country often experiences violent earthquakes (e.g. the Izmit earthquake in the summer of 1999 that left 18,000 dead). The east is also affected; a powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey on October 23, 2011, causing 500 deaths.

Turkey also occasionally experiences destructive torrential rains and consequent flooding and landslides. Heavy rain in Istanbul caused flash flooding and significant transportation disruptions on three separate occasions in summer 2017.

HEALTH

Travelers are advised to take out insurance to cover medical fees as well as medical evacuation before the start of their trip.

Public hospitals may lack the capacity to provide sufficient care. However, there are many private hospitals with high quality medical facilities available in areas often frequented by tourists (these are, however, likely to be expensive).

Diarrheal illnesses are widespread in Turkey. It is therefore recommended to drink only bottled water.

There is a low risk of malaria from May to the end of October in the province of Mardin; sporadic cases were reported in 2014. There is, however, no risk of malaria in the areas most often frequented by tourists in the west and southwest.

Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a growing public concern in Turkey, particularly in areas bordering the Black Sea and in the departments of Sivas, Tokat, and Corum in the Central Anatolia Region.

There is a high number of stray dogs, which may carry rabies, in Istanbul and Ankara.

TRANSPORTATION

The road network is of good quality in big cities and infrastructural improvement projects are underway. Road signs are posted in accordance with international protocol. However, traffic fatality rates are worryingly high in Turkey. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way on Turkish roads and should exercise extreme caution when crossing the street; drivers are generally aggressive and frequently ignore traffic regulations. It is advised to avoid traveling at night on smaller roads outside cities.

It is recommended to use only official taxis equipped with a meter.

The rail network is reliable and connects the major main cities. High-speed rail lines (YHT), which are cheap and comfortable, run between Ankara-Konya and Eskisehir-Istanbul.

Many local airlines operate flights between major cities. Winter weather conditions can lead to severe delays and cancelations, especially in Istanbul at the Istanbul-Atatürk (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen airports.

Travelers should be aware that traffic restrictions may be enforced in districts neighboring Syria and Iraq as well as in the department of Agri, where access to Mounts Ararat and Tendürek requires prior government authorization.

LEGAL 

Due to the ongoing state of emergency, security forces are authorized to stop and search individuals in public places, to verify that they are carrying valid identity papers, to temporarily ban public demonstrations, and to impose curfews. Those found not to be in possession of a valid document are liable to face a prison sentence or a fine. Under the current state of emergency, individuals may be held for up to 30 days.

It is a criminal offense, punishable by a prison sentence, to insult the Turkish nation, the head of state, or the flag.

It is forbidden to photograph and film some military and governmental buildings and infrastructures. Photographers - especially those capturing images of a politically charged nature - have been known to be arrested by Turkish authorities.

Turkey continues to be a major transit country on the Balkan route to Western Europe for drug trafficking. The possession and consumption of drugs is punishable by law, with the accused facing up to two years in prison. Drug trafficking may be punished by six to twelve years in prison. Travelers are strongly advised to be wary of all suspicious packages and to not accept unknown products from strangers.

Similarly, trafficking of cultural goods and antiques is severely regulated and punishable by law.

OTHER

The LGBTQ community is not well accepted in Turkey despite the continued legality of same-sex sexual activity. Generally, Turks remain conservative on many issues related to LGBTQ rights, and LGBTQ individuals are known to experience violence, discrimination, and harassment in the country.

Climate

Turkey's climate varies by region. The climate is Mediterranean in nature along the Aegean and Mediterranean seas; summers there are hot and winters are mild. The climate is continental inland with temperatures than can fall below 0°C in the winter and climb above 40°C in the summer (particularly in Anatolia). Along the coast of the Black Sea the climate is more temperate and wetter.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +90 Police: 155 Fire Dept.: 110 Ambulance: 112

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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