Is it safe to go back to Turkey?


Negotiating Bodrom castle’s steep, slippery pathways and tiny rooms would, amid the crush of tourists, ordinarily be a nightmare. Not this year: foreign tourists have almost vanished, and with its beaches and historic sites empty, Bodrum is showing off its true self.

Take the local farmers’ market. It is stacked with fine spices and the freshest fruit and vegetables. Even better, there’s not a selfie stick in sight. Simply observe and follow the local clientele to find the best pomegranate molasses or crushed red pepper flakes, as I took particular pleasure in doing. Bodrum this summer is belying its package-holiday-mecca status and, more so, Turkey’s reputation as a ground zero for terrorist attacks.

The killing of 39 revellers at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve signified a low ebb for Turkey’s reputation abroad. Twenty-seven of the dead were from the Middle East, Canada, India and Russia. Months before, in June 2016, Isis jihadists targeted international visitors at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, and at the historic Sultanahmet square, in January 2016.

Security concerns

A botched military coup against the ruling AK Party last July did little to quell security concerns, and family members of US diplomatic staff in Istanbul were given an evacuation order last year because of the security threat.

But in Bodrum and other holiday destinations, those incidents are now a distant memory. Even in Istanbul, targeted multiple times last year by Kurdish and jihadist militants, there is a sense that though international visitors are fewer on the ground, security prevails and life has returned to normal. Which begs a question: is it safe to go back to Turkey?

In the six months since the Reina nightclub attack, Turkey has largely stayed out of the headlines. Dozens of Isis cells have been dismantled and the city-focused bombing campaign by Kurdish separatists has ceased. The aforementioned US diplomatic evacuation order was lifted in late March while the Department of Foreign Affairs travel advice puts Turkey on par with France, Belgium and Thailand. The Reina nightclub is now a contorted heap of rubble, levelled by a construction crew in May and consigned to a dark chapter of violence that locals hope has passed.

Hotel bookings

Hotels in Istanbul, the fifth most-visited city in the world as recently as 2015, recorded a 30 per cent jump in bookings for the first quarter of 2017; countrywide, the figure rose 18 per cent. The number of Russian tourists who visited Turkey in May rose a staggering 1,380 per cent compared to the same month last year, in large part due to the end of a political stand-off between Ankara and Moscow.

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