A few weeks ago I posted a story about Taksim, urging readers to explore the streets leading off Istiklal Caddesi where they could discover Istanbul’s rich cultural history. This is the same Istiklal Street where on Saturday the 19th of March, a suicide bomber detonated their load, killing five people and injuring thirty six others. This came just a week after a bomb went off in Ankara, killing thirty seven and injuring one hundred and twenty five. Both cities have suffered from several bomb attacks in the last few months, and now as then, the question on everyone’s lips is “Is it safe to come to Turkey?”
A lot of people in the blogging and travel communities wrote posts immediately after each of the bombings, expressing sorrow and dismay at these tragic and senseless losses of life. Each time I scoured the news in English and Turkish, read online debates and talked to friends about it. I chose not to write a blog post in answer to the question “Is it safe to come to Turkey?” It seemed both too big and too personal a question to answer.
What finally prompted me to write an answer was a private Facebook message I received from a women who admires my writing. She had a reservation to come to Istanbul the week after the bombing, and wanted my advice on whether it was safe or not. This isn’t her first visit here, so she knows the lay out of the city, how crowded the streets can be, and that comparing security in Turkey with that on offer in other countries is pointless. After all, national security forces didn’t stop the recent attacks in Paris, Jakarta, Lebanon, Brussels, Iskanderiyah and now Lahore.
One answer to the question “Is it safe to come to Turkey?” would be to remind her she could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so why worry? Given the seriousness of the question this answer is so trite as to be almost meaningless. In the bus scenario, one has the choice to look both ways before crossing. A bombing doesn’t give you that option. The flip side of this answer is to say it’s far too dangerous so you shouldn’t come. Yet I can’t agree this is the best answer because my safe might be your dangerous and my comfort levels your risk-taking.
So, in answer to the question “Is it safe to come to Turkey?” I will reiterate what I said to the woman on Facebook. I can’t really say either way if you should come because only you know how you feel. You should check what your government says and make a decision that way. If you do come to Istanbul, make sure you have registered to receive warnings so you know which places to avoid, and how to keep safe should something happen. I’d feel irresponsible suggesting anything less, but felt I hadn’t been that much help. I was touched and pleased when she got back to me and thanked me for my kindness. She’d considered all the possibilities and made up her mind to come as planned. However she was aware she needed to be able to suddenly alter her plans should any unforeseen dangers arise. Maybe it’s not the definitive answer people are looking for, but it’s pretty good advice.