The refugee crisis and associated war in neighbouring Syria are making some sailors nervous about visiting Turkey, which undoubtedly impacted in bookings in the latter part of the 2015 season. So are they right to be worried?
The media’s enthusiasm for dramatic video footage and the ever diminishing quality of reporting can certainly give a false impression. Lets look at the three main areas of concern.
The refugee crisis
Refugees and illegal immigrants have been using Turkey as a conduit to reach Europe for many years and in past times, several yacht operators had their yachts “borrowed” to transport migrants to Greece, a rather unusual variant of a one way charter!.
Migrant numbers increased significantly last year and with accusations that Turkey was turning a blind eye, large inflatables have become the people smuggler’s transport of choice.
Sensibly, the chosen routes are where the crossing distances are shortest, which means the area well north west of the main cruising grounds, north of Izmir. Many crossings take place at night – remember, they aim not to be seen, so as not to be stopped.
So the chances of you seeing them alive, or sadly dead in the water, are to all intents and purposes nil. And since the direct route from Syria to the sailing points doesn’t pass anywhere near the cruising grounds, neither will you see refugee camps along the roadside.
The January 2016 bomb attack in Istanbul that killed 10 German tourists suggested ISIL may have decided tourists provide better publicity than the locals. Certainly it seemed to get much more media coverage than the more deadly attack in Ankara 3 months earlier. But then that mainly killed Turks.
However, further blasts in Istanbul and Ankara in March, claimed respectively by ISIS and a Kurdish separatist group, appeared more random and there doesn’t seem aything to suggest tourists are being specifically targeted.
It is also worth noting that with the exceptions of Marmaris, Fethiye and Bodrum, most places you will visit on a sailing holiday to Turkey are tiny. You’d have to be a pretty committed terrorist to get to many of them (in some cases you’d need to hire a boat)! Any terrorist would also stick out like a sore thumb amongst the yachtsmen that make up a high percentage of the visitors.
Dalaman airport, gateway for most charters and flotillas has also for some years had a policy of checking bags as you enter the terminal, one of the measures suggested after the recent Brussels airport bombing.
The UK’s Foreign Office advises that there are terrorist organisations active in Turkey but the same could be said about most countries these days. The only areas they advise against travelling to are adjacent to the Syrian border, over 1000km drive away.
If you’re really worried, it’s quite possible to do a bareboat charter or even a flotilla without visiting any of the large resorts.
Invasion by Syria (or Russia or ISIS)!
Sounds crazy? Well I think so but since at least one or two potential travellers have suggested otherwise you might like to bear in mind that;
- Turkey, is a member of NATO, which requires its members to come to the aid of other members who are under attack. Other NATO members include the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, France and most of the rest of Europe!
- Turkey has the second largest armed forces in NATO, and about the10th largest in the world
- As well as over 400 thousand active servicemen, there are over 30 million more trained up in the wings, as Turkey still has National Service.
- Turkey hosts nuclear weapons.
So should I go?
Certainly. The Turks are the most hospitable people I’ve ever come across. The scenery is fantastic. The sailing is superb and the sun rarely stops shining (except in winter)!
And it could be this years bargain destination, firstly because the Russians who’ve arrived in large numbers in recent years have been told by Mr Putin not to go, secondly because lots of people less wise than you will be scared off by the news stories.
According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, over 41 million tourists visited Turkey in 2014. Could you be killed by a terrorist or see a migrant. Well yes, but then the same could happen at home. And you’ve probably got far more chance of being hit by a car while crossing the road.
Which would be a shame because you’d go to your grave having missed out on what I think is one of the world’s best sailing destinations.