The Protests in Turkey….

Update 17th June – Message boards are notorious for veering off topic but we’re finding sensible updates for travelers on the situation in Istanbul can be found here on the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum. This link takes you to page 4 of the discussion for the situation in Istanbul as of lunchtime 17th June. – The protests in Istanbul – Lonely Planet

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To ignore what is happening in Turkey right now and to post pretty pictures and paragraphs of purple prose would really be equivalent to fiddling whilst Rome burns, not that Turkey is burning, but it would feel both disrespectful to those standing up and protesting and disingenuous to the travellers due to come and visit this amazing country.

Yesterday (Monday 3rd June) we waved good bye to some lovely guests who were heading back to Istanbul and said hello to new guests coming to us from Cappadocia following a rather stressful day in Taksim last week.

The guests leaving for Istanbul had changed their hotel reservation from Beyoglu to Sultanahmet although they said rooms were getting scarce in the old city and prices were rising as a result. They had planned to take the metro from the airport but changed this to a taxi to the hotel as this seemed more sensible. They were not unduly concerned about their stay and felt comfortable in the local knowledge of the layout of Istanbul that they had gained in their week in the city at the start of their holiday.

The guests coming from Cappadocia had inadvertently been caught up in the Istanbul protests last week, they had seen the crowds, felt the effects of the tear gas and were glad to leave for Cappadocia which had been a haven of peace and they were now happy to be here in Kirazli which is unaffected by the protests. They are due to go back to Istanbul tomorrow morning where they are staying with Turkish friends close to the airport who are keeping them fully appraised of the constantly changing situation.

I spent yesterday evening helping a guest due in July to plan a different itinerary should it be required. He is travelling with his wife and small children and whilst he hates the thought of bypassing Istanbul he wants a peaceful happy holiday and so he is putting back up plans in place early just in case. You cannot blame him for that, it may turn out to be completely unnecessary but discretion is the better part of valour and who wants to spend the next three weeks fretting that their trip may not pan out. It would be grossly irresponsible of me to try and persuade him otherwise and so we’ve come up with a plan that bypasses Istanbul and takes in Cappdocia instead before heading back west through Lake Egirdir and gives an extended period here exploring the local Aegean sites.

Our duty as hosts to people visiting this country means we have to help people make informed decisions that are right for them; this is what we’re trying to do.

Would I go to Istanbul today? Yes, but I understand the protests and I agree with them and I am familiar with the country and that makes a difference to my decision making process. For people unfamiliar with Turkey and whose opinion is coloured by the washing media tides it is a much harder decision to make.

When all this started a few days ago I too struggled to find facts amongst the social media storm and I spent hours and hours tracking down sources and reading multiple news agencies and onsite reportage to get a clear idea of what was actually happening. Swirling in and around the information I saw hysterical posts on Twitter and Facebook that did nothing to clarify the very just cause of the protesters and did a lot to damage the credibility of their reporting.

I saw photographs of floating distress flares tagged as “proof” of the police using Agent Orange, I saw old pictures of a swimmer injured in a propeller accident captioned as “run over by armoured vehicle”, I saw pictures from Italy and Syria tagged as Istanbul. I spent a long time sorting the wheat from the chaff; so thanks a lot to the thoughtless people who casually posted and reposted information like that, it made life a lot harder for those of us who actually wanted the truth, not just for ourselves but because we need to advise other people. The disinformation just wasn’t necessary either; the cause was just to start off with!

Eventually a picture emerged, from people I trust and sources I respect and the truth of the matter is that the incredibly harsh treatment of a peaceful environmental protest has galvanised a massive cross section of society right across the country and has led them to firstly question their freedom of speech and then to stand up and protest the erosion of that freedom and their right to gather and hold peaceful protest and to make their voices heard as a democratic, secular, nation.

Without a doubt the police have been disgustingly heavy handed in their attempts to manage these protests, ridiculously so, shamefully so and a sensible and just leader in touch with his people would have acknowledged that and quickly done something about it and then paused and reflected and accepted that all the people have a voice no matter how glorious your majority was at the ballot box a few years ago! So far this hasn’t happened and so the protests continue, rightly so, and may all their voices be heard and listened to.

Across Turkey most urban areas have now seen protest marches, in the main these protests are peaceful, I saw mother’s with young children attending the gatherings in Kusadasi, and they follow well established routes but in Izmir and Ankara and Istanbul some protests have turned violent and there have been clashes between protesters and police who continue to use tear gas and water canon.

Here in Kirazli the protests do seem far away, even the gatherings and shows of support in Kusadasi seem distant from a village whose priority is to get the cherry harvest safely in. But that is not to say that people don’t understand or care – Yesterday, as I stood in the hot sun waiting for the guests to walk up to the house I spoke to my neighbour who was out sweeping her steps. She knew about Gezi, she knew about the park in Istanbul that was a catalyst for these protests, she knew what was going on and why and as the guests arrived at the gate she stepped forward and hugged them and kissed them and welcomed them because she, along with everyone else here, will always be pleased that you came.

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If you are at all worried about your trip to Turkey first of all speak to the people you are staying with, hotels and guest houses and villa owners should be the best source of information that applies to their area. The Destination Experts on Trip Advisor are also working hard to keep people informed about travel disruption and the situation in the urban areas particularly Istanbul.

Please don’t swamp them with individual questions but please read this forum posting on Trip Advisor if you are planning on being in Istanbul in the near future – Trip Advisor Istanbul Forum – warning for anyone in Istanbul currently