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

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10 Responses to The Protests in Turkey….

  1. patriotic says:

    Would I go to Istanbul today? Yes, but I understand the protests and I agree with them
    I didn’t quite understand what exactly you mean. Could you be a little more specific?

    • Karen says:

      Okay I’ll try to, I know that this is not a riot or a violent uprising to overthrow the government by force. We are not talking about civil war here. So, I don’t feel that it is necessarily a scary thing although the police response has been heavy handed and there have been injuries and god knows being caught up in a protest which was aggressively suppressed would certainly disrupt someones trip. I feel that currently this is very similar to the Occupy protests in many other cities around the world and so it is not in and of itself something the visitor should be frightened of although they would wish to avoid it and that can be done as the location of the protests and the routes of marches are well known.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for taking the time to paint an honest picture. Watching closely with an August trip coming up!

    • Karen says:

      It is no problem at all and I will update this – or rather hope I won’t need to! – as time goes on. Thanks for choosing Turkey and I hope you have a wonderful trip. :-)

  3. BacktoBodrum says:

    The voice of reason as always. I feel for all those in the tourism industry that are going to be hit again in this business of already low margins. Hopefully the true traveller will still come but I feer we will lose many tourists.

    • Karen says:

      An article I read this morning said many have cancelled, particularly business travelers to Istanbul and apparently one international conference in Izmir has cancelled. I haven’t had any cancellations but I know some private tour companies have and their margins do tend to be slight given the price of petrol here and the huge distances they cover. It’s a shame because those tours are managed by people who really know their territory and by the very nature of the thing can avoid hotspots should protests develop. All we can do is keep giving people up to date information and alternatives if necessary so they can manage their trip.

      PS Hope you are enjoying home. xxxx

  4. I have recently become interested in Turkey and hope to visit before too long. Thanks for explaining what is happening there. It is a beautiful land and culture to be afflicted by such unfortunate violence.

  5. This is so tough. Like you, in Fethiye the protests seem so far away, despite the fact there is much support for the protestors. We’ve got friends who work in tourism who are getting cancellations so we’re trying to show Turkey is still open for business – and it is – but we’re writing with a heavy heart, too. We all love this country and it’s so hard to watch it go through this.

  6. Gary says:

    Thank you for writing such an honest appraisal. I have been to Turkey twice before and love the place and so my heart goes out to the protesters and to those involved in the tourist trade and we in Britain are watching the police/state response with growing alarm.

    My mother is on holiday in Kusadasi at the moment and so I’m naturally worried in case she gets caught up in any police charge against protesters – thanks to your article my mind is at rest, although I’m not sure if she is also planning on spending a day in Izmir, where I understand things may be a bit strained.

    Thanks once again, wishing you all the best from friends in the UK.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gary, I hope your Mum is having a good time. Everything down in Kusadasi is pretty quiet and whilst there have been very large protest marches in Izmir they have been peaceful since last week and even last night (11th June) were well attended but there was no police intervention. Protests in Izmir tend to be in the evening and they follow set routes and so a day trip to the city, to the shopping malls or even the water front should be unaffected unless she goes on a Sunday which is the traditional day for protests and then she should avoid the waterfront but all the shopping like Bornova Forum and Optimum in Gaziemir will be as normal.

      Turkey is a massive and beautiful country and it is hard to grasp just how far apart places are and so people probably feel they will get caught up in protests when in reality they won’t even notice them happening, even in Istanbul. Some friends just back from five days in Sultanahmet report they wouldn’t have known there were problems in the city if they didn’t have Facebook!

      Thanks for reading the blog and I’m glad it made you feel better and thanks for caring about Turkey, that means so much to the people here. xxxx