The death of 17 foreign nationals in Istanbul on Jan. 12, 2016, at the hands of a “Saudi-born Syrian national” affiliated to the caliphate ISIL, is arguably a disturbing sign that Istanbul is being slowly turned into a graveyard for tourists. According to media reports, most of the people killed by the suicide bomber were German nationals on holiday. The attack follows the Ankara bombings that killed 102 people and injured over 400 at a pro-Kurdish rally on Oct. 10, 2015. The jihadist terrorists, coupled with the occasional bickering between Turkish authorities and the Kurdish militants, has cast an eerie, foreboding atmosphere over Turkey’s cultural destinations. Observers believe this might eventually prevent tourists from travelling to the most visited city in the world.
According to Yahoo Travel, over 12 million tourists have traveled to Istanbul in 2015 alone. These numbers have made Turkey rake in more than $30 billion in revenue. Most of the tourists have visited the mythical Sultanahmet Square, which is close to the Byzantine Hagia Sophia church, and the Blue Mosque were the recent carnage took place. Although the Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala has increased police visibility in popular tourist destinations, the lingering fear of a bomb detonating in a public place is becoming a sickening reality.
Sarah Forbes, writing for Yahoo Travel, acknowledged that open public spaces “are inherently hard to police,” and as such, remain a target for terrorists who prey on unsuspecting tourists. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that in 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for a total of three bombings that took the lives of 136 people and maimed a staggering 550. These grim figures beg the question; Is Istanbul slowly becoming a graveyard for tourists?
A number of countries have warned their citizens against travelling to Istanbul. German and Russia are reported to have imposed strict travelling restrictions on their citizens who wish to visit Turkey. The U.S. Consulate in Istanbul has urged tourists to be vigilant and “take appropriate steps to bolster [their] personal security.” The alert issued on the consulate’s website warned “U.S. citizens and Westerners” to throw caution to the wind when visiting popular cultural attractions in Turkey. The U.S. State Department has even gone further in suggesting the following precepts for all tourists intending to visit the country:
- Maintain a low profile and remain vigilant.
- Stay away from protests and political gatherings.
- Follow international and current news before and during their travels.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) as this help in case of emergencies and tourists are updated with important travelling information.
However, the brutal attacks seem to have left the world leaders resolute in fighting terrorism from all fronts. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up efforts to monitor the border with Syria as a way to stop jihadists from infiltrating his country in the name of seeking asylum. It is reported that “[Turkey] also plans to build a new military base in Qatar and expand a base in northern Iraq to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces and anti-Islamic State Arabs.”
Euronews reported that Turkey has granted the U.S. permission to set up a military base in Incirlik, Adana to fight ISIS. Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council, was quoted saying, “The U.S. and all its allies will pledge cooperation and support and stood by Turkey in the fight against terrorism.” In Russia, President Vladimir Putin continues to urge all nations to fight jihadist militants in Syria and elsewhere in the world. It is hoped that all these efforts might help Istanbul in not slowly becoming a graveyard for tourists.
By Shepherd Mutsvara
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Euronews: Turkey Blames ISIL for Bomb in Istanbul’s Tourist Heart
Wall Street Journal: Terror in Istanbul
Yahoo Travel: Is Istanbul Safe for Tourists Right Now?
Image Courtesy of Faungg’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License