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Safety Travel Safety: Europe: Turkey

Turkey: Republic of Turkey
Capital: Ankara
Population: 67,308,928
Currency: Turkish lira (TRL)
Languages: Romanian, Hungarian, German
Religions: Muslim 99.8% (mostly Sunni), other 0.2% (mostly Christians and Jews)
Borders: Armenia 268 km, Azerbaijan 9 km, Bulgaria 240 km, Georgia 252 km, Greece 206 km, Iran 499 km, Iraq 352 km, Syria 822 km

Turkey is a moderately developed nation with a wide range of tourist facilities of all classes in the main tourist destinations.

Terrorist bombings -- some with significant numbers of casualties -- over the past two years have struck religious, political, and business targets in a variety of locations in Turkey. The potential remains throughout Turkey for violence and terrorist actions against U.S. citizens and interests, both by transnational and indigenous terrorist organizations.

In November 2003 the Al-Qa'ida network was responsible for four large suicide bombings in Istanbul that targeted western interests. The British Consulate, HSBC Bank, and two synagogues were targeted by massive suicide truck bombs that killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds. These incidents represent a significant change from prior attacks in Turkey and show an increasing willingness on the part of the terrorist to attack Western targets. Consistent with Al-Qa'ida's world-wide operations, and as indicated in State Department world wide public announcements, it is possible that a terror cell fostered by Al-Qa'ida could strike again in Turkey without warning.

Indigenous terrorist groups also continue to target Turkish as well as U.S. and Western interests. In June 2004 the indigenous terrorist group PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL announced an end to their �unilateral ceasefire.� Since the announcement, there have been several attacks in the southeast region of Turkey, where the group has traditionally concentrated its activities. In addition to these attacks, on August 10, 2004 bombs exploded in two small hotels near the center of Istanbul, leading to two fatalities (one of whom was a foreign tourist) and injuring several others. A Kurdish group ostensibly aligned with pro-Kurdish and PKK separatists claimed responsibility for the Istanbul attack and for other incidents that had occurred in the popular coastal tourist destinations of Bodrum, Antalya, and Mersin. While claiming responsibility for the incidents, the group also warned tourists to stay away.

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, the predecessor to the Turkish group Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) assassinated two Americans in Turkey. Recent information suggests that the DHKP/C may again be looking to attack Americans or American interests in Turkey. Groups such as the DHKP/C, PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL, IDBA-C, and others continue to target Turkish officials and various civilian facilities and may use terrorist activity to make political statements.

In 2002, 2003, and 2004, civilian venues such as courthouses and fast food restaurants have been the targets of minor bomb attacks, which have resulted in small numbers of casualties among bystanders. Similar, random bombings are likely to continue in unpredictable locations.

Americans traveling to Southeastern Turkey, the site of PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL actions, should exercise caution. See the section below on Travel in Southeast Turkey for more information.

In light of the November 2003 and August 2004 bombings in Istanbul and ongoing security concerns, Americans should exercise caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and exercise caution. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. As security is increased at official U.S. facilities, terrorists will seek softer targets. These may include facilities where Americans and Westerners are known to live, congregate, shop, or visit, especially hotels, clubs, restaurants, shopping centers, housing compounds, transportation systems, places of worship, schools, or outdoor recreation events or resorts and beaches. U.S. citizens should remain in a heightened state of personal security awareness when attendance at such locations is unavoidable.

International and domestic political issues sometimes trigger demonstrations in most major cities in Turkey. We wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.

The provinces in southeastern Turkey are Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, Adana, Adiyaman, Hatay, Elazig, Gaziantep, Kahraman Maras, Kilis, Malatya, Icel, Osmaniye and Sanliurfa. Travelers should exercise caution when in the region. Mount Ararat, in Agri province, is a special military zone and access permission must be obtained from the Turkish government.

The PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL retains a presence in certain parts of southeastern Turkey. Although the official �State of Emergency� designation has been removed for all provinces of the southeast and no provinces are currently officially designated as sensitive areas, PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL activity continues in much of the region. Americans traveling in southeastern Turkey should exercise caution due to PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL violence.

Roadside explosions caused by remote controlled land mines or other improvised explosive devices in Batman, Sirnak, Hakkari, Siirt Mardin, Diyarbakir and Tunceli provinces, have occurred since late March 2004. There have also been a number of PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL raids on Jandarma posts and ambushes of Turkish security force vehicle patrols in rural areas in many southeastern Turkey provinces since April 2004. Please be advised of these travel risk factors.

There was also a car bomb attack against the governor of Van province in early July that caused several fatalities.

Visitors to southeastern Turkey are advised to travel only during daylight hours and on major highways.

The Turkish Jandama and police forces monitor checkpoints on roads throughout the southeastern region. Travelers should be cooperative if stopped at any checkpoint.

Drivers and all passengers in the vehicle should be prepared to provide their identification cards or passports, driver license and vehicle registration if stopped at a checkpoint. At these check points, roll down the driver's side window (passenger side, also, in vehicles with tinted windows) when stopped by security force officials. Security forces can then safely inspect the vehicle and its occupants. Remain calm, do not make sudden movements and obey all instructions. Access to some roads may be restricted by security officials, at times, and security force escort vehicles may be required to �convoy� visitors through troublesome areas. In some cases, this must be arranged in advance.

Travelers are cautioned not to accept letters, parcels, or other items from strangers for delivery either in or outside of Turkey. PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL has attempted to use foreigners to deliver messages and packages in or outside of Turkey. If discovered, individuals could be arrested for aiding and abetting the PKK/KADEK/KONGRA GEL � a serious charge.

Department of State personnel are subject to travel restrictions in Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig provinces. U.S. military and DOD civilians should consult their local area commander regarding any restrictions in effect for southeastern Turkey.

A map of the affected region is available on the Embassy website at Crossing the border with Iraq can be time-consuming as the Turkish Government tightly controls entry and exit. American citizens wishing to cross into Iraq from Turkey generally do not require prior permission from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, they must still have a valid travel document, such as a passport, to enter Iraq from Turkey. Travelers wishing to enter Turkey from Iraq must have both a valid travel document and current visa.

Street crime is relatively low in Turkey, although it is increasing in large urban centers such as Istanbul and Izmir. Women appear to have been targeted for muggings or robberies. Visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables. The same precautions employed in the US should be followed in Turkey. As in other large metropolitan areas throughout the world, common street crimes include pickpocketing, purse snatching, and mugging. English-or French-speaking foreigners, who identified themselves as Tunisian, Moroccan, Egyptian, Kuwaiti, or Romanian, have also targeted foreign tourists. These persons have befriended the tourists and then drugged them, using teas, juice, alcohol, or food. Two common drugs used are nembitol, known on the street as sari bomba (the yellow bomb) and benzodiazepine; when used incorrectly they can cause death. In similar cases, tourists are invited to visit clubs or bars, and then presented with inflated bills (often exceeding $1000), and coerced to pay them by credit card.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Turkey's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Turkey are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Sentences range from four to 24 years.

Below are some of the laws foreign travelers should be aware of:

-- Insulting the State: It is illegal to show disrespect to the name or image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, or to insult the Turkish government, flag, or security forces.

-- Proselytizing: Although there is no specific law against proselytizing, some activities can lead to arrest under laws that regulate expression, educational institutions, and religious meetings. The Department of State's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom contains additional information on religious freedom in Turkey.

-- Cultural Artifacts: Turkish law has a broad definition of "antiquities" and makes it a crime to remove any from the country. Offenders are prosecuted. Under Turkish law, all historic sites such as fortresses, castles and ruins, and everything in them or on the grounds or in the water, is the property of the Turkish government. While many sites do not have signs cautioning the unwary, official silence does not mean official consent. One may buy certain antiquities, but only from authorized dealers who have been issued a certificate by a museum for each item they are authorized to sell. If one has acquired a possible antiquity without having obtained the necessary certificate, competent museum personnel should evaluate it before its removal from Turkey.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Turkish hospitals vary greatly. The new, private hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul have modern facilities and equipment, and numerous U.S.-trained specialists, but still may be unable to treat certain serious conditions. The State Department recommends medical evacuation for its personnel who will be giving birth. Those planning to remain in Turkey should consider bringing a six-month supply of necessary chronic medications (e.g., heart medications, birth control pills). Nursing care and diagnostic testing (including mammograms) are not up to American standards.

Several major earthquake fault lines cross Turkey. A number of Turkish cities including Istanbul, Izmir, and Erzincan lie on or near fault lines, making these areas particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Management Agency (FEMA) at Detailed information on Turkey's earthquake fault lines is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Turkey is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair

Driving safely in Turkey requires good defensive driving skills. Drivers routinely ignore traffic regulations including driving through red lights and stop signs and turning left from the far right hand lane. These driving practices cause frequent traffic accidents. Statistics released by the Turkish State Statistics Institute indicate that daytime hours-between 12 noon and 6 o'clock pm-are the most dangerous times on local highways. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are the most dangerous days of the week for driving. Countrywide, 22 percent of all traffic-related deaths are pedestrians who frequently do not look for traffic before attempting to cross a street. The highest risk groups for pedestrians are children and adults (65 years and older) � totaling about 33 percent. In 2002, Ankara and Istanbul provinces accounted for more than half of the total vehicle accidents in Turkey. There are 120,097 registered buses in Turkey. In 2002, 36,665 bus accidents were reported. The 2002 countrywide total was 407,103 accidents in a national population of around 68 million.

Drivers should be aware of several driving practices that are prevalent in Turkey. Normally drivers who experience car troubles or accidents will pull over by the side of the road and turn on their emergency lights to warn other drivers. Unfortunately, many drivers will place a large rock or a pile of rocks on the road about 10-15 meters behind their vehicles instead of turning on their emergency lights. While dangerous during daylight hours, this practice is deadly after dark when it is impossible to see stopped vehicles. In some instances, these drivers will leave the scene without removing the rocks from the road.

Drivers should especially exercise extreme caution while driving at night. The embassy recommends that you not drive after dark outside of major cities. Some drivers will drive without their lights on or with very low lights in an effort to save the battery power of their car making it impossible to see them in advance. While driving, it is also not unusual to come across dead animals, rocks, or objects that have fallen from trucks such as fruits and vegetables.

Drivers should drive defensively at all times and take every precaution while driving in Turkey.

Roads in Turkey run the full spectrum from single lane country roads to modern, divided, Trans-European motorways built to European standards. Highways in the southwestern, coastal portion of the country, which is frequented by tourists, are generally in good condition and well maintained. Further information is available on the Embassy's website, under "driver safety." For additional information about road safety, see the Turkey Road Report on

For specific information concerning Turkish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Turkish Tourism and Information Office in New York via the Internet at, or by writing to 821 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 687-2194, 687-2195, fax (212) 599-7568.

There have recently been several train accidents on the popular Ankara-Istanbul Train route. These accidents have led to loss of life and injury. In 2003 there were 556 accidents (collisions, derailments, falling from train) resulting in 162 fatalities and 299 injuries on trains throughout Turkey. Previous years statistics reflect the same pattern. The two large accidents in 2004 on the Ankara-Istanbul line resulted in 45 fatalities and scores of injured alone.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Turkey's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Turkey's air carrier operations. For more information, contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Travelers should be advised that hijacking attempts using simulated explosives have occurred in 2003, including one flight that was diverted to Athens. No injuries occurred in the hijacking attempts this year. In 2001, a flight attendant lost her life and two hijackers were killed by Saudi security forces at the end of the hijacking of an Istanbul-Moscow flight by Chechen terrorists. All travelers may be subject to increased scrutiny because of enhanced airport security measures implemented since 9/11/01.

Photography of military installations is forbidden. Individuals have been detained and/or had their cameras and film confiscated for taking pictures of hospitals, schools, bridges, industrial sites, and airports. Installations that are prohibited from being photographed are not always marked. 

Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

September 14, 2004

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