Violent Crime in Turkey: What Travelers Need to Know

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Travelers in Turkey are at more risk of being overfed by their delightful Turkish hosts than they are of running into any sort of violent crime. But here's what you need to know before you go to stay safe.

Ankara, View of the city from Ankara citadel Photo © Getty Images/Westend61

Always be careful when walking the streets, particularly in big cities like Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Travelers in the city are more likely to be seen as ordinary; in the country you're just going to be an oddity. Nevertheless, it's important to be aware of common crime issues in Turkey.

Gender roles in Turkey are quite strict and defined, and this goes for common crimes perpetrated as well. Men and women need to worry about different things when traveling.

Crime in Turkey

Pickpocketing and theft is common in the larger cities where you need to keep your eyes on your belongings in large crowds. Passport theft can be an issue, so instead of carrying your physical passport, keep it safe and locked up securely back at your accommodation, and instead carry a copy of your passport when you're out and about.

Avoid traveling to the dangerous border areas with Syria, as kidnapping by the terrorist groups in the area is a threat to travelers.

Be alert and aware, and stay up to date with local news reports if there is civil unrest. Avoid protests or demonstrations – never go near the crowds.

Men's safety in Turkey

  • In the cities, men traveling by themselves should be wary of overly friendly, well-dressed young Turks looking to take them out on the town. Men looking to be friends or women looking to flirt could drop the line, "I know this great club..." And if you go along with them, the club is a shady place and you get beaten up, your wallet stolen, and all your valuables taken
  • To avoid this, the best thing to do is this: If your companion tries to take you to a specific location, say, "Hey, I have some friends that got ahead of me, can I go try and find them?" Turks who are honest will love the opportunity to show more people a fun time, but people in on a shady deal will insist that you go with them alone. If you feel that you're in danger of being attacked and you have access to a phone, dial 155 for the police
  • Whether traveling in the cities or further afield, don't insult anybody's family, don't insult Turkish culture and don't insult the Islam religion. If you end up getting hurt or beaten to the ground for saying disrespectful things like this, no policemen will want to help you out
  • If you're planning on going out to the Turkish clubs, try not to wear the color combinations black and white, blue and yellow or red and yellow, as these are the combinations of the three biggest football clubs in Turkey. This won't so much put you at risk for violent crime as it will for football hooliganery, which could get you a few bruises from drunken gentlemen in a bar
  • Finally, whatever you do, don't get involved in any arguments or demonstrations about political issues such as the Armenian genocide, Kurdish separatism, or issues with Cyprus. Turks take these topics very seriously, and you could get into trouble, or worse, targeted for kidnapping or ethnic violence. Just keep your opinions to yourself, and avoid talking about contentious topics.

Women's safety in Turkey

While the Muslim religion has an undeserved reputation for promoting violence against women, in truth it's probably more physically dangerous to be a male traveler than to be a female traveler in Turkey.

The country is the most westernized Muslim country in the Middle East, and secular and moderate Islamic traditions of respecting women are stronger than those of radical, fundamentalist Islam rampant in other countries.

Nevertheless, women should always be careful about traveling by themselves at night in the cities, though this is true no matter where you live in the world. Avoid poorly lit areas if possible, and try to find a friend to walk with. Call a taxi if you need to get somewhere far away instead of walking alone.

The most common issue for women in the cities is, unfortunately, being mistaken for a prostitute. This is embarrassingly common if you're blonde, have long legs and long hair, as this Eastern European look is very popular for streetwalkers in Istanbul, Ankara and other northern and north-central cities. Try to dress conservatively, and avoid hanging out by yourself in bars or clubs where there are likely to be intoxicated men who associate European-looking women with sex workers. If a man tries to catcall or stalk you, simply tell him to stop very loudly, so people in neighboring houses can hear.

Common phrases you should remember are:

  • Ayip (pronounced "Eye-yep") = rude!
  • Birak beni (pronounced "Beh-rahk ben-ee!") = Leave me alone!
  • Dur (pronounced "Door") = Stop it!
  • Polisi ariyorum (pronounced how it looks) = I am calling the cops!

Always try to go where other people are, whether it's a store or a crowded street. 99% of Turks are very proud of their country and want you to see the best side of it, and they will often forcibly subdue an offending man on your behalf.

For instance, if a man bothers you in your hotel room, oftentimes all you have to do is complain to the hotel manager. There are several stories of women having done this, and only minutes later the offending male was literally thrown out on the street, kissing pavement.

The only time that women should be worried about religious violent crime is if they dress inappropriately. If you plan on visiting a mosque or religious location, women should be sure to wear headscarves and long dresses or skirts. It's not likely to be a huge problem if you don't, but it's always good to be cautious and show respect to the culture.

You are more likely to be a target for stalking if you stand out as a disrespectful foreigner. Wear a headscarf and cover your legs if you visit the countryside, as the religion beyond the cities is more devout.

What to do if you're in danger

If you feel like you're in danger of being attacked, or if you've been attacked and want to report it to the police, find any phone and call 155 to contact the cops free of charge.

The three rules of the day when it comes to avoiding violent crime in Turkey are:

  • Don't insult people
  • Don't trust strangers
  • Respect local customs.

Turkey is pretty much like any other country in the world. You can take these tips for staying away from violent crime wherever you go.

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