Violent crime in Turkey - Should you be worried?

Travellers in Turkey are at more risk of getting their bellies stuffed to the breaking point by overzealous Turkish hosts than they are of running into any sort of violent crime.

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

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.

Men's Safety in Turkey

In the cities, men traveling by themselves should be wary of overly friendly, well-dressed young people looking to take them out on the town. Men looking to be friends or women looking to flirt could easily drop the line, "I know this great club..." What happens then is you go, the club is a shady place and you get beaten up, your wallet stolen, and all your valuables taken.

If you want to avoid this, the best thing to do is, 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 smacked in the face or beaten to the ground for mouthing off like this, few policemen will run to help.

Also, if you're planning on going out to 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 tend to be very emotional about these issues, and you could get into a fistfight or worse, targeted for kidnapping or ethnic violence.

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 at all possible, and try to find a friend to walk with. Call a taxi if you need to get somewhere.

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 "East European" look is very popular for streetwalkers in Istanbul, Ankara, and other northern and north-central cities. Try to dress conservatively if at all possible, and avoid hanging out by yourself in bars or clubs where there are likely to be intoxicated men who associate "European-looking woman" with "prostitute."If a man tries to catcall you or stalk you, simply tell him to stop very loudly, so people in neighboring houses can hear.

Common phrases you should remember are:

"Ayip!" - "Eye-yep!" - "Rude!"
"Birak beni!" - "Beh-rahk ben-ee!" - "Leave me alone!"
"Dur!" - "Door!" - "Stop it!"
"Polisi ariyorum - (pronounced how it looks) - "I am calling the cops!"Always try to go to where 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 strangely. 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, but it's always good to be cautious and respectful of the culture where you go.

You are more likely to be a target for stalking if you stand out as a disrespectful Westerner. Wear headscarf and cover your legs if you visit the countryside, as the religion further afield is likely to be more devout and the education level less.

Safety for Travellers in Turkey

Again, 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

Indeed, in this respect 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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