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Tourism Slumps in Turkey as US Advises Citizens to Stay Away

Security warning warns American citizens of potential terrorist threats

Amidst political turmoil and attacks by Islamic State and the PKK (the Kurdish Worker’s Party) the U.S Department of State has updated its travel warning for Turkey. The surge in violence over the past 16 months by Kurdish rebels and ISIS has seriously rocked the once-booming tourist industry, cutting tourism by almost 80%, some tourism agencies say.

“U.S. citizens should avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the country,” the most recent travel advisor says. “Foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous organizations in Turkey.”

The statement, which is the 21st of its kind since the failed coup attempt in July against Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan comes just days after the US Embassy in Istanbul issued a separate warning about increased terrorist attacks, including armed attacks, kidnappings and bombings, directed at foreign visitors.

“Turkey has faced major bomb attacks over the last year, so the state of security is a serious issue for most foreign embassies in the country,” Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told The Media Line.

According to Hakura, the PKK generally attacks Turkish civilians and state institutions whereas ISIS prefers to target foreign tourists and diplomatic missions in Turkey.

“For both (the PKK and ISIS), it is, for their benefit, to create the idea that Turkey is insecure and that the government is incapable of guaranteeing security,” Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz, the general coordinator for the Association for Liberal Thinking in Ankara, told The Media Line.

In response to both the surge in violence and the failed coup, the number of foreign visitors has dropped significantly over the last year. According to Mehmet Nuri Osden, incoming manager of Argeus, a tourist agency in Turkey, foreign tourism has dropped some 80% with a 90% drop in American tourists.

“Once you are in Istanbul, you hardly see tourists,” Mehmet Nuri Osden, incoming manager of tourism agency Argeus in Turkey, told The Media Line. “Two years ago you had to wait half an hour to get into a museum. Now, you don’t wait at all.”

According to Osden, historically, most foreign visitors come from European countries like Germany, Spain, Italy, and France; Asian countries like South Korea, China, and Japan; as well as the United States, Canada and Brazil. At its peak, the country saw roughly 37 million tourists in 2014, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Turkey.

However, since then, the industry has been seriously declining, when violent attacks began to riddle the republic. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, as of July 2016, income from tourism decreased by almost 36% and the number of departing visitors shrank by one third.

“The decrease is logical because we have so many problems like the coup and terrorist attacks,” Yusuf Karaca, the agency manager for Efendi Travel in Istanbul, told The Media Line. “Countries like the UK and America are warning their people about attacks in Turkey, but they never warn about attacks in their own countries.”

Since July 2015, the country, bordered by neighboring Syria, which has been embroiled in a bloody five year civil war, has seen a surge in violence. Most notably, in June 2016, three terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) and armed with guns and bombs, attacked Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Turkey’s busiest international hub, killing some 45 people.

Shortly thereafter, parts of the Turkish armed forces, organized under the Peace at Home Council and said to be followers of the self-exiled, US-based cleric, Fetullah Gulen, attempted a coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government. They cited deteriorating human rights, loss of secularism and President Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, as motives.

Since the attempted coup, the Turkish president has cracked down on all suspected “Gulenists,” supporters of Fetullah Gulen, firing, arresting, and detaining over 100,000 soldiers, government officials, academics, journalists, and others who have been accused of being connected to the Muslim cleric.

The country continues to be racked by attacks. In August, a teenage suicide bomber killed some 53 people at a wedding party near the Syrian border. Most recently, on October 9, a car bomb killed roughly 18 people in southeastern Turkey.
In an effort to combat the increase in violence in the country, the Turkish armed forces began Operation Euphrates Shield in August to eliminate ISIS and PKK operations in the region.

Katie Beiter is a student journalist with The Media Line