Heaven knows there have always been reasons to Defer the Turkey Visit, as any tour operator will confirm with a sigh, but lately I’ve been coming across a new one.
Back in the 1980s it was Midnight Express, the film which turned off whole generations of visitors by portraying Turks as sodomites and sadists. Since then, of course, we’ve all learned that Turks are by and large a brilliant people – courteous, helpful, engaging, great hosts and quite brilliant cooks. That meant finding another excuse, which Kurdish separatism supplied during the 1990s. Then there were the earthquakes, which always sent tremors through the bookings; and the migrant crisis, with many potential visitors expressing concerns that they might have to contend with boatloads of Syrians on their gulet holiday. There was a catastrophic fall-off in 2015 and 2016, with visitors worrying, understandably enough, about bomb blasts and other terrorist outrages as well as being caught up in political unrest or even a coup.
Now that the security situation has dramatically improved – it was London, not Turkey, which suffered a wave of terror attacks last summer – would-be visitors appear to have shifted in their reasoning by developing a reluctance to support an administration they increasingly view with distaste. Staying away from Turkey, as from Burma/Myanmar in former decades, has come to express an ethical position.
‘We are,’ says one, ‘uncomfortable with supporting Erdoğan’s regime’. ‘Turkey has turned into a brutal dictatorship,’ says another who goes on to suggest that it is time I end my love affair with the country.
Turkey’s President, acting under emergency powers granted after the attempted coup of 2016, has certainly hammered all opposition to his rule. He has targeted human rights’ workers, peace campaigners, academics, writers and journalists, branding them as terrorist sympathisers. Many thousands of innocent people are under arrest or investigation; many thousands more have been convicted, some on life sentences, been sacked or had their passports removed.
It’s a society where blind obedience to the top man has come to count for everything – forget ability, experience or talent – and the effect has been catastrophic. The clearing out of officials from key posts in the judiciary, the security services, higher education and elsewhere, perhaps because their support for the President has been unacceptably lukewarm, has left a cadre of inept cronies in charge. No surprise, for example, that the lira should have been in free-fall given that the Minister of Finance’s only qualification for the role seems to be that he is the President’s son in law.
But any notion that a tourism boycott might pressurize Erdoğan into a rethink is misguided. All it would do is hit those guides, hoteliers, gulet owners, restauranteurs, minibus drivers and the rest who depend on visitors for their livelihoods. Most of these people think no more of Erdoğan and his policies than we do; but they will not thank us for our high-minded principles if taking a stand means staying away – to the immediate harm of people whose main concern remains the care of their families.
None of this need be the immediate concern of guests whose own interest, understandably, is merely to get the holiday of their dreams.
And that’s why we hope you can be persuaded to join us in Turkey in 2019.