The United States Department of State updated a travel warning for Turkey on Oct. 29, 2016 stating in part, “U.S. citizens should avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the country. The U.S. Department of State is updating this Travel Warning to reflect the October 29, 2016, decision to order the departure of family members of employees posted to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey.  The Department of State made this decision based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent.  The Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.

It’s important for travelers to understand what a Department of State warning means, “to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.” Travelers can register their trips abroad at step.state.gov to stay current on safety alerts.  It is always wise to keep current on world events while abroad. Take a look at these factors between the United States of America and Turkey’s relationship.

Potential dangers in Turkey’s southeast

United States citizens are encouraged by the Department of State to avoid southeastern Turkey, especially areas close to the Syrian border. Multiple terrorist organizations have been known to travel between Iraq, Syria and Turkey with weapons and explosives. Risks include attacks, kidnappings for ransom, shootings, roadblocks, demonstrations, restricted access and curfews.

Border crossings from Syria to Turkey are strictly forbidden, even if the traveler originally entered Syria from Turkey.

Turkish President Erdogan

An attempted coup by the renegade military faction to try and seize power from the Turkish government failed, summer of 2016.  This complicated the life for Turkish citizens, and stressed Turkey’s relationship with the United States. More than 100 coup plotters, 160 police officers and civilians were killed. In the wake of the attack, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the conflict on the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a muslim cleric. Gulen is currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States, residing in Pennsylvania. Erdogan condemns the United States for harboring a suspected traitor. Gulen has denied having any part of the coup.

Turkey and the world

The safety and political state of Turkey is being closely monitored by the rest of the world. A lot of Western countries regard Turkey as a potential stabilizing influence in the Middle East. A struggling Turkey is a bad sign for Middle Eastern relations overall. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim threatened, “Any country that would “stand by” Mr Gulen “won’t be a friend of Turkey and will be considered at war with Turkey.” The general consensus about the coup, the crackdowns and the terrorist activity is that it won’t be the last and continues to escalate.  BBC News reports, “Turkey is facing increasing turmoil, and the attempt to overthrow President Erdogan will not be the last of it.”

Turkey warns citizens against travel to the USA

In an interesting dichotomy, shortly after Donald Trump’s presidential election of the United States, Turkey issued it’s own travel warning to Turkish citizens cautioning travel to the United States, citing protests and anti-foreign, racist physical attacks and harassment. Turkey has also cautioned against travel in the United States due to Zika and police shootings.

There’s some speculation that the uptick in Turkish travel warnings may be a retaliation for the United States’ multiple travel warnings in Turkey.

Forward progress

Now that President Elect Donald Trump, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, hopes Trump will welcome a new era of bilateral relations. The Austin-American Statesman reports, “Ankara will support Trump’s soft approach to post-coup domestic political developments. Also, the apparent readiness expressed by Trump military adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, to extradite the Pennsylvania-based reclusive Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey alleges masterminded the botched putsch, was music to government ears. There are added concerns that Trump’s ideology on Islam and any relation it may have to extremist groups may cause him to portray Turkey as a “beacon of ‘radical Islam.”

Meanwhile Turkish tourism is advertised

The TRAVEL TURKEY Izmir ’2016 Tourism Fair and Congress organized by Turkish travel agents kicked off December 8-11, 2016.  In 2015, the fair reported 1008 exhibitors from 32 countries and 33.368 64 visitors from 64 countries. The New York Times reported violence is hurting Turkey’s booming tourism industry, with many airlines cancelling or restricting flights to and from Turkey, “According to Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of visiting tourists in May dropped 34.7 percent to 2.48 million, compared with the previous year.  It was the biggest decline in ww years, according to Trading Economics.  May also marked the 10th consecutive month of declining tourist arrivals.”

Studying abroad in Turkey?

Despite these warnings, higher education institutes continue to encourage U.S. undergrad and graduate students to study in Turkey, with a signature on a waiver.  Students, and parents, are cautioned against signing any waivers without legal representation.  You could literally be signing your life away, or placing your mental health and safety in harm’s way.  The world is a vast domain with plenty of opportunities to study abroad in safer terrain. If the United States government doesn’t trust the climate with its employee’s families, your school should probably not be placing you in the situation.

The takeaway

Relationships between the United States and Middle Eastern countries like Turkey come with long histories and complicated changes. Travelers cannot ignore these safety risks because they can result in perilous consequences. Two American deaths due to terrorist action were reported in Istanbul in March of this year by the United States Department of State.

Always go informed when you travel. Sign up for warnings and updates from the United States Department of State, purchase evacuation and travel medical insurance. Be aware some insurance is null and void if you knew and you went anyway.  Having reliable lines of communication with your local embassy and your contacts in the United States can be a lifesaver. Avoid areas where unrest frequently occurs and keep a low profile. If anti-United States sentiment grows too strong, consider canceling your trip.

For more information and resources, and for a free travel safety checklist visit Depart Smart.org.