Turkey is a vast and diverse country, boasting a rich history of the Ottoman Empire, ancient archaeology, incredible forested landscapes, stunning beaches and delicious food. Spanning from capital Istanbul in the North West, to Moonscape Mountains of Cappadocia in the centre, to the stretching Mediterranean beaches in the South – Turkey has emerged as one of the most curious and absorbing destinations in Europe.
Turkish history spans a time frame of more than 4000 years. The Turks first lived in Central Asia around 2000 BC, before spreading out through a vast area of Asia and Europe establishing many states and empires. These empires included The Great Hun Empire (established during the 3rd Century B.C.), the Hazar Empire (5-10 Century A.D) and the Great Seljuk Empire (1040- 1157) to name a few. The Ottoman Empire (in Turkish Osmanli) spanned from 1299–1923 and ruled over vast territories on three continents until the end of the First World War. At its height, the Ottoman Empire was gigantic, ruling over what is today Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, all the islands in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the entire Middle East.
The Republic of Turkey was declared on October 29, 1923. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was elected as the first president of the Republic of Turkey and under his leadership implemented many policies that were seen to be ahead of its time. Turkey became a EU candidate country in 1999 – EU membership talks were launched in October 2005 with negotiations expected to take more than 10 years.
Today, Turkey shares eight land boarders with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Greece and Bulgaria – Syria has the largest boarder with Turkey spanning 822km. Turkey also shares a coast line with the Mediterranean to the south, the Aegean Sea to the west and Black Sea to the northwest. Asia Minor (or Anatolia) is the peninsula that forms a bridge between Europe and Asia – Anatolia accounts for 97% of the country’s land mass. The other 3% of the country is Thrace – a tiny land mass which is the ‘European portion’ of Turkey –which borders Bulgaria and Greece. Thrace and Anatolia is separated by the Bosphorus, a strait linking the Black Sea and Aegean Sea. Despite Thrace’s small size, 10% of the Turkish population lives there (most in Istanbul.) As of 2014, the total population in Turkey was 81,619,392.
In 2014, 42 million international tourists visited Turkey. This number is up on previous years; Turkey ranked sixth on the International Tourist Arrivals Index with 37.8 million visitors in 2013. Turkey is a gigantic country and provides a plethora of options for visitors – experience the bubbling city life of Istanbul or also venture inland for a taste of adventure with white-water rafting, trekking, ballooning and skiing all available. For those looking for a slower pace, relax with a Turkish bath and sample the delicious cuisine of nuts, fruits, spices and cheese. If you are chasing a beach escape, steer clear from the hundreds of resorts (many of which are All-inclusive) that have popped up along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts – instead try Kas with its bustling bazaars, crystal clear swimming and day trips to near by Greek island Kastellorizo (with one of the worlds largest sea caves – the blue grotto).
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
All-Inclusives or All-exclusive – Cultural interaction and Local discontent:
During the end of the 20th century, Turkey experienced mounting economic difficulties which brought the country close to economic collapse, however a tough recovery programme was agreed with the IMF in 2002 and since then the Turkish economy has enjoyed strong growth lead by the Tourism, agriculture and manufacturing sectors – trade and foreign investment has also increased.
With this increased foreign investment and strong Tourism sector, the all-inclusive package holiday continued to thrive in Turkey. Mass tourism in the South West region has been most popular with visitors from the UK, Scandinavia and Germany.
Tourism Concern has conducted several campaigns and research reports on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of all-inclusive tourism. According to recent research by Tourism Concern, only 10% of ‘tourist spend’ from all-inclusive holidays found its way into the regional Turkish economy, with even less reaching the immediate local area.
Major arguments centre on labour conditions at All-inclusives where there is a failure to recognise workers’ rights to join a trade union; lack of training; being pressurised into working a considerable amount of unpaid overtime; and not earning a living wage. Tipping is an important source of revenue for people working in the hospitality business but the all-inclusive model results in fewer tips and therefore reduced income for many workers.
Additional negative issues relating to All-inclusives include environmental factors such as water consumption for pools, watering grounds and guest usage, and increased waste of both food and plastic water bottles. Economic impacts are also numerous, including economic exclusion from local tour operators, taxis, restaurants and cafes. Finally, because all-inclusive resorts effectively restrict the contact and interaction between tourists and local people, local people can become discontent with the visitors, causing deteriorating relationship between local people and visitors hidden behind the 4 walls of their all-inclusive resort.
Furthermore, a recent study on All-inclusives in Turkey also found that almost half of the tourists in the survey said they consume a larger quantity of food and drinks on holidays than they do in their daily lives. Furthermore, the study found that 78% of tourists in the survey admitted that they put on weight when they are on an all-inclusive holidays.
Follow this link to check out more about the all-inclusive campaigns carried out by Tourism Concern. (https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/all-inclusives/).
Syrian Crisis – Military Conflict, Refugees & Travel warnings:
To the South East, Turkeys shares a boarder with Syria, Iraq and Iran. The crisis in Syria began in 2011 and involves Islamic state militants and Syrian Kurds – the crisis has resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing military conflict and seeking safety in Turkey.
According to the UN refugee agency, Turkey is estimated to host over one million Syrians and has maintained an emergency response of a consistently high standard. Turkey has declared a temporary protection regime, ensuring assistance in 22 camps (with additional camps being constructed), where an estimated 217,000 people are staying.
The number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey in 2015 is expected to rise to nearly 1.9 million, including 1.7 million Syrian refugees. An unprecedented increase in asylum applications from Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians has also been experienced. Half of the refugees from the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) are children. Then UN is continuing to work with the Government of Turkey to support protection measures and facilitate access to public services and assistance to refugees.
Due to the continued military activity and violence along the Turkish South Eastern Boarders, including Syria, Iraq and Iran, security is at an extreme high. Most national tourism boards are advising against travel to the South East region, ensure you check all legitimate travel advisory services before travelling to the South East of Turkey.
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of the friendly people of Turkey is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
Cultural impacts – Kurdish culture:
Straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey’s location between the east and west is seen as strategically important. Turkey is a member of Nato and aspires to being part of the European Union.
Turkey became a EU candidate country in 1999 and, in line with EU requirements, went on to introduce substantial human rights and economic reforms. The death penalty was abolished, tougher measures were brought in against torture, and the penal code was overhauled. Reforms were introduced in the areas of women’s rights and Kurdish culture, language, education and broadcasting.
Kurds make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. Between 25 and 35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region stretching along the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.
Turkey is home to a sizeable Kurdish minority, which by some estimates constitutes up to a fifth of the population. As part of a new “Kurdish initiative” launched in 2009, Turkey pledged to extend linguistic and cultural rights to Kurdish people. When travelling to Turkey be aware and respectful of the Kurdish people and their culture.
Many are surprised to learn that Turkey is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Turkey holds more species (over 80,000) than in the rest of Europe (around 60,000).
Turkey is home to such mammals as the striped hyena, the brown bear, and the grey wolf, along with the loggerhead turtle and the monk seal. Turkey also has over 400 bird species – due to its location between Europe and Asia – Turkey is located on a bird migratory path. One of the most incredible flight migrations in the world happens in Turkey when over a quarter million stork fly down the Bosphorus in the spring and autumn.
Unfortunately, Turkey lags behind almost every European nation in terms of habitat conservation with only 1% of the country dedicated to protected areas. Dam and hydroelectric power plant construction remain the biggest threat to biodiversity.
According to Right Tourism, Turkey receives heavy criticism for its policy on the capture of wild dolphins and poor regulation of dolphin attractions, resulting in many dolphins being kept in very poor and cruel conditions. Recent protests have centred around the ‘dolphinarium’; which house bottlenose dolphins for commercial shows and controversial dolphin therapy. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) advises all tourists not to visit any parks holding whales or dolphins in captivity (pool, tank or sea pen).
Stray Dogs and Cats:
Turkey has been heavily criticised by the International animal welfare organisation ‘PETA’, on account of their poor management of stray cats and dogs. Every year, to clean up Turkey’s streets for visiting tourists, there are mass culls of dogs and cats. Animals are poisoned or transported to remote areas where most of them die of thirst or starvation.
Endangered loggerhead turtles (known by locals as Caretta Caretta) have occupied the seas and beaches around Dalyan (in the South West) for thousands of years, with their breeding grounds now protected by conservation organisations. But dangers still remain, with fishing and tourist boats acting as a danger due to propellers and fishing nets, while the turtles are also caught and killed for their meat or to be made into handcrafts. Predators threaten their eggs, and their breeding grounds are under threat from development. In a bid to protest the turtles, charities have teamed up with some tourist boats to cover their propellers.
Air-Pollution in Istanbul:
As of early 2015, Instanbul had a population of 14.4 million people. According to “World Development Indicators 2012” report, which provides information on pollution in cities around the world, air pollution in İstanbul exceeds the maximum acceptable limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In terms of Sulfur dioxide air pollution caused by fossil fuels – Istanbul is the seventh most polluted city in the world. Sulfur dioxide is a pollutant resulting from the consumption of coal, diesel fuel and gasoline containing sulphur – health impacts from Sulfur oxides (SOX) include various respiratory illnesses such as bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. People particularly at-risk from regular Sulfur oxide inhalation include children, the elderly, and asthmatics.
According to the WHO findings, air pollution in cities around the globe is estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths a year globally.
Climate Change & Tourism:
According to the WWF, the increasing threat of Climate change has the potential to impact the Turkish tourism sector. Current climate change models predict that that the mean summer temperature will rise by more than 4°C by the middle of the 21st century. Increases in summer temperatures to above 40°C will reduce personal comfort and could lead to more heat stress and associated mortality. While beach resorts may still be bearable, Instanbul and other major cities will become more uncomfortable. Other detrimental impacts are likely to include further water supply restrictions and forest fires.
Turkey is a massive country with a landmass of 783,562 square kilometres, hence the climate varies widely from region to region as well as seasonally. The most popular time to visit Turkey is in spring (April-May) and autumn (October-early November) – during these periods it is generally warm and sunny, but not uncomfortably hot like the height of summer.
Temperatures in the capital of Istanbul vary dramatically; from well below freezing in midwinter to above 40°C in summer. If you are chasing the salt and sun on the Western and Southern coastlines, aim for June to end September. The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts experience highs of up to 45°C, but midwinter temperatures can be as low as -5°C.
Turkey also has some great ski-slopes, developing ski include Uludag (near Bursa) and Palandoken (near Erzurum) where the climate drops well below 0c – the best time to hit the slopes is between December and April. Turkey’s most extreme climate is found in the Mountainous Eastern region, with winter temperatures as low as -43°C and highs up to 38C.
Turkey has over 8000 km of coastline with some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe – often with a backdrop of lush green forests meeting crystal clear waters. Many secluded beaches can be reached by single day or multiple day boat trips in traditional Turkish wooden sail boats (Gulet). Moving round the Turkish coast anti-clockwise; the Aegean coast offers several seaside towns such is Kusadasi and Bodrum with whitewashed houses cascading in bright pink bougainvillea. Whilst Bodrum can be rammed with tourists, near by you can find Bitez and Turkbuku; a quieter and more traditional setting. Marmaris is a favourite with British tourists and has been over run with activities geared towards mass tourism.
As you head south, the Mediterranean coast awaits. Check out one Olu Deniz (near Fethiye), Kas and Patara Beach which boasts a 12km white sandy stretch that has been voted one of the top beaches in the world by Times Online – this beach is part of a national park – rich in birdlife and the breeding ground of the endangered loggerhead turtles. Further south east is the small and isolated town of Olympus; hiding a beautiful beach, several archaeological sites & treehouse accommodation. Finally, further east is the Turkish riviera – famous for the city of Antalya which is set around a Roman harbour and historic old town.
Turkey currently hosts 40 national parks that protect the rich variety of endemic flora and fauna, along with numerous archaeological treasures. The Turkish geography ranges from the pristine coastlines, barren canyons, marshes, lakes, waterfalls, mountains and deep forests. Forests cover 26% of Turkey’s landmass. Turkey has two major mountain ranges running east to west; the Black Sea Mountains in the north and the Taurus in the south. These mountain ranges enclose the central Anatolian plateau, and converge in a vast mountainous region in the far east of the country. It is here that the ancient Tigris and Euphrates rivers are sourced.
In regards to local wildlife, there are 3000 endemic species of flora that are unique to Turkey. Common plant species include fruit trees such as olives, figs and walnuts. Flowers include various species of tulips and lilies. The Turkish fauna is also rich in diversity with 40,000 different species. Kelebek Vadisi (near Fethiye) is a flower-filled Butterfly Valley home to rare species of ‘jersey tiger’ butterfly. Furthermore, there are various species of Birds, Fish, Turtles, Seals and Leopards.
Turkey has a long history of volcanic activity, in the centre of the country, past eruptions of the now-extinct volcano Mount Erciyes have left behind the incredible moonscape of Cappadocia with its numerous white valleys. Turkey’s volcanic heritage has also provided many thermal springs, the Aegean region hosts a UNESCO world heritage site called Pamukkale. Turkey’s mountainous landscape has created various water courses made up of gorges, canyons and waterfalls. Some of the most famous waterfalls in Turkey include Manavgat (near Side) and Duden (close to Antalya).
In Eastern Turkey, the landscape turns into a rugged terrain with snowy peaks, such as Mount Ararat (Turkey’s highest peak). Ararat rises omunously from the surrounding plains and is a wicked sight of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Lake Van is the largest lake in the country, providing a still, indigo-coloured lake in a tranquil setting.
In regards to renewable energy and climate change, Turkey has pledged to develop 30% of its total installed capacity from renewable sources by 2023. The objective is to add renewable energy sources from hydropower (34 GW), wind energy (20 GW), solar energy (5 GW), geothermal (1 GW) and biomass (1 GW). The country also aims to have 10% of its transport sector needs met by renewable energy. Currently, renewable energy contributes 11% to the total energy mix, with the majority of energy production is coming from Natural gas, oil and coal.
Of key importance for visitors to Turkey is dressing suitable – dressing and behaving modesty is a sign of respect. Outside of a tourist resort, if women in particular are not dressed appropriately, they can attract unwanted reactions from Turkish people. It is best if women try to cover their arms and shoulders, and wear longer dresses. Men should try to keep their shoulders covered when out in public, and it is best to opt for longer trousers in the less tourist-driven areas.
If visiting a mosque, the dress code demands that women should cover their head, shoulders, arms and legs, taking care not to show ankles or feet. In both cases, shorts are not considered appropriate attire for men or women. Keep in mind that during the month of Ramadan, Muslims will fast from dawn until dusk.
Turkish people have some unique gesticulation – it is worth being away of these action to avoid any confusion or embarrassment:
1/ be aware that some rural areas, where religion has more of an influence over everyday customs and behaviour, women and men are expected to keep some distance apart in public. Public displays of affection, such as handholding, hugging and kissing are not undertaken. Even handshakes and eye contact between the sexes may be avoided. However, in more urban locations, this is much more relaxed and there is a lot of integration between men and women. Handshakes and a kiss on each cheek between men and women are common forms of meeting and greeting.
2/ Turkish people will indicate ‘Yes’ in a similar way to the Western practice; a small nod of the head downwards. However, ‘no’ is indicated by a nod of the head upwards, often with raised eyebrows or a sharp intake of air through the front teeth.
3/ When sitting down, the soles of your feet (even when wearing sandals or shoes) should stay flat to the floor, and should never be pointed directly at anybody. This would be seen as ignorant and disrespectful.
4/ Hand gestures have different meaning to a Turkish person – be aware that the ‘OK’ sign is a very rude and provocative signal. Similarly, placing your thumb between your index and middle finger is also very insulting.
If you are lucky enough to be invited into a Turkish person’s home, the proper etiquette is to bring a gift with you as a sign of appreciation. Small decorative pieces, sweets and pastries are the most common gifts. Make sure you bring individual gifts for children, families are integral to Turkish society so including the children will be seen as a considerate gesture. Alcohol may be given as a gift, but remember that not all Turkish people consume alcohol
Turkish cuisine is very unique – influenced by flavours from the Far East and the Mediterranean – which mirrors a long and complex history of Turkish migration from Central Asia to Europe. Nations on the spice roads not only engaged in transit trade, but also made use of these commodities, which is why Turkey has a significant spice culture. Spices were the commodity which lent momentum to the “global” trade of mediaeval times. Be sure to try one of these specialities:
– “cabbage dolma”: A combination of sautéed rice, pine-nuts, currants, spices, herbs and all tightly wrapped in leaves of cabbage, served with a lemon wedges.
– “Lahmacun”: a turkish pizza with finely minced meat, tomato, lettuce and parsley.
– “baklava” is a sweet pastry which is soaked in honey and layered with deliciousness! There are various types and variety like twisted turban, sultan, lady’s navel and nightingale’s nest.
– Keep an eye out for a “muhallebi”: a pudding shop with a dozen different types of milk puddings.
– The Turkish Breakfast: In the warmer months, it is common to be seated outside under vine covered pagolas, around a low table, on the floor in a nest of rugs, pillows and carpets. A typical Turkish breakfast is a fantastic array of dried fruits, nuts, jams, figs and bread. After your meal, try a traditional turkish coffee, sit back and soak it in…
The official language in Turkey is Turkish, however Kurdish and many other minority languages are still spoken. Turkish pronunciation is very phonetic, in most cases each letter is pronounced. There are 29 letters in the Turkish alphabet, here is a short list of common phrases:
Hello: Merhaba (MARE-HA-BA)
Good evening: İyi akşamlar (EE AK-SHAM-LAR)
How are you?: Nasılsın? (NA-SEL-SIN)
I am fine, and you? İyiyim, sen nasılsın? (EE-IM, SEN NA-SEL-SIN)
Yes: Evet (EV-ET)
No: Hayır (HI-EAR)
Okay/Alright: Tamam (TAM-AM)
Welcome: Hoş Geldiniz (HOSH GEL-DIN-IZ)
Thank you: Teşekkür ederim (TE-SH-QU-ERR ED-ERR-IM).
Turkey is very much a Muslim country, with Muslim accounting for 99.8% of the population (mostly Sunni). The remaining 0.2% include mostly Christians and Jews. Many Islamic customs are integrated into Turkish society and as a visitor to Turkey is importance to understand the etiquette regarding the muslim religion. See the etiquette section to learn more.
In regards to the population demographics in Turkey, in 2008 the breakdown was: Turkish 70-75%, Kurdish 18%, other rural minorities 7-12%.