Country Risk Report (August 2019)
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: DETERIORATING
Turkey is a unitary presidential constitutional republic that operates through the Grand National Assembly of Turkey as its unicameral legislature. Turkey is governed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has dominated Turkish politics since the 2002 Turkish General Election. The AKP’s incumbent leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held power since, being accused over recent years of democratic tribulation and political corruption following anti-government protests in 2013. Erdoğan and the AKP have grown increasingly authoritarian through muzzling independent media and restricting access to Western social networking sites. Consequentially, a failed military coup d’état took place in 2016; during which an attempt was made on Erdoğan’s life and the Turkish Parliament was bombed, with soldiers seizing key infrastructure in Istanbul and the Turkish capital, Ankara. President Erdoğan blamed this coup on followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher and de-facto leader of the Gülen Movement: a Turkish social movement advocating Islamic democracy. President Erdoğan subsequently instated a three-month state of emergency that was continually extended until 19 July 2018, with tens of thousands of suspected coup participants being arrested.
Recent Mayoral elections in Istanbul on 31 March 2019 induced outrage amongst outside observers and native Turks. The contest was between Ekrem İmamoğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Binali Yıldırım of the AKP. İmamoğlu beat Yıldırım by 48.77% to 48.61%. However, outrage was sparked as President Erdoğan, corresponding with the encroaching authoritarianism of the AKP, responded to this loss through electoral nullification, citing spurious electoral irregularities. The Mayoral election re-ran on 23 June 2019 and İmamoğlu once again won the popular vote, albeit with a more convincing margin of 54.27% to Binali’s and the AKP’s 44.99% This was Istanbul’s biggest Mayoral election victory in 35 years and the AKP lost the re-run by more than 75,000 votes. Erdogan’s drive to re-run the election was fuelled by his own assertion that ‘he who wins Istanbul, wins Turkey’. As Turkey’s financial hub, holding the mayoral seat in Istanbul is a position that belies its title. Having held the position himself form 1994-1998, Erdogan has benefitted greatly from his tenure and the AKP are currently taking stock in the wake of defeat in the city; the result of which is likely to be increasingly authoritarian legislation that reinforces the reality that the party that controls Turkey still controls Istanbul.
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: DETERIORATING
Turkey is considered to be an emerging market economy with the world’s 17th-largest nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 13th-largest GDP by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). An upper-middle income country with poverty rates decreasing from almost 30% in 2002 to only 3% in 2016 according to the World Bank, Turkey’s unemployment rate currently stands at 10% (the United States has averaged 4% this financial year). However, since August 2018, Turkey has been experiencing a crisis characterised by the Turkish currency, the Lira, heavily depreciating in value. Following the decisive CHP victory in Istanbul the Turkish Lira initially rose in market value. This initial optimism, however, has waned throughout May and June. With the CHP now controlling Istanbul, over 70 percent of Turkey’s economy is now under CHP control. Therefore, this initial optimism initially increased confidence in the Turkish economic and political climate. Erdoğan and the AKP, however, are unlikely to bow-out gracefully and are set to continue their challenge of İmamoğlu’s victory, leading to further economic instability.
This instability and political manoeuvring against Istanbul is already evident. The Lira was down more than 2% against the dollar following the firing of Murat Çetinkaya, governor of the Central Bank of Turkey by Erdoğan in July 2019. In Asia trading, the currency has fallen as much as 3%. The firing of Çetinkaya followed a long-running dispute between President Erdoğan and the central bank which he blames for Turkey’s deteriorating economy; with the Central Bank hiking interest rates from the target rate of 7.5% in 2016 to 24% today. This orthodox method of addressing high inflation was dismissed by President Erdoğan who perceives that high interest rates cause inflation and will ultimately stifle the already fragile economy. Another blow to Turkey’s economy is a result of Turkey’s controversial purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system that President Erdoğan has confirmed is under way. Outside investors currently have low confidence in investing in Turkey’s economy, particularly since the reaction of the US to this purchase has led to perceptions that Turkey may imminently face sanctions that will further destabilise the economy.
Following poor economic performance, President Erdoğan has stated that there have been attempts to force Turkey into a new IMF loan programme in order to make the country subservient. According to Erdoğan, Turkey finished repaying debt of USD23.5 billion to the IMF in 2013 and now the central bank has increased its reserves of foreign currency to about USD90 billion from USD27.5 billion. Following this, President Erdoğan insists that attempts to force Turkey into a new IMF programme are attempts to tarnish Turkey’s name.
Given the volatility of the Lira exacerbated by President Erdoğan’s growing unpredictability and refusal to be subservient to IMF aid, foreign investors have expressed understandable hesitance in currently dealing with Turkey. Alongside this, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg recently asserted that there is a continuing lack of progress in Turkey on the matter of corruption in party funding and transparency. The report, published by the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) asserted that Turkey is continuing to experience corruption on these fronts, with the judiciary becoming increasingly corrupt. As such, the current Operational landscape in Turkey is unattractive to outside investors and is likely to remain so at least in the medium term.
Geologically, Turkey is vulnerable to many natural hazards. Notably, earthquakes and floods have occurred, and can pose a threat to infrastructure and safety. The 7.1 magnitude Marmara earthquake in 1999 resulted in over 18,000 deaths and estimated over USD28 billion in losses for both national and international companies. Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, is located on the North Anatolian Fault line and is subsequently largely prone to seismic activity. As a result, Turkey has partnered with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) who have increased support and emphasised risk reduction and post-disaster response. Supported by the World Bank, the GFDRR have funded over USD750 million in emergency recovery and reconstruction projects that have provided a platform for the government’s shift towards emphasising the importance of risk-management strategy. The government’s current priorities for disaster risk management (DRM) include substantially reducing the seismic risk to schools (33% of Turkey’s schools currently experience a high risk), improving urban resilience in major cities and reducing risks to critical infrastructure, building DRM capacity, particularly locally, and improving financial protection and budget resources. Consequentially, whilst measures are being taken to improve Turkey’s geological threats, the risks should be borne in mind and travellers are advised to consult local authorities and media channels in the event of experiencing seismic disturbance.
RISK LEVEL: LOW
RISK OUTLOOK: STABLE
In response to the CHP victory and the second election held on 23 June, protests occured across Istanbul calling for Turkey’s fragile democracy to be supported by upholding the results of a fair election that President Erdoğan spuriously claimed to have evidenced ‘irregularities and fraud.’ Travellers should expect to encounter heightened security measures where such protests occur, with peaceful gatherings holding the potential to swiftly develop into clashes between protestors and security forces. It is advised that all such gatherings should be avoided and any political discussion should be refrained from, both in public and private spaces; given the volatility of politics in a nation that is increasingly spiralling towards a pseudo-democratic authoritarianism. With Turkish politics undergoing an important period where President Erdoğan’s strongman authoritarianism could be challenged by the comparatively liberal İmamoğlu, there is likely to be increasing hostilities between supporters of President Erdoğan’s status-quo and the chance for Turkish democracy to be embedded under İmamoğlu’s new politics of justice and equality that is unlikely to cease in the near term.
Crime levels are generally low in Turkey, yet street robberies and pick-pocketing are common, especially in crowded tourist areas in Istanbul. In 2018, 32 cases of sexual assault including rape were reported to British consular staff in Turkey. Most of these cases occurred during the summer in Turkish coastal resorts and visitors, particularly women, should remain alert and avoid travelling alone. Travelling after dark is also ill-advised, particularly alone and in areas off the beaten track. Always remain familiar with your surroundings and try and stay in groups and do not venture off alone to mitigate the risk of pick-pocketing, confidence tricks or kidnappings.
Kidnappings have been on the increase in Turkey with data showing that whilst there were only 11.7 kidnappings per 100,000 people in 2003, this increased to 40.6 kidnappings per 100,000 people in 2015. Whilst this decreased to 33.5 in 2016, it is important to be aware that kidnappings are most likely to occur within 10km of the Turkey-Syria border and the provinces of Diyanbakir, Gaziantep, Hakkari, Hatay, Kilis, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Siirt and Tunceli in south-east Turkey. As such, these any non-essential travel to these areas is advised against. Terrorist groups including Islamic State (IS) routinely use kidnapping as a tactic and are commonly present in the Turkey-Syria border. IS view those engaged in humanitarian aid work or journalism as legitimate targets for kidnapping and the long-standing policy of the Western governments is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers, arguing that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking. For this reason, you should be particularly vigilant if travelling near the Turkey-Syria border.
Turkey is a conservative country and female travellers are advised to dress modestly in clothes such as long skirts and trousers to lessen unwanted attention and not cause offence. Cat-calling is common and unwanted advances a common concern for female travellers. Displays of religious faith or political discussion are advised against as, whilst Christianity is the familiar Western religion, Christians in Turkey are increasingly facing persecution.
Turkey is the second most restrictive country on LGBT rights in Europe, second only to Azerbaijan. Homosexuality is not banned in Turkey, but members of the LGBT community face much hostility and legal restrictions with same-sex marriage not yet recognised in Turkey. LGBT marches have been banned for the past three years and homophobia is still commonplace. LGBT communities in Turkey are also not protected under any specific laws and anti-discrimination laws are not applied in employment. Fundamentally, whilst LGBT people should remain vigilant in Turkey and these communities often face violence and discrimination, Istanbul and Bodrum are relatively cosmopolitan and have a thriving LGBT scene that is becoming increasingly normalised given the importance of tourism to these areas. Conclusively, whilst there an amalgamation of security challenges to visiting Turkey, over 2.3 million British nationals experienced a trouble-free trip to Turkey in 2018.
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: STABLE
Terrorists are very likely to carry out attacks in Turkey. A number of terrorist groups including IS, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê), the TAK (Teyrêbazên Azadiya Kurdistan, Kurdistan Freedom Hawks), the DHKP-C (Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi, Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front) and the THKP-C (Türkiye Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi, People’s Liberation Party-Front of Turkey) are all active organistions. Travellers should remain extremely vigilant as IS present a large threat to Western interests globally, the PKK have attacked important Turkish infrastructure and have killed civilians, the TAK have publically threatened to attack tourist sites and the DHKP-C and THKP-C have mainly targeted the Turkish authorities and US diplomats.
The leading perpetrator of Islamic extremist violence both to Turkish nationals and travellers is unequestionably IS. Over 2,000 Turks are estimated to have travelled to fight for IS whilst thousands of fighters have crossed into conflict at key Turkish-Syrian border towns. IS attacks against Turkey stepped up rapidly in 2016, and in August 2019 Turkish security forces have detained three female IS terrorists sought by Interpol. According to recent figures, 2,000 people were arrested and 7,000 deported in operations against IS in Turkey, whilst over 70,000 people were denied entry into the country on suspected links to the organisation.
The TAK are considered to be the primary Kurdish threat to Western businesses and travellers in western Turkey, having claimed to harm the wider Turkish economy; including by targeting foreign travellers and tourists. Notable attacks include a 2016 bombing in one of the major hubs of the capital Istanbul; taking 36 lives and wounding many more. The TAK took responsibility for the attack, claiming to have bombed the ‘fascist Turkish republic.’
We advise against travel within 10km of the Syrian border and all but essential travel to Sirnak, Kilis, Hatay and the provinces of Diyarbakir, Tunceli and Hakkari. On 24 August 2016 the Turkish military embarked on operations across the Turkey-Syria border and declared special security zones in villages in the Gaziantep Province. Fighting in Syria continues in areas close to the Turkish border and there remains a heightened risk of terrorism in this region, and roads in the Hatay province leading towards the border may be subject to closure at short notice.
Since 2015 in Diyanbakir, Tunceli and Hakkari there has been an extended period of PKK attacks on Turkish security forces which has affected citizens and travellers. In these provinces, security operations including curfews after dark have taken place and travellers ot the region should stringently adhere to these operations for your security. In eastern Turkey, the PKK carried out attacks against security personnel in Van province in August and September 2016. On 17 August 2016 an attack in central Van killed three people and injured 73 others. On 12 September 2016 an attack at a police checkpoint wounded at least 50 people in Van province. If you are travelling to any of these areas, keep up to date with local media, follow advice of local authorities and remain vigilant at all times as peaceful situations can swiftly turn volatile and violent. Generally, SI RIsk advise against travel to the Turkish-Syrian border and advise caution travelling to the Turkish-Iraq-Iran border, as well as the Eastern provinces of Diyanbakir and Tunceli.
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