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Turkey 2013 Crime and Safety Report: Istanbul

Europe > Turkey > Istanbul

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, is a rapidly growing metropolis divided by the Bosphorus Strait. Istanbul is Europe’s second and the world’s eighth biggest city. If the current population growth continues, Istanbul will be the most crowded city in Europe by 2020. Despite its population of more than 13.5 million people and the mass of visitors, the city is listed as one of the safest in the world. This is quite impressive considering its high dense population. Crime rates have been considerably lower in recent years as a result of successful policing and law enforcement operations and by the use of MOBESE (Integrated Mobile Electronic System (CCTV)). MOBESE is a “City Information and Security System” enacted under the city’s Security Department with the support of the Governorship. With approximately 600 modern cameras installed throughout the city, public services and administrative functions continue to improve, further decreasing crime rates.

Crime Threats

The overall crime rate remains lower than that of other cities of comparable size. One out of 66 people in Istanbul is a victim of a crime. While the majority of crime is non-violent, there have been violent criminal acts committed against tourists and the expatriate community. These types of crimes tend to be crimes of opportunity and are not common. Criminal incidents involving foreigners tend to be concentrated in tourist areas, such as Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi, Sultanahmet, and the Grand Bazaar.

The most common crimes involve theft, pick-pocketing, bag-snatching, and purse slashing. Muggings are rare but are becoming more common. Violent crime against tourists and the expatriate community is also very rare.   

In general, Turkish men are respectful toward women; however, physical assaults can occur. Foreign women may be verbally harassed, stared at, pinched, or followed. Often, a man’s insistent advances are the result of cultural misinterpretations of behavior. Some Turkish men might understand smiling or friendliness as an invitation, so it is best to keep interactions with unfamiliar men as formal as possible and avoid eye contact with men on the street.

Overall Road Safety Situation 

The road safety and conditions are generally good, especially major arteries and thoroughfares. However, smaller streets throughout Istanbul’s neighborhoods can be neglected and in need of repair. Istanbul is an extremely hilly city, so driving during inclement weather (heavy rain or snow) can be quite treacherous. Night time driving conditions are, for the most part, good.

Traffic and the threat of accidents provide a daily challenge for anyone living in or visiting Istanbul. Traffic fatalities are high in Turkey. Drivers are aggressive and frequently ignore basic traffic regulations by driving through red lights and stop signs or by turning left from the far right lane. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, and extreme caution should be exercised when crossing streets.

Istanbul’s mass transit system is reliable and safe; however, particular caution should still be used while using public transportation. Trams are a favorite location for pick-pocketers. People standing in close proximity to one another makes a perfect environment for this type of crime. Airline, ferry, train, and bus safety practices and procedures are implemented. 

Valuables have also been stolen from vehicles stopped in traffic or at controlled intersections, although this occurs infrequently.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The threat of terrorism in Istanbul from both transnational and indigenous groups remains high. Terrorist groups in Istanbul are numerous, organized, and active. Istanbul has seen a few large terrorist attacks since 2000. While some of these have targeted foreign businesses or places of worship, there have not been any recent attacks specifically targeting tourists or tourist centers. Until recently, Turkey’s most active indigenous terror groups (PKK and DHKP/C) focused their attacks against Turkish military and law enforcement facilities and personnel. The Turkish National Police (TNP) is successful in combating, though not completely eliminating, the threat. In 2012 alone, 31 police officers, 132 military personnel, and 16 village guards were killed in terror-related attacks. In general, terrorist groups can be separated into three categories: leftists, Kurdish separatists, and Islamic radicals.

Leftists
 
Leftist groups such as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C, formerly Dev Sol) and MLKP (Marxist-Leninist Community Party) are anti-Western and anti-American. In the 1980s and early 1990s, DHKP/C was responsible for attacks against the U.S. Consulate as well as American citizens and businesses. The TNP have had success in combating, although not eliminating, this threat. In March 2008, Turkish authorities disrupted a suspected DHPK/C cell. During the raid, police uncovered evidence that indicated the group may have been plotting to target U.S. companies in Istanbul. In November 2010, individuals affiliated with DHKP/C were responsibility for Molotov cocktail attacks that targeted U.S. businesses in Istanbul in commemoration of the December 19, 2000, military action in several prisons that resulted in the deaths of several DHKP/C members. 

Subsequent TNP actions disrupted several DHKP/C cells in Istanbul, but they do remain active. In 2012, the DHKP/C targeted Istanbul TNP police stations and officers multiple times. However, on February 1, 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara was attacked by a DHKP/C suicide bomber, taking the life of a security guard and causing structural damage to part of the compound. 
 
Kurdish Separatists
  
Kurdish separatists are primarily represented by the PKK, (also known as KADEK and Kongra Gel). The PKK has traditionally avoided directing its terror campaign against American citizens and facilities. The PKK and other pro-left terror organizations have simultaneously increased their attacks against Turkish security forces in 2012. In 2012, the PKK increased its acts of sabotage, illegal street demonstrations, assassination attempts, kidnappings, road blockings, and bombing types of attacks. The government continues to fight against the PKK. Security forces detained approximately 8,000 terror organization members and killed 438 PKK members, and 193 PKK supporters surrendered. In addition, 4.5 tons of explosive materials and 350 kilograms of plastic explosives were seized. The security forces were successful in preventing a host of car bomb and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. The PKK has not targeted any American or foreign interests in Istanbul.

In September 2012, a PKK suicide bomber detonated an IED in the Sultangazi Police Department, killing one person and injuring seven. In March 2012, a PKK suicide bomber detonated explosives along a riot police bus in the Sutluce District, injuring 6 civilians and 10 police. 

In May 2011, a bomb believed to have been placed by the PKK to target a nearby police facility exploded in a residential area, injuring eight people. In June 2010, two roadside bomb attacks--one on a police bus and one on a contract bus with military passengers--caused many casualties, including at least eight deaths; the PKK-affiliated group the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility. 

In October 2010, a suicide bomber struck a police bus in Taksim Square, injuring 15 police officers and 17 Turkish civilians. 

In 2008, there were three significant events starting with a bombing in July in the Güngören neighborhood that killed 17 Turkish citizens. On July 9, a terrorist attack on the police guarding the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul resulted in the deaths of three police officers and the wounding of two other police personnel. 

Splinter organizations and affiliates, such as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), which formed after the 1999 capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, have repeatedly warned foreign tourists not to visit Turkey. Consistent with its threats, TAK claimed responsibility for several attacks in 2005 and 2006 that targeted tourist areas in Turkey, including Istanbul. 

Islamic Radicals
 
Radical, pro-Islamic groups--such as al-Qa’ida and Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front (IBDA-C)--pose a possible threat to Americans. In the aftermath of the November 2003 Istanbul truck bombing campaign, police discovered that al-Qa’ida and other international terrorist groups have recruited from various groups in Turkey for possible terrorist actions.

Civil Unrest

Small-scale bombings, violent demonstrations, and vehicle arson also occur on a regular basis. Most of these incidents happened in neighborhoods not generally frequented by tourists. 

Protests and demonstrations are a common occurrence in Istanbul.  Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi, two areas frequented by tourists, are often the venue for demonstrations. While demonstrations are usually peaceful, their potential to escalate into political violence should not be underestimated. Labor Day (May 1) events have resulted in clashes between the police and workers. However, in the past three years, workers have been allowed to assemble in Taksim Square for May Day celebrations, and there were no incidents. 

Religious and Ethnic Violence

In addition to terrorist activities, there have been instances of religious violence targeting individuals working as religious missionaries or viewed as having proselytized for a non-Islamic religion. Threats and actual instances of crime have targeted Christian and Jewish individuals, groups, and places of worship, including several high-profile murders of Christians over the last decade. In February 2013, the TNP foiled a plot to assassinate Izmit’s Protestant Church pastor. 

The level of anti-Israeli feeling remains significant following Israel's 2008 Gaza offensive. Turkish officials expressly said they excluded Jewish people, in Turkey and elsewhere, from their criticism of the government of Israel in the wake of the intervention by Israeli Defense Forces on the Free Gaza Flotilla in May 2010.   

Post-specific Concerns 

Environmental Hazards

Istanbul sits on the North Anatolian fault line and is susceptible to earthquakes. In August 1999, a 7.2 earthquake occurred 60 miles east of Istanbul. The resulting damage highlighted the vulnerability of Istanbul and its structures. Most buildings do not comply with Western earthquake standards and would likely sustain heavy damage in the event of a significant quake. Members of OSAC are encouraged to consider this threat when identifying property to occupy. Earthquake preparedness should be incorporated into emergency planning.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

It is not difficult to find high-end counterfeits at the Grand Bazaar or at other street bazaars. 

Privacy Concerns

Precautions should be taken to protect sensitive computer-based programs and operations. It is not uncommon for a corporation or government agency to fall victim to a hacker or other cyber-related attack. 

Turkish law dictates behavior toward Turkish political figures and institutions, particularly the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is a crime to insult or to deface statues and images of Ataturk and the Turkish flag, including its use on clothing. Turkish authorities enforce these laws vigorously. 

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

For all travel into eastern and southeastern parts and locations on the borders with Syria, Iran, and Iraq, extra security precautions should be taken. U.S. goverment employees need prior approval before traveling to these areas.
 
Drug-related Crimes

Istanbul is not immune to drug-related crimes. Turkey is a transit country for a substantial amount of illegal drugs coming from Central Asia and Afghanistan. The PKK terrorist network is engaged in trafficking and marketing of drugs. The PKK has an established infrastructure and network to produce, transport, and traffic opiates and cannabis throughout Europe. Moreover, material evidence and intelligence sources have shown that the PKK is engaged in laundering money derived from human and drug trafficking. Therefore, Turkey believes that there should be a unified front in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism, as the illegal proceeds generated from the former directly supports the latter. 

Kidnapping Threats

There have been several kidnappings in Turkey, but they are usually politically and criminally motivated and involve Turkish politicians and/or citizens. There is no trend of foreigners working and living in Istanbul falling victim to kidnappings. 

Police Response 

Overall, the Turkish National Police (TNP) is a professional police force and is responsive to crimes committed against foreigners.   

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

If you are an American citizen and are detained or harassed by the police, contact American Citizen Services at +90-212-335-9000 or via email acs_istanbul@state.gov.
U.S. Consulate General İstanbul
Consular Section
Üçşehitler Sokak No.2
34460 İstinye, İstanbul

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, contact the local police (dial 155) and the U.S. Consulate General (+90-212-335-9000). 

Various Police/Security Agencies 

Employing almost 228,000 sworn police officers, the TNP is one of the largest public sector organizations in the country. TNP is the leading law enforcement organization and prides itself on providing professional police and security services to the general public. In addition to the TNP, the Jandarma is a paramilitary police force, which provides law enforcement services outside of major cities and in rural areas.

Medical Emergencies  

In the event of a medical emergency, dial 112; this is the country-wide number for emergency medical ambulance service. Most emergency rooms in Istanbul have physicians who speak English.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

American Hospital 
Address: 20 Güzelbahçe Sokak, 80200 Nisantasi, Istanbul
Tel: (212) 311-2000
Fax: 212-230-4752
Trauma Level III Total Beds:  135
The American Hospital is a full-service hospital. Their emergency care unit is equipped to deal with most medical needs.

Acibadem Hospital Maslak
Buyukdere Cad. No: 40
Maslak, Istanbul
Tel: (212) 304-4444
Trauma Level III Total Beds:  200
Acibadem Maslak Hospital is a member of a chain of hospitals throughout Turkey. Their emergency care unit is equipped to deal with most medical needs.

Florence Nightingale Hospital Gayretepe
Cemil Aslan Guder Sok, No: 8
Gayretepe, Istanbul
Tel:  (212) 288-3400
Florence Nightingale Hospital Gayretepe is a member of a chain of hospitals and clinics in Istanbul. All medical specialties are available. 

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

There are multiple air ambulance services that support Istanbul. It is recommended to research and identify one that will best meet your specific medical requirements. 

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

For CDC Turkey-specific vaccination and health guidance, click the link below: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/turkey.htm

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Crimes/Scams

Although taxis are plentiful and the majority of drivers are honest, overcharging by taxi drivers, particularly by those near popular tourist areas, such as the Grand Bazaar and the Sultanahmet district, has been reported. 

Another reported scam targets people who are returning to their residence from the airport in a cab. As the victim returns home, s/he is approached by a number of young people (the groups have been described as being both male and female and ranging in age) who offer to help the subject with luggage and subsequently abscond with some piece of it. Police authorities suspect that the cab drivers may be involved in the scam. 

Also, pay attention to what denomination of bill you are using to pay for the fare, as there have been reports of taxi drivers switching money and claiming you gave a smaller denomination than what you had.

One criminal scam involves a diversion, such as a fist fight or argument. As the victim directs his or her attention to the staged event, another subject approaches from behind and steals a wallet or purse. If you witness such an event, protect your belongings and leave the area.

A common scam in Istanbul involves the victim being approached by an individual on the street who tries to engage him in conversation. The suspect may invite an unsuspecting visitor to a bar or cafe. The suspect may drug the victim through food or drink and rob him after helping him back to his hotel or to a cab. Another scenario results in the suspect taking the victim to a "family" bar or restaurant. Once the victim enters, drinks are served and women appear. The victim is served with an exorbitant bar bill, often in excess of $1,000. If the victim refuses to pay, he is threatened with violence and held until he pays the bill or a significant portion of it. Travelers can avoid these scams by exercising caution and good judgment when approached by strangers. Such scams are common in the Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi area. Police have been ineffective in combating these crimes.

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

Avoid walking around Sultanahmet, Beyazit, Grand Bazaar, and Taksim Square alone at night.

Extra precautions should be taken to enhance personal security. Tourists continue to be a favorite target of criminals. Using good judgment and common sense will go a long way in helping ensure you do not become a victim of a crime. It is recommended to travel with a companion during late night and early morning hours. 

One should be particularly cautious while visiting tourist areas such as Istiklal Caddesi, Taksim Square, Sultanahmet, Galata Bridge, and the Grand Bazaar. Pick-pocketing in tourist areas is increasingly common. Be alert and aware of your surroundings, and be on the lookout for common tactics used by criminals. Men should secure their wallets and carry only a limited amount of money placed in various locations on their person. Women should secure their purses close to their body while walking and when they put it down at restaurants and other venues. As a precaution, carry only what cash and valuables are needed. Keep a photocopy of your passport with you, and keep the original in your hotel, preferably in a safe-deposit box.

Avoid speaking with strangers on the street. Conversations can be a prelude to a criminal act.

Only utilize taxis with meters, sit in the back seat, and utilize the seat belt if it can be found. Do not accept food or drink from the driver and practice good security by automatically recording the license or number of any taxi you enter. Any improper actions on the part of a taxi driver can be reported to the Tourist Police or by contacting the Istanbul Chamber of Commercial Drivers (Istanbul Sofoler Esnaf Odasi, Ibrahim Karaoglanoglu Caddesi, No: 3 Oto Sanayi Seyrantepe, Istanbul, telephone number 0212-272-2572 or fax 0212-272-6160).

Do not leave valuables in your automobile in plain view of pedestrians or you will risk a thief breaking a car window to steal your items.

Travelers and residents are advised to avoid participating, observing, or driving in the vicinity of political demonstrations.

Do not buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are bootleg copies of copyrighted goods illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them, you are breaking local law. 

U.S. Consulate General Location and Contact Information 

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

Uçsehitler Sokagi No. 2
34460, Istinye, Sariyer
Working Hours: 07:45 a.m. - 16:30 p.m.

U.S. Consulate General Contact Numbers

Telephone: +90-212-335-9000
Facsimile: +90-212-335–9102
U.S. Consulate General Operator - +90-212-335-9000 (24 hours)
Regional Security Office - +90-212-335-9020; Email: OSACIstanbul@state.gov
American Citizen Services (ACS) - +90-212-335-9000; Email: acs_istanbul@state.gov
Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) - +90-212-335-9000

Americans living or traveling in Turkey are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website at https://travelregistration.state.gov. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in the case of an emergency.

OSAC Country Council Information

Istanbul has an active OSAC Country Council. For more information on the Country Council, please email OSACIstanbul@state.gov.