To Istanbul – or not?

Several times in my life my plans to travel have been affected by the world’s instability.

Way back in the winter of 1965 I was all set to go as a VSO volunteer to Kashmir.  But the Kashmir war rumbled on, so instead, in January 1966, I was sent to nice, safe Nigeria.  Four days after my arrival there was the first, bloody military coup, followed by a year of massacres, another coup, and the army was billeted on the school where I was teaching. All very exciting for a young 22 year old, and a major factor in my deciding to become a reporter.

Two years later, now a reporter in Oxford and living with Chris, we were about to set off for Prague and had packed my Mini with supplies for friends living there – when the Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia. No way could we have got in, given my passport was marked ‘journalist’.  So instead we went to nice safe Scotland, where I discovered Chris did not really share my enthusiasm for camping, particularly in my parents’ leaky old tent which more or less collapsed in Glen Coe.

Fast forward many years and i was listening to my daughter Jude’s stories of her wonderful trip through Jordan and Syria.  Soon, I said to myself, I too will visit Petra and Damascus – and Palmyra, which I had also read about.  Sadly this was not to be and I will probably never see these wonderful places.

So imagine my delight when Jude suggested I joined her and Ed and their two children in a short autumn break in Istanbul. I was very excited and pleased they were willing to have me tag on. (I had been sad when earlier in the year the two families went to Sicily without me).

I have established that there are cheap flights to Istanbul from Marseilles. But then the moral dilemmas have clouded my excitement.  Should I go to a country whose human rights record has descended from extremely bad to totally unacceptable?  I have boycotted Spain during the time of Franco, South Africa while there was apartheid, and continue to boycott Israel for the appalling treatment of the Palestinian Arabs (though there again, I have been sorely tempted to justify a visit).

The Germans, with several German citizens including a human rights activist in detention, are taking a much tougher line than other EU countries and are warning people not to travel there.  My friend, Margaret, is of a similar, strong view.  So am I making a case of special pleading because I so want to see a city everybody says is marvellous?  If I don’t get there this year I fear I may never live to see it.

I am on the verge of clicking on ‘Buy’ for my ticket to Istanbul, but the principled bit of me is holding back that finger. Soon I must stop wavering.

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