Istanbul viewed as safe, but has its dangers

1:50 PM, Jan 27, 2013   |    comments
(Photo: Bulent Kilic, AFP/Getty Images)
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Rape and murder, especially of foreigners and tourists is rare, say police officials and residents from other countries. . More common crimes include robbery, muggings, scams and the harassment, mostly verbal, of lone women walking the streets in this predominantly Muslim country.

"I feel safe," said Marijana Mustra, a Croatian in her late 20s who has been living and studying Turkish in Istanbul's Beyoglu neighborhood, where missing New York woman Sarai Sierra also stayed. "There's a bit of male harassment - men trying to grab you on the street, but nothing worse than that. Usually there are passersby who help."

It is still unclear what happened to Sierra, 33, who went missing last week after a "dream" trip to photograph the architectural marvels of the city. The hostel where her family says she was staying is located on Tarlabasi Street, considered a more dangerous area in the upscale Beyoglu neighborhood.

The Beyoglu neighborhood includes many of the city's landmarks such as the Golden Horn harbor, Taksim Square/Istiklal Street and Galata Bridge, where Sierra is believed to have been headed on the day she was last seen.

On Istiklal Street, thousands of young locals and tourists alike come to window-shop and people-watch on the pedestrian street every day, grabbing an ice cream or going out to dinner on the most famous strip in the city.

"Beyoglu is large and diverse, but the Taksim area more specifically is one of the modern, more open-minded parts of Istanbul where young people come for nightlife," Mustra said.

Mustra, whose apartment was burglarized on New Year's Eve, lives near Tarlabasi Street. Just a few blocks away from Istiklal Street, Tarlabasi Street is cut off from the rest of Beyoglu by a large boulevard, much of which is closed as part of a renovation project.

Over the past few years, this part of the neighborhood has resisted attempts at gentrification and is home to various immigrant communities.

Even so, while the U.S. State Department advises caution on travel to Turkey because of "violent attacks throughout Turkey" and the "continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout Turkey," it also notes that "the rate of street crime remains relatively low (in Turkish cities)."

Locals and foreign residents say they feel secure in the district and add that except for occasional muggings, physical violence is rare.

"I feel safe in Beyoglu," says Brian Degitz, a 25-year-old native of Savannah, Ga., who has lived in Istanbul for the past six months. "I like walking around Balik Pazar, Istiklal - Beyoglu is just crowded. I've dropped coins and been stopped and handed them back by a poor person before."

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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