Senior Member Has-Been
Telegraph Article
Malcolm Moore, Antalya

(Filed: 30/08/2006)

Will the British be going back to Turkey next year?

A week on the beach in a three-star hotel in Marmaris, including flights from Gatwick, was available yesterday for only £149 on Holy Constantinople! With prices such as that, it is no wonder the Costa del Fez is popular. There are oversized cocktails for the ladies and big screens showing Premiership football for the fellas. The handsome Turkish waiters even speak in charming Scouse accents as they serve up full English breakfasts.

"It's like a home away from home," sighed one woman from Liverpool yesterday. She comes with her husband every year, and loves the way that everyone remembers her name. "Our holiday keeps going after we get home," she added. "The people here chat to us over the webcam." In one restaurant, a large group of tourists said they had all met in Turkey and always return for annual reunions.

advertisementThe Turks are famously hospitable, which is what sets the resorts on the Aegean apart from their cousins in Spain and Greece. This year, however, there is a hint of desperation in the air. Along the main strip in Marmaris, there is an extra-wide smile for the tourists.

For the locals, the 1.8 million Britons who swarm in on package holidays each year represent the only way of paying off the country's enormous budget deficit. They were hoping to sell £13 billion of hotel rooms, booze and boat trips this year. So far, they are falling well short. Bird flu has put a lot of people off, while the bombings in the Red Sea have cast a shadow over all Muslim holiday destinations. The latest attacks could be fatal to Turkey's resorts.

Holidaymakers who check the Foreign Office website before jetting off will discover that the five bombs that have exploded since Sunday take the number of bombings in Turkey this year to 21. Until May, none of them had involved Britons, but it is now thought they are being deliberately targeted.

The tour operators may say that the British are still happily flying out, but their customers are faced with the choice of using their pre-booked package or losing their money. They may be putting a brave face on it, but will they come again next year? Meanwhile, the Britons who are already here are more or less trapped, unless Thomas Cook or another travel company decides to lay on extra flights. Bodrum and Dalaman airports are both served mainly by charter flights, while the first available British Airways flight from Istanbul leaves tomorrow and costs almost four times as much as a week in Marmaris.

The bombs have also cornered the Turkish government. It desperately needs the money tourism brings, but the only sure-fire way to tackle the terrorists would be an invasion of northern Iraq, where the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has its bases.

While Saddam was in power, the Turks could cross into Iraq whenever they pleased. America takes a different view, and strong-arm tactics to contain the terrorists risk jeopardising Turkey's ambitions to enter the EU. The scorched-earth campaign, in which the army burnt every south-eastern village that harboured PKK members, has come to an end, in large part because there are no villages left to destroy. However, the army has pressured the government into passing an anti-terror law that forbids suspects from having access to a lawyer during their first 24 hours of interrogation, when they are most likely to be tortured. This will not to go down well in Brussels, but the Turks argue that Britain and America are both sidestepping the law in their fight against terrorism.

Finally, any attempts by Turkey's allies to help are doomed. Yesterday, Washington appointed the former supreme commander of Nato in Europe, Joseph Ralston, to be an "anti-PKK co-ordinator". Unfortunately for him, any attempts to "co-ordinate" efforts against the PKK will only earn him the hatred of Turkey's fiercely nationalistic citizens. America is thought to favour an amnesty under which the Kurds would be able to disarm voluntarily and negotiate, but, with an election due next year, the government can ill afford to appear weak. For most Turkish voters, any deal with the PKK would amount to treason. To underline the point, General Yasar Buyukanit, the new head of the army, said last Friday that any arguments involving "democracy" or "cultural rights" would not excuse attempts to destabilise the state.

Of course, the problems in Ankara are far away from the British sunning themselves and splashing in the crystal waters of the Aegean. For now, the strips of restaurants and pubs, all lit with blue neon signs, are still buzzing.

"I spoke to some friends in Britain, and they said they were definitely coming out next week," said one hotel owner. As a police motorcycle patrol zipped by, he smiled widely and shook my hand extra hard.

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