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Simon Reeve: “In many ways Turkey is the most important country in the world”

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Millions of Brits used to holiday in Turkey each year, but last summer the beaches on the Aegean Coast were empty.

That’s just one of the problems Turkey currently faces. It’s suffered a series of crises: terror attacks, an influx of three million refugees from its wartorn neighbour Syria, a failed military coup and President Erdoğan’s subsequent crackdown on the alleged perpetrators and free speech.

We asked Simon Reeve why he chose it as the destination for his latest BBC2 series and whether he’d book a holiday there.

Why Turkey?

In many ways Turkey is the most important country in the world. It’s a really critical time in its history and it’s an important place for us to understand.

So for those reasons and because it’s pretty beautiful as well. I hadn’t seen a lot of the areas we went to before and I don’t think many outsiders appreciate how gorgeous the Black Sea mountains are, for example.

Simon Reeve in a homemade cable car in the Black Sea Highlands

What makes it so important?

It’s at the centre of some of the greatest issues we’re facing now: the tricky relationships between East and West, between Christianity and Islam, women’s rights in the Middle East, the war in Syria.

You meet lots of people with very different perspectives in episode one – from a billionaire businessman to Syrian refugees. Do you think President Erdoğan has been a force for good or bad?

It’s a really interesting one because it depends what your priorities are. He’s improved the quality of life of most Turks during the time he’s been in power. That’s why so many of them love him and why he’s been elected over and over and over again He’s clearly got dictatorial tendencies and there are frightening elements to his rule but credit where it’s due: there have been massive advances in the lives of many Turks.

Do you think Erdoğan’s ambition is to make Turkey as conservative as Saudi Arabia?

No, I genuinely don’t think there is a move towards becoming as Islamic, as conservative, as some of the countries in the Middle East. Turkey is taking elements from the East and the West, but it’s forging its own path. And it’s going to be something a little more confusing, sophisticated and complicated as a result.

What’s happened to the tourism industry?

It’s taken a hammering. Numbers are down dramatically and millions of people really depend on tourism to put food on the table.

And you think British holidaymakers shouldn’t be put off?

I would encourage Brits to be a bit more open-minded about where they go. Not to be put off by the scare stories. Not to worry that they’ll see tricky things while they’re away because I don’t think that should necessarily put people off going somewhere.

There are problems everywhere and ignoring them makes your experience less interesting as a result. Take an interest in where you are and try to realise that life on this planet is not perfect anywhere. There is darkness even in the most beautiful locations in our world.

Are you likely to see “tricky” things on the Aegean Coast?

You might. You’ll certainly see poor folk when you’re in a country that hasn’t got the income of Norway. Your money can often be a force for good.

Would you book a holiday there?

I would go on holiday to Turkey, if the Turks would have me back, which is a genuine question given that I have probably said some rude things about the government. Personally I don’t want to hide my son from the problems that the rest of the world faces. I want him to know how lucky he is and how blessed we are in this country.

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