Detained by Turkish police

So I’ve been generally enjoying my time in Ankara. This city is unlike any other I’ve encountered in Turkey. I think it’s because it’s so new. Sure, the old section around the castle looks a lot like the rest of Turkey, but once you’re in the rest of the city, it almost looks like the US. The streets are wide, the buildings are modern and tall, hell I even saw a theme park on the way into the city.

Anyway, one of the guys staying in my room is from Russia. After chatting for a while last night, we decided that today we’d explore the city together. I love company, and it gave me the chance to ask him a little about his home.

Together we discovered that most museums are closed on Sundays; who closes a museum on a weekend? We walked through a park. We hid from the rain for a couple hours in a mosque…. It was mostly a good time, except for….

While it was still hot outside, we happened to be walking by the main train station. Most of the complex is inside so we decided to walk in and rest for a bit. While we were hanging out, some cops came up to us and asked to see our passports.

We were being IDed? I’d been asked for my passport when booking a bus, or checking into a hostel. I’d never had someone just walk up to me and ask to see it though. We had both left our passports back at the hostel, and we tried to explain that to the cops. I’m not sure if they understood, but they started wandering off.

Then a couple plain clothed people walked up, flashed IDs that said police, and asked to see our passports. We tried to tell them we didn’t have them with us. Once they determined we were going to be ‘problem people’, they indicated they wanted us to go with them. Being a bit suspicious, I asked the uniformed police as we were passing them if these plain clothed people were cops. They indicated they were so at least I knew we weren’t being taken away by random criminals trying to run a scam.

They took us to a room, and patted us down. The guy frisking me felt my wallet and phone so he moved to a table and indicated he wanted me to empty my pockets onto it. He then looked through my wallet, and found my drivers license (which is expired, but I don’t think he noticed that part).

Then he told me to unlock my phone which I did, and handed back to him. He went past a few screens I’d never seen before, and got to one with bar codes. I think it listed the phone’s information. He took a picture, then continued his search.

He started feeling through my pockets. He discovered the print out of my e-visa that I had on my for some unknown reason. This was the most useful thing he’d found so far. He quickly got my information off it, and handed it back to me.

The whole time this was going on, the other guy was talking to my Russian friend who happened to know enough Turkish to make things extra confusing. They would exchange a few words, then they’d get to a word he didn’t know, and the confused looks resumed. I think in the future, it would be better to just act like we don’t know any Turkish. The cops were a lot more aggressive with him than me.

They spent about half an hour trying to talk to him. What I was able to gather from the talks was that they really didn’t like that we didn’t have proper ID on us. They also accused us of being terrorists numerous times. If I had to guess, I think their logic went something like “we can’t ID you so there’s no way for us to know you are who you claim to be, therefore, you could be anyone; even terrorists”. But I don’t speak Turkish so I could be wrong.

In talking to my friend, they did manage to learn where we were staying, and we gave them the phone number of the hostel. They called, and the receptionist sent over copies of our passports, and verified we were staying there. They still weren’t happy, but they also seemed to back off very slightly after that.

Finally, they let us go. For a while, I was worried I’d have to find a way to contact the US Embassy from jail. I’d only lost half an hour of my life, but it felt like a whole lot longer.

When we got back to the hostel, my friend got a hold of the Russian Consulate. They told him the Turkish police do an insane number of passport checks. They also said as long as we have our passports on us, we should be fine.

So lesson learned: carry my passport (or at the very least a copy of it) with me at all times. The concept still seems so foreign to me. This is the first place I’ve been where cops will randomly stop people and ask to see their ‘papers’. I guess they have their reasons, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Anyway, I hope this has been somewhat informative. Until the next catastrophe…. Or at least it’s starting to feel like that. Hopefully, the next post will just be a normal travel blog though.

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