Why so many Irish women love this Turkish town
Kusadasi is in the spotlight after a double killing, but holidaymakers will return. John Meagher reports
Ciarán Nolan, a 19-year-old student from Killybegs, Donegal, and four female friends visited the Turkish seaside resort of Kusadasi for the first time last month.
Besides the scorching hot weather and proliferation of Irish holidaymakers, Ciarán noticed something peculiar about the place during his week-long stay. "It was uncanny. I kept seeing older Irish women with really young Turkish guys. I'm talking about women in their 40s and 50s and Turkish men at least half their age. It was almost like some women had come over specially to meet Turkish men."
It was something I also noticed when visiting Kusadasi in 1999. At every turn I saw older Irish women walking hand-in-hand with Turkish men young enough to be their sons -- and in more extreme cases, their grandsons. It was almost like the movie Shirley Valentine, and Pauline Collins's character finding sex -- and, she hoped, love -- in a sunny clime.
Since first appearing on the tourist map in the mid-1980s, the once sleepy fishing town of Kusadasi has become a popular destination for groups of Irish women, whether they are looking for romance or not.
"It's popular with female holidaymakers because it is a very safe resort," says Eoghan Corry, editor of the trade magazine Travel Extra. "The authorities have ensured that people -- especially women -- can feel safe there at any hour of the day and night. That's partly why the area is so popular with gangs of females and also with families."
Yet, Kusadasi has found itself in the media for tragic reasons this week following the murder of two Co Down friends, Marion Graham and Kathy Dinsmore, both 53. The killer, waiter Recep Cetin -- who was known to tourist visitors as "Alex" -- had been dating Marion's 15-year-old daughter, Shannon. Cetin stabbed the women to death after it was alleged that Marion refused his request to marry Shannon.
"The killings have caused shockwaves here," says a retired Irish businessman who owns a villa in the town. "I think people will see this for what it was -- an awful domestic crime carried out by someone well known to the victims, and not a random attack.
"Kusadasi is a safe place. The odd bit of trouble you'd say tends to be started by Irish lads who've had a bit too much to drink, although there's a zero tolerance approach to any form of anti-social behaviour here. That said, there's always a risk of predatory men -- who are after money or sex or both -- in an environment where a great deal of the tourists are single women.
"I have heard stories about women being tricked out of money by Turkish men they met on holiday, lads who promised them the sun, the moon and stars and then disappeared. But I suppose that kind of behaviour can happen anywhere."
Yet, Eoghan believes the killings could impact on future tourist numbers. "When the young Waterford woman [Tara Whelan] was killed in a separatist bomb attack in Kusadasi [in 2005], numbers visiting the following year dipped. Earthquakes in Turkey have also caused people to reconsider their holiday plans. So, unfortunately for those relying on tourism there, external factors can take their toll."
Despite the murders, Stephanie Campbell, 28, from Bangor, Co Down, will continue to take a now annual pilgrimage to Kusadasi. "I've been there five times now and I love it," she says. "There's the guaranteed sunshine and money really goes a long way. There's a great atmosphere on Bar Street [the appropriately named thoroughfare that's lined with Irish pubs] and at no point have I ever felt unsafe. I really love the place."
Ciarán, unlike his friends who loved the place, does not think he will make a return trip. "I enjoyed it there and you got the sense that the staff couldn't do enough for you, but it's a bit surreal going somewhere on a plane for four hours and then be surrounded by Irish people eating Irish food and drinking Irish beer. We went when the Ulster final was and there was someone from every pub on Bar Street trying to get us to come in. At times, it felt a bit suffocating and to be honest I spent seven days in Turkey without feeling I was actually in Turkey. I'd say the majority of people who go to Kusadasi have little interest in exploring outside the town."
Christine Donnelly, Falcon Holidays MD, believes Kusadasi will continue to attract Irish holidaymakers, especially the budget-conscious. "Kusadasi is one of those destinations that has come in and out of favour but is particularly popular with sterling customers at present.
"During the Celtic Tiger years, people may have considered more exotic destinations, but we're seeing resorts like Kusadasi pick up once more."
It's not known how many Irish visit the resort each year, but Eoghan believes the figure to be in the region of 7,000. "Turkey still lags a long way behind Spain -- by far the most popular country for Irish holidaymakers -- but it is a top-seven destination."