TWO women in their 60s, one boasting a shock of bleached hair, the other in a loose headscarf, are dancing alongside a teenage girl in a white tube top. Families crowd behind tables weighed down by narghile pipes, glasses of overpriced beer and plates of sliced carrots and cucumbers. When a popular song comes on, a little boy begs his mother to join him on the dance floor. The venue is an underground nightclub in Van, a dusty, unremarkable city in Turkey’s south-east. But everyone inside, from the DJ to the barmaids to the patrons themselves, is from Iran.
Rocked by a series of terror attacks, a failed coup attempt and an ongoing crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, Turkish tourism has been suffering. Foreign arrivals slumped from 36m in 2015 to just 25m last year. Westerners were especially likely to stay away. Though business has picked up this year, many hotels in Istanbul and along the Mediterranean have had to slash prices to stay afloat.
In Van, about an hour’s drive from the Iranian border, things could not be more different. In the first nine months of 2017 the city welcomed a record 388,000 visitors from Iran, up from 264,000 during all of last year, an influx nearly the size of its own population. Local hoteliers cannot keep up with demand. On a weekday in September, your correspondent had to ring 14 different hotels and the city’s lone youth hostel before finding a bed for the night, and that only thanks to a late cancellation. So many Iranians poured into the city earlier this summer that the governor had some of them put up in student dormitories and others in private homes. When an Iranian musician banned from performing in his home country arrived for a concert, he was greeted by an audience of 5,000 compatriots. “At times you feel like a foreigner in your own city,” jokes an official at the local chamber of commerce. With the visitors leaving behind tens of millions of dollars, mostly in cash, no one seems to mind. The city recently started to offer Farsi language courses to local business owners...
Go to link