How to Safely Use Wikipedia While Visiting Turkey
April 29 will mark the anniversary of every form of Wikipedia going dark in Turkey. Despite frequent attempts by Wikipedia, the current government of Turkey is holding strong to censor the website. How did the current situation come about and what can visitors to Turkey do to access Wikipedia by other means?
Note! My team and I don’t condone illegal behavior of any sort. The protection of a VPN doesn’t give you license to commit illegal acts, so please exercise a basic level of caution when using a VPN in Turkey.
Recent Turkish Censorship History
In 2015, Turkish users of Wikipedia began finding certain content blocked, most of it having to do with terminology deemed unethical or political analysis of the nation of some 80 million that has seen political unrest since the Arab Spring of 2013.
That same year, Wikipedia changed its security protocol, making it impossible for countries to block a single entry on the site.
A failed coup d’etat in July of 2016 led to a purge of government and military officials involved in the revolt and saw the Turkish government tighten its control further. By December of that year, most users were citing Wikipedia has being slow to the point of unusable, leading Turkey Blocks, the country’s non-profit watcher of censorship to speculate the government was throttling bandwidth for Wikipedia requests.
On 29 April 2017, the Turkish government took the next step, blocking the local version of Wikipedia and all international versions as well. Users got connection errors and 404 errors when trying to access pages. The Turkish government issued a court order approved by the Ankara 1st Criminal Court of Peace that same day to approve the censorship, citing a law that allows it to ban websites that are deemed obscene or threats to national security.
Later that same day, Turkey announced it was also banning TV dating shows and had fired more than 3,900 police, military and civil employees connected to the failed coup.
Workarounds for Turkish Wikipedia
Two weeks after the blackout, Italian Wikipedia editor Cristian Consonni created WikiMirror, which used a proxy site to allow users to access the original Turkish Wikipedia. Using free source code from GitHub, Consonni built the site so that it could be replicated by someone else if his becomes blocked. Unfortunately, WikiMirror does not work on mobile devices, limiting its usage. Another drawback is that since it’s a proxy site, not the actual Wikipedia, editors from Turkey cannot edit pages on Wikipedia – meaning that voices from within the country cannot be heard via Wikipedia entries.
Turkey’s government has similarly blocked Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WikiLeaks. All of these moves have been spearheaded by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
If WikiMirror is unavailable, another option to investigate is Tor and its Android equivalents Orbot and Tor, short for “The Onion Router”, uses legions of anonymous servers around the world to make your requests seem like they’re coming from anywhere besides your actual location in Turkey. The downside to Tor is that all that scrambling equals a very high latency – the actual distance a request is going before reaching its destination and returning.
While you’ll still be reaching your intended pages, the wait time can be dramatic and services like streaming video are usually ineffective.
The VPN Solution
A virtual private network (VPN) is the best fit for accessing Wikipedia and other sites while traveling to Turkey. VPNs work by connecting your computer in Turkey to a server located in a country that does not have blocks on Wikipedia and common social media websites — such as a server located in your country of residence. The VPN server will create an encrypted “tunnel” between your computer and its server which protects all the data and information requests you are sending to the Internet. A censor like the Turkish government would be able to see that you are online, but not be able to see what data you are sending to or receiving from the Internet.
Once your information reaches the VPN server, your computer is given a ‘ cover’ IP address for browsing the Internet. To all websites you access, your IP address will appear to be one assigned to the country the VPN server is located in. You can then utilize Wikipedia and any other site and anything you download will be routed back through the VPN server and encrypted on its way back to your location. There are dozens of VPN servers on the market, but three that stand out when it comes to unlocking Wikipedia in Turkey are:
ExpressVPN has some of the best speeds in the industry and also uses its own DNS on all servers which means no accidental data leaks. In a country like Turkey that has arrested more than 240,000 people for being “anti-government” in the past two years, this is a big plus. Additionally, ExpressVPN’s no-log policy and other privacy features have been put to the test in Turkey, when the Turkish government seized an ExpressVPN server as part of an investigation but was unable to extract any information as none was stored. ExpressVPN is backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it risk-free.