The Turkish visa ordeal

The Turkish visa ordeal

Belgin Akaltan -
The Turkish visa ordeal

The village of Tabanovce at the Macedonian-Serbian border, on March 9, 2016. AFP Photo

The fate of poor refugees has been offered in exchange for visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens… 

The snobbish European visa requirement for Turkish citizens has always been a disgrace. I will not even attempt to explain how demeaning it is. My own personal way of dealing with this disgrace is refusing to visit those countries that require a visa from me, unless it is for business. For leisure, fun and travel purposes, I go to countries that do not require a visa or I travel to places within Turkey.  

I have always been proud to be a Turk, even though some of my readers may disagree after reading my critical pieces. Criticizing Turkey’s administration and the habits of Turkish people does not mean I hate my country. On the contrary, I love Turkey.  

But back to visa-requiring countries… My Greek friends keep inviting me to visit but I always tell them that I will only visit their beautiful country when no visa is necessary. I have actually come very close to breaking my own principle because of my wish to visit the house where Atatürk was born, which is now a museum in Thessaloniki, but that didn’t happen either. 

Most European diplomatic missions in Istanbul and in Ankara have outsourced their visa procedures to private Turkish companies. The Turkish people working in these visa-handling companies are generally sadistic. They are more evil than the Europeans themselves. 

I don’t have a fancy visa story to write here. But I have heard - actually, we have all heard - many nasty stories of Turks who have been refused visas for no reason: Bad treatment, rejection, detention at airports, being put on the same plane back to Turkey, etc.  

And now we are suddenly preferred to refugees of various origins. Is that so? Why did the ordinary Turkish person have to suffer for so long, if it were so easy to “convince” you? How have we become so popular overnight? 

It’s not funny. People have suffered tragedies, families have been separated, and businesses have gone bankrupt because of such silly visa requirements.    

During visa procedures the authorities ask very personal questions that are against human rights. I guess there are two kinds of human rights for Europeans: The rights of Turks and the rights of non-Turks. Being a Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin was more popular than being a Turkish citizen of Turkish origin at certain points in Europe. (Sigh here). 

Now there is a third category of human rights: Refugee human rights. This category is exchangeable with Turks’ human rights. 

A couple of years ago I was invited to a European country for a certain occasion and they told us that they would deal with the visa issue themselves. I accepted the invite. But at some point a silly detail - my photo was a bit light, or my signature was too dark, whatever reason - the woman conducting our visa procedures told me I might not be able to get a visa. I started laughing. I told her, “So what if I’m not issued a visa? I will just not go. You’re inviting me anyway. So what? I couldn’t have cared less.” That was a peak in my personal visa protests. 

My husband worked in Sofia, Bulgaria a few years ago and we were always traveling back and forth. Getting a Bulgarian visa was torture. 

I mean, Bulgaria... 

Everyone trying to get a Bulgarian visa in Istanbul shared the opinion that the Bulgarians were “taking revenge for our Ottoman past.” A family member had to pay a 100 euro bribe to the Bulgarian custom officers at the border, even though his papers and visa processes were complete. That was very European indeed. 

To be at the mercy of the mood swings of visa officers or custom officers for your business, travel or family visits is nerve-racking, plan-smashing, and self-esteem-crushing.  

But if you ask me whether I would trade my visa embarrassments for the fate of a poor refugee, I’d of course say no. Actually, this whole situation calls for the question of how they became refugees in the first place?