[OPINION] Are you going to Pennsylvania?

December 11, 2011, Sunday/ 19:03:00

Let us just say that you have agreed to present your bank account statements and land title deeds, as well as five centimeter by five centimeter biometric photos where you should not smile at all because of the seriousness involved to a consulate and have been waiting a long time in the queues to get a visa.

Let us further assume that you did not react badly to a decision whereby they did not let you in the consulate building, whose oxygen must have been imported from elsewhere, because you had not had your vaccinations. And let us say that you are hoping for the announcement of your name by the guard outside, looking over a document with a cold stare.

Let us further assume that you barely survived the traps of the tea sellers, Xerox-makers and mobilized currency stands that all create a chaotic atmosphere. But there will come the when time you are called in to get caught up in the hysteria of Turkish visa officers acting like colonial governors.

It seems that another generation will be converted into supporters of Fethullah Gülen at the visa booths of American consulates. Let me explain: The incident took place at the American Consulate General in İstinye last week.

Of course, I would not expect those who believed that a Taraf columnist would be walked along a golden road and taken into a special room would be interested in the time I spent with ordinary citizens who are not American intelligence agents at the İstinye Visa Coffee House.

I’ve never been to the US. My little bourgeoisie side came out stronger. I wanted to have an American visa so that I could participate in some meetings to which I have been invited. Maybe a brief vacation through the New Year, maybe a graduation ceremony of a relative… Let me confess; I am sometimes invited in the Turkish Olympiads where there is nobody left uninvited in Turkey (of course, I would prefer Uganda, to which Mutlu Tönbekici was invited).

After waiting for a few hours, I was called in for an interview with the American White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) visa officer, where you are allowed to talk on a microphone behind a glass screen. The initial questions were routine: “What do you do for living?” “Why are you going to the US?” Tourist visit, a brief four-day trip for the New Year and others I referred to above… My responses did not satisfy the American officers. Then a second question came. “Where are you going; what are you going to see?” Politely, he interrupted my response, but this time, he was polite like a Stasi officer who used to issue visas in Democratic Germany: “Why are you going to New York? For instance, are you going to see the Empire State Building?” Without insinuating my anger, I said, “I am going to see SoHo and the MoMA.” And then, the following infamous question was asked.

“Are you going to Pennsylvania?

I looked into his eyes, as if asking whether it was a cold American joke. He was staring back at me, trying to understand the meaning of my look. I asked: “Are you kidding? Why are you asking this?” But the guy asked the question again like a CSI İstanbul detective: “You are going to Pennsylvania, aren’t you?”

This talented visa officer, who was acting like the Washington branch president of the Association for Atatürkist Thinking, did not back up: “You are married? Do you have kids?” By this question, he was obviously trying to categorize me as a member of the Gülen community as I realized later.

My looks of amazement and surprise were interrupted by his voice, saying that he cannot issue me a visa. Then he handed me my passport.

Let me slowly explain for those who seek an American conspiracy in reference to a certain religious community in Turkey: The US did not issue me a visa because of the possibility that I might go to Pennsylvania.

From that moment on, my anti-imperialist gene, which exists in every Turk, jumped into action reminiscent of protests held in front of the İncirlik military base. In front of a group of people who were waiting for their turn, I decided to open a can of worms that I did not like at all against this visa McCarthyism.

Luckily, I had a copy of Taraf daily with me that day, and there was a column by me in the paper on Biden. In an act implying that I was struggling against even your most powerful men, I told them, “I am a journalist and I am going to write about this nonsense.” He suddenly pulled the paper through the small hole and headed down the hall to a place I couldn’t see. By that time I was shouting, demanding the return of my passport. The visa officer talked to somebody for a long time. Then, he came back with a Turkish visa officer. Then, the second infamous question came. “Are you going to write a report? That is going to be a problem.” I asked, “Did I actually apply for a North Korean visa?” I repeated that I had filled out a visa form for a tourist trip, that this question was meaningless and that I had already given up on the visa. I asked for my passport.

The possibility that a columnist who had authored a column on Biden would go to Pennsylvania had disappeared, replaced by a tendency not to return the passport and to issue the visa. But this time I had an intelligence officer who was afraid of the infiltration of journalists into his country and the leakage of national secrets. He said: “Do you have a camera? They will take it from you at the airport.” I gave him a sermon on the American Bill of Rights.

After my reaction (“Do whatever you want; I want to go”) I gave my address for cargo shipments, thinking about the time I had wasted there and the money I had deposited. (You see that the US is taking money from us, not vice versa). My visa arrived yesterday. This three-month visa says I will go to New York for four days and that I will not act as a journalist. The big patriotic visa officer made a note on that. In other words, if I get caught in Pennsylvania with my camera, I will be extradited to my country.

But where did this Pennsylvania question come from? And why did they ask this question of me? I would not be surprised if this American visa officer believed there was a connection between the Gülen movement and the Taraf daily.

No. It was even worse. You would not believe it. On the same day, Yasemin Çongar, who was trying to get an American visa like me, recalled the Wikileaks documents that Taraf had published. The title of the telegram that the US Consul to İstanbul sent to Washington on May 23, 2006 is as follows. “Fethullah Gülen: Why are his followers traveling so frequently?” The chief consul refers to some figures in the telegram. He says: “We believe that about 3-5 percent of the applicants (75,000 in total) to the Turkish mission to get a visitor visa to the US are Gülenists.” The US categorization of the Gülen movement is not all about the estimates. A profile on Gülenists has been drawn as well as someone who is “traveling alone, speaking no English,” and a “student of middle school English, married, male.”

In other words, the US is categorizing the Gülen community; it denies visas to citizens of the Republic of Turkey that it suspects will go to Pennsylvania. This means that the thesis referring to the Americanism of the movement may be replaced by the American Feb. 28 pro-coup attitude. It is necessary to ask US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, who criticized Turkey over human rights violations, about this sort of consular services that places emphasis on North Korea, Stasi and intelligence: What kind of a contradiction is this?

*This article was printed in the Taraf daily on Dec. 11 2011.

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