July 19th-24th, 2016
Our neighborhood seems to be one of the richest in Ankara. There are many people in fancy dress and expensive looking shops. Interestingly every street has multiple hairdressers, banks and shops to buy wedding gowns. We find a good fitness club and there are also good restaurants in our street so we never have to go far for a nice meal.
We have an appointment on the 21st of July at the embassy of Turkmenistan in Ankara. We’re are there too early but there are no other applicants so we are served immediately. After explaining our transit plan, we are given an example letter, written recently by two Swiss applicants, describing the route and the desired dates of the transit(*). More importantly, they ask for visa application in Ankara and visa collection in Tehran! This way we can ‘wait’ while traveling. The embassy personnel tells us that, within 15 days, we should expect an e-mail with a reference number for our case. We can go to the embassy in Tehran with that reference number and collect our visa there. Great! We apply for transit visa from August 29th to September 2nd: five days, as usual for Turkmenistan transit visa. We get more help from the already helpful personnel. They print a map for us with our desired transit route from Howdan to Farap.
(*) If you have similar plans, I have a copy of the contents of that letter upon request. Please use the contact form or mail to my name at this website.
When returning home from the Turkmenistan embassy we decide to call the Dutch embassy to ask whether they have already received our passports. Recently the Dutch Ministry of Foreign affairs has launched a service called 24/7 for questions regarding consular matters. Calls abroad to local embassies are also channeled through a call center in the Netherlands. Or so we notice when calling the Dutch embassy in Ankara. The lady from the call center tries to put us at ease by saying that passports that are not received by diplomatic mail are considered lost passports and will be put through the shredder. Yes, the shredder, by our own embassy! With our rather costly Pakistani visa in there! Petra starts to get very nervous when the words ‘passport’ and ‘shredder’ appear in the same sentence.
Notice also how wonderfully compatible this policy is with the rule of the Swiss Mail to send passports only to embassies. This is nobody’s fault but our own, though. Although we haven’t waited for the embassy’s approval before having our passports sent from Zürich to Ankara last week, we have filled out a message form on the 24/7 website and received confirmation that this message would be relayed to the embassy in Ankara. Nevertheless, the lady from the call center is now as alarmed as we are and tries to reach the embassy behind the scenes. She doesn’t get through and sends an URGENT MESSAGE by e-mail to the embassy in Ankara.
Within a few minutes, we get a local phone call. It is a confused embassy employee. She doesn’t understand how we can be in Turkey and expect our passports to arrive by mail at the embassy. We explain the second passport joker card and all is well. She will look out for our passports arriving by mail and notify us when they arrive. There will be no shredding, promised. The same afternoon we get the confirmation that our passports have been delivered to the embassy and we can pick them up tomorrow. We need a shower, and a beer, preferably not at the same time.
In the evening we meet locals. We’re not sure how to handle the elephant in the room: an attempted military coup a few days ago. We decide not to start that subject ourselves. One minute after meeting them we notice that they really want to talk about it themselves, perhaps because we are foreigners, because we’re not affiliated with any of the two opposed camps. It’s an interesting conversation topic that recurs several times that evening. They want to start a trip abroad this weekend that they’ve planned months ago, but they’re not sure whether they can go because one of them has a government job. There are travel bans for government employees: explicit approval must be obtained. Another subject is the wave of dismissals that has been going through Turkey these past days. Losing your government job is a bigger problem than finding new employment. These employees apparently lose the entire pension that they’ve built up during their career and their medical insurance.
We realize once more that we are so privileged to be able to travel the way we are now. Our local friends are also dreaming of such a trip, but for them it is not easy. The complexity of our visa puzzle is mostly when and where to apply for which visa and for how long they will be valid. With our Dutch passports we’ll probably get the visa in the end. We are told that for Turkish nationals, this is more complicated. Getting visa for the Schengen Area entails gathering a binder of information before the visa application is accepted, without any guarantee of approval.
Today a state of emergency has been declared, opening up possibilities to suspend basic human rights. People can be detained for longer without due process. The trust of the Turkish in their justice systems has been severely tested in recent times. Would you fight your dismissal from a government job? For us Westerners, these basic rights are so obvious, we don’t even perceive them anymore. So next time, when you’re in a voting booth and are tempted to vote for someone who wants to restrict the basic human rights of others, think again. You could be affected, next time around.
Fences, Sandbags and Barbed Wire
We’re visiting the Dutch embassy today. From afar it is obvious that this place is heavily guarded, more than any embassy we’ve seen so far. There are robust bags of a cubic meter (35 cubic ft) each, filled with sand and gravel and stacked on top of each other like an improvised wall. There are guards with guns and metal detectors. Upon approaching one, we are asked for our appointment. We don’t have one. The embassy employee on the phone just told us casually to drop by. We explain that we’re only here to pick up our passports. The employee thinks for a bit and then asks for our passports. We hand him our passports. He’s not surprised and we don’t know whether that is good or bad. He now disappears inside with our passports. We’re now left passportless between the sandbags and the metal detector.
The guard has apparently found the right person and after an X-ray scan of our luggage, we’re admitted to the premises. The embassy is hidden deeply inside the building at the bottom of a flight of stairs. We have to explain to the receptionist, who speaks neither Dutch nor English, that we’re here to pick up our passports. She wants us to fill out a passport application form. We refuse and get to wait in the hall.
We’re the only native Dutch here. Others are Turkish or refugees attempting to get asylum in the Netherlands. When it’s our turn, our passports are found quickly. It was probably the main theme of their coffee breaks since yesterday. We explain how this all happened and apologize for treating the embassy as a post office. After inquiring about the safety situation in Eastern Turkey, we’re on our way again. Four passports with two Pakistani visa in our pockets.
We haven’t had enough of embassies yet, so we try the Indian one for a change. We have to explain the doorman why we are not eligible for electronic visa. These are only for arrival at airports, not land borders. He points us to a website and we quickly take a taxi back to our hotel. We might still make it before they close for visa applications today.
Back in the hotel we find out that the website is an automated but very laborious way to construct a visa form that needs to be printed. There are many pages with questions about our fathers’ and mothers’ names, all countries we’ve visited in the last 10 years (or at least as many as fit on the form), whether our grandparents are from Pakistan, about our route through India with entry and exit ports, our education, profession, religion, shoe sizes and all identification documents that we own. (I made up the shoe sizes…)
It doesn’t surprise me that the website crashes in the pass photo upload section. If it does that before you’ve noted your ‘temporary application ID’ you can start all over again. Don’t ask me how I know. When we’ve finally finished printing the application, the passport copies and the proof of funds, we go to the embassy anyway despite their announced opening hours. We figure it doesn’t hurt to ask for an appointment anyway. At the embassy I’m scanned with a metal detector but Petra isn’t so they don’t find the hand grenades she’s hiding in her pockets 😉
The ‘doorman’ at the embassy apparently knows enough about the visa process to assess our documents. When discussing the arrival date, he says that our visa application is too early if we want to enter by the end of October. We’d expected a validity until entry of 180 days but apparently this is different for arrivals over land, or applications abroad, or applications in Ankara, or with this particular embassy employee. We do get a confirmation by phone by an adamant ambassador. He tells us that we can also apply for visa at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and that it will take three days there. Darn, we’ve wasted another afternoon. We should have called them and explain our case on the phone before hurrying to fill out meanwhile useless application forms. Before we leave we chat a bit about Dutch football with the doorman. He remembers Ruud Gullit. Indian head shake.
On a positive note, we can now leave Ankara sooner than we thought because we don’t have to wait for visa approval.
Our neighborhood has a large shopping mall. We expected a variety of shops but this place is mainly filled with shops that sell evening gowns, evening gowns and evening gowns. And glasses. We make the best of it and try to get contact lens fluid for our hard contact lenses. Most optometrist employees don’t speak English and subsequently point us to an older man with a mustache. The older man then asks for a ‘number’ that should be on a Turkish eye doctor’s prescription. We did prepare a lot for this trip, but I’m sorry to report that we skimped on the Turkish eye doctor’s prescription… Without it, there is apparently no way to get lens fluid, or they tell us it will take eight weeks to order. We’ll be in Uzbekistan by then. After a few attempts we succeed at a drugstore down the street and buy their entire stock.