A Turkish actress’s ordeal to reach Cyprus
Övgü Pinar - 03/06/2014
Ilgaz Ulusoy, a Turkish theatre actress, tells of her ordeal to go to the Republic of Cyprus to participate in the “WALLS- Separate Worlds” project. One of the founders of the Tiyatro Medresesi, the Turkish partner of the “WALLS-Separate Worlds” project, Ilgaz found herself in a bureaucratic maze when she decided to take part in the project’s next phase in Cyprus. As there are no diplomatic missions or direct flights between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus, “walls” of bureaucracy came up her way, ironically highlighing the aim of the project to help bring down the visible and invisible walls.
- Have you ever been to Cyprus before?
- I had lived in the North Cyprus for 2 years when I was studying at middle school and high school, as my father was appointed there as a sergeant in the Turkish army. But of the South Cyprus I had seen only the lights from the top of Beşparmak Mountains. I’ve never been to the South before.
- Can you tell us what have you been through when you decided to go to the Republic of Cyprus for the Walls project?
- As Turkish citizens we are quite used to dealing with visa problems, so I was thinking it couldn’t be particularly more complicated to attain the visa for Cyprus. I already knew more or less what sort of documents were required for a regular visa application, and I thought that I just needed to send in my documents and the problem would be resolved. Moreover I had already the Schengen visa as I hadearlier been to Greece, again as part of the Walls project, and the visa process that time had been smooth. Before the application I had heard some rumours based on prejudices like “It is difficult for a Turkish citizen to get a visa from the Greek consulate”, but I saw that this wasn’t true at all. After having no difficulty in getting the visa for Greece I was thinking it’d be just as easy to get the Cyprus visa too. But considering the political/bureaucratic relations I could imagine having to go through a different process.
- How did the visa procedures proceed?
- First of all, I thought that the Republic of Cyprus belonged in the Schengen area. When I started making a research online I found myself in an absurdly ridiculous situation. I visited tons of seemingly “official” web pages and some said that Cyprus was a Schengen country, others said it wasn’t, and some said that it was a canditate country. I was in Germany at the time and thus already had the Schengen visa. I wanted to go directly from Germany to Cyprus. But in the end I found out that Cyprus was not a member of the Schengen area. I learnt that there is no consulate of the Republic of Cyprus in Turkey and the visa procedures are handled through the Greek Consulate. I thought “OK, that’d doable!”. But the real comedy started later. I learnt that the reason I had to apply to the Greek Consulate was because the only way to get the Cypriot visa is through the Cypriot Consulate in Athens, Greece. This meant that to go to the Cypriot Consulate in Athens I needed to get the visa for Greece first and then apply for the visa for Cyprus in Athens. All this procedure gave me some sort of mental “short-circuit”. As I knew the regular visa procedures I thought, “I have to send my passport in advance to the Cypriot Consulate, so I will have to go to Athens without my passport, how is it possible?” In the end I decided to go back to Turkey, instead of trying to solve the problem in Germany, which would have been more complicated. In Istanbul I’ve found out that I needed to scan my documents and send them to the consulate via email. Two days ago they let me know that my visa was approved. But my friend Doğu had to apply for the Schengen visa first and then for the Cypriot visa, as I already had the Schengen visa the process was easier for me.
- And then, what about the travel solutions you had to find?
- I have to go and pick my visa in Athens, so I have to arrange my itinerary considering this. The consulate informed me that most people go to Athens early in the morning to arrive at the consulate before it closes, and after taking their visa they take the plane to Cyprus. So my itinerary is thus: İstanbul-Athens-Larnaca and for the return trip Larnaca-Athens-İstanbul, as there are no direct flights between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey.
- Apart from the difficulties created by politics and bureaucracy, did you encounter any problems based on prejudices and stereotypes?
- I remember having heard strange stories abouth the South Cyprus when I was living in the northern part of the island. And as I had more of a nationalistic political view at that time, maybe thanks also to my father’s job, I used to believe in those stories. In Turkey, history is told to children in a certain way, that we are the only victims of the war; that our enemies always have malicious plans against our lovely fatherland, because our territory is so incredibly precious and rich etc. The enmity I saw in North Cyprus was in a way based on these ideas. The books we read for the History of Cyprus classes at school had horrendous photos of the war showing the massacred Turkish children etc. I remember the impact these pictures had on me. Now I say “What was the aim of putting those photos in school books? What could be expected from a generation that has been filled with such an enmity?”.
- How did it make you feel to find yourself faced with bureaucratic and political “walls” when you wanted to participate a project based on the idea of “breaking the walls”?
- This is a tragicomic story. It makes you me realize once more the importance of projects like this one. You get to understand how significant it is for all these people from different countries coming together, having a physical contact. If we expect it from the state institutions to take the necessary steps to solve these problems we can not make any progress. The only thing we need is to come together with the people from the countries that we have a troubled history and to share, to tell, to listen to each other’s problems. I feel myself lucky to have the opportunity to work in international projects through which I experienced all these.