‘You’re not a genuine student’: visa denied to a Turkish assistant professor

by Anastasia Maniglio


Sometimes Turkish intellectuals are scared by Erdogan’s acting, sometimes other countries’ governments do not help solve the problems. This is the story of an assistant professor from Eskişehir, Turkey, who still wants to improve his skills studying abroad. At the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, to be precise. The University in England accepted his application, but, because of unclear reasons, his purposes are not considered real by the British consulate in Ankara, which kept the money he paid for the visa but refused to grant it.

Gazi Berber, 37, has been an assistant professor of Communication at Ondokuz Mayıs University in Samsun for the last three years. Before this, he worked for Turkish Air Force. He got a BA in Business Administration and a PhD in Communication, both from Turkish universities.

Here is my interview, where you can directly read his words.


What would you like to study at SOAS and why did you choose that university?

I’d like to be a Middle East expert and the best way to achieve this goal is to get a degree from SOAS. My experience in academics showed me that studying Turkey, Iran and Egypt in a comparative way would give me an understanding of Middle East and its problems. Therefore, the best school to do this is SOAS. After getting a MA in Cultural Studies, I’d get a PhD in Oriental Studies at Oxford University. I’ve already talked about this with scholars from Oxford. And why London? It is a cosmopolitan city where you can feel every aspect of multiculturalism.


Which problems did you face while enrolling?

I began the enrolment process last February: you have to send a letter of intent, 2 reference letters from academics, diplomas and transcripts, IELTS results. Then, the University evaluates your application and sends you an offer you need to accept. In June, SOAS sent me the CAS number (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies). Because of my writing grade at the English exam, I had to attend a pre-sessional course from 26th August. So, I prepared my documents and provided them to the British consulate. They called me at the beginning of August and gave me an interview date. During the interview, the immigration officer wasn’t friendly and behaved very suspicious – she asked lots of questions and I answered everything. I got the refusal letter from Ankara 6 days later.


In this letter we can read you seem not a ‘genuine student’. What does it mean?

England is not eager for immigrants, as you know. Brexit referendum results are a clear indicator of this as well. Probably they think students will keep on living there after studies and they will have more immigrants. Another probability could be other students got there and didn’t go to university. But I don’t have any information about this. I just know I sold my house and my car, to get the money for the University fees. It’s been useless. Now I’m living with my mother.


Why is this happening, in your opinion?

I am agnostic, but Muslim identity is the problem, from my point of view. There is a widespread prejudgement about Islam. Secondly, non-Western identity is a clear problem for England because of its imperialist tradition. It is a quite liberal society, but their policy is contrary to the one outside of it. Moreover, I think they earn money through this visa processes, because I paid $500 for the application and they don’t pay those back, even if you get a refusal. There is a “visa business”. One more thing: immigration officers have too much authority to decide “what you are”.


What kind of help are you seeking?

British consulates are not democratic with Turkish citizens. They are behaving like we are applying to be slaves in England. If we are talking about government, then civil society and media are very important to check them.


What do you think about the coup d’etat? Do you think Turkish government has anything to do with your issue?

There is a coup tradition in Turkey. Soldiers founded this country in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997, 2007 and this year they tried to change things. Turkey’s democratic tradition is not very strong and military barracks and society around the mosques shape politics. Since the end of the 20th century military elites were strict westernizers and tried to shape society and politics in this regard. Atatürk was a general as well. Now Turkey is a pseudo democracy and there is a civil struggle within the country. Military elites and westernised minorities, which are around 30% of the population, want to live in a strict secular republic. The other 70% are conservative and their models are hodjas (Muslim schoolmasters) of the mosques. Erdoğan had graduated from an Imam Hatip High School, which educate hodjas for mosques. For westernizers teachers of the Western-type, secular schools are role models. As far as I can see, as a role model mosque hodjas are more effective and strong in society. Traditionally, military shaped politics and there was a strong pressure on conservatives. Especially after 2002 elections, the Erdoğan AKP (Justice and Development Party) changed society and they are very strong. I think this was the last one of the coups. At least I hope so. Moreover, there is a cleric in USA, Fethullah Gülen. His society is religious and has been infiltrating state bureaucracy for 40 years. In 10 years, most probably AKP and Erdoğan will rule this country and it will be more conservative. Coups are bad…


And what about things happening to Turkish professors and intellectuals?

Some of those professors are leftists who had signed a campaign against military operations at the south-eastern part of Turkey. There is a discussion in Turkey now and everyone is suspicious of each other.


Why is SOAS so important for you?

SOAS has an atmosphere like Athens of Ancient Greece or like the cities during Italian Renaissance. I feel very creative in London as well. So I’m sure I’d learn Arabic and Farsi and make a great research on the Middle East there.


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