A tale of two passports
By S. Raizam
July 2, 2002
"I am sorry for you sir, but you are sta-te-less."
The heavily moustachioed customs officer at the Lisbon Airport had a look at my stateless
passport, and was annoyed because I was insisting in filling "Iran" as
my home country in the immigration form, instead of "stateless". Finally,
I gave in and filled in the form the way he wished, and was granted passage to the
Yes, he was right, I was indeed stateless, and had felt that way since I had left
Iran for Turkey, taking with me as the only proof of my nationality our family passport.
Osman Bey, the terrifying head of "Yabanji Shoubasi" (The Foreigner's Branch
Turkish Police) in Istanbul couldn't suppress a laughter when I presented him this
passport during my interrogation.
"Which one these is you?" he asked with a grin when he opened the document
and was confronted with four pictures in a row: of my father, my mother, my brother
I handed my passport to Dutch authorities when I arrived in Holland, and never saw
it again. In return, I became entitled to a stateless passport. Many years after
my experience in Portugal I applied for Dutch citizenship and, after a few months,
became the owner of a brand new Dutch passport.
I had hesitated long and hard before taking this step.
I felt by acquiring Dutch nationality I was giving up my identity as an Iranian.
But I had just started PhD studies and knew that I would have many travels in my
future scientific career, and this would have been difficult on a stateless passport.
At least this was a plausible excuse.
The fact was that the perspective of freely roaming around the world, offered by
a Western European passport, proved stronger than my nationalistic sentiments. And
yes, in the last 10 years I have made maximum use of the freedom that my Dutch passport
has given me to see the world.
But every time I present my Dutch passport to the customs officers at airports, a
feeling of falseness comes over me. It is not only me who feels this way: often the
immigration officer takes a good look at me and then at my passport and I can sense
for a moment a big question mark appearing in his/her mind.
My Middle Eastern appearance does not match their picture of blonde
and blue-eyed inhabitants of the country of tulips and windmills at the western edge
of Europe, who are the natural carriers of such a passport.
Once on my return to London I was asked by a British immigration officer to read
out an excerpt from my passport - a text in Dutch on the history of The Netherlands.
Another time at the airport in Rome I had to wait for an hour before my passport
was cleared. The Italian police officer told me she was terribly sorry for the hold
up but the airport was flooded with false Dutch passports.
I could believe this as I had heard on the news that an Iranian gang had managed
to forge thousands of the new, and apparently "unfalsifyable" Dutch passports.
The Iranian gang had used very simple tools. At that time I couldn't help admiring
the ingenuity of my fellow countrymen, and had even felt a certain sense of pride.
Many more years have passed and as I am writing these
lines, I don't have any passport at all! No, no big deal, I am not stateless again
and this is, hopefully, only temporary. Soon I shall have two nationalities and two
passports, instead of one. A new Dutch passport, which I shall use to travel around
the world, dancing over the borders with the comfortable feeling that my borrowed
nationality, the nationality of a wealthy and reasonably neutral western country,
And I shall also have an Iranian passport as well. I shall keep it safely in the
drawer and, for the time being, use it only for one purpose, to visit Iran. Returning,
after so many years, to my home country, to visit my mother's grave, see my father
again, my uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, to walk in the streets of my beloved
Tehran, feeling the earth under my feet. The earth that belongs to me, and to which
I belong, without any question -- no matter which passport I have in my pocket: it
is written on my face, it is in my blood.