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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


    August 24, 1999

Ankara in 1985

I enjoyed reading your 'documentary' about your trip to Turkey as well as the nice photos ["Mission accomplished"]. I could connect with most of the pictures and your descriptions of life in Turkey, as I got my student visa in Ankara back in 1985, and for that, I had to spend about two months in Turkey. One month to wait for my turn to have an interview, and three weeks for my student visa to be approved.

Back then there were a lot more Iranians at the U.S. embassy each day, maybe several hundred. And a U.S. Visa, for some people, was like the key to the Heaven, or an exit from Hell! I could see people crying coming out of the embassy, either from the joy of getting the visa, or the sadness of their application being denied.

For some people, getting a visa was a matter of life or death. Iran was at war with Iraq at that time males who were 16 or older had to report to the army to be drafted. Parents of 14 or 15-year-old boys would try desperately to get their sons to America before they would get drafted.

I was one of the lucky ones who had served in the army and survived two-and-a-half years of fierce battles with the invading enemy in the super hot desserts of Khuzestan, where the temperature in the summer could easily reach 130 F -- the province Saddam had called Arabestan! Zehi khiyaal-e baatel!

Like every high-school graduate in Iran, I loved to continue my education in a reputable university, but unfortunately, the conservatives back then shut down all universities and colleges in Iran, for an illogical excuse: Cultural Revolution. It left no other choice for young people like me, except to go to the army and risk life in order to get some legal rights in the country, or escape from the border.

I was (and still am to a lesser degree) a staunch nationalist. So I chose the former. I signed up shortly after I graduated from high school.. After miraculously surviving the military service, I studied for a couple of months and took the national university entrance exam, or konkur. I did well at that exam and got accepted at Sharif University of Technology, majoring in Electrical Engineering. I studied there for two semesters, but years of being in the army, and now studying in a university system that resembled a military unit, as far as the social and intellectual freedoms go, was the last thing I could tolerate. So, I went to Turkey and tried for a U.S. visa.

In Turkey, after I witnessed how desperate some Iranians were to get a U.S. visa, I felt bad, very bad that the turmoil and war in my country had transformed some of its people, its proud people -- with their great culture and heritage -- into desperate creatures virtually begging a foreign country's embassy for days and nights just to get a visa. Not to mention that, the U.S. was the very superpower that supported Iran's enemy during the entire war.

I started having second thoughts about applying for a student visa, but, then I thought: "I am not like them (those desperate Iranians dying to get a visa), I will honorably apply for a student visa, if approved, then I'll decide whether I should actually quit my studies and Sharif U. and go to the U.S. with virtually no money and financial support. If denied, I'll visit some more places and go back home and register for the next semester and tell everyone about my nice trip to Turkey."

Guess what? I got the visa, and I chose to quit Sharif U. and go to the U.S., despite everyone's discouragement. During my stay in Turkey, I visited many places such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Dyarbakir. Sounds like life has not changed much in Turkey since then. Except I noticed in one of your "lovers in Ankara" pictures, the guy was wearing a pager!

Also, back then, 500 liras used to be $1, and now, according to your article, 2,500,000 liras is equivalent to the same amount, that means Turkish money has devalued 5000 times in less than 15 years! If you compare that to the devaluation that Iranian rial has gone through, you realize that Iranian rial has devalued 140 times in 20 years. Considering the revolution and the war and economic embargo and all that, it's not that bad comparing to Turkish lira!

We should also remember, that Turkey is a key ally of the U.S. and in fact it's a NATO member and is trying to be an E.U. membership, too. So, maybe, even if Iran's relations with the U.S. improve, which I pretty much hope it will, things will not change as dramatically as some people expect, at least, economically.

I am also glad that you are reunited with your daughter after four years and managed to get a visa for her to the U.S.

Vahid N.

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