Yusuf Sayman, a Turkish photojournalist based in New York, was refused a visa to attend his multimedia exhibition at Kings College London for the launch of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) on 14 June.
The exhibition was specially commissioned by ISCI, and Sayman travelled to Turkey and Iraq in spring 2010 to photograph and interview his Kurdish subjects from New York, where he has lived for twelve years since moving there to study film. The Howard League for Penal Reform (who had invited Sayman to London for a small project) and Penny Green, one of ISCI’s directors, applied for a visit visa for him, setting out what it was proposed he do during his stay. But just days before the launch, the visa was refused. Initially, no reasons were given. When he demanded to know the reasons, he was told that he should have obtained a work permit, and that he had not shown he had enough resources to support himself during his visit. Neither he nor his sponsors had been advised that he needed a work permit to undertake the very small one-off piece of work proposed by the Howard League, and the disproportionate amount of time and effort involved in such an application would make it completely unfeasible. As for the second reason, this was apparently based on a misunderstanding, since ISCI was providing accommodation for him.
Speaking from New York about the visa application, Sayman said, ‘I always find it to be quite degrading. It is a process that dehumanises one, it does not matter who you are, it only matters where you are from. In the UK system, you never have contact with an embassy worker, the rules are not explained and, unlike other European countries they do not give you a list of documents you should have … also, you need to get fingerprinted, by the US Department of Homeland Security, which is basically treating any visa applicant as a potential criminal.’
Although Sayman was not present for the launch, fortunately those attending were able to see his powerful exhibition, which shows the impact of the Turkish state’s onslaught on its Kurdish population during the 1980s and 1990s. It includes photographs of Kurdish villages devastated and depopulated by Turkish forces, save for isolated old people who could not leave, and a film in which Kurds incarcerated at the notorious Diyarbakir prison during the 1980s recall the brutalities and indignities they were forced to suffer. Sayman has first-hand experience of the Turkish state’s crimes: his father, a former president of the Istanbul Bar Association, was forced into exile in the 1970s.
View Yusuf Sayman’s exhibition, ‘You are Turkish’: here