In late 2012, after a brief trip into Aleppo to cover the Syrian civil war, I walked up to a Turkish border checkpoint. I expected to be waved through to Kilis, a town a short distance away, where I had been staying. Colleagues of mine who had covered the rebels for longer had told me the crossing was a quiet one, and I shouldn’t expect any trouble.
Before volunteering for the assignment, I had looked up Turkish visa policies. I am an Indian citizen, so I had checked—and double-checked—with various Turkish diplomatic missions that I was allowed into the country without a prior visa. Because of my particular circumstances (I held a tourist visa to the European Union), I met a threshold that meant I could enter Turkey at any border point.
The border guards at this particular crossing did not agree. They refused to let me enter, telling me in limited English that I should head back to Aleppo. My mind began racing—Syria’s other nearest border was with Lebanon, for which I did not have a visa. I could enter Iraq and Jordan, but they lay on the other side of the country. How would I make it across Syria to get there?
Faced with limited options, I persisted, asking to be taken to a computer. The guards agreed, and an absurd scene ensued in which I typed out my understanding of Turkish visa rules in English and used Google Translate to convert it into Turkish. The border officer who accompanied me to the computer then reversed the translator and responded. We proceeded this way for about 10 minutes, before he agreed to speak with my news organization’s bureau in Ankara. They called the Turkish foreign ministry, who then called the border post. The guard finally let me through, but told me that I should not try to cross again, whatever the rules may say.