TRIP TO THE NEAR EAST MARCH 2014
Sister Hatune Dogan
I MET AN ANGEL ON THE FLIGHT.
Take-off was a 7:40 a.m. on March 12, 2014 from Düsseldorf airport. The plane was well staffed. I met mostly Turkish passengers about 90% of those on board. I sat in row 15, and in front of me sat a family with a small girl about 10 months. She was blond, smiled happily and her eyes shone like an angel’s.
I was fascinated. I hardly noticed time passing. The child’s mother was apparently a German woman who had married a Turkish man. This woman had no doubt converted to Islam, for she was dressed according to Koranic precepts. She had subordinated herself to Islamic rules because the family was flying to the man’s relatives in Turkey. She did not have to wrap herself up in Germany, but now she had adapted to this code, in order to make a good impression on her husband’s family.
I began to ponder, and imagined what the course of the child’s life would be like. Will she stay natural and uninhibited? Will she remain angelic? Will she grow up in a strict Muslim lifestyle, possibly even raised so strictly that she will be unreceptive to ideas of freedom and peaceful coexistence? Will strict Koranic schools influence her life? I remember something I experienced several years ago. I mean the story of Tobias and Mohammed, that I was now remembering.
THE STORY OF TOBIAS AND MOHAMMED
Here I must note that I received the Federal Medal of Merit for the Federal Cross from the Federal President four years ago. The reason for the honor was my efforts on behalf of those people in the world who are victims of persecution and violence because of their faith. A short time later, those who had been awarded the Federal Cross met in Wiesbaden by invitation of the Minister President of Hesse. On the trip there, I was sitting across from a young father and his son on the train from Kassel to Wiesbaden. The father was studying me closely. Since I was traveling in the garments of my order, he asked me about the order I belonged to. “Are you Italian, Spanish or Greek and do you belong to the orders working in those countries?” was his question. His question surprised me.
I answered “That is a good guess. I am not a native German, but a refugee. I was born in southeast Turkey, in Tur-Abdin. The village was inhabited by Christians. We tried to live according to our faith. I belong to the oldest Christian community in the world. The first missionaries came to us — the apostles Thomas, Andreas, Aday (Judas Thaddeus) were the early missionaries. We have carried their message of faith to the present day. We were persecuted, expelled and oppressed. We often had to flee, leave our homes. The persecutions visited on us over the centuries increased in the twentieth century. For example, the great wave of persecutions and genocide in 1915/1916, but also the related persecutions and oppressions by the Turkish government. In 1985, my father was standing guard on the vineyard, when six armed Muslim men came and wanted to take all of the grapes, and my father would not allow it. He was attacked by these six vineyard thieves, and could only defend himself with his bare hands. They were incited and claimed they had to defend their honor. He was threatened with being cut into pieces no bigger than his earlobes. The result of this attack was a threat to our lives and safety, and we had to flee. I wrote about this in my book, which was published by Herder company.” I pointed out to him that the reason for the attacks of hatred and persecution was to be found in the Koran. This opened his eyes and loosened his tongue. He said he could now understand what was happening in his own surroundings. And he told a story.
“We occupy a duplex with a Turkish family. Our sons are the same age. The Turkish boy is named Mohammed and our son is Tobias. They played together like siblings until some months ago. We had adapted to the Turkish family’s Islamic lifestyle, and when we ate together, we had no pork and otherwise respected their eating and other customs. Until several weeks ago. Then young Mohammed’s behavior toward our son suddenly changed. He avoided our house and Tobias. About two weeks ago I ran into Mohammed. I asked him why he did not come to us anymore and play with Tobias. I told him Tobias was very sad and wondered what he had done wrong. His reaction was to raise his small hand at me defensively with the fingers spread and say: Do not come too close to me. I am now a true Muslim and I am going to Koran school. You are all heretics, infidels, gavurs (not worthy of living). Then he raised his arms to heaven and prayed: Oh Allah, forgive me. I did not know until a few days ago that I cannot be friends with infidels. I will never be your friend again, because the Koran teaches that being around and being friendly with heretics is not allowed. Then he ran away.”
What concerns me
Dear Readers, this story made me think. How will Europe how will the Western world look in coming generations? Is Islam conquering the West? I know from my own experience that its extreme representatives do not shy away from violence or persecution to enforce their point of view. Are we Europeans strong enough to withstand this pressure? This child, like many others, went to Koranic school and has already been indoctrinated as a young child. It cannot be expected that this basis, set in early childhood, can be overcome in adulthood. In many locations in European nations, there are mosques whose Koranic schools imbue the coming generations with the extreme views of the Koran. If a young child has already absorbed the indoctrination to such an extent, then much that is bad can be expected in the future.
I, Sister Hatune, ask, what will the future look like for [Western and Christian] children and grandchildren? Will youth indoctrinated in the Koran be so strong that their opinion will prevail? Or is Western society strong enough — based on its convictions and its belief in freedom and democracy — to defend its basic rights and resist an Islamic dictatorship? I believe that everyone in a position of political responsibility today should recognize and take seriously our fear, which has been shaped by persecution and genocide and the methods used to indoctrinate Islam. Or shall we accept as general law the modes of behavior that arise from sharia? A recent report from the Islamic world should demonstrate this. A woman was breaking bread she had acquired at a store for her children. She used her hands. Because she had to put aside her complete covering, she was punished with 40 lashes in accordance with sharia. Or, another woman was strangled in public because she was discovered on the internet and had made use of this technology. The reason was that sharia demands that women in public always be covered, no matter what comes of that. There can be no democracy in a world determined by radical Islam, because belief in Allah demands complete subjection and leaders of Islamic states must be sure that these commandments are followed unswervingly. Many examples from strict Islamic countries prove this statement.
In my mind’s eye, I see many examples of child brides, betrothed to men and having to suffer the consequences of severe mental and physical damage. What are the results of indoctrinations which motivate children to terrorist crimes, while promising them Allah’s blessing and a place in seventh heaven? And I remember the innocent eyes of the young child in the airplane. How will her life end?
Dear God, only You can show these Islamists the right way, so that they can recognize their injustice and see that they are on the path to insanity.
MY TRIP TO THE CRISIS AREAS
My plane landed in Istanbul. I had trouble with my luggage. The cases with things to help the refugees from Syria did not arrive on time. I was only able to get my luggage shortly before takeoff. I almost missed the connecting flight.
Turmoil and short layovers made the rest of the trip difficult. The distance between the domestic airport and the foreign airport is great. I have to hurry and that is a great effort, especially since I am still handicapped after my traffic accident in 2012. The luggage has to be fetched and sent on again. The flight goes on. Another hour, and I was in my former home in southwest Turkey. At 3:40 p.m. we arrived in Batman.
The town is completely Islamic. Many fanatical people live in it. I say that because I had to experience it on my last trip in 2013. At that time, I visited eight families — refugees. When I visited them I was provided personal security. Otherwise the passage through the city would have been impossible. Because I wore my cross around my neck, the people I encountered often stared at me with hatred. If I had been alone, I would have certainly been hounded and expelled, possibly even killed. This time I am picked up and able to make the trip to the refugee camp in Midyat without incident. I asked whether the refugee families from 2013 were still living here the families I had helped the last time. The answer was that one family still remained, but it too would be leaving the camp soon, out of fear. Then I went with my escorts to a house with refugees and visited them all. I brought clothes and financial support for all 153 of them. I wrote down their names so that they could get help in the future as well. After that I went to monastery Mor Melke so I could sleep. St. Michael Monastery is my favorite place, where I can always return. Monastery Mor Melke-St. Michael has existed since the 3rd century. Here, my soul can recuperate and breathe again.
The Turkish state now designates us as new owners of the land, because the regime in Ankara denies the history which shows us to be the original settlers of the area and they deny us our ancestral right. We also ask where are the previous Christian landholders. Is there still denial of the genocide of 1915 carried out by the precursor of the Ottoman state?
On this spot I call upon all justice-loving people to stand up for our historically confirmed claims, so that the Christian heritage will be preserved here and we can gain our rights as a small minority of Christians in Turkey. Several of the historic churches and monasteries from pre-Islamic times are still standing. Where were the former owners driven? Islam came to our region at the beginning of the 9th century. Before then, we were completely Christian. Now about .03% of Christians live in Turkey.
Unfortunately, the government land registry officials came in 2008, without informing the monks, and seized the land. We were dispossessed without compensation. That was a prescribed action, affecting all monasteries and Christian communities in Turkey. Several villages in Tur-Abdin where many Christians some populated solely by Christians lived, were robbed of their property by this administrative measure. There was no protest raised. I will never cease to denounce this injustice. The night’s sleep ended at 4:00 a.m. A splendid dawn. A wonderful view across the land no houses far and wide. Woods, oak trees, paradisiac. I took pictures.
After that, departure to Midyat. Care of the refugees continues. I begin my workday at 8:00 a.m. There are many refugees to visit families as well as individuals. Many are traumatized. I try to alleviate the misery with conversation and gifts. I work until midnight, with short breaks. Afterwards, I summarize write the report of my day’s work. Only a small part of the many things I did to help could be written down. Much of it stayed in my mind, but other things were not as important.
In my mind’s eye were the many individual destinies. Here is the story of the man, Abdelahad. He is locked in a room now. He is beating himself. His hand is broken from doing that. He has been “confused” for a week and is becoming more obsessive. He has 3 daughters and a young son of 5 years. The daughters are older, but no older than 15. His wife was a teacher and he had many landholdings in the area of Aleppo. The family has experienced a great deal of suffering, persecution and misery. He reports that, while he was farming, he had to watch as people were killed by fanatics beheaded. The dogs fell on the corpses. Again and again, he imagines what could have happened to him and his children. Horror at the bloody acts has taken root in him and traumatized him. He now lives in southeast Turkey. Here too, he sees completely covered women, and fanatics, and they cause tumult in his mind. He obsesses repeatedly over the gruesome images. He can only be helped with treatment by specialists in the most Christian possible houses (in western Europe or the USA). At this point, I am forcibly reminded of what I have learned from my experience: “It is a question of survival.”
Another family I visited was also shaped by disaster. The father was killed because he wore a cross around his neck. His wife told me about it. She is still suffering from it.
I am also grateful that the “Helping Hands for the Poor” organization helps and supports our “Sister Hatune Foundation.” Everything necessary for the help given on site is organized by these two organizations located in Germany. That is how we are able to organize our aid all over the world. Then the aid is rendered locally by helpers in the countries that are suffering. That greatly lightens the work. The organizational steps can help wherever we go. I am very grateful for this support. I have 23 years’ experience in caritas work in the Third World, and since 2005 with persecuted, abused, raped and traumatized people. Today I worked with the refugees until midnight. 3 hours sleep; then moving on to northern Iraq. I was there from March 15th to March 16th.
On the evening of March 16th, I was picked up and taken directly to the refugee camp at Nusaybin. There were Christians there, and information was intended to be given to me.
I tried to enter Syria, and was at the border when Gabriel, one of my friends, advised me against entering. I gave him a small sum of money I had received from the USA. Gabriel had emphatically asked that I not go to Syria. There was no protection there, he said. If we were killed, the refugee families would be left alone. If you, as mother of the poor and oppressed were gone, they would be without anyone to help them. “Please, come with me and we can try to do our work where it is possible. But in Syria the possibilities are very limited.”
[Translator’s note: Nonetheless, Sister Hatune goes to Syria]
So I went to Mardin and began my work with the refugees. This time, I got lists of names and families of refugees. One family father had to die, because he wore a cross. There were also people who had fled military service. They said, as Christians, they were forbidden to kill. “We are not tired of life and ready to die for a state which cannot protect us and has found no other solution than military confrontations. We have no choice but to be killed or flee. We decided to flee. As Christians, too, we would be sent where the danger is greatest and the chances of survival would be slim.” Many who could not flee were taken away in busses or kidnapped. Ransom was demanded from relatives. For those who could not manage ransom, they could only fight against someone with the prospect of being killed.
Life in Syria has become hell. Where once was a paradise, there is now bitter poverty. Once we were among the wealthiest lands in the world. Others wanted a share of that. And so came genocide and civil war. As a result, the Christians in 150 Islamic countries were made into jihadists to kill other Christians. Infidels must be killed.
On March 19th, I met an ethnic Kurdish jihadist. My friend, David called me up and told me about this youngster who was a neighbor of his. He could call him, because he had been a jihadist. I spoke to him in his native Kurdish.
“You were a jihadist?”
“Yes I was.”
“How did you learn to join the holy war?”
“My name is Mahmut A. I had no job and nothing to do. I wanted to study, but I was on a waiting list with no prospects. My father told me to go to the mosque five times, and then my time would come. So I went to the mosque every day. Then a man approached me and said: I see you here often. If you want to do something for yourself and Allah, I will show you the way. I answered: Yes! Finally, my time was coming to make myself useful and find my place. I went with him to a training camp. There were hundreds of candidates. We were given everything we could want. It was prophesied that we would be richly rewarded if we killed a gavur. After our death, 40 virgins (houris) would serve us and have sex with us. If I killed an infidel in battle, I would be surrounded not by 40 but by 72 virgins. I believed I should seek an early death, so I would enter paradise. I went to Syria with about 50 other fighters. Most of them did not survive the fighting. I too almost went to my death.”
“It was November 18, 2013. A hand grenade was thrown at us. A fellow fighter was torn to pieces. I began to think. How can such a shredded person still have sex in paradise? His body stays on this earth, or under the earth, or he is eaten by dogs. And then I woke up from my fanatical Islamic fantasies. I ran away as fast as I could, to come home. I thank God that I am still alive and no longer have to follow these Islamic lies.
Sister, now I understand our mentally sick ancestors who slaughtered you Christians in 1915 and are still slaughtering you. It comes from the wrong actions of fellow believers in the faith, who have made us all sick in the head and brainwashed us. By the time someone like me wakes up, it is often to late for us. I can remember my great-grandfather telling how proud they were to have persecuted the infidels. I heard that again and again since childhood. I am ashamed of what my forefathers have done. I can’t stand it anymore. I am stopping here and now.
I know what we have done to you Christians and are still doing is the greatest injustice, barbarically inhumanity. I can’t think of no further ways to condemn it. I must beg forgiveness. But it is useless if I alone say it. The verses in the faith, in the Koran, in sharia, the Sunna and the Hadith must be examined to see whether the annihilation of Christians is the goal of Islamic faith. The evil verses against humanity are always brought out to justify murder and killing. We must organize a peaceful life for humanity.
Sister, there is still so much I would like to tell you, but what is the use if the two of us talk about it and so many people know nothing about it? I wish that all Muslims who have thought or still think and believe such evil would serve Allah by recognizing that what they are doing is not right.”
I, Sister Hatune, ask Mahmut: “Tell me, where are these jihadists, where are their training grounds, where are the secret places or the public training sites?”
“Urfa, Gaziantep, Antakya. Thousands from abroad are coming to the battle, to kill the infidels. Sister, many, many are coming from Western countries.”
March 17, 2014
The Syrian Christian refugees come at 3:00pm. They have signed in on the list. I distribute the money from the USA. Rescue Christens. Org. a Christian organization. I spoke with many of them. Each one had a personal horror story. I have listened until late at night and try to give the ones affected a little courage. That is not so easy, because all people are deep in a fear of death and abide in terror. To promote healing will take a long time. I did what I could for several days. (from March 17-19)
On March 19, I went to the monastery Mor Augin at Mount Izla, near the Syrian border, to fill up with gasoline again. I was empty, because I had been going out for days. I met Peter Yokin, whom I had known since 1988 in the monastery in Holland. He was a student there. We prayed together. Then I withdrew to refresh myself and write up my experiences. They were considerable. When I write about my experiences after each trip, that is really only 1% of them. I am happy if I manage that. Much, too, is not meant to be public, because they are private and/or therapeutic conversations. There is often an insistence that I not divulge the content of some talks.
THE END OF THE TRIP AND MY RETURN
I was almost completely unable to sleep in the next days. I wrote from 9:00 at night on March 20th until 6:00 the next morning. I try to clothe my bullet-point descriptions in sentences. When I return to Germany, there are many reports and talks for me to do, and besides that, housework, work for the foundation and work for the organization.
Return flight at 10:30 a.m. on the 20th. From Mardin to Istanbul, then on to Düsseldorf. I am grateful to all those who cooperate in the work by word, prayer, donations, counsel and action. On this trip, I offer special thanks to the organization “Save the Christians” Rescue Christens.org. under the leadership of Shobad and his family and D. Keith and all those who have helped our foundation. Without their help, we can do nothing. They are our wings, and without them, we cannot fly.
Misery in the world is immeasurably great. Every euro counts and everyone helps according to ability. The money serves the purpose of helping refugees or people in poor countries like Africa, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc. We have trade schools, sewing schools and computer schools there. 23 facilities like that. That is how we help the poor and give them hope for the future. And also resources for the homeless in India. Almost 300 million people are homeless in that country. With the support of the government of Kerala, we are constructing houses for many families (€450 per house)
or wells (€500 per well). We also help handicapped children who finally get clean water.
We buy animals ( 1 cow = €300 per family) help orphans with €240 per child per year. For the most immediate need, we distribute sacks with bread, rice and other foodstuffs. For only €7 a month, a starving family can be helped. We open the way to doctors (€600 for a cost-free clinical visit for 100 of the poorest patients). Our aid is widely distributed. It stretches from Nepal, over India, to Turkey. We further the education of the uneducated with schools and training facilities and open facilities to the poor that are otherwise reserved only for the wealthy.
Dear readers, friends, believers, help us and further our work so that we may together follow the words of Matthew, chapter 25, verse 40, where it is written: “What you have done for the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done for me.”