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A Nun’s Journal

by Sister Hatune Dogan

….4. 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.

5. About Jihad

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. [He said to me:] 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 that what we have done to you Christians and are still doing is the greatest injustice, barbarically inhuman. I can 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.”….

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