Faith in Christ is a call to follow Him everywhere – also to the cross. The Way of the Cross is the experience of almost 1,400 years of Assyrians’ life under Muslim regimes. In spite of this, these Christians have not yielded, and they also often help others. One of the many examples is the testimony of Sister Hatune.
I was born in 1970 in the Assyrian village of Zaz in south-eastern Turkey. This region, called “Tur Abdin” (in Aramaic: Mount of Servants of God), had been Christian from the very first centuries (the Gospel was preached there by St. Andrew and St. Thaddeus), until the Muslims came here.
I grew up in a rich family. I had nine sisters and brothers. We lived on the fruit of the earth. Our work in the fields and our schooling were accompanied by daily prayer and acts of mercy. My father prayed seven times a day, as St. Ephrem the Syrian taught. He was illiterate – he didn’t have a chance to go to school – but he had wisdom given by God.
My father worked hard during the day, and at night he guarded the fields against Muslims. This was because those who worship Allah are convinced that what belongs to the followers of other religions, really belongs to them. They created a slave system of dhimmis, which referred to non-Muslim subordinates in Muslim countries, mainly Jews and Christians. It meant imposing and extorting the jizya (poll tax) for providing alleged “protection” for non-Muslims. After all, the Koran itself teaches: You (Muslims) are the best nation that was created for people … And if the People of the Book had believed, it would have been better for them. There are believers among them, but the majority of them are people spreading corruption.” (Sura 3: 110) Thus it is evident that Muslims are considered the best, and Christians or Jews are “people who spread corruption.”
If the jizya was not paid, the income of the kafir (“an unfaithful one” or non-Muslim) was handed over to Muslims. Although the jizya is not currently in force in Muslim countries, this way of thinking still prevails in many Muslims, which is why we had to watch the fields at night. Otherwise, we would not have anything to eat.
“When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10: 23)
In fact, our faith was the only reason we had to sell everything and leave. My father had never thought about emigration: he built a new home in 1984 and our family did not lack anything. Besides, who wants to leave his land, knowing that this is the heritage of his ancestors?
Three Muslim Kurdish families who lived in our village regularly stole our fruit and lived on it. On one occasion these people tried to rob our fields, but father and other villagers prevented them from doing so. When the police were called, my father had no problem with recognizing the robbers. However, Turkish policemen preferred to “arrest” grapes … After all, a Muslim cannot accuse another Muslim in a dispute with “infidels”! He must always be loyal to the other follower of Muhammad. Having attempted and failed to steal, the robbers swore on the Koran in the presence of 200 people that they would kill my father. We learned about this oath from two Christians who witnessed that scene. That is when we made the decision to escape. We sold everything we had within one week, and then we fled to Istanbul. Those six guys did not give up and they chased us. However, we were travelling by a private bus, so the attackers were not able to find us. In this way, in 1985, we left our home, and were forced to emigrate.
In Antioch I had to leave my equipment before crossing the border: my mobile phone and all electronic devices. “If you take your mobile with you, they will kill you straight away. That’s the deal we have. No media with you.” When I handed in my phone, my heart started beating faster. I was terrified
In Istanbul, we spent three months waiting for passports and tickets for the whole family. We paid enormous amounts of money to get it all.
In fact, our faith was the only reason we had to sell everything and leave
I finished primary school in Turkey. The director and my class teacher were Muslims. They did not allow us, Christians, to speak Aramaic on the school grounds. In addition, every Friday, when compulsory Islam classes were held, and we as Christians boycotted them, the teacher would beat us with a long metal ruler as a punishment.
Order and Foundation
I graduated from high school in Germany. Then I studied Catholic theology and psychology in Augsburg, and my dream was to work at the university. But God had a different plan for me. Since I was 3 years old I have desired monastic life. I decided to follow the religious path under the influence of my father’s life. For me the first place to learn faith was home, not church, because we were forbidden to attend church on Sunday in Turkey. I remember that every Sunday, having returned from the liturgy, my father would summarize sermons to us.
During high school I was on internship with the Catholic Sisters of Christian Love in Paderborn. When I graduated from high school, I decided to join the Syrian Orthodox monastery in the Netherlands. I spent 9 years in St. Ephrem the Syrian monastery, first as a postulant and then a novice. I was also studying at the same time. I loved to study – I did it for 21 years! I have qualifications in five professions, but since 1991 I have been unemployed. However, I cannot say that I can complain about the lack of work since my calling as a sister comes first.