“I’m just an Iranian like the others”

Edik Denkopian’s only mistake is to be also a Christian

Christiaan Ernsten, Marij Kloosterhof, Janita Top, Groningen

When and why did you come to the Netherlands?

I come from Iran, I came here in 1998, and am still here. I heard a lot lately, from different people, among them ministers, that some people come here because they have problems and some to find luck. But I don’t think that those people who stay here for 5 or 10 years in certain circumstances, who maybe have to sleep on the street, come here to find luck.

A heart for people. Pictures: Janita Top

We had problems, my parents, especially my father. It’s a bit sad but in a country like Iran there are certain things you cannot do. And if you still do them, you are seen as an enemy of the whole population, as an enemy of a religion. I am born and raised as a Christian. My parents were actively involved and it’s what we believe in. Our life, our aim is evangelization. And that’s one of the reasons why we came here. Of course there were many more problems besides this. Also a lot of problems have been created during our stay in Netherlands.

We had an entire life there

Did you come here alone or with family?

I came with my mother. It was impossible to leave with the whole family. It’s not like going on a holiday, you flee a country so you violate the law, you can end up in jail. So I came with my mother and a few months later my father followed.

Can you still remember the moment that the decision was made: now we have to go?

Eh, yes. The decision existed already for a long time. But the possibilities were not there, and all that happened, was not so severe …well some things that happened were severe, but you see, we had a house there, an entire life. My grandfather had built it, my father lived there his whole life, my mother, my family. So it’s not easy to leave it. But on a certain moment, they say if the glass is full, if you think this is the end, then you have to give it up.

Being a Christian in Iran

And what was the drop?

If there is a group of respected people you get in trouble with because of your beliefs. I got beaten up, for a week I was almost in coma, I couldn’t move anymore. I was threatened. And my parents too. I’ve seen what they do to people there. It’s all a bit dictatorial.

This was a governmental group?

I can not reply to that because then I will create even more problems. Iran, the government, has very long arms. All information needed I gave to the IND (Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service). I can only say that the church I was going to was a community where I was assisting in music. In Iran Christian music outside the Armenian Church is forbidden.
The people from the underground church have a difficult life there. As soon as you are discovered as Christian, you are not welcome anymore in Iran. The constitution of Iran, article 11 and 14, give permission to the population and authorities to act against underground Christians who, they say, act against the Islam. This may be violence, shooting dead, stabbing. Everything is accepted.

Feeling worthless

What did you do in the 5,5 years you have been in Netherlands?

I tried a lot of things. From the first day I tried to learn Dutch, in which I succeeded quite well. (He speaks fluently Dutch) I was playing cello, participated in the European Cello Festival in Dordrecht and this resulted in a letter of recommendation from a well known Dutch cellist to go to conservatory.
I was accepted in Groningen conservatory. But I didn’t have a cello and no space to practice. I was living in an azc (asylum seekers centre) with only men, in an industrial area in Groningen. I had a very small room which I shared with a guy from Sri Lanka who had a lot of problems himself as well. So at a certain point I had to give it up.

Did you think about the possibility to be sent back to Iran?

I am nothing worth here. My (Dutch) girlfriend can attach value to me, but to the government I am nobody. I am not allowed to work, not allowed to do a lot of things. I also feel a bit worthless here because of these organizations and people. But they can do with me what they want.

I won’t go back

What will you do if the moment is there and they say: now you have to go back?

That is their problem, I won’t go. If both options, going back and staying here do not exist, I have to think of something else. If I go back, I have to tell everything. I don’t know how long I can go through torturing. Should I tell them things about my brother, his family, should I tell a lot of things about people whose life is depending on that?
If I have the choice between betraying these people and let them die, or my life, then I choose to die myself. Suicide is not right of course, can never been justified, but if I have the choice to save 20 persons or sacrifice myself, I will choose for the latest.

Is there still a possibility that they look at your procedure?

Yes… but the problem is, you come to Netherlands, you can’t work, you left everything behind, money, house, and now you are without money. I have had a second opinion lawyer who looked at the case and said: this should have been done in a very different way. But it’s very complicated and she has to do so many cases and doesn’t have time for my case.
As asylum seeker you can get 2 pro deo lawyers, more is not possible. So in the end it’s money that counts. If you have enough money, probably you can stay.

… and for me it’s over

So because of mistakes in the procedure you are where you are now?

Yes, it’s 100 % sure that there have been made mistakes, also by the lawyer. You see, I came to Netherlands, couldn’t speak Dutch and hardly any English. They give you a lawyer to protect you and I thought: a democratic country, a good country, until the moment the lawyer says: I am sorry, I made a mistake, IND made a mistake. It’s not their fault. He maybe had hundred procedures he didn’t have time for, or he was too late with his petition.
But at 5 o’clock the man goes home to his wife and child, sleeps peacefully and next day is a new, bright day. And for me it’s over.

What will happen as soon as you arrive in Iran?

I will be arrested right away, handcuffed. First of all I deserted from army; secondly I had problems with the authorities. They will ask me questions, torture me: what did you tell them? Where have you been for 5,5 years? I think nobody will be able to get me back.

Being Christian is the only mistake

They can’t send you to Armenia?

Armenia is no option, I have nothing there, know nobody. And I think Armenia won’t accept me also. Because who am I? An Armenian who never has been in Armenia. I have been born and raised in Iran.
I’m just an Iranian like others, by chance from Armenian origin and Christian. That is the only mistake. Besides, I sometimes meet Armenians here who fled their country also…
Only in Netherlands I have a life: I can study and I have a girlfriend.
Interview: Christiaan Ernsten

Janita Top, Groningen

The Dutch government passed a law to allow a massive deportation of 26.000 asylum seekers, while only a tiny number of asylum seekers received a permit to stay in the Netherlands. Ever since this proposal, a wave of protest actions flooded the country and international organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and UNHCR condemn the policy as it would violate international standards and create dangerous situations for refugees.

Mission impossible

The new deportation policy was proposed after many municipalities stated they would not put rejected asylum seekers on the street and out of their houses, a policy that is already taking place for years. Among those “rejected”, there are many families with children born in the Netherlands.

A long way to freedom?

The local authorities perceived the policies as being more and more unjust and impossible to perform. Now new deportation centers are to make deportation more efficient and bigger cities, like The Hague and Rotterdam, agreed with the new policies as it would release them from “moral obligations”.

Schoolchildren protesting for their classmates

In the same time, many schoolchildren started protesting against the policies to send their fellow-classmates back to the country of their parents. When the minister announced that only 2100 refugees, who have been within the state borders for over five years, would be granted a “pardon”, the protests swelled.
There have been many local demonstrations and actions as well, like the ones in Groningen (see video), putting pressure on local authorities to reject the state policies.

A place to live

Some refugees took a long walk from Groningen, a northern province, to The Hague, calling their protest march “A long way to Freedom?”. In some cases when refugees expect to be put on the street, a network of (trained) citizens is alarmed to resist peacefully with a blockade.
A growing number of people offer a place to live for rejected refugees. There is a growing network in the country to help finding places to stay for refugees.

More information:
home.wanadoo.nl/werkvluchtvrij/ and www.ikzegpardon.nl/(in Dutch)
www.indymedia.org/nl/2004/03/110649.shtml(in English)

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