Just before Christmas was the National Naturalisation Day, a sort of holiday for new citizens in Holland. One of those new citizens lives in Hoogerheide. Morteza Dinpazjouh loves Holland, the Dutch down-to-earthness and Hollandse Nieuwe. He tries to forget about his country of origin, Iran, as quickly as he can.
“To Iran I’ll never return. That is not my motherland anymore. Holland is my country now. I want to live here, learn alla bout the language and culture, which I will respect and make to my own.” His words reflect Morteza’s – Morti for friends – determination. His 17-year old daughter still resides in Iran, just like his mother, whom he misses like crazy. But going back? Never. “Why would I take that risk? I’ve fought for five years straight to get here. I pray fort he people over there, for my daughter and for my mother. She’s old, but she loves me. I pray to see her again one day, and I pray to see my daughter again too. If God wants it, it will happen, but if it doesn’t happen that is fine too. I’m free where I am now, and in Iran I couldn’t be free.”
When Morteza was born 42 years ago he was a muslim. Back than Iran was a kingdom, but during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 the sjah – Iranian for “king” – was dethroned, and ayatollah Khomeini came to power. He introduced Islamic laws and effectively turned Iran into a religious dictatorship. Morteza felt increasingly less at hom in his home country. The many obligations of Islam were as difficult for him as the doctrine that a “sin” could never be forgiven. “I didn’t want to pray five times a day. I didn’t want to abstain, I feel faith is in your heart and I believe God forgives your sins. I’ve been curious to Christianity since I was young, but in Iran it’s very difficult to get any information on that subject. Secret police is everywhere and the internet is strictly monitored and censured.
Slowly but surely Morteza satisfied his need for information on Christianity. Secretly he read about a faith in which forgiveness is the focal point. Twelve years ago he took an important step: he followed his heart and converted to Christianity, a faith in which he could finally be himself and live according to values he thought important and valuable. The stap didn’t bring salvation, it brought a definitive end for his life in Iran. His family turned against him. “Everyone bullied me, accept for my mother”, he says. His marriage stranded, he wasn’t allowed to see his daughter anymore, he lost his job, ca rand house. Morteza didn’t have anything left. To add to his problems, police declared him an outlaw. “If they saw me, they’d arrest me. Nobody knows what would happen next. I might have been put in prison fort he rest of my life, but I probably would have been executed. That was when I knew I had to leave.”
And leave Morteza did. He confided in a travel agent, that advised him to go to Cuba, one of the few countries for which it is relatively easy for an Iranian to get a visa. After roaming through Turkey and Russia, Morteza entered Holland illegaly in september of 2010. “I put my faith in Jesus’ hands. I’ve seen death several times, but Jesus helpd me through.” Morteza wanted to live by the rules, and applied for asylum immediately. Only in 2013 did he receive his green card, and only another few years later he was appointed a house in the community of Woensdrecht. “I lived in seven asylum centers, I had to fight tot he highest court form y green card. I came here with nothing but a shirt and a pair of jeans. In the asylum center in Ter Apel I was terribly cold, but I didn’t have a coat. They gave me one, from a local charity shop. That was when I knew I was home here, and I had to fight fort his country.
As soon as he could Morteza applied for a passport. That required hi mto learn the language, a huge challenge he took on with typical determination. He worked hard in a charity shop in his new home town. By then he had lived in Holland fort he required five years, and he breezed through the naturalisation test. “I even eat Hollandse Nieuwe, a typical Dutch herring”, he grins, “and I love pindakaas as much as stroopwafels. Holland is my new motherland, I feel 100% Dtuch.” When he received a letter on november 7, telling him he would be given a Dutch passport, Morteza could hardly handle his emotions. On december 7 he met Mayor Adriaanse, who officially gave him his new nationality. That didn’t happen in the mayors office, as usual, but in the much larger town hall. Morti explains why: “In the letter I was asked f my wife or child would attend the ceremony, but of course they couldn’t. So I asked if I could invite some Dutch friends. I wanted people from the charity shop, several formal instances, and the reverand of my church tob e there. The local community cooperated and Morti’s Dutch friends came in large numbers. I turned into an emotional afternoon fort he new Dutchman, who among all his guests suddenly realised he’s not alone anymore. The song his church members sang, but also the mayors words, are things Morti will remember for a long time to come. “The mayor looked at me and said: “Morti, finally!” That’s exactly how I felt it”, says Morti.
Since then Morti has found a fulltime job as a plumber at a company in the nearby town of Bergen op Zoom. He travels to work on his bicycle every day, and nothing can ruin his good mood. “My bag was stolen from my bike last week”, he says, “but I’m not angry. Somebody needed it more than me, apparently, so I’m thankful I was able to make somebody happy with it. It feels like I can finally give something back for all that’s been given to me over the past few years.” As far as Morti is concerned 2017 is going to be a fantastic year, that will be all about “freedom”, something his new passport represents. “Everybody is equal here, that is the beautiful thing”, he says, “as a muslim I was led to believe my opinion was the only truth. In Holland, and through Christianity, I learned that everybody is human, regardless of their backgrounds or religion. That is freedom. I’ve been through a lot, and every night I have heavy dreams, but I am happy. I’m a happy Dutchman.”
Morteza’s story was published in De Zuidwestkrant in 2017.