THE CHURCH IN KURDISTAN: REBORN AFTER CENTURIES OF COLLAPSE

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1. History

The Kurds, descended from the Hurrians, Medes and Symbian’s, are a mountain people with a history that goes back as far as human civilisation can go. As such it must be remembered that when Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel talk about the Medes in the Old Testament, they are talking about the ancestors of today’s Kurds.

You name any Middle Eastern empire and the Kurds will have been part of it or trampled by it. By the Roman era they were known as the Corduenes and controlled the restless mountainous borderlands between Roman Anatolia and northern Persia (south East Turkey today). They were aligned with Rome against Persia so were in the news just as much then as now. Kurdistan in the Middle Ages was a collection of semi-independent and independent states called emirates. It was at this time that Yizidism emerged as a Kurdish breakaway religion from Islam.

After the 1918 collapse of the Ottoman Empire the Kurds were promised their own home land. However, the Europeans reneged on their promises and in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne the Kurds were divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

2. Today

The Kurds are the largest people group in the world (30-45m depending on the different ways to count them) without their own country which is why we hear of them so often in the news. For that reason I have included them in my weekly prayer newsletter.

The Kurds now live in at least 35 countries but are mainly concentrated in South Eastern Turkey, Northern Iraq Northern Syria and Eastern Iran. Half live in Turkey. Each of these countries now has its own Kurdish separatist movement. They are therefore treated badly by their host governments, who have tried to forcibly assimilate them into the majority population of Arabs, Persians, or Syrians. In most countries, with the exception of Autonomous Kurdistan (the KAR) in Northern Iraq, Kurds are poorer than other citizens because of the mountains they live in and their resistance to government control.

Saddam Hussain almost destroyed the Kurds in Iraq, but now they are protected by international law and are thriving, with their own parliament and army to control their own oil fields. With the near collapse of the Syrian government and with the support of the Americans, the Kurds have taken control of large parts of that country, even installing a female mayor in Raqqa, old headquarters of Islamic State!. It remains to be seen what happens next, perhaps they will finally get their homeland.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Many Kurds became Christians in the first two centuries of our faith via the apostle Andrew who preached to the Scythians and Parthians, on the north eastern end of the Persian Empire. Then came the Syriac missionaries a few centuries later. In some places they were in the majority, outnumbering the imperial religion of Zoroastrianism. Christianity survived for several centuries after the invasion of the Arabs in the 7th Century but slowly declined to nearly nothing by the time of the European Empires. However, because it was close to Christian Armenia, there were always some Kurds who retained their traditional Nestorian Christian rituals right down to within a 150 years ago.

Fast forward to today and we now find the Kurds much more receptive to western influence and ideas than their dominant Arab neighbours. Most Kurds would still call themselves Muslim, but they are very different to the average Muslim. Because they have suffered as a minority and know they were once Christians, they are much more tolerant of other ethnic and religious groups. Kurds are now coming to Jesus in small numbers. In Iraqi Kurdistan there are increasing numbers of Christian converts and a growing Christian presence that is tolerated by the KAR government. Many Christian NGO’s base themselves in the capital of Erbil to help with the large refugee crises created by the Iraq and Syrian wars and the scourge of Islamic State. However the 200,000 Assyrian Christian refugees now living inside the KAR face some discrimination at the hands of the majority Kurds.

Over in northern Syria the presence of IS has stunned once content Muslims into re-examining their religious ties. This has led to the opening of churches in once unthinkable locations such as Kobani. In 2017 the first Bible in Sorani, the second most spoken Kurdish dialect was finally printed and is now available as an app and there are Kurdish Christian websites no popping up to help share the Good News. The Bible is also now available in the Kurmanji language for Turkish Kurds. In an interesting twist, many Kurds have begun to convert back to the ancient Syrian Orthodox faith of their ancestors and there are some God-fearing Orthodox priests who are discipling them.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for the growing church to be bold in the face of constant threats and danger

Pray for a Kurdish missions vision to reach Kurds in all surrounding countries, especially Turkey

Pray for the growing Kurdish Disporia to reach back to their homeland with the Gospel

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