Kurdish Christians

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Kurdish Christians (Kurdish: Kurdên Xirîstî[1]) are Kurds who follow Christianity. The word Xirîstî is derived from the Greek words χριστιανός (khristianos) and χριστιανή (khristiani). The Arabic word Mesîhî is also used. The total number of Kurdish Christians is uncertain but is probably in the tens of thousands.[citation needed] There are large numbers of Christians of different churches, such as Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Armenian Catholic, and Chaldean Catholic. Thousands of Christian families have fled violence and threats in other parts of Iraq and found refuge in the Kurdistan Region.[2]


According to a legend, Mar Saba succeeded in converting some sun-worshipping Kurds to Christianity in the fifth century.[3]

Most Kurds converted to Islam after the Arab conquest of the Sassanid Empire. However, there were Kurdish converts to Christianity even after the spread of Islam. In the ninth century, a Kurd named Nasr or Narseh converted to Christianity, and changed his name to Theophobos during the reign of Emperor Theophilus and was the emperor's intimate friend and commander for many years.[4] During the same period, the Kurdish prince Ibn-ad-Dahhak, who possessed the fortress of al-Jafary, abandoned Islam for Orthodox Christianity.[5] In return, the Byzantines gave him land and a fortress. In 927, he and his family was executed during a raid by Thamal, the Arab governor of Tarsus.[6] In the late 11th and the early 12th century AD, Kurdish Christian soldiers comprised 2.7% of the army of fortress city of Shayzar in present-day Syria.[7]

A Christianized Kurdish family under the title of Zakarids ruled parts of northern Armenia in the 13th century AD and it tried to reinvigorate intellectual activities by founding new monasteries.[8] The family was converted to Christianity by the Armenian kings of Tashir or Dzoroyget. After the fall of Tashirs, the family came to serve the Georgian kings. Two brothers of this family, Zakare and Ivane became prominent in the Georgian Army and were instrumental in Queen Thamar's victory in Ani in 1199.

In the 19th century, several Christian villages existed in Kurdistan, whose inhabitants spoke only Kurdish, and there were Muslim Kurdish tribes that recalled they were once Christians. Kurds who converted to Christianity usually turned to the Nestorian Church.[9] In 1884, researchers of the Royal Geographical Society reported about a Kurdish tribe in Sivas which retained certain Christian observances and sometimes identified as Christian.[10] It is also possible that many Kurdish Christians have been linguistically and hence ethnically absorbed by Semitic-speaking Christians of Mesopotamia, especially after Islamic expansions in Middle East.[11]

In the early 20th century, a Lutheran mission from United States and Germany began to serve the Kurds of Iran. From 1911 to 1916, it established a Kurdish congregation and an orphanage.[12] One of the most prominent Kurdish leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sheikh Ahmed Barzani who was a brother of Mustafa Barzani, announced his conversion to Christianity during his uprising against the Iraqi government in 1931.[13]

Contemporary Kurdish Christians[edit]

The Kurdish-Speaking Church of Christ (The Kurdzman Church of Christ) was established in Hewlêr (Arbil) by the end of 2000, and has branches in the Silêmanî, Duhok governorates. This is the first evangelical Kurdish church in Iraq.[14] Its logo is formed of a yellow sun and a cross rising up behind a mountain range. Kurdzman Church of Christ held its first three-day conference in Ainkawa north of Arbil in 2005 with the participation of 300 new Kurdish converts.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Massehi in Kurdish Wiktionary
  2. ^ Kurdistan Regional Government: Religious freedom and tolerance
  3. ^ G. R. Driver, The Religion of the Kurds, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, 1922, p.208
  4. ^ I. Sevcenko, Review of New Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, Slavic Review, p.111, 1968.
  5. ^ A. Vasilyev, Vizantija i araby. Vol. II. (Saint-Petersburg, 1902), p. 220.
  6. ^ Paul F. Robinson, Just War in Comparative Perspective, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 233pp., 2003, (see p.162)
  7. ^ David Nicolle, Christa Hook, Saracen Faris, 1050-1250 AD, 64 pp., Osprey Publishing, 1994, ISBN 1-85532-453-9, see p.7, Table A.
  8. ^ A. Vauchez, R. B. Dobson, M. Lapidge, Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages: A-J, 1624 pp., Editions du Cerf, 2000, ISBN 0227679318, 9780227679319, see p.107
  9. ^ John Joseph, The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East: Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, & Colonial Powers, Brill Academic Publishers, 292 pp., 2000, ISBN 90-04-11641-9, p.61
  10. ^ Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 1884, p.313
  11. ^ M.R. Izady, The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, Taylor & Francis, 1992, ISBN 0-8448-1727-9, pp.163,164.
  12. ^ John Joseph, Warren D. Gribbons, Muslim-Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries in the Noddle East, SUNY Press, 1983, ISBN 0-87395-600-1, p.179
  13. ^ The Kurdish Minority Problem, p.11, Dec. 1948, ORE 71-48, CIA [1].
  14. ^ Revival Times
  15. ^ UNAMI: Iraqi Media Monitoring

External links[edit]