Kurdish Christians

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Kurdish Christians (Kurdish: Kurdên Mesîhî[1]) are Kurds who follow Christianity.


Christianity: Mesîhiyetî (مه‌سیحێتی‏), Krîstiyanî, Xiristiyanî, Xaçparêzî or Xaçparistî (literal translation: "those who worship the cross").


The Kurds were traditionally a Christian people. The early history of Christianity in Kurdistan closely parallels that of the rest of Anatolia and Mesopotamia. According to a legend, Mar Saba succeeded in converting some "sun-worshipping" (probably referring to various sect and religions of early Yazdânism) Kurds to Christianity in the fifth century.[2]

By the early 5th century the royal house of Adiabene had converted from Judaism to Christianity. The extensive ecclesiastical archives kept at their capital of Arbela (modern Arbil), are valuable primary sources for the history of central Kurdistan, from the middle of the Parthian era (ca. 1st century AD). Kurdish Christians used Aramaic for their records and archives and as the ecclesiastical language. The persecution of the Christians in the Persian Sasanian Empire extended to Kurdistan as well.

With the isolation of Christianity in Assyria-turned-Kurdistan and the Middle East following the conquest by Islamic forces, the dwindling Christian Kurdish community merged among the Armenian and Assyrian Christian populations. The (Nestorian) Kurdish Christians in Mesopotamia and Kurdistan merged with the local Assyrian-Mesopotamian people. A large number of these Assyrian Christians lived, until the onslaught of World War 1, deep in mountainous northern Kurdistan, somewhat isolated from any ethnic or genetic influence of the Semitic Christians of lowland Mesopotamia. Their fair complexion also bears witness to the ethnic diversity of Mesopotamia.

At the time of the fall of the Ottoman Empire a considerable number of Christians who spoke only Kurdish left the area of western and northern Kurdistan for the French Mandate of Syria. There, having been told they "must be Armenian" they were counted and eventually assimilated into the immigrant Armenian community of Syria and Lebanon.

Majority of Kurds adopted Islam after the Arab conquest of the Sassanid Empire but their faith sat lightly on them, and they were practically heaten until the Ottoman Turks, with considerable political acumen saw the sole means by which they could attach the Kurds to themselves was through their religion, and did everything possible to promote Islam amongst them. 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.[3] During the same period, the Kurdish prince Ibn ad-Dahhak, who possessed the fortress of al-Jafary, abandoned Islam for Orthodox Christianity.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

The Armenian family of the Zakarids, whose ancestors were Christianized Kurds,[7][8] ruled parts of northern Armenia in the 13th century AD and tried to reinvigorate intellectual activities by founding new monasteries.[9] During Armeno-Georgian union the family led the unified Armeno-Georgian army. Two brothers of this family, Zakare and Ivane led the army to victory in Ani in 1199.

A part of the Kurdish tribe of Muhallamiyyah of Tur abdin converted from Orthodox Syriac to Islam around 1609, and according to Horatio Southgate, they remembered their Christian origins in 19th century.[10]

Kurds who converted to Christianity usually turned to the Nestorian Church.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

Some studies suggest that there used to be a larger number of Kurds following Christianity as late as in into the mid 1800s. 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.[14] Isabella Bird mentions that American missionaries in Urmia successfully converted small groups of Kurds in 1891.

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.[15] There are also Arabic speaking Christians in Syria with the surname Al-Kurdi which might suggest Kurdish origin.

Some non-Christian Kurds of Anatolia and even central Kurdistan still bless their bread dough by pressing the sign of the cross on it while letting it rise. They also make pilgrimage to the old abandoned or functioning churches of the Armenian and Assyrian Christians. This may well be a cultural tradition left with the non-Christian Kurds through long association with Christian Kurds, or very possibly it stems from the time that many Kurds themselves were Christians.

Contemporary Kurdish Christians[edit]

Today there remain an uncertain number of Kurdish Christians, particularly in the districts of Hakkâri in north-central Kurdistan, Tur Abdin in western Kurdistan, and among the Milân and Barâz tribal confederacies in western Kurdistan in Turkey and Syria. An educated guess for the total number of Christian Kurds (excluding the Assyrians, with whom many Christian Kurds assimilated into) would place them in the range of tens of thousands.

In recent years some Kurds from Muslim background have converted to Christianity.[16][17] After the Gulf War in 1991, Christian agencies offered help to Kurdish refugees, who were amazed that the assistance came from Christians.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20] According to other sources, 500 Kurdish Muslim youths have converted to Christianity since 2006 throughout Kurdistan.[21] In recent years,[when?] the trend of Kurds converting to Christianity continues especially in northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan).[22] A few Christian Kurds also established 'Jîyanî Nu' (New Life) Church in Stockholm in 2012. Part of the Bible was first available in the Kurdish language in 1856.

Home for Kurds.[edit]

in 2000 a Native Kurd by the name F.Fouad was touched by the love of Jesus and he changed from being a Muslim to being Christian. God gave him the desire and the love to share the gospel with his own people. Since 2002, he has been serving God and serving the Kurds. Together with a dedicated team they share the gospel with Kurds in every possible way and lead them to become disciples of Christ. In November 2006 the foundation Home for Kurds has been established to support the ministry. In October 2007 the ministry moved into a new house (Dilnawaiy) where all Kurds are welcome. In Dilnwaiy (meaning: comfort) Kurds may find their way home. It is a place where they together may experience God's love, unity, peace and healing.

Through the years Home for Kurds foundation became an international organization reaching kurds throughout the world delivering the good news.

Home for kurds foundation also acts as a relief organization for all kurds in the Middle East specially since the crisis caused by the war in Syria and Iraq, a crisis that got defined by atrocities against Kurdish groups like the Yazidis. Throughout the crisis and against all security advisories several teams from the foundation has traveled to several war zones in Syria and Iraq carrying supplies and offering counseling to traumatized kurds throughout the crisis zones.

The house is continuously open and is also used for pastoral care, evangelism, services, practical help and training.

Quote from Home for Kurds website.

"Our goal is to share God's love in The Netherlands, but also in other European countries and in Kurdistan. Our desire is to preach the Gospel to Kurds and lead them to become disciples of Jesus, and that they will pass on the message to their own people as well as other people groups."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Massehi in Kurdish Wiktionary
  2. ^ G. R. Driver, The Religion of the Kurds, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, 1922, p.208
  3. ^ I. Sevcenko, Review of New Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, Slavic Review, p.111, 1968.
  4. ^ A. Vasilyev, Vizantija i araby. Vol. II. (Saint-Petersburg, 1902), p. 220.
  5. ^ Paul F. Robinson, Just War in Comparative Perspective, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 233pp., 2003, (see p.162)
  6. ^ David Nicolle, Christa Hook, Saracen Faris, 1050-1250 AD, 64 pp., Osprey Publishing, 1994, ISBN 1-85532-453-9, see p.7, Table A.
  7. ^ T. F. Mathews, A. Taylor, The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated, Getty Publications, 2001, ISBN 9780892366279 ( see p.23 :

    Thirteenth century Armenian historians note that the family ancestors were Christianized Kurds

  8. ^ V. Minorsky, Studies in Caucasian History, 196 pp., 1957, ISBN 9780521057356, (see p.102)
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ R. J. Mouawad, The Kurds and Their Christian Neighbors, Parole de l'Orient, vol. XVII, pp.127-141, 1992. (see pp.131-132)
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 1884, p.313
  13. ^ M.R. Izady, The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, Taylor & Francis, 1992, ISBN 0-8448-1727-9, pp.163,164.
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ The Kurdish Minority Problem, p.11, Dec. 1948, ORE 71-48, CIA [1].
  16. ^ A Muslim Leader Converted to Christianity in Iraqi Kurdistan
  17. ^ urbana.org - Articles[dead link]
  18. ^ God Will Start With You, Rev. David Holwick, First Baptist Church, New Jersey, September 1997; original source is Brigada/Mission Frontier magazine, May 9, 1997.
  19. ^ Revival Times
  20. ^ UNAMI: Iraqi Media Monitoring
  21. ^ IRAQ: Sunni extremists threaten to kill Christian converts in north
  22. ^ Kurds in Northern Iraq Converting to Christianity: Iraqi General

External links[edit]