The Untold Story of Syrian Kurdish Christians

Providence Magazine

by Nadine Maenza and Lord David Alton

“We feel forgotten and abandoned sometimes. The world does not know much about the challenges and difficulties that face us. All countries in the region do not recognize conversion from Islam. This makes life very difficult for us, especially in terms of marriages, funerals, and obtaining birth and death certificates, because we are still considered Muslims by law.”

These were the words of Pastor Nihad Hassan, who leads one of three Kurdish churches in Beirut, Lebanon, whose members are mainly Syrian Kurds who fled the war in their home country. Pastor Nihad estimates the number of Kurdish Christians living in Lebanon at over 5,000. “Fifty families have emigrated to the West recently, and we used to have a flourishing church and over 250 families in Afrin [in northern Syria] before the Turkish invasion.”

Pastor Nihad, who is originally from Afrin, converted from Islam to Christianity when he was a political prisoner in Damascus in 2008. He became a pastor in 2017 after he graduated from the Arabic Baptist Theological School in Beirut. He also serves Kurdish congregations outside Beirut in Farzal, Qub-Elias, and Zahleh. Last month Nihad baptized 21 new Christians, and 15 others are still awaiting baptism. Last year he baptized 26 people.

Living in Fear

Today the vast majority of Kurdish Christians are evangelicals, and it is possible to find evangelical Kurdish churches in Erbil, Selimani, and Duhok in Iraq, and in Hassakeh, Qamishli, Kobani, Amouda, and Afrin (until 2018) in Syria. Their numbers are estimated in the low tens of thousands and include a combination of native Christians and converts, a small percentage of the 200,000 Christians left in Iraq and less than 100,000 left in Syria.

In Kobani near the border with Turkey, 50 families from Muslim backgrounds (approximately 300 persons), worship at the Brethren Church, the first-ever evangelical Kurdish church in the town. Pastor Nihad said, “We are grateful that our community has this church in Kobani, where they can worship and celebrate Easter and Christmas. They even commemorated the anniversary of the Armenian genocide last April. But they live in anxiety and fear that Turkey and its Islamist loyalists will attack them anytime and destroy their lives as they did in Afrin in 2018.” In September 2014 the Islamic State (IS) invaded Kobani, which is home to 450,000 people, but the Kurdish YPG (The People’s Protection Units) liberated the area after a fierce battle in January of 2015. Later in 2015, the YGP joined with others to become the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

As partners to the United States and International Coalition, the SDF were the boots on the ground in the fight against IS. Losing over 11,000 lives, they were responsible for the defeat of the IS caliphate while the US and international community provided air support and military guidance. They also understood that permanently defeating IS required more than just military action; it required governance. After liberating an area from IS, they would immediately set up local self-governance with neighborhoods electing dual co-chairs, a man and a woman. They would then set up economic co-ops, an education committee, a health care committee, etc., and start meeting their own needs as a community, while promoting religious tolerance, human rights, and women’s rights.

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published this page in News 2020-10-14 07:30:04 -0400