Kurds and the Way
Shopping for a Turkish rug seemed to be taking longer than weaving one. I grew impatient. Then God once again showed me my foolishness.
He turned what seemed like a “vacationary” experience into a missionary moment.
Quicker than you can say “kilim” (a type of weave) the conversation turned from carpets to Christ. We were blessed with an opportunity to share why we were in eastern Turkey, climbing Mount Ararat, and Who we were representing.
A Kurdish boy working on Mount Ararat. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
The shop owner was Kurdish. We’d been with Kurds for more than a week, learning about the largest group of people in the world (an estimated 30 million) who do not have a nation to call their own. We’d heard about and seen for ourselves the discrimination of the Kurds. Over the next hour we would learn even more as God opened another door for us to enter.
We listened as the shop owner told us, “No one — not Muhammad, not Jesus — no one cares about the Kurds.” I told him that Jesus cares; that’s why He sent us. We were there to see how the Lord could use us to help the Kurdish people.
After talking to him for some time, he asked us to pray to Jesus for the Kurds. They need His help. Never mind that Kurds are predominantly Sunni Muslim. It is not known how many Christians are among the estimated 11-to-14 million Kurds in Turkey, but — suffice it to say — the Christ-following population is miniscule. However, many of those we encountered said they were “not practicing” Muslims.
Kurdish people are fiercely independent. It is the only way the culture has survived being assimilated by governments over the centuries.
In Turkey, the Kurdish language was banned as an attempt at breaking the people. A Kurd could be imprisoned for speaking his or her own language. This also made education nearly impossible. Teachers taught only in Turkish, leaving many Kurdish students behind.
Education is something the Kurds sorely desire. We want to do what Jesus did (and does): deliver the kingdom of now. By providing Kurds with something that will help them and is good for their identity and culture, we can give them hope.
If we show them His love, they will know that Jesus is love.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
— John 13:35 (NIV)
Kurdish porters in the mess tent at Base Camp on Mount Ararat. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
Mount Ararat is a beautiful 16,854-foot (5,137-meter) peak of great historic importance. It was “on the mountains of Ararat” that Noah’s ark came to rest (Genesis 8:4). Whether the modern-day Ararat is the Biblical mountain or not was inconsequential to us.
Our Mission: Ararat 2010 team — which included Charlotte Crain of Gig Harbor, Wash., and Aaron Hemphill of Blairmore, Alberta, Canada — came to walk among the Kurdish people and on heights trod by God-fearing souls who’d come long before us.
“Standing on such Biblically historic land, looking at the same mountains and hills that men like Noah once viewed was deeply grounding,” Hemphill said after the July trip.
Crain said that was one of the highlights of this Evangelic Expedition. “Possibly standing on Noah’s ark (a short distance from Ararat) and being reminded on Mount Ararat with the thunder, lightning, rain and wind that God is still in control. Possibly Noah encountered similar weather (on that same mountain).”
We were accompanied by Kurdish cooks and horsemen who served as porters, as well as the requisite Turkish guide. The Turkish government requires climbing parties to use one of its licensed guides, who keep climbers on the one route that is open on the mountain.
Rumors swirl like the ever-present wind as to what is elsewhere on Ararat — remains of the ark, Kurdish rebels (who have been fighting the Turks since the 1980s), and Turkish soldiers. One thing is certain: semi-nomadic Kurds herd their sheep up to 10,000 feet on the mountain.
Farming and raising cattle, sheep and goats is the primary occupation of Kurds in eastern Turkey, as well as neighboring Iran and Iraq. They say little has changed there since the Middle Ages. Including religion. Kurds embraced Islam following the Arab conquests of the 7th century.
Few in-roads have been made among these people. “Suffice it to say, I believe, it’s a prime area for the work of C4C,” Hemphill said, “and one which should gain the interest of many members who may be seeking a more Biblically historical location for mission work.”
The door has opened. As Crain observed, we have a chance to show “a genuine interest in helping the Kurdish people become free in Christ spiritually even if they are still oppressed (physically).”
As our shopping experience came to an end, the storeowner gave us Kurdish bracelets. “Because I love you,” he said. “Remember the Kurds.”
God has not forgotten them. Nor shall we.
This story originally appeared in The Climbing Way (Volume 19, Autumn 2010).