People celebrated converts to Christianity with hymns and religious rites in the Kurdish language at the al-Akhwa Church in the northern Aleppo countryside. The celebration was permeated with hymns sung by a choral team in the church in an occasion described by the pastor, Zani Bakr, as “excellent” after masses and church bells stopped 30 years ago. Bakr, who is from Afrin, told Daraj that, “those who changed their religion were Armenians and Kurdish Muslims who converted to the Protestant Evangelical church.”
The pastor, who was displaced from Afrin after the Turkish army and allied Syrian rebel groups took control of it, did not hide his concern about the new displacement he might face if Ankara’s army follows through on its threats to invade the eastern Euphrates. He added: “The armed Islamist factions destroyed our church in Afrin during their occupation last year. Although we enjoy safety here, we are afraid of a new wave of displacement.”
Firaz Omar, a founder of the al-Akhwa Evangelical Church, said: “The al-Akhwa Church is the first Kurdish church, with the number of converts to Christianity at 300 people—that is, about 50 families. For the first time, they are celebrating Easter.”
New Christians performed religious rites on Palm Sunday and commemorated the anniversary of the Armenian genocide on Apr. 28, 2019 after the old churches had been closed for decades because of an absence of Christians in the city.
This phenomenon has become popular in Kobani, which has more than 460,000 residents. Marouf Ismail, a Muslim expatriate from Kobani, told Daraj that this phenomenon came in reaction to extremist Islamist factions invading Kurdish areas, first in Sari Kani (Ras al-Ayn) and then Kobani (Ayn al-Arab), who killed and terrorized residents, and spilled Kurdish blood of various religions and described them as infidels and atheists even though the number of Kurds who were Muslim was more than 90 percent—in addition to the spread of poverty and unemployment and war and political Islam and profiting based on religion.
Suleiman Youssef, an Assyrian writer who specializes in minority issues, believes the phenomenon is not new and that it preceded the Syrian war and the Islamic State’s (ISIS) invasion of Kobani. He said that, “the area has seen Christian proselytizing among Muslim Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria at the start of the century, and saw many convert to Christianity, with the Kurdish-Christian movement in Syria founded in 2004.”
The Kurdish journalist Mustafa Abadi told Daraj that he noted the activity of Christian missionaries during the war on Kobani in 2014, saying that the Christian history in the city, “came with the arrival of Christian missionaries who started working the camps and villages on the Turkish border, inhabited by those fleeing the hell of war, after the fighting with ISIS scattered them five years ago.”
Abadi said that representatives of European Christian churches had entered into Kobani previously and he met them there, adding: “They vowed to rehabilitate the city and fix infrastructure and carry out development projects and proposed setting up a cultural center that served as churches.”
Researchers say that the conversion of the largest number of Kurds goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century, when Lutheran missionaries coming from the United States and Germany began religious services and proselytizing among the country’s Kurds.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.