Introduction / History
Kurds represent only eight percent of the population of Syria. They live in three main regions of Syria which, though politically an integral part of the country, are ethnically connected to Kurdistan.
The Kurd-Dagh, or "mountain of the Kurds," is located in the extreme northwestern part of the country. This is also the westernmost part of Kurdistan and the only populated mountain area in Syria. Cereals, vines, figs, and mulberries grow there. In higher altitudes, there are oak forests. Olive trees can also be grown since the Mediterranean is so close.
The country's largest Kurdish population lives just east of the Euphrates River. This piece of land is more than 175 miles long and stretches across the northern section of the Iraqi frontier. This region was settled by Kurdish tribes and other mountain peasants who were fleeing Turkish Kurdistan. They eventually became permanent settlers there.
What are their lives like?
The Kurds of Syria are essentially peasants. Their cultivation system is intensive in the mountainous Kurd-Dagh region and also strong in the other two regions. They also own large herds of sheep and goats, and produce dairy products. Many of the Western Kurds are skilled in weaving kilims (patterned, flat-woven, wool rugs). On the Kurd-Dagh, some make olive oil and charcoal, which are exported. These endeavors supplement their farming incomes.
Only about 20 percent of the Syrian Kurds live in cities. Those that do rely heavily on petty trading and handicrafts to earn a living.
In August of 1961, Syria held a special census claiming that the Kurds were "illegally infiltrating" the country in order to "destroy Arab character." As a result of the census, almost 120,000 Kurds lost their Syrian citizenship. Many were forced to leave their homeland to make room for Arabs.
In 1963, their situation worsened. Syria attempted to prove that the Kurds did not constitute a nation, claiming that their only characteristics were those which had been shaped by force, destructive power, and violence. A 12-point plan to minimize Kurdish influence in Syria was devised and many were implemented. They included such things as depriving them of educational opportunities and medical facilities, as well as deportation. The Kurds were subjected to regular administrative harassment, police raids, firings, and confiscation orders. Officials seized Kurdish literary works, as well as any recordings of Kurdish folk music played in public places.
Fortunately, in 1976, President Hafiz Assad officially renounced any further implementation of the plans to transfer the Kurds. He decided to allow them to be left alone and no longer be subjected to such harrassment.
What are their beliefs?
Nearly all Kurds are Muslims, most being Shafite Sunnis. They first embraced Islam after the Arab conquests of the seventh century. Today, they look to Islam as a basis for social justice. Ironically, however, religion has created deep rifts among the Kurds. Many of their communities are separated because of this issue. Nevertheless, Islam in generally is respected and is appealed to as a basis for social justice. Religious dignitaries are treated with respect. They are also sought after for political reasons, proving that their struggle for identity is greater than their struggle for religious unity.
What are their needs?
Throughout their history, the Kurds have never had a country to call their own. Neither have they been free to express their own culture. They have been persecuted and displaced throughout their past. The Kurds need to know the peace, love, and security that can only be found through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Syria and share Christ with the Kurds.
Pray that God will supply clean water for the Kurds.
Ask the Lord to raise up Christian medical teams who can take supplies and expertise to the Kurds.
Ask God to encourage and protect the small number of Kurdish Christians.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
Pray that God will open the hearts of Syria's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Kurds.