The Kurds are probably the largest nation in the world without a state. They live scattered in many countries, but this life dispersed through alien and often hostile surroundings makes them cling even more strongly to their historical roots and cultural identity. In the course of the centuries the majority of Kurds have become Muslim, yet there are also Kurdish Yezidis, who follow a mixture of faiths including elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and ancient paganism. This syncretistic religion dates back to a Sufi Sheikh who founded it in Iraq in the Middle Ages. The Yezidi cult focuses on sun worship and gives much space to the worship of angels with the spirit of evil among them. Kurds living in Russia are for the most part Yezidis.
The issue of faith seems to be crucial for many Kurds, and their religious fervour recalls that of apostolic times. When members of the Kurdish community experience Christian conversion, it arouses a great spiritual struggle around them. Since the Bible translation process has started bearing fruit, many Kurdish families and whole clusters from different parts of Russia and the CIS have received Christ and become fervent members of either Evangelical or Orthodox Christian communities. One of our translators met Christ as a 12-year-old boy and his parents followed him in due time. This is a typical story of a family conversion starting with children. A young Kurdish man who met Christ in the Orthodox Church gives his testimony of how he fainted at the very moment of his baptism and felt his soul freed from some real force that had previously occupied it. His parents who used to protest against his Christian choice, noticing the real change in him, were later baptized themselves. “The Yezidi god is very far from his worshipper”, he says. “When I first read about Christ I felt in love with Him. I was reading the Gospel for 4-5 hours non-stop and it was not enough for me”. Another of our translators who is now a Pentecostal pastor says that when he was reading the Gospel for the first time, he could not tear himself away from the book even when he was driving the car. He stopped at a traffic light, started reading the Gospel and lost track of the time and place. No wonder that he was taken to the police office as they considered him overtired and forced to 2 hours of sleep. “I was absolutely happy”, he shares, “as I got 2 additional hours for reading the Gospel!”
Now that the Pentateuch and several more Old Testament publications in Kurdish have followed the New Testament they are becoming top priority reading even for non-Christians, because in the Old Testament Kurds find stories similar to their folklore. Unexpectedly they recognize Ruth and David as heroes of old Kurdish legends and history. There is a well-known Kurdish writer who said, though a non-Christian himself, “I do not know what would have happened to Kurdish literature if it were not for your Bible translations! I think it would already have disappeared. Though I am not a Christian I am going to support your translations in all possible ways!” There are more and more cases when Biblical texts are regarded as a precious wedding present.
Recently in one of the Kurdish communities there was a Yezidi religious meeting aimed at preventing further biblical translations which threaten traditional religion. They also looked for ways to get rid of the translator who is propagating the Gospel. Suddenly one of the leaders took the floor and said, “As religious leaders what have you generally done for our people in terms of their culture and heritage? We are losing our language, we are forgetting our culture. But this man has prepared a treasure for our people. Through this book our language is actually preserved! Old words, a lot of idioms and phrases from our language are preserved”. And the meeting agreed that this precious book should be treasured and recommended to children.
All Kurdish books are printed both in Cyrillic and Roman script, as both traditions are equally widespread depending on the origin and location of each Kurdish community. This makes them much more expensive but also much more accessible to readers. The new translations are in heavy demand and are eagerly awaited in both scripts in different parts of Russia and abroad. From year to year more and more Kurds become literate in their mother tongue thanks to great interest in the biblical translations which are regarded as first-rate Kurdish literature. Now the book of Psalms is being prepared for publication. In its rhythms and style it resembles Kurdish poetry and will give a new impulse to the revival of the language and the national poetic tradition. It will also open new ways for Kurdish believers to speak to God in their mother tongue from the innermost depths of their hearts.