Sada Highlights Growth of Evangelicals in Iraqi Kurdistan

Claim: “No Christians in the Kurdish territory are persecuted”

Retired Iraqi General Georges Sada is back in the news. The Washington Times reports:

Retired Iraqi Gen. Georges Sada, a former fighter pilot-turned-Christian evangelist, says Kurds are converting to Christianity “by the hundreds” in northern Iraq.

…The “good news” from Iraq’s turbulent religious scene, consisting mainly of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim militias battling each other, is from the Kurds, he said. Kurds are creating a constitution that does away with Shariah, or Islamic law, a move counter to trends in other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, where leaving Islam is a capital offense and Christian converts are often killed.

“No Christians in the Kurdish territory are persecuted,” he said yesterday in an interview.

Gen. Sada, 66, who lives in Baghdad, cited growing numbers of evangelical Christians in the Kurdish city of Irbil and a recent church conference of 854 Christians at the city’s Salahaddin University as demonstrations of the Kurds’ willingness to protect religious freedom.

He added that Nechervan Idris Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in Irbil and nephew of former Iraqi Governing Council President Massoud Barzani, was extremely positive about evangelical Christians’ efforts among Iraq’s 4 million Kurds.

“He told me he’d rather see a Muslim become a Christian rather than a radical Muslim,” the general said.

Sada was featured on this blog previously, after his claims to have heard about Saddam’s WMDs being moved secretly to Syria received widespread media attention. We noted Sada’s links with evangelist Terry Law, and that Law had help to establish the Kurdzman Church for Kurdish ex-Muslims.

Sada is highlighting an interesting trend in Kurdistan which actually predates the fall of Saddam. Back in 2003, Charisma magazine profiled the Kurdish Evangelical Church:

The Kurdish Evangelical Church now has more than 1,000 believers, mostly converts from a Muslim background.

The church also has three bookshops, two FM radio stations and two international schools, one with 200 pupils in Sulaymaniyah. So impressed were Kurdish leaders with the school that they gave the church a $500,000 plot of land on which to build a church in the city.

However:

The Kurdish Evangelical Church has two martyrs. Mansour Hussein, 41, was gunned down in the Christian bookshop of Irbil in 1997, and Zewar Mohammed Ismael, 38, a taxi driver from Zakho, was shot to death on Feb. 17.

Ismael converted to Christ four years ago and was bold in his witness. He kept Bibles in his car and gave them out to anyone who showed an interest. Most did not mind, but Islamic extremists were outraged.

He was named in the mosques as a menace to Islam, and the imams spread lies about him, claiming, “He has led 500 Muslims into apostasy in our town.” His killer explained he was told by the prophet Muhammad in a dream to kill Ismael. He awaits trial in Zakho.

These kinds of problems remain today; and Sada appears to have overlooked difficulties for Kurdish Christians that come from the regional government itself. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting took at look at Kurdish Christians last summer:

…Sirwan Abdul-Rahman, a member of the Kurdish Christian Church Committee from Erbil, said his relatives looked down on him after he converted to Christianity several years ago.

Abdul-Rahman has also got into trouble for preaching his religion to other Kurds. He said he’s been arrested so often for carrying a Bible “that I’ve got used to it”.

…The region’s religious affairs minister, Muhammed Ahmed Gaznayi, said people who turn to Christianity are “renegades” in the eyes of Islam.

“I consider that those who turn to Christianity pose a threat to society,” he added.

Sada’s rosy view might also be perplexing to Marywan Halabjaye, Iraqi Kurdish author of a book critical of shariah who is now facing Islamist wrath. In March he complained that:

“The Kurdish authorities have not provided any protection from threats and fatwas,” says Marywan. “Apart from phone calls from progressive and freedom-loving people in Kurdistan and abroad I have nothing else…Any moment I am expecting a bullet or a hand grenade to be thrown into where I live.”

The attitude of minister Gaznayi was less than encouraging. Speaking to a crowd of protestors, he opined that

according to the Iraqi law, there is an article in which it states that “defamation” or “criticising” religion and religious figures is a crime and its punishment is severe. “We will give those who attack our prophets a sentence so that they can be a lesson for everyone”.

Members of historic Christian communities in Iraqi Kurdistan have also complained about their situation. Christianity Today reported on the subject early last year:

The Kurds are systematically displacing the Iraqi Christians, says Larry Allen, spokesperson for [International Christian Concern]. “The Kurds have been making a move for the Nineveh plain area and trying to expand Kurdistan out to the west.” The Kurdistan Democratic Party is linked to a paramilitary group that has confiscated homes. “Farmland has been confiscated. In addition, the $20 billion designated for reconstruction in Iraq, the Assyrians have seen none of it. The Kurdish authority is not distributing it,” Allen says.

“The Kurds are literally ethnically cleansing us out of the region,” says Ron Michael. “They are doing to us what the Sudanese government was doing to the Christians in the south of the Sudan. The Kurds are engaged in a push for autonomy and independence. They feel that they can only achieve their national aspirations by ethnic cleansing, either by political maneuvering or through violence, until every shred of Assyrianism in northern Iraq is gone.”

Similar accusations appeared in a 2004 piece by Eden Naby that was published on Juan Cole’s website.

However, Prime Minister Barzani has defended his record against such claims:

Within the Kurdistan Regional Government, there are one Turkmen and three Christian cabinet ministers. Christian parties hold five seats in the parliament.

Assyrian Christians and Yezidis are, he claims, allowed their own educational materials, while accusations emanating from the Assyrian International News Agency are “highly inaccurate” and have been “refuted in correspondence with the US State Department”.

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

7 Responses

  1. […] Evans’s latest book will be published by an imprint of Strang Communications. Strang also publishes a couple of other authors I have looked at on this blog: John Hagee and David Brog. Also, I blogged on claims of large-scale conversions to Christianity in Iraqi Kurdistan here. […]

  2. […] year ago I blogged on a report concerning the evangelical Iraqi General (and sometime National Security Advisor) […]

  3. […] year ago, I noted a Washington Times interview with Georges Sada, the evangelical Iraqi general who received […]

  4. I am in a position to know that the Kurdzman church was not established by Terry Law as it has been widely reported. It is an indigenous movement and its origins go back to 1998 and even further to discipleship work stat started in 1994. I think it makes a big disservice to them to attribute their work to a (very respectable) American Evangelist with political attachments. They live in the Middle East! Law’s ministry has been a help to them lately but in no sense is the founder.

  5. […] there has been some growth in evangelicalism in Kurdish territories, but there’s nothing anywhere near the feverish the […]

  6. I have read this report first time, but not all what have been write it is right.

  7. There have been many stories about the conversion of Kurdish in the Iraqi north. While there are almost always struggles among Christian missionaries, especially in muslim countries. eThere are some other ethnic religious minorities with a presenc, such as Kurdish Yazidis and Assyrian Christians, who have also a long history to this region. However, it is the evangelical protestant groups such as the Mamalestian Baptists and Balenyata Assemblies of God that have made the greatest in-roads in Kurdistan, especially after the First Gulf War. I agree with Abu-Allah Mum-Quands, a Kurd convert to Mamalestian Evangelical Christianity, who has said that, ” the rate of Christian growth, especially the spread of Evangelical Protestantism, will continue to rise.”

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