They ought to be among the most bitter people on earth. They would be justified in withdrawing into insular communities seething with resentment and rage. They are, after all, among the most betrayed people in history. Yet they are blessedly free of these poisons and exhibit such open-heartedness, forgiveness, and hospitality as to offer hope in a tumultuous world.
The world’s nearly forty million Kurds—the largest group of people on earth without their own homeland—have certainly known their sufferings. After centuries of war and abuse came the betrayals by the Western powers in the wake of World War I.
Later, there were the persecutions of the Iraqi regimes and Turkey’s genocidal policies. Then came Saddam Hussein, and the gassings of Halabja, as well as the collusion of European and American corporations in a host of atrocities. The bigotry often faced by the Kurdish diaspora only added to these agonies. Injustices reached to the heavens.
Surprisingly, though, the Kurdish people of the world—after all they have endured—are devoted to being among the most richly hospitable people on earth.
Sacrifice and steely action
Nowhere is this largeness of heart more evident than in the realm of religion. Though the Kurds are a 95% Muslim people, they have shown kindness to faiths they might understandably have regarded as enemies. The Kurds, having been the victims of religious treachery themselves, have instead offered a welcoming hand.
A visit to Iraqi Kurdistan reveals how much this is true. In the halls of the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil, one finds offices devoted to the welfare of Christians and Yazidis as well as Muslims. Mullahs attending to government business stop to warmly greet the Christian visitor. A visiting team of rabbis from Jerusalem receive the same cordial welcome.
This Kurdish graciousness extends far beyond mere ceremony and Middle Eastern hospitality. It has, at times, taken the form of sacrifice and steely action.
During the dark days of the ascent of ISIS, Iraqi Kurdistan welcomed tens of thousands of Christian refugees. Christians worldwide celebrated this Kurdish heroism, and even the Pope expressed his gratitude. Lives were saved. A faith, despite its persecutors, lived on. The Kurds, in the grandness of their spirit, made this possible. It was the warmth and power of Kurdistan on the rise.
A global spirit
Yet it is not just in Iraq that Kurds have crossed religious lines before a watching world. In Nashville, Tennessee—the U.S. city with the largest Kurdish population—a Christian pastor’s wife has fallen gravely ill. The news reaches the Kurdish community. They remember this pastor. He was there when many of them arrived in Nashville to escape the devastations of Saddam Hussein. He and his church served the beleaguered Kurds and befriended them. The Kurds of Nashville now remember their friend. He has honored them by serving them. They will do the same.
Food begins arriving at the pastor’s home—food cooked in Kurdish homes and restaurants. Kurdish friends begin to offer help—to provide transportation for a family member or care for the family’s yard or to do anything to relieve the current suffering. News of this outpouring of love and devotion spreads throughout the city. Even national news outlets speak of it. Once again in our time, Kurdish graciousness, Kurdish generosity, and a uniquely Kurdish sense of honor have prevailed. And lives are changed.
The world takes note: Kurdistan is recreating itself around the world—in London and in Berlin, in Geneva and in Istanbul.
This magnificent Kurdish spirit, this largeness of heart and tenderness of soul, is not just the stuff of quickly forgotten tales. It is instead a reason to hope. It is a message to the world. There are a people on the rise. They are the glorious Kurds. They have suffered. They have been tested. They have risen from ashes to offer their valiant spirit to the world.
We can hope with them that not only the Middle East, that not only the broader world, but that one day a Kurdish homeland will be filled with their sense of honor, their gift for hospitality, and their divine grace of compassion.
Thank God for the Kurds. Thank God for the presence of Kurdistan among us. May their spirit continue to rise and ennoble us all.
Stephen Mansfield a New York Times Bestselling author, global speaker, and speaker coach. He is an advocate for Kurds. He is also a senior fellow of Public Leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University.