Main navigation

Search for Identity

Ismet’s* mother serves a homemade sweet pastry called baklava and hot tea, then disappears into the kitchen leaving the men to eat and talk. Ismet lingers over the sticky sweets, explaining his reasons for staying in the village. It wasn’t his first choice.

Like many young men dreaming of the big city, Ismet wanted to leave home. But when realities began to sink in—the cost of living in a place like Istanbul, the distance from his aging parents—he chose to stay. He is happy he did. He enjoys teaching at a local elementary school, giving something back to the place that nurtured him. He sees children who were just like him, struggling to learn the Turkish language and slowly adopting a Turkish identity. He comes from an Azeri background and is proud to be who he is and living where he is. To him that means being a Turk.

The Turkish government works hard to blur differences between ethnic groups, enforcing Turkish as the spoken language and using Turkish national identity as a tool for creating unity among various peoples. For some like Ismet, the efforts are successful. Other minorities are not so easily assimilated. Kurds comprise close to 20 percent of the population of Turkey. Most live in the east near borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. Some would prefer to be free of Turkish authority.

For many years they have dreamed of having a homeland. Some have resorted to terrorism to force the Turkish government to give in to their demands. In response, the government has cracked down on dissidents, often resulting in more violence and increased discontent. Kurds often face discrimination and loss of social status because of their ethnicity. In urban areas they sometimes hesitate to acknowledge their ethnic identity and hometowns for fear of being stigmatized. “Many Kurds have someone in their family who is in jail or who has been killed,” explains a Christian who has lived among the Kurds. “It’s all extremely personal to them. In nearly every family there is some deep grief and loss…some incident or injury.”

But where Kurds are coming to Christ, they are surrendering their bitterness to him. Rather than blurring ethnic differences, the gospel brings out their beauty and gives Kurds freedom unmatched by anything anyone else can offer. Though he is not Kurdish, Ismet longs for the same kind of freedom. He is content with small town living, but dreams of the opportunities and joy that Turkish identity, a good job, family—even a big city—can’t provide.

• The Kurdish people and other minority peoples have been suppressed and their culture moderated. Pray for a rehabilitation of their culture and for healthy Kurdish contextual churches to grow in Turkey.
• Pray for God to send a believer to interact with young men like Ismet and help him find his true identity in Christ.

* Names changed to protect identities.
Image for illustration purpose only

Article from Along the Silk Road