Traveller in time

Peter Phillips goes to Turkish Kurdistan and finds a land full of early Christian history

It’s hard to suppress a feeling of schadenfreude when reading accounts of the crusaders going to the Holy Land in support of Christianity and finding that the indigenous Christians were often the lowest of the low, whereas the infidel leaders, rich and educated, were much more like those whom the Western leaders instinctively admired and wanted to meet. And these Christians were technically heretics, their religious observances thick with dodgy practices, their allegiances fixed on Patriarchs nobody had heard of or respected. It must have seemed a bit like not finding weapons of mass destruction — which didn’t stop our boys from invading again and again.

The descendants of those Christians are still there, still poor and still persecuted (so that was a success, then). In recent years several writers have shown interest in their plight, specifically in their dwindling numbers and the consequent abandonment of some of their churches, many of which are of the earliest foundation and housed venerable artefacts. Some of this literature adopts an almost hysterical tone, which can leave the outsider a little dazed. Obviously there has been, since the first world war, a very significant decline in numbers as the faithful have emigrated to the West; yet because the communities are still there, even if only embryonically, the people who emigrated still have the opportunity to go back. On a recent visit to the Turabdin, in Turkish Kurdistan, I found not only old people and children in good numbers living in the Christian villages and city compounds, but also people of all ages who were visiting from richer countries. They were just waiting for the better times which are showing signs of being around the corner for Christians, at least in Turkey.

These better times are being sponsored by the great desire of the Turks to join the EU.

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