The Kurds have often been overlooked throughout history. As close relatives to Iranians, they often live in the shadow of their neighboring cousins. Every sibling with brothers or sisters experiences the irksome episode of being outshined by a smarter or more athletic sibling. On a national scale the Kurds have experienced this at the hands of their Middle Eastern neighbors almost as much as George Obama and Larry Jordan. Who? Exactly.
The Kurds’ ancient ancestors (known as the Medes) were eclipsed by the neighboring Persian Empire. During the conquests of Islam the Kurds were overpowered by more numerous Arab and Turkish dynasties. The Kurds experienced a golden age during the Middle Ages but their glory was dashed by a Mongol invasion followed by centuries of Turkish and Persian rule.
There was a glimmer of hope after WWI that the Kurds might gain a homeland out of the wreck of the Ottoman Empire. These hopes were dashed as most of Kurdistan was grouped in with the independent Arab state of Iraq in the 1920’s.
Their oppression reached new levels under the Iraqi Arabs, most notably Saddam Hussein. Uprisings and persecutions, including mass killings of Kurds, marked the Kurdish experience under the Iraqi Baathist Party. After the intervention of the United States in 2003, the Kurds have experienced a stronger semblance of self-rule in the mountainous region of northern Iraq. It’s far from official.
Today, the Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a homeland with a population nearing 27 million.1 Their population spreads across a vast stretch of land known as Kurdistan, which consists of portions of Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. The Turkish and Iranian governments block any international efforts at Kurdish autonomy for fear of losing territory to a new state. The Iraqi state allows the Kurds their autonomy but also fears losing one-third of their territory.
With Iranian nuclear intrigue, Palestinian cries for independence, and the chaos of the Arab Spring, calls for Kurdish independence fall on deaf ears. Yet biblically it seems that God has a plan for the Kurdish people.
God loves an underdog. Throughout scripture, stories of weaker, smaller opponents triumphing are told time and again. From David vs. Goliath to the Israelite conquest of Canaan, God allowed His people to triumph over far greater opponents.
God rescued the Jews from slavery in Egypt. He raised Joseph from a slave to the second most powerful ruler in Egypt. He even used a young Jewish girl to rescue His people in the book of Esther.
In the future, God will have yet another underdog – the Kurds. The book of Jeremiah explains that the Kurds are an integral part of the future destruction of Babylon.
Just as the Kurds have been overlooked in history, the destruction passages of Babylon have been overlooked as well. Some assume that Babylon was already destroyed, while others believe the Babylon described in Revelation must refer to another future super-power. In my previous article on Babylon, I explained why neither of these could be true.
According to the literal interpretation of scripture, a real city called Babylon will arise in Mesopotamia once more. It is difficult to imagine a Middle Eastern economic superpower in today’s geopolitical world. It was also difficult to believe a Jewish state was possible in 1948.
Revival and destruction of Babylon
Isaiah 13 and Jeremiah 50/51 both describe the city of Babylon’s total demise at some point in the future. John in Revelation also adds a great amount of detail. The city is burned to the ground, the inhabitants slain, and the land of Babylon along the Euphrates River becomes a desolate wasteland, never to be inhabited again. For some reason this tale is usually left out of children’s story Bibles.
The ancient city of Babylon never experienced such a calamity. People continue to live in and near the lands of Babylon today (Iraq). Therefore, this prophecy has not yet occurred and must be fulfilled in the future. A Middle Eastern superpower will fill the vacuum of power in the future war-torn region.
Another topic not often discussed is the identity of Babylon’s attackers. Isaiah explains below,
Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children (Isaiah 13:17-18).
Isaiah gives the name of the future attackers in verse 17! The Medes were an ancient empire hailing from the western Iran and portions of northern Iraq (modern day Kurdistan). They made a name for themselves by bringing down the mighty Assyrian Empire. Eventually they partnered with the Persians, but were conquered and incorporated into the Empire.
The Persians led an attack on Babylon in 539 BC. However, this was more of a coup as there was very little bloodshed. The Persians continued to use Babylon as a regional capital as well. No burning, pillaging, or complete destruction. Only one people group will have that task – the Medes.
Jeremiah also describes the Medes as leading a coalition of nations against future Babylon in chapter 51.
Sharpen the arrows, fill the quivers! The Lord has aroused the spirit of the kings of the Medes, Because His purpose is against Babylon to destroy it; For it is the vengeance of the Lord, vengeance for His temple (Jeremiah 51:11).
Jeremiah continues in verse 21,
Consecrate the nations against her, The kings of the Medes, Their governors and all their prefects, And every land of their dominion. So the land quakes and writhes, For the purposes of the Lord against Babylon stand, To make the land of Babylon A desolation without inhabitants (Jeremiah 51:28-29).
No mention of Persians, Romans, Arabs, or Turks leading the attack, but rather, the Medes. It is a miracle that the ancient Medes have survived as a people in the same ancient location for over 2,000 years. Only one explanation can be given – God has plans for the Medes.
But are the modern-day Kurds really the descendants of the ancient Medes?
The Kurdish connection
The Kurds are a unique cultural-ethnic group in the Middle East. They are not Semitic as the Arabs, nor do they have Asiatic roots as the Turks. They are most closely related to the Iranians as they both speak Indo-European languages. They are a largely rural, self-sufficient mountain people who have survived harsh conditions and persecutions by retreating deep into the highlands of Kurdistan.
Historians traced the ancestry of the ancient Medes to the modern day Kurds of the Middle East. The Kurds even live in the old Median lands of the Middle East. This is important because whenever God gives a prophecy about a people group, ie, Israel, Babylon, Persia, the prophecy pertains to the land as well.
Israel is the most common example of geographic fulfillment. God could have blessed the Jews by giving them a homeland in South America or Europe, but He chose to return them to their own biblical lands in the Middle East.
In the future, God will curse the land of Babylon (in the Middle East). Sorry to burst more bubbles, but the United States is not part of the Middle East and therefore cannot house the future superpower known as Babylon.
Historically the Kurds have a strong argument for their claims of Median ancestry. Greek historian and adventurer Xenophon referred to the Kurds as the Karduchi, or the Karduhki.2 According to Kurdish historian Dr. Jemal Rashid Ahmad, the beginnings of Kurdish history can be traced to the ancient Median king Kyaxer.3 British scholar Dr. G. R. Driver also placed Kurdish ancestry squarely with the ancient Medes.4
The Kurds are experiencing a Christian revival. This no doubt adds to their present persecutions. Ten percent of Kurdish people claim to be Christian, a much higher percentage than Arabs, Turks, or Persians can claim. It is important to remember that by the time of Babylon’s destruction, Islam will be a largely forgotten religion. At the end of the Tribulation there will only be two religious options – Christianity or Satan worship.
The Kurds, along with countless other peoples and nations, will experience a great revival during the Tribulation -- one that will cost many of them their lives.
Revenge of the Kurds
Once thing is for certain – when God’s appointed time for Babylon’s destruction has come he will unleash an underdog from the lands “north” of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:3). The Kurds will play an instrumental role in Babylon’s future destruction.
Although an independent Kurdistan looks bleak in the near future, it could become a real possibility in the distant one. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah describe the Kurds as a mighty host leading a coalition of nations. Other prophetic passages indicate that the Middle East is heading for some momentous changes.
Nations such as Turkey and Iran may fall apart after their attempted invasion of Israel (found in Ezekiel 38/39), while other nations such as Babylon will become prominent once again. Amidst all the shuffling Kurdistan could become a real nation-state once again.
1 Mahir A. Aziz, The Kurds of Iraq: Ethnonationalism and National Identity in Iraqi Kurdistan, (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2011), 46.
2 Aziz, The Kurds of Iraq, 47.
3 Ibid., 48.
4 Ibid., 49
Jeremy Stevens is a historian, author, and teacher. His latest book, "So What Happens Next? Exploring Biblical Prophecies to Make Sense of Today's Chaos" is available at all participating bookstores.