The Kurdish people, or Kurds (Kurdish: کورد, Kurd), are an ethnic group in Western Asia, mostly inhabiting a region known as Kurdistan, which includes adjacent parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.They are an Iranian people and speak the Kurdish languages, which are members of the Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. The Kurds number about 30 million, the majority living in West Asia, with significant Kurdish diaspora communities in the cities of western Turkey, in Armenia, Georgia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Russia, Lebanon and, in recent decades, some European countries and the United States.
The Kurds have had partial autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991. Nationalist movements in the other Kurdish-populated countries (Turkey, Syria, Iran) push for Kurdish regional autonomy or the creation of a sovereign state.
The exact origins of the name “Kurd” are unclear. Though it is believed that the term precedes the formation of the ethnic group by centuries or even millennia.
G.S. Reynolds believes that the term Kurd is most likely related to the ancient term Qardu. The common root of Kurd and Qardu is first mentioned in a Sumeriantablet from the third millennium BC as the “land of Kar-da.” Similarly, Hennerbichler believes the term Kurd and similar ethnic labels to have been derived from the Sumerian word stem “kur”, meaning mountain.
The term Qardu however, appears in Assyrian sources, where it refers to the contemporary Mount Judi, and which derived its name from the people inhabiting the region, the Carduchi, mentioned by Xenophon as the tribe who opposed the retreat of the Ten Thousand through the mountains north of Mesopotamia in the 4th century BC. However, according to G. Asatrian, the most reasonable explanation of the ethnonym is its possible connections with the Cyrtii (Cyrtaei).
The word Kurd was first written in sources in the form of Kurt(kwrt-) in the Middle Persian treatise (Karnamak Ardashir Papakan and the Matadakan i Hazar Dastan), used to describe a social group or tribes that existed before the development of the modern ethnic nation. The term was adopted by Arabic writers of the early Islamic era and gradually became associated with an amalgamation of Iranian and Iranicized nomadic tribes and groups in the region Sherefxan Bidlisi states that there are four division of Kurds: Kurmanj, Lur, Kalhor and Guran, each of which speak a different dialect or language variation. Of these, according to Ludwig Paul, only Kurmanji and possibly the Kalhuri correspond to the Kurdish language, while Luri and Gurani are linguistically distinct. Nonetheless, Ludwig writes that linguistics does not provide a definition for when a language becomes a dialect, and thus, non-linguistic factors contribute to the ethnic unity of some of the said groups, namely the Kurmanj, Kalhur, and Guran.
The Kurdish language (Kurdish: Kurdî or کوردی) refers collectively to the related dialects spoken by the Kurds. It is mainly spoken in those parts of Iran, Iraq,Syria and Turkey which comprise Kurdistan. Kurdish holds official status in Iraq as a national language alongside Arabic, is recognized in Iran as a regional language, and in Armenia as a minority language.
The Kurdish languages belong to the northwestern sub‑group of the Iranian languages, which in turn belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-Europeanfamily.
Most Kurds are either bilingual or multilingual, speaking the language of their respective nation of origin, such as Arabic, Persian, and Turkish as a second language alongside their native Kurdish, while those in diaspora communities often speak 3 or more languages. Kurdish Jews and some Kurdish Christians (not be confused with ethnic Assyrians) usually speak Aramaic (for example: Lishana Deni) as their first language. Aramaic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew andArabic rather than Kurdish.
According to Mackenzie, there are few linguistic features that all Kurdish dialects have in common and that are not at the same time found in other Iranian languages.
The Kurdish dialects according to Mackenzie are classified as:
- Northern group (The Kurmanji dialect group.)
- Central group (Part of the Sorani dialect group)
- Southern group (Part of the Sorani dialect group) including Kermanshahi, Ardalani and Laki
The Zaza and Gorani are ethnic Kurds,Zaza–Gorani languages are not classified as Kurdish.
Commenting on the differences between the dialects of Kurdish, Kreyenbroek clarifies that in some ways, Kurmanji and Sorani are as different from each other as English and German, giving the example that Kurmanji has grammatical gender and case endings, but Sorani does not, and observing that referring to Sorani and Kurmanji as “dialects” of one language is supported only by “their common origin…and the fact that this usage reflects the sense of ethnic identity and unity of the Kurds.”
The number of Kurds living in Southwest Asia is estimated at 26-34 million, with another one or two million living in diaspora. Kurds are the fourth largest ethnicity in Western Asia after the Arabs, Persians, and Turks.
Kurds comprise anywhere from 18% to 25% of the population in Turkey, 15-20% in Iraq, 9% in Syria, 7% in Iran and 1.3% in Armenia. In all of these countries except Iran, Kurds form the second largest ethnic group. Roughly 55% of the world’s Kurds live in Turkey, about 18% each in Iran and Iraq, and a bit over 5% in Syria.
McDowall has estimated that in 1991 the Kurds comprised 19% of the population in Turkey, 23% in Iraq, 10% in Iran, and 8% in Syria. The total number of Kurds in 1991 was in this estimate placed at 22.5 million, with 48% of this number living in Turkey, 18% in Iraq, 24% in Iran, and 4% in Syria.
The Kurds as an ethnic group appear in the medieval period. The Kurdish people are believed to be of heterogenous origins combining a number of earlier tribal or ethnic groups including Median, Lullubi, Guti, Cyrtians, Carduchi. They have also absorbed some elements from Semitic,Turkic and Armenian people. According to J.P. Mallory, the original Gutians precede the arrival of Indo-Iranian peoples (of which the Kurds are one) by some 1500 years. This argument is seconded by F. Hennerbichlers theory which reassigns the ethnic Iranian origin of Kurds (traditionally considered Indo-European) to a people of predominantly unknown ancient Middle Eastern stock, in particular to indigenous Neolithic Northern Fertile Crescent aborigines. This hypothesis is supported by the tentative linguistic identification of Kurds as a people “Iranianized in several waves by militarily organized elites of immigrants from Central Asia”, tentatively ascribing it to carriers of the Y-Dna haplogroup R1a1.
Additionally Minorsky states that there is an “ethno-geographical identification” of present day Kurds as descendent of ancient Medes, an idea based on his “historical, linguistic, and philological” arguments. This was further advanced by I. Gershevitch who provided first “a piece of linguistic confirmation” of Minorsky’s identification and then another “sociolinguistic” argument. Those works of Minorsky were the base of yet another and different approach by Mackenzie. He argued that in contrast to Minorsky (and precisely Gershevitch’s advancement) the evolution of the present day Kurdish language as a Northwestern Iranian language was to “lean more toward Persian” and in turn “marked off from Median”. These disagreements of scholars caused bitter reactions. Dandamaev considers Carduchi (who were from the upper Tigris near the Assyrian and Median borders) less likely than Cyrtians as ancestors of modern Kurds. However according to McDowall, the term Cyrtii was first applied to Seleucid or Parthian mercenary slingers from Zagros, and it is not clear if it denoted a coherent linguistic or ethnic group. Gershevitch and Fisher consider the independent Kardouchoi or Carduchi as the ancestors of the Kurds, or at least the original nucleus of the Iranian-speaking people in what is now Kurdistan.
There are multiple legends that detail the origins of the Kurds. One details the Kurds as being the descendants of King Solomon’s angelic servants (Djinn). These were sent to Europe to bring him five-hundred beautiful maidens, for the king’s harem. However, when these had done so and returned to Israel the king had already passed away. As such, the Djinn settled in the mountains, married the women themselves, and their offspring came to be known as the Kurds.
Additionally, in the legend of Newroz, an evil Assyrian king named Zahak, who had two snakes growing out of his shoulders, had conquered Iran, and terrorized its subjects; demanding daily sacrifices in the form of young men’s brains. Unknowingly to Zahak, the cooks of the palace saved one of the men, and mixed the brains of the other with those of a sheep. The men that were saved were told to flee to the mountains. Hereafter, Kaveh the Blacksmith, who had already lost several of his children to Zahak, trained the men in the mountains, and stormed Zahak’s palace, severing the heads of the snakes and killing the tyrannical king. Kaveh was instilled as the new king, and his followers formed the beginning of the Kurdish people.
In the writings of the Ottoman Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi, there’s also a legend concerning the Kurds to be found. He states to have learned of this legend from a certainMighdisî, an Armenian historian:
||According to the chronicler Mighdisî, the first town to be built after Noah’s Flood was the town of Judi, followed by the fortresses of Sinjar and Mifariqin. The town of Judi was ruled by Melik Kürdim of the Prophet Noah’s community, a man who lived no less than 600 years and who travelled the length and width of Kurdistan. Coming to Mifariqin he liked its climate and settled there, begetting many children and descendants. He invented a language of his own, independent of Hebrew. It is neither Hebrew nor Arabic, Farsi, Dari or Pahlavi; they still call it the language of Kürdim. So the Kurdish language, which was invented in Mifariqin and is now used throughout Kurdistan, owes its name to Melik Kürdim of the community of the Prophet Noah. Because Kurdistan is an endless stony stretch of mountains, there are no less than twelve varieties of Kurdish, differing from one another in pronunciation and vocabulary, so that they often have to use interpreters to understand one another’s words.
The first attestation of the Kurds was during the time of rule of the Sassanids. In the Kar-Namag i Ardashir i Pabagan, a short prose work written in Middle Persian, Ardashir I is depicted as having battled the Kurds and their leader, Madig. After initially sustaining a heavy defeat, Ardashir I was successful in subjugating the Kurds. In a letter Ardashir I received from his foe, Ardavan V, which is also featured in the same work, he’s referred to as being a Kurd himself.
- You’ve bitten off more than you can chew
- and you have brought death to yourself.
- O son of a Kurd, raised in the tents of the Kurds,
- who gave you permission to put a crown on your head?
The usage of the term Kurd during this time period most likely was a social term, designating Iranian nomads, rather than a concrete ethnic group. At least one author believes Ardashir I to have actually descended from a Kurdish tribe.
Similarly, in 360 CE, the Sassanid king Shapur II marched into the Roman province Zabdicene, to conquer its chief city, Bezabde, present-day Cizre. He found it heavily fortified, and guarded by three legions and a large body of Kurdish archers. After a long and hard-fought siege, Shapur II breached the walls, conquered the city and massacred all its defenders. Hereafter he had the strategically located city repaired, provisioned and garrisoned with his best troops.
There is also a 7th-century text by an unidentified author, written about the legendary Christian martyr Mar Qardagh. He lived in the 4th century, during the reign of Shapur II, and during his travels is said to have encountered Mar Abdisho, a deacon and martyr, who, after having been questioned of his origins by Mar Qardagh and his Marzobans, stated that his parents were originally from an Assyrian village called Hazza, but were driven out and subsequently settled in Tamanon, a village in the land of the Kurds, identified as being in the region of Mount Judi.
In the early Middle Ages, the Kurds sporadically appear in Arabic sources, though the term was still not being used for a specific people; instead it referred to an amalgam of nomadic western Iranic tribes, who were distinct from Persians. However, in the High Middle Ages, the Kurdish ethnic identity gradually materialized, as one can find clear evidence of the Kurdish ethnic identity and solidarity in texts of the 12th and 13th century, though, the term was also still being used in the social sense.
Al-Tabari wrote that in 639, Hormuzan, a Sasanian general originating from a noble family, battled against the Islamic invaders in Khuzestan, and called upon the Kurds to aid him in battle. They were defeated however, and brought under Islamic rule.
In 838, a Kurdish leader based in Mosul, named Mir Jafar, revolted against the Caliph Al-Mu’tasim who sent the commander Itakh to combat him. Itakh won this war and executed many of the Kurds. Eventually Arabs conquered the Kurdish regions and gradually converted the majority of Kurds to Islam, often incorporating them into the military, such as the Hamdanids whose dynastic family members also frequently intermarried with Kurds.
In 934 the Daylamite Buyid dynasty was founded, and subsequently conquered most of present-day Iran and Iraq. During the time of rule of this dynasty, Kurdish chief and ruler, Badr ibn Hasanwaih, established himself as one of the most important emirs of the time.
In the 10th-12th centuries, a number of Kurdish principalities and dynasties were founded, ruling Kurdistan and neighbouring areas:
Due to the Turkic invasion of Anatolia, the 11th century Kurdish dynasties crumbled and became incorporated into the Seljuk Dynasty. Kurds would hereafter be used in great numbers in the armies of theZengids. Succeeding the Zengids, the Kurdish Ayyubids established themselves in 1171, first under the leadership of Saladin. Saladin led the Muslims to recapture the city of Jerusalem from the Crusaders at theBattle of Hattin; also frequently clashing with the Hashashins. The Ayyubid dynasty lasted until 1341 when the Ayyubid sultanate fell to Mongolian invasions.
The Safavid Dynasty, established in 1501, also established its rule over Kurdish territories. The paternal line of this family actually had Kurdish roots, tracing back to Firuz-Shah Zarrin-Kolah, a dignitary who moved from Kurdistan to Ardabil in the 11th century.
Nevertheless, the Kurds would revolt several times against the Safavids. Shah Ismail I put down a Yezidi rebellion which went on from 1506-1510. A century later, the year-long Battle of Dimdim took place, wherein Shah Abbas I succeeded in putting down the rebellion led by Amir Khan Lepzerin. Hereafter, a large number of Kurds was deported to Khorasan, not only to weaken the Kurds, but also to protect the eastern border from invading Afghan and Turkmen tribes. Others migrated to Afghanistan where they took refuge. Kurds were found in great numbers at the slave markets of Khiva and Bukhara, being sold by the Turkmens. The Kurds of Khorasan, numbering around 700,000, still use the Kurmanji Kurdish dialect.
After the fall of the Safavids, Iran fell into civil war, with multiple leaders trying to gain control over the country. Ultimately, it was Karim Khan, a Laki general of the Zand tribe (perhaps of Kurdish origin) One of the contenders for power was Karim Khan Zand, a member of the Lak tribe near Shiraz. who proved to be superiour, and became ruler of Iran with the exception of the Khorasan region.
The country would flourish during Karim Khan’s reign; a strong resurgence of the arts would take place, the economy was restored and international ties were strengthened. Karim Khan was portrayed as being a ruler who truly cared about his subjects, thereby gaining the title Vakil e-Ra’aayaa (Representative of the People).
After Karim Khan’s death, the dynasty would decline in favor of the rivaling Qajars due to infighting between the Khan’s incompetent offspring. It wasn’t until Lotf Ali Khan, 10 years later, that the dynasty would once again be led by an adept ruler. By this time however, the Qajars had already progressed greatly, having taken a number of Zand territories. Lotf Ali Khan made multiple successes before ultimately succumbing to the rivaling faction. Iran and all its Kurdish territories would hereby be incorporated in the Qajar Dynasty.
The Kurdish tribes present in Baluchistan and some of those in Fars are believed to be remnants of those that assisted and accompanied Lotf Ali Khan and Karim Khan, respectively.
When Sultan Selim I, after defeating Shah Ismail I in 1514, annexed Armenia and Kurdistan, he entrusted the organisation of the conquered territories to Idris, the historian, who was a Kurd of Bitlis. He divided the territory into sanjaks or districts, and, making no attempt to interfere with the principle of heredity, installed the local chiefs as governors. He also resettled the rich pastoral country between Erzerum and Erivan, which had lain in waste since the passage of Timur, with Kurds from the Hakkari and Bohtan districts.
The Ottoman centralist policies in the beginning of the 19th century aimed to remove power from the principalities and localities, which directly affected the Kurdish emirs. Bedirhan Bey was the last emir of the Cizre Bohtan Emirate after initiating an uprising in 1847 against the Ottomans to protect the current structures of the Kurdish principalities. Although his uprising is not classified as a nationalist one, his children played significant roles in the emergence and the development of Kurdish nationalism through the next century.
The first modern Kurdish nationalist movement emerged in 1880 with an uprising led by a Kurdish landowner and head of the powerful Shemdinan family, Sheik Ubeydullah, who demanded political autonomy or outright independence for Kurds as well as the recognition of a Kurdistan state without interference from Turkish or Persian authorities. The uprising against Qajar Persia and the Ottoman Empire was ultimately suppressed by the Ottomans and Ubeydullah, along with other notables, were exiled to Istanbul.
Kurdish nationalism emerged after World War I with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire which had historically successfully integrated (but not assimilated) the Kurds, through use of forced repression of Kurdish movements to gain independence. Revolts did occur sporadically but only in 1880 with the uprising led by Sheik Ubeydullah were demands as an ethnic group or nation made. Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid responded by a campaign of integration by co-opting prominent Kurdish opponents to strong Ottoman power with prestigious positions in his government. This strategy appears successful given the loyalty displayed by the Kurdish Hamidiye regiments during World War I.
The Kurdish ethnonationalist movement that emerged following World War I and end of the Ottoman empire was largely reactionary to the changes taking place in mainstream Turkey, primarily radical secularization which the strongly Muslim Kurds abhorred, centralization of authority which threatened the power of local chieftains and Kurdish autonomy, and rampant Turkish nationalism in the new Turkish Republic which obviously threatened to marginalize them.
Kurdish Cavalry in the passes of the Caucasus mountains (The New York Times, January 24, 1915).
Jakob Künzler, head of a missionary hospital in Urfa, has documented the large scale ethnic cleansing of both Armenians and Kurds by the Young Turks during World War I. He has given a detailed account of deportation of Kurds from Erzurum and Bitlis in winter of 1916. The Kurds were perceived to be subversive elements that would take the Russian side in the war. In order to eliminate this threat, Young Turks embarked on a large scale deportation of Kurds from the regions of Djabachdjur, Palu, Musch, Erzurum and Bitlis. Around 300,000 Kurds were forced to move southwards to Urfa and then westwards to Aintab and Marasch. In the summer of 1917, Kurds were moved to the Konya region in central Anatolia. Through this measures, the Young Turk leaders aimed at eliminating the Kurds by deporting them from their ancestral lands and by dispersing them in small pockets of exiled communities. By the end of World War I, up to 700,000 Kurds were forcibly deported and almost half of the displaced perished.
Some of the Kurdish groups sought self-determination and the championing in the Treaty of Sèvres of Kurdish autonomy in the aftermath of World War I, Kemal Atatürk prevented such a result. Kurds backed by the United Kingdom declared independence in 1927 and established so-called Republic of Ararat. Turkey suppressed Kurdist revolts in 1925, 1930, and 1937–1938, while Iran did the same in the 1920s to Simko Shikak at Lake Urmia and Jaafar Sultan of Hewraman region who controlled the region betweenMarivan and north of Halabja. A short-lived Soviet-sponsored Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran did not long outlast World War II.
Kurdish-inhabited areas of the Middle East and the Soviet Union in 1986.
From 1922–1924 in Iraq a Kingdom of Kurdistan existed. When Ba’athist administrators thwarted Kurdish nationalist ambitions in Iraq, war broke out in the 1960s. In 1970 the Kurds rejected limited territorial self-rule within Iraq, demanding larger areas including the oil-richKirkuk region.
During the 1920s and 1930s, several large scale Kurdish revolts took place in Kurdistan Following these rebellions, the area of Turkish Kurdistan was put under martial law and a large number of the Kurds were displaced. Government also encouraged resettlement of Albanians from Kosovo and Assyrians in the region to change the population makeup. These events and measures led to a long-lasting mutual distrust between Ankara and the Kurds . During the relatively open government of the 1950s, Kurds gained political office and started working within the framework of the Turkish Republic to further their interests but this move towards integration was halted with the 1960 Turkish coup d’état. The 1970s saw an evolution in Kurdish nationalism as Marxist political thought influenced a new generation of Kurdish nationalists opposed to the localfeudal authorities who had been a traditional source of opposition to authority, eventually they would form the militant separatist PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, European Union, NATO and many states that includes United States), or Kurdistan Workers Party in English.
Kurds are often regarded as “the largest ethnic group without a state”, although larger stateless nations exist. Such periphrasis is rejected by leading Kurdologists like Martin van Bruinessen and other scholars who agree that claim obscures Kurdish cultural, social, political and ideological heterogeneity.Michael Radu argues such meaningless claims mostly come from Western human rights militants, leftists and Kurdish nationalists in Europe.
According to CIA Factbook, Kurds formed approximately 18% of the population in Turkey (approximately 14 million) in 2008. One Western source estimates that up to 25% of the Turkish population is Kurdish (approximately 18-19 million people). Kurdish sources claim there are as many as 20 or 25 million Kurds in Turkey. In 1980, Ethnologue estimated the number of Kurdish-speakers in Turkey at around five million, when the country’s population stood at 44 million. Kurds form the largest minority group in Turkey, and they have posed the most serious and persistent challenge to the official image of a homogeneous society. This classification was changed to the new euphemism of Eastern Turk in 1980.
Several large scale Kurdish revolts in 1925, 1930 and 1938 were suppressed by the Turkish government and more than one million Kurds were forcibly relocated between 1925 and 1938. The use of Kurdish language, dress, folklore, and names were banned and the Kurdish-inhabited areas remained under martial law until 1946. The Ararat revolt, which reached its apex in 1930, was only suppressed after a massive military campaign including destruction of many villages and their populations. In quelling the revolt, Turkey was assisted by the close cooperation of its neighboring states such as Soviet Union, Iran and Iraq. The revolt was organized by a Kurdish party called Khoybun which signed a treaty with the Dashnaksutyun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) in 1927. By the 1970s, Kurdish leftist organizations such as Kurdistan Socialist Party-Turkey (KSP-T) emerged in Turkey which were against violence and supported civil activities and participation in elections. In 1977, Mehdi Zana a supporter of KSP-T won the mayoralty of Diyarbakir in the local elections. At about the same time, generational fissures gave birth to two new organizations: the National Liberation of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Workers Party.
The Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK), also known as KADEK and Kongra-Gel, is considered by the US, the EU, and NATO to be a terrorist organization. It is an ethnicsecessionist organization using violence for the purpose of achieving its goal of creating an independent Kurdish state in parts of southeastern Turkey, northeastern Iraq, northeastern Syria and northwestern Iran.
Between 1984 and 1999, the PKK and the Turkish military engaged in open war, and much of the countryside in the southeast was depopulated, as Kurdish civilians moved to local defensible centers such as Diyarbakır, Van, and Şırnak, as well as to the cities of western Turkey and even to western Europe. The causes of the depopulation included PKK atrocities against Kurdish clans they could not control, the poverty of the southeast, and the Turkish state’s military operations. State actions also included forced inscription, forced evacuation, destruction of villages, severe harassment and extrajudicial executions.
Leyla Zana, the first Kurdish female MP from Diyarbakir, caused an uproar in Turkish Parliament after adding the following sentence inKurdish to her parliamentary oath during the swearing-in ceremony in 1994:
I take this oath for the brotherhood of the Turkish and Kurdish peoples. —
In March 1994, the Turkish Parliament voted to lift the immunity of Zana and five other Kurdish DEP members: Hatip Dicle, Ahmet Turk, Sirri Sakik, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak. Zana, Dicle, Sadak and Dogan were sentenced to 15 years in jail by the Supreme Court in October 1995. Zana was awarded the Sakharov Prize for human rights by theEuropean Parliament in 1995. She was released in 2004 amid warnings from European institutions that the continued imprisonment of the four Kurdish MPs would affect Turkey’s bid to join the EU. The 2009 local elections resulted in 5.7% for Kurdish political party DTP.
Officially protected death squads are accused of disappearance of 3,200 Kurds and Assyrians in 1993 and 1994 in the so-called mystery killings. Kurdish politicians, human-rights activists, journalists, teachers and other members of intelligentsia were among the victims. Virtually none of the perpetrators were investigated nor punished. Turkish government also encouraged Islamic extremist group Hezbollah to assassinate suspected PKK members and often ordinary Kurds. Azimet Köylüoğlu, the state minister of human rights, revealed the extent of security forces’ excesses in autumn 1994: While acts of terrorism in other regions are done by the PKK; in Tunceli it is state terrorism. In Tunceli, it is the state that is evacuating and burning villages. In the southeast there are two million people left homeless.
The Kurdish region of Iran has been a part of the country since ancient times. Nearly all Kurdistan was part of Iranian Empire until its Western part was lost during wars against the Ottoman Empire. Following dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, at Paris Conferences of 1919 Tehran has demanded all lost territories including Turkish Kurdistan,Mosul, and even Diyarbakır, but demands were quickly rejected by Western powers. This area has been divided by modern Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Today, the Kurds inhabit mostly north western territories known as Iranian Kurdistan but also north eastern region of Khorasan, and constitute approximately 7-10% of Iran’s overall population (6.5–7.9 million), comparing to 10.6% (2 million) in 1956 or 8% (800 thousand) in 1850.
Unlike in other Kurdish-populated countries, there are strong ethnolinguistical and cultural ties between Kurds, Persians and others as Iranian peoples. Some of modern Iranian dynasties like Safavids and Zands are considered to be partly of Kurdish origin. Kurdish literature in all of its forms (Kurmanji, Sorani and Gorani) has been developed within historical Iranianboundaries under strong influence of Persian language. Fact that Kurds share much of their history with the rest of Iran is seen as reason why Kurdish leaders in Iran do not want a separate Kurdish state
The government of Iran has never employed the same level of brutality against its own Kurds like Turkey or Iraq, but it has always been implacably opposed to any suggestion of Kurdish separatism. During and shortly after First World War the government of Iran was ineffective and had very little control over events in the country and several Kurdish tribal chiefs gained local political power, even established large confederations. In the same time, wave of nationalism from disintegrating Ottoman Empire has partly influenced some Kurdish chiefs in border region, and they posed as Kurdish nationalist leaders. Prior to this, identity in both countries largely relied upon religion i.e. Shia Islam in the particular case of Iran. In 19th century Iran, Shia–Sunni animosity and describing Sunni Kurds as Ottoman fifth column was quite frenquent.
During late 1910’s and early 1920’s, tribal revolt led by Kurdish chieftain Simko Shikak stroke north western Iran. Although elements of Kurdish nationalism were present in this movement, historians agree these were hardly articulate enough to justify a claim that recognition of Kurdish identity was a major issue in Simko’s movement, and he had to rely heavily on conventional tribal motives. Government forces and non-Kurds were not the only ones to suffer in the attacks, theKurdish population was also robbed and assaulted. Rebels do not appear to have felt any sense of unity or solidarity with fellow Kurds. Kurdish insurgency and seasonal migrations in late 1920’s, along with long-running tensions between Tehran and Ankara, resulted in border clashes and even military penetrations in both Iranian and Turkish territory. Two regional powers have used Kurdish tribes as tool for own political benefits: Turkey has provided military help and refuge for anti-Iranian Turcophone Shikak rebels in 1918-1922, while Iran did the same during Ararat rebellion against Turkey in 1930. Reza Shah‘s military victory over Kurdish and Turkic tribal leaders initiaded with repressive era toward non-Iranian minorities. Government’s forced detribalization andsedentarization in 1920’s and 1930’s resulted with many other tribal revolts in Iranian regions of Azerbaijan, Luristan and Kurdistan. In particular case of the Kurds, this repressive policies partly contributed to developing nationalism among some tribes.
As a response to growing Pan-Turkism and Pan-Arabism in region which were seen as potential threats to the territorial integrity of Iran, Pan-Iranist ideology has been developed in the early 1920s. Some of such groups and journals openly advocated Iranian support to the Kurdish rebellion against Turkey. Secular Pahlavi dynasty has endorsed Iranian ethnic nationalism which seen the Kurds as integral part of the Iranian nation. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi has personally praised the Kurds as “pure Iranians” or “one of the most noble Iranian peoples“. Another significant ideology during this period was Marxism which arose among Kurds under influence of USSR. It culminated in the Iran crisis of 1946 which included a separatist attempt of KDP-I and communist groups to establish the Soviet puppet governmentcalled Republic of Mahabad. It arose along with Azerbaijan People’s Government, another Soviet puppet state. The state itself encompassed a very small territory, including Mahabad and the adjacent cities, unable to incorporate the southern Iranian Kurdistan which fell inside the Anglo-American zone, and unable to attract the tribes outside Mahabad itself to the nationalist cause. As a result, when the Soviets withdrew from Iran in December 1946, government forces were able to enter Mahabad unopposed.
Several Marxist insurgencies continuted for decades (1967, 1979, 1989–96) led by KDP-I and Komalah, but those two organization have never advocated a separate Kurdish state or greater Kurdistan as did the PKK in Turkey. Still, many of dissident leaders, among others Qazi Muhammad and Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, were executed or assassinated. During Iran–Iraq War, Tehran has provided support for Iraqi-based Kurdish groups like KDP or PUK, along with asylum for 1,400,000 Iraqi refugees, mostly Kurds. Although Kurdish Marxist groups have been marginalized in Iran since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in 2004 new insurrection has been started by PJAK, separatist organization affiliated with the Turkey-based PKK and designated as terrorist by Iran, Turkey and the USA. Some analysts claim PJAK do not pose any serious threat to the government of Iran. Cease-fire has been established on September 2011 following the Iranian offensive on PJAK bases, but several clashes between PJAK and IRGC took place after it.Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, accusations of “discrimination” by Western organizations and of “foreign involvement” by Iranian side have become very frequent.
Kurds have been well integrated in Iranian political life during reign of various governments. Kurdish liberal political Karim Sanjabi has served as minister of education underMohammad Mossadegh in 1952. During the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi some members of parliament and high army officers were Kurds, and there was even a Kurdish Cabinet Minister. During the reign of the Pahlavis Kurds received many favours from the authorities, for instance to keep their land after the land reforms of 1962. In early 2000’s, presence of thirty Kurdish deputies in the 290-strong parliament has also helped to undermine claims of discrimination. Some of influential Kurdish politicians during recent years include former first vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Mayor of Tehran and second-placed presidential candidate in 2013. Kurdish language is today used more than at any other time since the Revolution, including in several newspapers and among schoolchildren. Large number of Kurds in Iran show no interest in Kurdish nationalism, especially Shia Kurds who even vigorously reject idea of autonomy, preferring direct rule from Tehran. Iranian national identity is questioned only in the peripheral Kurdish Sunni regions.
Kurds constitute approximately 17% of Iraq’s population. They are the majority in at least three provinces in northern Iraq which are together known as Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurds also have a presence in Kirkuk, Mosul, Khanaqin, and Baghdad. Around 300,000 Kurds live in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 50,000 in the city of Mosul and around 100,000 elsewhere in southern Iraq.
Kurds led by Mustafa Barzani were engaged in heavy fighting against successive Iraqi regimes from 1960 to 1975. In March 1970, Iraq announced a peace plan providing for Kurdish autonomy. The plan was to be implemented in four years. However, at the same time, the Iraqi regime started an Arabization program in the oil-rich regions ofKirkuk and Khanaqin. The peace agreement did not last long, and in 1974, the Iraqi government began a new offensive against the Kurds. Moreover in March 1975, Iraq and Iran signed the Algiers Accord, according to which Iran cut supplies to Iraqi Kurds. Iraq started another wave of Arabization by moving Arabs to the oil fields in Kurdistan, particularly those around Kirkuk. Between 1975 and 1978, 200,000 Kurds were deported to other parts of Iraq.
During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the regime implemented anti-Kurdish policies and a de facto civil war broke out. Iraq was widely condemned by the international community, but was never seriously punished for oppressive measures such as the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians, the wholesale destruction of thousands of villages and the deportation of thousands of Kurds to southern and central Iraq.
The genocidal campaign, conducted between 1986 and 1989 and culminating in 1988, carried out by the Iraqi government against the Kurdish population was called Anfal (“Spoils of War”). The Anfal campaign led to destruction of over two thousand villages and killing of 182,000 Kurdish civilians. The campaign included the use of ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportation, firing squads, and chemical attacks, including the most infamous attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 that killed 5000 civilians instantly.
After the collapse of the Kurdish uprising in March 1991, Iraqi troops recaptured most of the Kurdish areas and 1.5 million Kurds abandoned their homes and fled to the Turkish and Iranian borders. It is estimated that close to 20,000 Kurds succumbed to death due to exhaustion, lack of food, exposure to cold and disease. On 5 April 1991, UN Security Council passed resolution 688 which condemned the repression of Iraqi Kurdish civilians and demanded that Iraq end its repressive measures and allow immediate access to international humanitarian organizations. This was the first international document (since the League of Nationsarbitration of Mosul in 1926) to mention Kurds by name. In mid-April, the Coalition established safe havens inside Iraqi borders and prohibited Iraqi planes from flying north of 36th parallel. In October 1991, Kurdish guerrillas captured Erbil and Sulaimaniyah after a series of clashes with Iraqi troops. In late October, Iraqi government retaliated by imposing a food and fuel embargo on the Kurds and stopping to pay civil servants in the Kurdish region. The embargo, however, backfired and Kurds held parliamentary elections in May 1992 and established Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The Kurdish population welcomed the American troops in 2003 by holding celebrations and dancing in the streets. The area controlled by peshmerga was expanded, and Kurds now have effective control in Kirkuk and parts of Mosul. The authority of the KRG and legality of its laws and regulations were recognized in the articles 113 and 137 of the new Iraqi Constitution ratified in 2005. By the beginning of 2006, the two Kurdish administrations of Erbil and Sulaimaniya were unified. On August 14, 2007 Yazidis were targeted in a series of bombings that became the deadliest suicide attack since the Iraq War began, killing 796 civilians, wounding 1,562.
Main article: Kurds in Syria
Kurds account for 9% of Syria‘s population, a total of around 1.6 million people. This makes them the largest ethnic minority in the country. They are mostly concentrated in the northeast and the north, but there are also significant Kurdish populations in Aleppo and Damascus. Kurds often speak Kurdish in public, unless all those present do not. According to Amnesty International, Kurdish human rights activists are mistreated and persecuted. No political parties are allowed for any group, Kurdish or otherwise.
Techniques used to suppress the ethnic identity of Kurds in Syria include various bans on the use of the Kurdish language, refusal to register children with Kurdish names, the replacement of Kurdish place names with new names in Arabic, the prohibition of businesses that do not have Arabic names, the prohibition of Kurdish private schools, and the prohibition of books and other materials written in Kurdish. Having been denied the right to Syrian nationality, around 300,000 Kurds have been deprived of any social rights, in violation of international law. As a consequence, these Kurds are in effect trapped within Syria. In March 2011, in part to avoid further demonstrations and unrest from spreading across Syria, the Syrian government promised to tackle the issue and grant Syrian citizenship to approximately 300,000 Kurds who had been previously denied the right.
On March 12, 2004, beginning at a stadium in Qamishli (a largely Kurdish city in northeastern Syria), clashes between Kurds and Syrians broke out and continued over a number of days. At least thirty people were killed and more than 160 injured. The unrest spread to other Kurdish towns along the northern border with Turkey, and then to Damascus and Aleppo.
As a result of Syrian civil war, since July 2012, Kurds were able to take control of large parts of Syrian Kurdistan from Andiwar in extreme northeast to Jindires in extreme northwest Syria.
Between the 1930s and 1980s, Armenia was a part of the Soviet Union, within which Kurds, like other ethnic groups, had the status of a protected minority. Armenian Kurds were permitted their own state-sponsored newspaper, radio broadcasts and cultural events. During the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, many non-Yazidi Kurds were forced to leave their homes since both the Azeri and non-Yazidi Kurds were Muslim.
In 1920, two Kurdish-inhabited areas of Jewanshir (capital Kalbajar) and eastern Zangazur (capital Lachin) were combined to form the Kurdistan Okrug (or “Red Kurdistan”). The period of existence of the Kurdish administrative unit was brief and did not last beyond 1929. Kurds subsequently faced many repressive measures, including deportations, imposed by the Soviet government. As a result of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, many Kurdish areas have been destroyed and more than 150,000 Kurds have been deported since 1988 by separatist Armenian forces.
According to a report by the Council of Europe, approximately 1.3 million Kurds live in Western Europe. The earliest immigrants were Kurds from Turkey, who settled inGermany, Austria, the Benelux countries, Great Britain, Switzerland and France during the 1960s. Successive periods of political and social turmoil in the region during the 1980s and 1990s brought new waves of Kurdish refugees, mostly from Iran and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, came to Europe. In recent years, many Kurdish asylum seekers from both Iran and Iraq have settled in the United Kingdom (especially in the town of Dewsbury and in some northern areas of London), which has sometimes caused media controversy over their right to remain. There have been tensions between Kurds and the established Muslim community in Dewsbury, which is home to very traditional mosques such as the Markazi. There was substantial immigration of Kurds into North America, who are mainly political refugees and immigrants seeking economic opportunity. Kurdish immigrants started to settle in large numbers in Nashville in 1976, which is now home to the largest Kurdish community in the United States and is nicknamed Little Kurdistan. Kurdish population in Nashville is estimated to be around 11,000. Total number of ethnic Kurds residing in the United States is estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to be around 15,000. According to the 2006 Canadian Census, there were over 9,000 people of Kurdish ethnic background living in Canadaand according to the 2011 Census, more than 10,000 Canadians spoke Kurdish language.
As a whole, the Kurdish people are adherents to a large amount of different religions and creeds, perhaps constituting the most religiously diverse people of West Asia. Traditionally, Kurds have been known to take great liberties with their practices. This sentiment is reflected in the saying “Compared to the unbeliever, the Kurd is a Muslim”.
Main articles: Islam
The Zulfiqar, symbol for the Shia Muslims and Alevis.
Today, the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslim, belonging to the Shafi school.
There is also a minority of Kurds who are Shia Muslims, primarily living in the Ilam and Kermanshah provinces of Iran, Central and south eastern Iraq (Fayli Kurds)
Mystical practices and participation in Sufi orders are also widespread among Kurds.
The Alevis (usually considered adherents of a branch of Shia Islam) are another religious minority among the Kurds, living in Eastern Anatolia. Alevism developed out of the teachings of Haji Bektash Veli, a 13th-century mystic from Khorasan. Among the Qizilbash, the militant groups which predate the Alevis and helped establish the Safavid Dynasty, there were numerous Kurdish tribes. The American missionary Trowbridge, working at Aintab (present Gaziantep) reported that his Alevi acquaintances considered as their highest spiritual leaders an Ahl-i Haqq sayyid family in the Guran district.
Ahl-i Haqq (Yarsan)
Ahl-i Haqq is a syncretic religion founded by Sultan Sahak in the late 14th century in western Iran. Most of its adherents, totaling around 1,000,000, are Kurds. Its central religious text is the Kalâm-e Saranjâm, written in Gurani.
In this text, the religion’s basic pillars are summarized as such:
The Yarsan should strive for these four qualities: purity, rectitude, self-effacement and self-abnegation.
The Yârsân faith’s unique features include millenarism, nativism, egalitarianism, metempsychosis, angelology, divine manifestation and dualism. Many of these features are found in Yazidism, another Kurdish faith, in the faith of Zoroastrians and in Shī‘ah extremist groups; certainly, the names and religious terminology of the Yârsân are often explicitly of Muslim origin. Unlike other indigenous Persianate faiths, the Yârsân explicitly reject class, caste and rank, which sets them apart from the Yezidis and Zoroastrians.
The Ahl-i Haqq consider the Bektashi and Alevi as kindred communities.
Yazidism is another syncretic religion practiced among Kurdish communities, founded by Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, an 12th-century mystic from Lebanon. Their numbers exceed 500,000. Its central religious texts are the Kitêba Cilwe and Meshaf Resh
According to Yazidi beliefs, God created the world but left it in the care of a heptad of holy beings or angels. The most prominent angel is Melek Taus (Kurdish: Tawûsê Melek), the Peacock Angel, God’s representative on earth. Yazidis believe in the periodic reincarnation of the seven holy beings in human form.
Their holiest shrine and the tomb of the faith’s founder is located in Lalish, in northern Iraq.
Main article: Zoroastrianism
Presently, there are a small number of Zoroastrian Kurds, most of which are recent converts. These communities have established new temples and have been attempting to recruit new members to their faith. The Kurdish philosopher Sohrevardi drew heavily from Zoroastrian teachings.
Main article: Kurdish Jews