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The Kurds are people of Indo-European origin from Kurdistan. Kurdistan means "land of the Kurds" and is located in Southwest Asia in the mountainous region between Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. The Kurds were traditionally nomadic people, spending much of their time herding sheep and goats in the highland areas of Turkey and Iran. Life changed for the Kurds after World War I when the fall of the Ottoman Empire meant that the Kurds had no separate Kurdistan state and were no longer free to wander through the countries as they once had.
Although the British-aided Treaty of Sevres in 1920 produced new nationalist states, a Kurdish state was turned down by Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Turkey forbade the Kurds to express their traditional culture, even going as far as to prohibit them from wearing their traditional dress in Turkish cities. The Turkish government deemed the Kurds "Mountain Turks" but wanted them to live in the cities to even out the population distribution.
Iraq has also refused to see the Kurds as a separate minority and has in the past, attacked the Kurds for their support of Iran in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. Millions of Kurds fled to live in Iran after the attacks. The Kurdish people, being mostly Sunni Muslims, were also victims of the Crusades in which sources of Christian power tried to conquer them.
Much dissension exists between different factions of the Kurds. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan had a war between them over northern Iraq that lasted between 1994-1998. Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan agreed in 1998 to share their power in northern Iraq.
A tribal oriented society is important to the Kurds. The Kurds trust tribal organization as authority as they lack state government. Tribal support helps them access the government as a group rather than on an individual basis. Iran has 150 different tribes. Kurdish tribes include the Sorchi, the Herkki, and the Zibari. The Kurdish language has many dialects and is quite similar to the Persian language.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the Kurds and where do they primarily reside?
The Kurds are an ethnic group indigenous to a mountainous region known as Kurdistan, which spans southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq, and western Iran. They have their own distinct language, culture, and history. Despite their significant numbers, estimated to be around 30 to 40 million, the Kurds do not have a permanent nation-state. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Kurdish population in Turkey alone is about 19% of the country's total population.
What is the historical significance of the Kurds in the Middle East?
The Kurds have played a pivotal role in the Middle East for centuries, with their history intertwined with the rise and fall of empires. They have often been involved in regional conflicts, particularly after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when their lands were divided. The Kurds have repeatedly sought autonomy and recognition, contributing to their historical significance as a stateless nation with a persistent struggle for self-determination, as documented by scholars and historians alike.
What language do the Kurds speak, and does it have any dialects?
The Kurds speak Kurdish, which belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. Kurdish has several dialects, the most widely spoken being Kurmanji and Sorani. Kurmanji is predominantly used in Turkey, Syria, and parts of Iraq, while Sorani is common in Iraq and Iran. Each dialect has its own writing system, with Kurmanji typically written in the Latin script and Sorani in the Arabic script.
What are some cultural characteristics unique to the Kurdish people?
Kurdish culture is rich and diverse, characterized by unique music, dance, clothing, and cuisine. Traditional Kurdish music often features instruments like the duduk and saz, and dance forms such as the Halay are popular. The Kurds are also known for their distinctive clothing, with men wearing baggy trousers and women donning colorful dresses. Kurdish cuisine includes a variety of dishes, such as kebabs, dolma, and the staple flatbread, lavash.
How have the Kurds been represented in international politics?
The Kurds have often been marginalized in international politics, lacking a sovereign state to represent their interests. However, they have gained global attention through their struggles for autonomy and rights, as well as their role in fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq and the YPG and YPJ in Syria have been key partners for Western coalitions against ISIS, highlighting their political and military significance in the region.