Who are the Kurds?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2019
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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.


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