Updated June 24, 2011
The Kurds are a Middle Eastern ethnic group that are ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Arabs, Turkish, and Iranians. About 30 million Kurds live in a mountainous region named Kurdistan, which comprises parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The Kurds are the most populous ethnic group or nation
in the world that do not have their own independent country
. The Kurds may one day become independent, but numerous issues exist in a region marred by war and disagreements over coveted natural resources such as oil.
History of the Kurds
Ancestors of the Kurds have lived in Mesopotamia for possibly 2000 years. The Kurds were traditionally tribally organized nomadic herders of sheep and goats. Beginning in the 7th century, the Kurds were conquered by the Arabs, Turks, Mongols, and Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I. The Kurds were promised their own country at this time, but partly due to opposition from Turkey, this homeland never occurred. Therefore, the Kurds became unwilling inhabitants of the several newly formed Middle Eastern countries whose borders were determined by the European victors of the war.
Geography of the Kurds
About 50% of the world's Kurds live in southeastern Turkey
. Kurds also live in northern Iraq
near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. More Kurds live in northwestern Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Armenia. The economy of Kurdistan is now dominated by oil production, some agricultural activity, and tourism.
To avoid persecution, many Kurds have moved far from the Middle East. About 60,000 people of Kurdish descent live in the United States, particularly in Nashville, Tennessee and Southern California. In Europe, about 600,000 Kurds live in Germany, 100,000 Kurds live in France, and many more live in countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Kurdish Language and Culture
The Kurdish language is spoken by approximately 30 million people. Kurdish, an Indo-European language, is related to Persian and is divided into two dialects, Kurmanji and Sorani. Previously, some countries that the Kurds inhabited banned the use of the Kurdish language in public. Today, most Kurds speak Kurdish and the dominant language of the country they live in. Almost all Kurds are Sunni Muslims, though some are Christian or Jewish. Kurdish society had traditional gender roles, though women are increasingly participating in politics. The Kurds celebrate many festivals such as the New Year, called Nowruz, and family events such as weddings, with much music and dancing.
The Kurds have been harshly treated by the governments of their countries. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein
had tens of thousands of Kurds (mostly civilians) killed by methods such as chemical weapons during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many thousands more disappeared, were imprisoned or deported, or had their villages and homes destroyed. Some Kurds violently retaliated against these genocidal abuses. An organization called the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers' Party, was founded in 1978 in Turkey. The PKK commits activities such as bombings and are now labeled as a terrorist organization. In 2003, Kurdish soldiers aided American soldiers in liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein.
Possible Future Independent Kurdistan
Kurdistan has pondered becoming a sovereign country for many centuries. However, it is unlikely for at least several years that Kurdistan will become independent. Working diplomatically with their dominant countries' governments to gain a higher degree of autonomy is probably better than complete independence at this time. Since 1991, Iraqi Kurdistan has had a great amount of political autonomy. The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan is Irbil, one of the oldest cities in the world. Iraqi Kurdistan, governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government, has a flag, parliament, military, and controls its own economy and foreign relations. The Kurds in other countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Syria want to have as much political autonomy as their fellow Kurds in Iraq.
Hope for Stability
The Kurds, an ancient Middle Eastern people, have tried to retain their culture for centuries. The Kurds deserve prosperity and peace, and they want to negotiate to gain more political rights, including the possibility of future sovereignty.