Middle East Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Middle East


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The Kurds are the people or group of peoples indigenous to Kurdistan, an area that includes parts of Northern Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Kurdish communities can also be found in Lebanon, Armenia, Azerbaijan. In recent decades, Kurds have migrated to European countries and the United States, and a significant Jewish Kurdish community migrated to Israel.  Kurds speak several varieties Kurdish, an Iranian-Branch Indo-European language. The Kurd language is sometimes considered to be a language "family" because of the linguistic distance between the different dialects, and different branches or tribes of Kurd peoples such as Dimli (or Zaza) and Qizilbashi (or Kisilbashi) are sometimes treated as separate peoples. It is not clear to what extent this reflects reality or political bias. Different members of the Dimli may insist they are Kurds, or a religious group or a separate people or a tribe of the Kurds, for example. 

There are about 26-36 million Kurds in the world, with the largest concentration, 10-15 million, in Turkey. The map below shows the major areas of Kurdish concentration. The settlements in outlying districts away from the central area of Kurdistan, reflect in part attempts at resettlement and ethnic cleansing by various Turkish and Iranian Muslim rulers. Alone among the major peoples of the Middle East, the Kurds were denied self determination after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Kurds in the Middle East

Major Kurdish populations in the Middle East

Kurd Language Groups 

Kurds speak a variety of dialects based evidently on  the same Indo-European (or Indo-Persian) root language, as distinct from the Semitic Arabic tongue. The language is also a means of tracing kinship and "peoplehood" or clanhood.   As Kurds have been geographically separated and subject to different regimes, it is difficult to know which of these dialects and language differences if any are due to splitting off from a common root, and which might reflect migrations of separate peoples. Major Kurdish language or dialect groups reflect either the major Kurdish peoples or tribes, depending on one's outlook, and may include some who are not Kurds by some definitions such as the Zaza.  Kurdish is written using Latin characters in Turkey and now in Iraq, and in an adapted Arabic alphabet in Iran and Iraq. Kurds living in Russia use the Cyrillic alphabet. There are many different classifications of Kurdish peoples and languages. This is one of them. A somewhat different and more detailed one is below. According to this classification, the Kurdish languages are:

Northern Kurdish  - Kurmanji or Kurmanci. Originally apparently "Kurdmanci, meaning "Kurds who stayed in their place"  and supposedly includes Kurds of northwest Iran and Iraq, most Turkish and and Syrian Kurds. It is the most widely spoken and apparently the most ancient of the Kurdish dialects, least influenced by Persian and Turkish.  

Central Kurdish -  Sorani or Kurdi named for the emirate of Soran abolished by the Ottomans in 1835. Soran is in Iraq, but most Sorani Kurds evidently live in Iran. Its speakers include Kurds living primarily in Iran south of Lake Orumiyeh and to the east of the Kurmanjī regions and northeastern Iraq.  Some classifications refer to this as southern Kurdish.

Southern Kurdish - Also called Pahlavanī. It includes the Kurds of Bukhtaran.and  is spoken by scattered groups in the southern Kurdistan, living among mainly Kurmanjī-speaking Kurds.

Zazaki or Dimli: Zazaki or Dimli is mostly spoken by the Dimli people in central Anatolia and also in Georgia and Armenia. It includes -

  • Northern Zazaki  Spoken in Tunceli, Erzincan, Erzurum, Sivas, Gumushane, Mus (Varto), Kayseri (Sariz) provinces. Subdialects include West Dersim, East Dersim and Verto.
  • Central Zazaki -  Spoken in Elazığ, Bingöl, Solhan, Girvas and Diyarbakır provinces. Major Subdialicts are Bingol and Palu.
  • Southern Zazaki: Spoken in Sanlıurfa (Siverek), Diyarbakır (Cermik, Egil), Adiyaman, and Malatya provinces. Subdialects include Siverek, Cermik and Gerger.

Kurd Language Peoples and tribes

The following major Kurdish peoples can be identified following Orville Jenkins (see http://orvillejenkins.com/peoples/kurds.html ) the Ethnologue and others. "Kurdish people" means that they speak a language that is identified as a branch of Kurdish. These classifications are somewhat fluid and arbitrary. The ROPAL system has been dropped in favor of the ROP (Registry of Peoples) system in the latest (15th) edition of the Ethnologue. However, the process of reclassification is not complete, so the older classification of the 14th edition is shown.  

Kurmanji Kurds - Speaking primarily Kurmanji language in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and elsewhere, and self identifying as Kurds. This group comprises about 8 million or more people. ROPAL ethnologue classifications KUR00, KUR01 and others as noted. Numerous dialects including Guwii, Hakkari, Jezire (Botan), Urfi, Bayazidi, Surchi, Qochani, Birjandi, Alburz, Sanjari, Judkani

Associated peoples:

Herki -  Speaking Herki, an associated dialect of Kurmanji, in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. ROPAL HEK00. About 70,000 members. 

Shikaki - A Kurdish people in Iran, Iraq and Turkey, speaking Shikaki, a Kurdish language that is associated to Kurmanji. ROPAL SHF00.  About 64,000 members.

Surchi - A Kurdish people who speak Surchi, a language associated with Kurmanji but evidently different from the Surchi dialect of Kurmanji. ROPAL SUP00.  About 11,000 members.

Kurdish speaking Kurds - Several branches of this group are identified totaling over 7 million members and living primarily in Iran and Iraq.  ROPAL Ethnologue classifications KDB00, KDB01 KDB02, KDBO3.

Kurdi - Kurds of Iraq in the Irbil and Mosul region, speaking Arbili, Adaiani (Sanandaji), Khushnaw, Sulaymani, Pizhdar, Mukri, Warmawa, Garmiyani, Garrusi (Bijari), Kolya'i, Zangana, Kirmanshahi and totaling over 4 million people. ROPAL KDB00

Southern Kurdi - Also called Soran. Speaking Jafi and Kirmansahi dialect and living in Iraq and Iran. ROPAL KDB00

Mukri Kurdi - Speaking Mukri and other dialects and associated with central Iraq and Iran. Some Mukri speakers are also classified as Southern Kurds or Sorani. ROPAL KDB02 Comprising about a million people.

Carduchi - A branch in southern Iran, speaking Sorani, also called Kurdi  and comprising about 2.6 million members. Also called Southern Kurd. ROPAL KDB03.

Behdini - A Kurdish people in Iraq, speaking Behdini.  ROPAL BDF00

Dimli (Dimili) or Zaza - Speaking primarily Dimili or Zazani dialect. Sometimes identified as a separate group. Some Dimili claim they are Kurds, others insist they are a separate people. Genetic evidence seems to indicate they are Kurds. They are often associated with the Alevi religion, which is also sometimes used as the name of the people. Evidently, the Dimili number about 2 million people. ROPAL QKV00

Kirmandz - A branch of the Dimli in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia, speaking Kirmanjki. ROPAL QKV00

Hawrami - A branch of the Dimli in Iran and Iraq speaking Hawrami, also known as Gurani. ROPAL HAC00.

Bajelan - A Dimli Branch in Iraq speaking Zaza-Gorani. ROPAL BJM00. About 20,000 members.

Feyli - A people of Iran and Iraq, speaking Luri, considered a separate language. ROPAL LRI02.

Armenian Kurds (Kermanji)- About 70,000 Kurds who speak mostly Russian. ROPAL RUS00.

Kurds: Ethnography versus politics

It would be a mistake to use any ethnographic or similar data as a basis for political arguments about the viability of the claim of a particular ethnic minority to peoplehood, just as it would be a mistake to use genetic data to "prove" nationality. Inevitable, the data will be misused in this way. Many viable nation states are composed of numerous groups speaking different languages or dialects. That includes for example, India and China. On the other hand, US Americans, Canadians and British can comprehend each others' dialects perfectly well, but choose to remain separate political entities. The Arabs, in the broader sense of the word, speak many dialects and clearly have diverse ethnic origins and cultures, but often consider themselves to be one people. 

Kurdish History

Kurds have a long history as a people, including a more or less independent political life that waxed and waned with the fortunes of battle. This history is wont to be suppressed by those who oppose Kurdish national rights, and exaggerated by those who advocate such rights. It is clear that throughout most of recorded history, an indigenous Kurdish people has gone through periods of more or less independent rule in various independent and unassociated principalities, as well as persecuted life as a minority under other regimes. The national status of the Kurds could at no period be likened to that of ancient peoples like the Hebrews, Egyptians or Romans who had nation states, or even to medieval Poland or England, which were not modern nation states but were usually ruled by more or less cohesive feudal dynasties. It could be similar to that of Germany prior to unification or analogous to the status of Bohemia prior to World War I.

Kurd Religions

Kurds were in large part converted to Islam. Religious affiliation follows in part the clan and language groups of the Kurds. The majority of Kurds (about 60%) are Sunni Muslims of Shafi rite, and this is apparently true of almost all Kurmanji Kurds. Kurds of many persuasions are also devotees of Sufism. About a half million or more of the Kurds are Shia Muslims, primarily in Iranian Kurdistan. The Dimili or Zaza are mostly of the Alevi sect, which is related to the Kurdish Yezidi releigion. Some Kurmanji Kurds are also Yezidi.  Small numbers of Kurds follow what was apparently the native Kurdish original Yezidi (or Yazidi) religion and to variations such as Yarsan. Kurdistan was an early home of the Jews, banished there about 2800 years ago by Shalmanesser. They converted some Kurds to Judaism, and many of the Jewish Kurds converted to Christianity. Christian Kurds had a center in Irbil (Arbil). Jewish Kurds are remarkable for having the first female rabbi, inspired most probably by the example of equality given to Kurdish women. 

Kurds in Ancient Times

A people variously called the Carduchoi, Carduchi, Cordyene, have lived in about the same region since ancient times. Xenophon noted the fierce resistance of the Carduchoi to his retreating troops in the Anabasis. Roman historians recorded the subjugation of Corduene, evidently the same area, and its liberation by Pompei from Phraates. Pliny (Pinius Secundus), considered the Cordueni  to be descendants of Carduchis. In his Natural History he notes, "Adiabenis conectuntur Carduchi quondam dicti, nunc Cordueni, praefluente Tigri," (Adjoining Adiabene are the people once called the Carduchi and now the Cordueni, past whom flows the river Tigris...)(Book 6:44)  ( http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Pliny_the_Elder/6*.html ). Cardene people, apparently the same, are mentioned in Livy and other texts. Early Christian texts mention a "land of the Kurds."

Kurds Under Arab Rule

In the seventh century, Arab invaders overran much of the Kurdish area, conquering  Sharazor and Aradbaz  in 643 CE.

In 846 CE, the Kurds of Mosul revolted against the Caliph Al Mo'tasam.  In 903, the Kurds revolted again. Eventually Arabs conquered the Kurdish regions and gradually converted the majority of Kurds to Islam.

Chaos and deterioration in the Muslim empire, as well as the rise of the Kurdish ruler Saladin, changed the fortunes of the Kurds for a while. In 837, the Kurdish leader Rozeguite founded the town of Akhlat on the banks of Lake Van and made it the capital of his principality. He was theoretically vassal of the caliph, but in fact virtually independent. This principality of Ake ruled a land which lay between the upper valley of the Centritis and the Zabus. It was situated between Arzanene and Adiabene. At the beginning of 10th century, it became a vassal of the Artsrunis of Vaspurakan.

Andzewatsi was another principality located in southeast of Van and northwest of Ake and its princes were a branch of Medo-Carduchians of Mahkert. In 780, its chief prince Tachat Andzewatsi was a tributary of the Caliph, but relatively independent. Subsequntly, the dynasty declined and it was reduced to vassalage of the Artsrunis in 860.

Kurdistan was divided into several more or less independent principalities or fiefdoms. In the north the Shaddadid (951-1174) (in parts of Armenia and Arran) and Rawadid (955-1221) in Tabriz and Maragheh, in the East the Hasanwayhids (959-1015), the Annazid (990-1117) (in Kermanshah, Dinawar and Khanaqin) and in the West the Marwanid (990-1096) of Diyarbakır. Remnants of the Shaddadid Kurds are found nowadays in the Kalbajar and Lachin regions of Azarbaijan, between Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia.

The rise of the Seljuk Turks, followed by the Mongols, put an end to this period. The Seljuk Turks annexed the Kurdish principalities one at a time. About 1150, Ahmed Sanjar, the last great Seljuk monarch, created a province out of these lands and called it Kurdistan. The province of Kurdistan, formed by Sanjar, had as its capital the village Bahar (which means "spring"), near ancient Ecbatana (Hamadan), capital of the Medes. It included the vilayets of Sinjar and Shahrazur to the west of the Zagros mountain range and those of Hamadan, Dinawar and Kermanshah to the east of this range.

This arrangement evidently had a brief life. The rise of Saladin and the Ayyubid Kurdish dynasty allowed for relative Kurdish independence. toward the end of the 12th century. The  Kurdish Hazaraspid dynasty established control over southern Zagros and Luristan. It conquered the territories of Kuhgiluya, Khuzestan and Golpayegan in  the  13th century and it annexed Shushtar, Hoveizeh and Basra in the 14th century. Kurdish chieftanships appeared not only in Kurdistan, but in Egypt, and in Yemen and Khorasan.

The Kurds under the Mongols

The Mongols under Hulagu and his successors devastated the Kurdish region in the 13th century. In the fourteenth  century, Timurlane conquered most of Kurdistan. The Kara Koyunlu ("Black Sheep Turkmen") who subsequently established their rule in much of the region aided Kurdish chieftains.

The vacuum left by the collapse of the Mongols and the benevolent rule of the Kara Koyunlu allowed a recovery of the Kurdish principalities. Several independent states or principalities such as Ardalan, Badinan, Baban, Soran, Hakkari and Badlis were established, evidently named after the ruling families of each. Ardalan was the most prominent of these states. It was established in early 14th century and controlled the territories of Zardiawa (Karadagh), Khanaqin, Kirkuk, Kifri, and Hawraman. Its capital was  originally in Sharazour in Iraqi Kurdistan, but was moved to Sinne in Iran.

The Aya Loyunlu (or Aq Qoyunlu) (White sheep Turkmen) dynasty defeated the Kara Koyunlu, and Kurdish tribes and rulers were persecuted, ending most of the Kurdish principalities by the fifteenth century. Kurdish rule was further demolished during the Safavid dynasty, as Kurds were caught in the struggle between Ottoman Turkey and Persia. Ardalan survived however. The rule of the Ardalan dynasty was terminated by the Qajar Persian ruler Nasser-al-Din Shah in 1867.

Kurdistan is Split

With the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the Persian state, formal territorial divisions evolved  Following the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. most of the Kurds found themselves in Ottoman Turkey.  This division was formalized in the Treaty of Zuhab in 1639 and evolved into the present frontiers.

Kurds in the Ottoman Empire

Before World War I, most Kurds lived within the Ottoman Empire. As the Ottoman rulers advanced, they took over Kurdish areas, primarily from Persian rulers. At first the new rulers improved the conditions of the Kurds. After defeating Shah Ismail I in 1514, Sultan Selim I annexed Armenia and Kurdistan. He entrusted the organization of the conquered territories to Idris, a Kurd from Bitlis. Idris divided the territory into sanjaks or districts and installed the local chiefs as governors under Turkish rule. He also repopulated areas despoiled by the Mongols and the Persians, including the rich pastoral country between Erzerum and Yerevan.

In 1640 the Ottomans attacked the Yazidi Kurds of Mount Sinjar with a force of 40,000, massacring about 5,000 in total. In 1655, Abdal Khan, the Kurdish emir of Bitlis, rebelled against the Ottomans, who put down the revolt in a very bloody battle and subsequent punitive measures. 

Despite occasional unrest, the system of administration initiated by Idris survived essentially unchanged until the close of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29. However, as the Ottoman Empire declined, the Kurds increased their influence and power, and had spread westwards over the country as far as Angora.

Following the Russo-Turkish War war, Kurdish Sanjaks revolted, primarily resisting modernization decrees and attempts at increased taxation  Revolts under Bedr Khan Bey and others failed. Following the Crimean War the Turks strengthened their hold on the country. Kurdistan was created as an administrative entity during the Ottoman Tanzimat, in December of 1847, but was abolished in 1864.

In the 1880s, owing to enmity created by the Kurdish revolt of Ubaidullah in Persia, which involved attacks on Armenians, Kurdish - Armenian enmity increased. As Armenian agitation for independence mounted, the Turkish government encouraged Kurdish opposition. In 1891 they created a well armed Kurdish irregular cavalry, the  Hamidieh soldiers, named after the Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid II. This cavalry took an active part in suppressing Armenians and in massacres of Armenians.

During World War I, the Turks carried out a deportation of Kurds similar to the one carried out against the Armenians, but which received hardly any international attention. Evidently, about 350,000 Kurds perished in these operations, of a total of about 700,000 who were transferred to various regions.

Kurds in Modern Times

At the end of World War I, the Kurdish population found itself divided between Turkey, Persia and the new state of Iraq ("Mesopotamia").

Kurds in Modern Turkey

During and following World War I, the Kurds had been promised an autonomous region and this promise was duly embodied in the Treaty of Sevres. However the Turkish counterattack organized by Ataturk recaptured Eastern Anatolia, and the nationalist exclusivist Turkish state quashed any hopes of real autonomy for the Kurds of Turkey, though at first Ataturk referred more than once to the "Kurdish Autonomous Region." 

Systematic repression of Kurdish culture and language resulted in a number of rebellions, each initiated by a different nationalist organization that was ultimately crushed.

The Koçkiri Kurd Rebellion, 1920 - This uprising took place in the unsettled period following World War I. It was initiated by the Kurdistan Taali Cemiyet (KTC) supposedly, but the fighting was done primarily by Alevi Qizilbashi, who were not necessarily Kurds. The Turkish Grand National Assembly discussed reforms and autonomy in the wake of the revolt, but abandoned these ideas following the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Sheikh Said Piran's Rebellion, 1925 - This uprising was led by Sheikh Said Piran and organized by a group called Azazi. Said convinced Kurdish officers in Hamidiye to join and lead the revolt. The officers hoped to obtain British assistance. About 15,000 Kurdish troops participated, and a "Kingdom of Kurdistan" was declared. It lasted about three months.  The Turks used air power and massive troop concentrations to crush the revolt. 

Rebellion of Shaikh Abdurrahman, 1927 - In the autumn of  1927, Shaikh Abdurrahman, Sheikh Said's brother, began a series of attacks on Turkish garrisons in Palu and Malatya. The rebels achieved initial successes. The districts of Lice, Bingöl were captured and they occupied the heights south of Erzurum. In October 1927, Kurdish rebels attacked and occupied Bayazid. However they were driven out after Turkish reinforcements arrived.

The Agiri or Ararat Rebellion, 1927-1930 - The Kurds declared independence in 1927 in what may have been the first real Kurdish war of liberation in Turkey. The move was initiated by the Khoybun committee, which united several Kurdish liberation groups. The commander of Kurdish forces in this rebellion was General İshan Nuri Pasha.

Ishan Nuri Pasha

Source - http://www.ebarzan.com/ishannuripasha.htm

The area was declared to be "the Republic of Ararat." This endured for three years, during which the Khoybun attempted to enlist the help of Great Britain and the League of Nations. On June 11, 1930, the Turkish army began its suppression of the insurgency. The Turks mobilized 66,000 troops and used about 100 aircraft. The war was over by September 17, 1930.

The Dersim Rebellion, 1937 -1938 -  This is supposedly the most important Kurdish rebellion in modern Turkey, led by the Qizilbash.  The Dersim rebellion was led by the local traditional Qizilbash elites, headed  by Seyit Riza, chief of the Abbasushagi tribe. The Turkish Army mobilized 50,000 troops to suppress the rebellion. The Turkish Air Force was used quite effectively against the uprising. After suppression of the rebellion in 1937, Southeast Anatolia was put under martial law and subjected to military occupation. Kurds were deported and Kosovar Albanians and Assyrians moved into the area. About 1.5 million Kurds were massacred or deported. The area east of the Euphrates was under martial law until 1950 and off limits to foreigners until 1965.  The Kurdish language was banned, The words "Kurds" and "Kurdistan" were deleted from dictionaries and history books and Kurds were referred to as "Mountain Turks". 

Turkish-Kurd uprising in modern times - Kurdish nationalism reappeared in the 70s when the Marxist PKK (Kurdish Workers Party - Partiya Karkerehn Kurdistan)  was formed, led by Abdullah Ocalan. PKK demanded a Kurdish state and declared that it intended to liberate all parts of Kurdistan from colonial oppression and establish an independent socialist Kurdish state. PKK is distinguished by being the only  Kurdish party not dominated by tribal affiliations.

Following the Turkish army coup in 1980, there was a period of severe repression and elimination of almost all Kurdish and leftist organizations, and implementation of a policy of forced integration. The PKK nonetheless managed to survive and grow after the coup. About 1984, it turned to violence. It initiated a guerrilla offensive with a series of attacks on Turkish military and police stations. As it was the only party defending Kurdish rights and could claim visible successes against increasing oppression, PKK won the admiration of an increasing number of Kurds.

By the beginning of 1990, PKK had set up its own local administration in some rural areas. It had also supposedly changed its goals from Kurdish independence to a negotiated autonomy settlement, following promising indirect contacts with President Turgut Ozal. After Ozal's sudden death, the Turkish army intensified attacks on PKK bases. They  succeeded in isolating PKK from civilians and reduced it to a guerrilla band operating in the mountains. Ocalan had fled to Syria. In 1999, Turkish pressure on Syria led to Ocalan's expulsion and arrest by Turkish Maroon Berets in Kenya. Since being jailed, Ocalan has rejected violence and called on the PKK to use defensive measures only. He has sought a peaceful resolution of the conflict. 

In recent years Turkey has supposedly relaxed some of its anti-Kurd national policy in order to respond to EU requirements for democratization. However, the Turkish army has been pursuing the PKK into their alleged sanctuaries in northern Iraq, invading Iraq by air as well as by land, with the open approval of the United States.

The culture war against Kurdish nationalism is carried to extremes. A BBC report in 2005 noted:

Turkey has said it is changing the names of three animals found on its territory to remove references to Kurdistan or Armenia.

The environment ministry says the Latin names of the red fox, the wild sheep and the roe deer will be altered.

The red fox for instance, known as Vulpes Vulpes Kurdistanica, will now be known as Vulpes Vulpes.

Turkey has uneasy relations with neighbouring Armenia and opposes Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

The ministry said the old names were contrary to Turkish unity.

"Unfortunately there are many other species in Turkey which were named this way with ill intentions. This ill intent is so obvious that even species only found in our country were given names against Turkey's unity," a ministry statement quoted by Reuters news agency said. (Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4328285.stm )  


Kurds in Iran

Kurds have lived in Iran since ancient times, and evidently steadily resisted the attempts of Iranian rulers to assimilate them. The first recorded conflict between Kurds and Persians that we know of took place in the 3rd century, between Ardashir I (Ardashir Papagan) founder of the Sassanid dynasty, and Madig, king of the Kurds, mentioned in the book of deeds of Ardashir Son of Babak, Chapter 5. During the Middle ages, the Persian empire was conquered by the Arabs, and the history of the Kurds under medieval Arab rulers has been described above.

Safavid Persecution of the Kurds

The Safavid Persian dynasty carried out systematic persecution of the Kurds, along with suppression of other minorities perceived as obstacles to national consolidation. Conflicts arose on both national and religious grounds. Yazidi Kurds under Shir Sarim revolted against Shah Ismail I beginning in 1506. A decisive battle in 1510 ended the revolt with the death Sarim and the murder of Kurdish prisoners following memorable tortures.

As the Kurds and others were considered to be unreliable, the Safavids, as the Turks were to do later, evacuated large masses of minorities from border areas facing Turkish incursions.  Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, along with Armenians, Assyrians, Azeris, and Turkmens, were forcibly removed from the border regions and resettled in the interior of Persia. All of eastern Persian Anatolia was ethnically cleansed as the retreating Persions uprooted populations and drove them eastward.

In 1534 and 1535, Shah Tahmasp I Tahmasp retreating before the Ottoman army, ordered the destruction of crops and settlements of all sizes, driving the inhabitants before him into Azerbaijan. The were then transferred to Khurasan, about 1500 KM to the East, and some Kurdish tribes were deported even farther east, to Gharjistan in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, about 2,300 KM from western Kurdistan

Iskandar Bayg Munshi, a historian of the Safavid dynasty, recorded one such operation. He wrote that Shah Abbas I continued the scorched earth policy of his predecessors, applying it to the country north of the Araxes and west of Urmia, between Kars and Lake Van. He commanded that the entire area be laid waste and the population of the countryside and the entire towns rounded up and led out. Resistance was met with massacres and mutilation. All property that could be moved was destroyed and the unfortunate prisoners were force marched to the  southeast before the Ottomans  counterattacked. Many of these Kurds were transferred to  Khurasan, but many others were scattered into the Alburz mountains, central Persia, and as far away as Baluchistan in modern Pakistan. They formed the several modern Kurdish enclaves that exist outside Kurdistan proper.

The Turks did their own transfer as well. After the Battle of Chalderan, Sultan Selim I (the Grim), deported several  large Kurdish tribes into central Anatolia, south of modern Ankara. In their place, he settled a  loyal Turkmen tribes.

Battle of Dimdim 1609-1610 - This has been recorded in Kurdish tradition as the epic of national resistance at Beyti Dimdim.   In 1609-1610 there was a long siege and battle  around the fortress of Dimdim near Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran. In 1609, Dimdim was rebuilt by the so-called  Golden Hand Khan (Amir Khan), ruler of Beradost.  who sought to maintain the independence of his expanding principality in the face of  the Persians. Kurds, rallied around Amir Khan. Dimdim was captured by the Persians in the summer of 1610. All the defenders were massacred. According to Persian historians, Shah Abbas, the Persian ruler, ordered a massacre in Beradost and Mukriyan and resettled the Turkish Afshar tribe in the region. Many Kurdish tribes were deported to Khorasan. This practice of trasnferring Kurds to Khorasan, begun in the 16th century, continued until the 18th century, creating a Kurdish community of about 1.7 million in Khorasan today.

Sheikh Ubaidullah - Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Sheikh Ubaidullah or (Obaidullah) tried to establish a semi-independent Kurd principality under the protection of Turkey in 1880-1881. But the Turks, at first supportive of this project in opposition to Russian designs on Armenia, withdrew their support. This period apparently marked the beginning of Kurdish-Armenian hostility.

Simko - Ismail Agha Shikak (or Ismail Agha Simko or Simko Shikak) was a scion of an influential Kurdish family in Iran. In 1905, his father Cewer Agha and his grandfather had been murdered by Qajar regime, after being lured to a meeting. Simko became active in promoting the Kurdish cause as he grew up. In 1919, Ismail Agha Simko took advantage of the chaotic situation during World War I. He mustered a force of Kurdish soldiers and established his authority in Western Iran, near lake Urmiya, appointing Teymur Agha Shikak to rule the city of Urmiya.  Either then or in 1921 (see http://www.ebarzan.com/hirankurds.htm ) he declared a Kurdish republic, after negotiations with the government over autonomy failed. The Iranian government sent several large forces to defeat the revolt, but all were defeated and the little Kurdish "state" expanded to surrounding towns. He was finally defeated by Reza Khan (later Reza Shah Pahlavi) in 1922 in the battle of Sari Taj, and the state was abolished. Simko fled to Turkey. He was lured to the village of Oshnaviyeh in 1930 by a promise of negotiations and murdered by the regime of Reza Shah Pahlevi. The Pahlavi regime then proceeded to murder hundreds of Kurds and confiscate their lands.

Republic of Mahabad - In 1941, the allied armies occupied Iran. The Soviets seized control in particular of Northern Iran and Iranian Azebaijan. The Iranian army collapsed, and Kurdish troops appropriated weapons. In the city of Mahabad, in northwest Iran, they established an informal regime under the protection of the Soviet forces, and with the help of Iraqi Kurds, especially Mustapha Barzani and led by Qazi Mohammed and his Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).

In 1944, they declared a republic under Soviet protection. Qazi Mohammed denied that he was pro-Soviet, but the western allies refused to support the Kurds and pressured the Soviets to withdraw. A Kurdistan Democratic Party was also formed in Baghdad, and Barzani was elected president in absentia. In January 1946, Qazi Mohammed declared an independent republic.

The handwriting on the image reads: Celebration of the independence of Kurdistan (left to right)
Ahmed Kafash, a Kurdish officer; Karim Nazemi, with the flag of Kurdistan; Mohammad Firuzi,
a Kurdish Officer. Source: http://www.ebarzan.com/mahabad.htm

By December 15, 1946, however, the Republic was overrun by Iranian forces. The Iranians closed down the Kurdish printing press, banned the teaching of Kurdish language, and burned whatever Kurdish books they could find. Qazi Muhammad was hanged as a traitor in March of 1947. Many of the Iraqi troops and some officers returned to Iraq, where they were executed. Mustapha Barzani however, escaped to the Soviet union and later returned to to Iraq established very effective resistance in Iraq. His son, Massoud Barzani, born in Mashabad, is president of autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq.

Kurds under the Islamic Republic - Kurds supported the revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, hoping to gain autonomy. Instead. the Ayatollah Khomeini declared a Jihad against the Kurds. The new regime destroyed entire towns to force the Kurds into submission. Ayatollah Khalkhali sentenced thousands to death in kangaroo trials.  About 10,000 Kurds were massacred by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps. The Sunni branch of Islam is suppressed in Iran. As many Kurds are Sunni, this is a source of conflict. In Tehran, there are over a million Sunni Muslims, many of them Kurds, but there is no Sunni mosque.

In 1997, under the Iranian reformist president Khatami, Kurds received some representation in the Iranian parliament, and hoped for greater autonomy. These hopes went largely unrealized. In February 1999, Kurdish nationalists demonstrated in in Mahabad, Sanandaj and Urmia, protesting against the government and in support of Abdullah Ocalan. According to Human rights groups, 20 or more people were killed in suppression of the protests.

On July 9, 2005,  Shivan Qaderi and two other Kurdish activists were shot by police in Mahabad. Qaderi's body was then tied to the back of a jeep and dragged through the streets. This provoked riots throughout Iranian Kurdistan. The Iranian regime suppressed the riots, killing scores of people.

Kurds in Iraq

Modern Iraq came into being after World War I, separating the Kurds of Iraq from those of Iran and Turkey.  There are currently about 6 million Kurds in Iraq, of whom 95% are Sunni Muslims.

In the wake of World War I, Iraqi Kurds tried to establish independence. Sheikh Mahmoud Barzanji of Qaddiriyah, a Sufi chief, established control in a region around Sulaymanieh beginning about 1919. The British originally called for an autonomous Kurd republic but reneged. Barzanji was banished, but Turkish incursions induced the British to invite him back and he declared a "Kingdom of Kurdistan in Iraq" that lasted from September 1922 to July 1924, when the British no longer found him useful, and RAF aircraft aided the Iraqi government in suppressing Barzanji's rule. Barzanji tried again to establish Kurdish rule in 1930-31.

After the military coup by Abdul Karim Qasim in 1958, Moustapha Barzani returned from exile in the Soviet Union. He invigorated the Kurdistan Democratic Party, that was originally formed in his absence, during the Mashabad Republic period. The party was granted legal status in 1960.

However, Qasim incited neighboring tribes against Barzani. In June 1961, Barzani led the first of a series of revolts against the Iraqi government with the aim of securing Kurdish autonomy. Barzani was supported primarily by Iran in different periods, and also by Israel.  He managed to stalemate the Qasim regime's forces. This contributed to the unrest that led to the Baathist coup in February 1963. The new Arif government declared a cease fire in February 1964.  Barzani agreed to the ceasefire, but radicals would not accepted, and were dismissed from the KDP.

The Iraqi government reneged on the agreement, but Barzani and his forces defeated the Iraqi Army near Rawanduz in 1966.

Arif was deposed in 1968 and replaced by the Baath party. The Baath governnment tried unsuccessfully to defeat Barzani  The Soviets pressured the Iraqis to come to terms. A peace plan announced in March of 1970 provided in theory for broad Kurdish autonomy. In practice, no progress was made and the plan was soon discarded, though a Kurdish administration council was created and an autonomous region existed on paper.

The Algiers Agreement

In 1974, Iraqi government renewed the offensive against the Kurds and pushed Kurdish forces close to the border with Iran. Iran and Iraq had longstanding diffrences regarding navigation in the Shatt al Arab and other issues. Iraq offered to compromise on Iranian demands if they ended their aid to the Kurds. Under the mediation of Algerian President Houari Boumédiènne, Iran and Iraq reached a comprehensive settlement in March 1975 - the Algiers Accord. The Kurds lost their military support. Barzani fled to Iran with many of his supporters. Others surrendered. The rebellion was over. The Iraqis started an "Arabization" program, transferring Kurds, and  moving Arabs to the oil rich areas around Kirkuk. This  led to renewed clashes between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish guerrillas beginning in 1977. In 1978 and 1979, some 600 Kurdish villages were burned or destroyed in Iraq and about 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other regions of Iraq.

Kurd Persecution in Operation Anfal

During the Iran–Iraq War, the Iraqi government was convinced that Kurds were helping Iran, and undertook what can only be described as genocide against the Kurds in operation Al Anfal. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, the Iraqi army under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid (Chemical Ali) murdered about 182,000 Kurds or more, using poison gas to destroy Halabja and other towns. The Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk and Mosul, driving Kurds out of the oil-rich cities and replacing them with Arabs.

Kurds after the Persian Gulf War

As noted above, the Kurdistan Autonomous Region was formally established in 1970. A Legislative Assembly in Irbil supposedly had authority in the Kurdish-populated governorates of Arbil, Dahuk and As Sulaymaniyah. This arrangement was a fiction created by the Baath government Saddam Hussein until 1991.

Following the Gulf war, Americans and British incited the Kurds and Shi'a to revolt against Saddam Hussein. They did so, assuming they would get allied support. However, the Americans and their allies had lost interest in supporting the revolt, as they had decided to maintain the regime of Saddam Hussein and did not want to be involved in further fighting. Saddam's suppression of the revolt resulted in numerous deaths and massive flight of refugees. US and world public opinion forced the allies to grant some relief to the Kurds. This took the form of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 which gave birth to a safe haven. U.S. and British used air power to  protect a Kurdish zone inside Iraq, preventing Iraqi air operations in a designated area, but not in  Sulaimaniya and Kirkuk. After several bloody clashes between Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops, the Iraqi government withdrew from the region in October 1991, imposing a blockade. The mostly rural and oil poor region had gained a sort of independence guaranteed by the allies. It was ruled by the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties – the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The region had its own flag and national anthem. However, economic hardship imposed by the Iraqi blockade helped to fuel fighting between KDP and PUK, which stopped after an agreement mediated by the US in September 1998. 

Kurdish parties joined forces against the Iraqi government in the Operation Iraqi Freedom in Spring 2003, and the Kurdish Peshmerga ("face death") guerillas have played an important role in policing their part of post war Iraq. The Kurdish received an autonomous region in Iraq, which is formally a federation. The actual borders of this region and the degree of autonomy that it has are still in flux.  PUK-leader Jalal Talibani is President of Iraq, and KDP leader Massoud Barzani is President of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Kurds want the right to return to the oil rich Kurdish cities such as Kirkuk and Mosul from which they had been deported over the years, and they want the Arabs who were transferred there to return to their original homes in the south of Iraq. 

In 2007 and 2008, the Turkish government claimed that the Kurds were sheltering PUK fighters. Kurdish air and ground forces repeatedly attacked targets in northern Iraq with the open consent of the United States.

Kurds in Syria

There are perhaps a million or more Kurds living in Syria, with a significant concentration in the northeast corner of Syria in the province of Al Hasakah, mainly in the cities of Hasakah and Qamishlo (or Qamishli). There are also significant concentrations of Kurds in other areas such as the Haleb (Allepo) governorate. Most are Sunni Muslims.

A Syrian census of 1962 deprived about 100,000 Kurds of their citizenship apparently in an arbitrary manner, leaving them stateless. The Syrians claimed that all these people had emigrated illegally into Syria from Turkey, but this claim is disputed by Human Rights Watch and other organizations. This number has since grown to over 200,000 and some claim 300,000. As they are stateless, these people cannot travel outside Syria. Within Syria they cannot be employed outside Al Hasakah province.

Though Kurds in Syria do apparently speak Kurdish in public, according to the Human Rights Watch, they cannot use the Kurdish language, are not allowed to register births of children with Kurdish names, are prohibited from starting businesses that do not have Arabic names, are not permitted to run Kurdish private schools, and prohibited from publishing books and other materials written in Kurdish.

In 1963, the Syrian government initiated a 12 point plan for wiping out Kurdish identity, in Syria. Part of the plan was an "Arab cordon" (Hizam Arabi) in the Jazira region along the Turkish border. The cordon was 300 kilometers long and 10-15 kilometers wide. It stretched from the Iraqi border in the east, along the Turkish border. to Ras Al-Ain in the west. The implementation of the corridor began in 1973. Bedouin Arabs were transferred to the Kurdish areas. Names of villages, cities and street names and geographic features were Arabized The plan called for deportation of about 150,000 Kurds the southern desert near Al-Raad. Kurdish farmers were dispossessed of their lands, but they refused to move and give up their homes. Those who were designated as alien are not allowed to own property, to repair their houses or to build new ones. 

n March 1986, a few thousand Kurds in Kurdish dress assembled in the Kurdish neighborhood of Damascus to celebrate the festival of Nawrouz. Police warned them that Kurdish dress is prohibited. They fired on the crowd, killing one person. As many as 40,000 Kurds took part in his funeral in Qamishlo (Qamishli). In Afrin, three Kurds were killed during the Nawrouz demonstration.

In March of 2004 disturbances erupted at a football game in Qamishlo, over rivalry between Kurdish and Arab teams. Scores of people, probably over a hundred, were killed by Syrian police using live ammunition to fire on unarmed crowds. (see Kurdish agony - the forgotten massacre of Qamishlo). Violence on a smaller scale has continued to erupt in Qamishlo.


Massacre of Kurds in Qamishlo

Ami Isseroff

August, 2008

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:  

Kurds and Kurdistan - Bibliography



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurds and links



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