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The Kurdish people, or Kurds ( Kurdish: Kurd, کورد), are an Iranic people native to Southwest Asia, mostly inhabiting a region known as Kurdistan, which includes adjacent parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. They speak the Kurdish language, which is a member of the Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. The Kurds number about 38 million, the majority living in Southwest 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 are an indigenous ethnic minority in the countries of the Kurdistan region, although they have enjoyed partial autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991. An irredentist movement pushes for the creation of a Kurdish nation state.
The exact origins of the name "Kurd" are unclear. 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 Sumerian tablet from the third millennium BC as the "land of Kar-da." Qardu is etymologically related to the Assyrian term Urartu corresponding to Ararat. According to Asatrian, the most reasonable explanation of this ethnonym is its possible connections with the Cyrtii (Cyrtaei)
Yet another theory proposes that the etymology is rooted in the name 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. According to G. Asatrian, 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-European family.
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 and Arabic 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 language
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, The Kurdish language has two main groups:
- The Kurmanji dialect group.
- The Sorani dialect group.
and several sub-dialects:
- Kermanshahi/ Feyli
- Laki language
- Gorani language
- Zazaki language
Although specialized sources consider the Zaza–Gorani group to be separate languages which share a large number of words with Kurdish, the general term Kurd has, nevertheless, historically also been used to designate these groups.
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 Western 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 15.7% to 25% of the population in Turkey, 15-20% in Iraq, 9% in Syria, 10% 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.
According to Minorsky 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 North Western 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.
In the 7th century, the Arabs possessed the castles and fortifications of the Kurds. The conquest of the cities of Sharazor and Darabaz took place in 643 CE. In 838 CE, Mir Jafar one of the leaders of the Kurds in Mosul revolted against the Caliph Al-Mu'tasim who sent the commander Itakh to combat against him. Itakh won this war and killed many of the Kurds. The Kurds revolted again in 903 CE, during the period of Almoqtadar. Eventually Arabs conquered the Kurdish regions and gradually the majority of Kurds converted to Islam. In the second half of the 10th century, the Kurdish area was shared among four big Kurdish principalities. In the north were the Shaddadid (951–1174) in parts of present-day Armenia and Arran, and the Rawadid (955–1221) in Tabriz and Maragheh. In the east were the Hasanwayhids (959–1015) and the Annazid (990–1117) in Kermanshah, Dinawar and Khanaqin. In the west were the Marwanid (990–1096) of Diyarbakır. After these, the Ardalan dynasty (14th century to 1867) were established in present-day Khanaqin, Kirkuk and Sinne.
The best-known Kurdish leaders to establish political domain in the region were the Ayyubid in 1171, first under the leadership of Kurdish sultan, Saladin. Born in the city of Tikrit in present-day Iraq, Saladin's ancestry was of a Kurdish tribe who originated in the city of Dvin in northern Armenia. The Ayyubids went on to rule the Diyarbakir plains, Syria and Egypt and Saladin led Muslims to recapture the city of Jerusalem from the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin. The Ayyubids dynasty lasted until 1341 when the last Ayyubid sultanate fell to Mongolian invasions.
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.
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 between Marivan and north of Halabja. A short-lived Soviet-sponsored Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran did not long outlast World War II.
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-rich Kirkuk region.
During 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 local feudal 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.
Kurdish Communities in West Asia
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 of Kirkuk 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 Nations arbitration 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.
According to CIA Factbook, Kurds formed approximately 18% of the population in Turkey (approximately 14 million) in 2008. This estimate however does not include the Zaza people which are often considered to be Kurds. 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. According to two studies (2006 and 2008) study by KONDA, people who self-identify as Kurdish or Zaza and/or speaks Kurdish or Zaza as a mother tongue correspond to 13.4% of the population. Based on higher fertility among Kurdish people, and using 2000 Census results, KONDA suggested that this figure rises to 15.7% when children are included, at the end of 2007. 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. During the 1930s and 1940s, the government had disguised the presence of the Kurds statistically by categorizing them as Mountain Turks. 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 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 ethnic secessionist 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 in Kurdish 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 the European 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 an Islamic extremist group called 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.
|Major Ethnic Groups of Iran|
The Kurdish part of Iran has been a part of this country from historical times. The Kurds constitute today approximately 7% of Iran's overall population. The Persians, Kurds, and speakers of other Indo-European languages in Iran are descendants of the Aryan tribes that began migrating from Central Asia into what is now Iran in the 2nd millennium BCE. According to some sources, "some Kurds in Iran have resisted the Iranian government's efforts, both before and after the revolution of 1979, to assimilate them into the mainstream of national life and, along with their fellow Kurds in adjacent regions of Iraq and Turkey, has sought either regional autonomy or the outright establishment of an independent Kurdish state". According to Amnesty International, similar policies to that of the Turkish government have been used in Iran, as registering babies with certain Kurdish names is not allowed, the use of the Kurdish language in education has been frequently prevented, and there is frequent militarisation of the Kurdish region.
In the 17th century, a large number of Kurds were settled by Shah Abbas I to Khorasan in Eastern Iran and resettled in the cities of Northern Khorasan province ( Quchan, Bojnurd, Shirvan, DareGaz, and Esfaraeen) to defend Iran's frontier against Uzbeks. Others migrated to Afghanistan where they took refuge. The Kurds of Khorasan, numbering around 700,000, still use the Kurmanji Kurdish dialect. During the 19th and 20th centuries, successive Iranian governments crushed Kurdish revolts led by Kurdish notables such as Shaikh Ubaidullah (against Qajars in 1880) and Simko (against Pahlavis in the 1920s).
In January 1946, during the Soviet occupation of north-western Iran, the Soviet-backed Kurdish Republic of Mahabad declared independence in parts of Iranian Kurdistan. Nevertheless, the Soviet forces left Iran in May 1946, and the self-declared republic fell to the Iranian army after only a few months and the president of the republic Qazi Muhammad was hanged publicly in Mahabad. After the 1953 Iranian coup d'état, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi became more autocratic and suppressed most opposition including Kurdish political groups seeking greater rights for Iranian Kurds. He also prohibited any teaching of the Kurdish language.
After the Iranian revolution, intense fighting occurred between militant Kurdish groups and the Islamic Republic between 1979 and 1982. In August 1979, Ruhollah Khomeini declared a " holy war" against the Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy or independence, and ordered the Armed Forces to move to the Kurdish areas of Iran in order to push the Kurdish rebels out and restore central rule to the country. In September 1979, Revolutionary Guards massacred 56 inhabitants of the village of Qalatan and all of the residents of the village of Qarna. These two Kurdish villages are located close to Naghadeh in West Azerbaijan Province. Kurdish opposition described this masscre as the Sabra and Shatila of Kurdistan. A picture of a firing squad of Revolutionary Guards executing Kurdish prisoners around Sanandaj gained international fame and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fought to reestablish government control in the Kurdish regions, as a result around ten thousand Kurds were killed. Since 1983, the Iranian government has maintained control over the Iranian Kurdistan. Frequent unrest and the occasional military crackdown have occurred since the 1990s.
In Iran, Kurds express their cultural identity freely, but have no self-government or administration. As in all parts of Iran, membership of a non-governmental political party is punishable by imprisonment or even death. Kurdish human rights activists in Iran have been threatened by Iranian authorities. Following the killing of Kurdish opposition activist Shivan Qaderi and two other Kurdish men by Iranian security forces in Mahabad on July 9, 2005, six weeks of riots and protests erupted in Kurdish towns and villages throughout eastern Kurdistan. Scores were killed and injured, and an untold number arrested without charge. The Iranian authorities have also shut down several major Kurdish newspapers and arrested editors and reporters. Among those was Roya Toloui, a Women's rights activist and head of the Rasan ("Rising") newspaper in Sanandaj, who was alleged to be tortured for two months for involvement in the organization of peaceful protests throughout Kurdistan province. According to an Iran analyst at International Crisis Group, "Kurds, who live in the some of the least developed parts of Iran, pose the most serious internal problem for Iran to resolve, and given what they see next door--the newfound confidence of Iraqi Kurds--there's concern Iranian Kurds will agitate for greater autonomy."
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.
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 in Germany, Austria, the Benelux countries, Great Britain, Switzerland and France during the 1960s. Successive periods of political and social turmoil in the region during 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. An estimated 100,000 Kurds are known to live in the United States, with 50,000 in Canada and less than 15,000 in Australia.
Sunni, Shia and Sufi
Today, the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslim, belonging to the Shafi school. Mystical practices and participation in Sufi orders are also widespread among Kurds. 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), and who are Alevi, who mostly live in Turkey.
The Alevis (usually considered adharents of a branch of Shia Islam) are another religious minority among the Kurds. They are mainly living in Tunceli, Erzincan, eastern Sivas, northern and southern Malatya, eastern and northwestern Kahramanmaraş, northern Adana, western Kayseri, central and western Adıyaman, northeastern Gaziantep, northern Elazığ, southwestern Erzurum, northern Bingöl, northwestern Muş and various other areas in Anatolia. 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's basic pillars are summarized this verse of Gurani:
"Yāri Chār Chivan Bāvari Vajā- Pāki o Rāsti o Nisti o Redā"
which translates roughly to:
The Yarsan should strive for these four qualities
purity, rectitude, self-effacement and self-abnegation.
Among its belief include the principle of successive lives of human souls where each soul is allotted a time of 50 thousand years to reach its perfection (the stage of Death within God). If that soul does not reach its perfection, then it is judged by its deed after its 50 thousand years. Another belief of the Yarsan is the and repeated manifestation of the light of the divine essence, the archangels and a class of saviours (Haftwan, Haft Sardar-i Din, Chehel Tan, Haftad o Do Pir..) in human form.
The founder of the religion, Sultan Sahak appeared among the Guran in mid or late 15th century, and is considered by them as the last great manifestation of the divine essence. Yarsan followers also recognize Ali as one of their divine incarnations, although he is surpassed in importance by Sultan Sahak. The Sultan Sahak is accompanied by seven companions who are the manifestation of the seven primordial archangels (haft tan or heptad).
Binyamin (the pir or spiritual master) is the manifestation of the light Gabriel, while Dawud (the Dalil or Guide) is the manifestation of Mikail or Raphael.
There are strong similarities between religious practices and myths of Ahl-i Haqq and Alevi. According to one Ahl-i Haqq legend, after Sultan Sahak had completed his teachings among the Guran, he reappeared in Anatolia in the form of Haji Bektash. Moreover, the Ahl-i Haqq consider the Bektashi and Alevi as kindred communities.
Yazidi is a minority religion practiced among Kurdish communities of northern Iraq, Armenia, Georgia and Russia. According to Yazidi beliefs, although God created the world but left it in the care of a heptad of seven holy beings or angels. The most prominent angel is Tawûsê Melek ( Malak Taus) or the Peacock Angel. One of their holy texts Kiteba Jelwa(Book of Illumination) is considered to be the words of Malak Taus. Yazidi accounts of creation have much in common with those of the Ahl-e Haqq. Yazidis believe in the periodic reincarnation of the seven holy beings in human form. Their holiest shrine and the tomb of faith's founder (Shaikh Adi bin Mosafer), is located in Lalish (36 miles northeast of Mosul) in northern Iraq.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient monotheistic religion practiced among a minority of Kurds. The religion, founded sometime before the 6th century BCE, is based on the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster and was the religion of the majority in the greater Iran until the 9th century. However, the number of Kurds that adhered to the Zoroastrian faith throughout history is unclear. Modern Kurdish Zoroastrian communities still exist, and more recently, small Kurdish Zoroastrian communities have established new temples and have been attempting to recruit new members to their faith.
Judaism and Christianity
Kurds never converted in large numbers to Judaism and Christianity as their Semitic neighbours, as their pre-Islamic ancestors are thought to have followed Sassanian state religion. There were however individual cases of conversions such as Theophobos and the Mkhargrdzeli family of Georgia. Western travellers to Kurdistan reported several Christian villages whose inhabitants spoke Kurdish. Some Muslim Kurds even retained Christian observances.
There was a Lutheran mission active among the Kurds around the turn of the 19th century. The first Kurdish-language Church was founded in 1991, it is active in Iraqi Kurdistan among recent Kurdish converts from Islam.
Kurdish culture is a legacy from the various ancient peoples who shaped modern Kurds and their society, but primarily of three layers of indigenous ( Hurrian), ancient Iranian, and Islamic roots. Kurdish culture is close to that of other Iranian peoples. Kurds, for instance, also celebrate Newroz (March 21) as New Year's Day. Kurdish films mainly evoke poverty and the lack of rights of Kurdish people in the region. Yılmaz Güney ( Yol ) and Bahman Qubadi ( A Time for Drunken Horses, Turtles Can Fly) are among the better-known Kurdish directors.
In contrast to many neighboring Muslim populations, Kurdish women are not secluded and do not wear the face veil. Kurdish men and women participate in mixed-gender dancing during feasts, weddings and other social celebrations. Major Soane, a British colonial officer during World War I, noted that this is unusual among Islamic people and pointed out that in this respect Kurdish culture is more akin to that of eastern Europe than to their West Asian counterparts.
Traditionally, there are three types of Kurdish Classical performers: storytellers (çîrokbêj), minstrels (stranbêj), and bards (dengbêj). No specific music was associated with the Kurdish princely courts. Instead, music performed in night gatherings (şevbihêrk) is considered classical. Several musical forms are found in this genre. Many songs are epic in nature, such as the popular Lawiks, heroic ballads recounting the tales of Kurdish heroes such as Saladin. Heyrans are love ballads usually expressing the melancholy of separation and unfulfilled love, one of the first Kurdish female singers to sing heyrans is Chopy Fatah, while Lawje is a form of religious music and Payizoks are songs performed during the autumn. Love songs, dance music, wedding and other celebratory songs (dîlok/narînk), erotic poetry, and work songs are also popular.