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- WHO ARE THE KURDS?
The Kurds are people of Indo-European origin who live mainly in the
mountains and uplands where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran meet, in an area known
as "Kurdistan" for hundreds of years. (
see map) They have their own language, related to Persian but divided
into two main dialect areas. No firm statistics exist for the Kurdish
population but a cautious estimate, based on their believed population
proportion in each state in 1987 is currently; ( go to MAP OF KURDISTAN to
see Table 1). Although the kurdish people are overwhelmingly
Sunni Muslim, they embrace Jews, Christians, Yazidis and other sects.
THE KURDS IN HISTORY
from the 16th century the Ottoman and Persian Empires allowed the
Kurdish tribes almost total autonomy in return for keeping,
the peace on the rugged but open border area between the two empires.
From the mid-19th century, with rifles, machine guns, and later warplanes,
the governments of the region increasingly decided to control the border
themselves and bring these previously independent tribes under direct control.
At the end of World War 1, the Ottoman Empire was carved up and the Kurds
found themselves segmented between Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
AN UNWANTED MINORITY
In each of the new post-war countries, the Kurds found they were
treated with suspicion, and pressured to conform to the ways of the majority.
Their old independence and traditional pastoralist way of life was rapidly
reduced. They were expected to learn the main language of the new state in
which they found themselves, Turkish, Persian or Arabic, to abandon their
Kurdish identity and to accept Turkish, Iranian or Arab nationalism.
As a tribal and traditionally minded society the Kurds wanted to be left
in peace, but few then were nationalists. Some tribes tried to resist the
encroachment of government while their rivals benefited from
operating with the government. But an increasing number of Kurds felt the
deliberate undermining of their cultural identity.
In Turkey almost 10 million Kurds are forbidden to use their own
language or to describe themselves as Kurds, on pain of imprisonment Kurds
are officially known as "Mountain Turks". In the 1920s and 1930s Kurds
rebelled against this discrimination, and the government suppressed them with
great ferocity deporting thousands from their homeland. The continued
stringent suppression of over 9 million people has resulted in the rise of
a Marxist guerrilla group.
In Iran the Kurds were similarly brought under control in the 1920s.
In 1946 the Kurds of Mahabad succeeded in declaring an independent republic,
but it only lasted a few months, and the authorities hanged the ringleaders.
Tribal chiefs were allowed to register tribal lands as personal possessions
and were welcomed into the Iranian ruling elite, in return for making sure
their tribes obeyed the government. After the shia revolution the Kurdistan
Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) rebelled after demands for autonomy were
refused by Tehran.
there were numerous revolts against Baghdad, mainly by Mullah Mustafa
Barzani, the famous leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP).
From 1964 until 1975 Barzani was strong enough to maintain an intermittent
state of war and peace negotiations.
In 1974 the governing Ba'th party offered the Kurds autonomy, but the Kurds
believed it lacked substance and they reverted to war, strongly supported and
encouraged by Iran. But In 1975 the Shah of Iran, who had supported Barzani,
signed the Agreement of Algiers with the Iraqi government and abandoned the
Iraqi Kurds to their fate; as a result the Kurdish resistance virtually collapsed.
In the years that followed, many of the achievements of 1970 were gradually
whittled down by the Iraqi authorities.
In view of the repeated brutal attacks on Kurdish civilians after the end of
the Iran-Iraq war (e.g. Halabja, March 1988), and the forced resettlements of
parts of the Kurdish population (1989),
it seems unlikely that the atmosphere in Iraq will be conducive to worthwhile
literary activities in the near future.
At the time of writing, it is impossible to predict the effects of the 1991
Gulf War on the position of the Kurds of Iraq.
The successes of the Iraqi Kurds in the field of language and education
have, however, enabled them to create an impressive literature and a fully
adequate written language, and have produced a generation of Kurds whose
primary and secondary education have been in Kurdish. Such achievements will
undoubtedly help the Kurds of Iraq in their future efforts to preserve their
cultural and ethnic identity.
© 1996-2000 Kamaran Kakel