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Notes on the Kurds


The 25 million Kurds constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have no country of their own. They are the largest nation in the world that does not have its own country. About 45% live in Turkey, 30% live in Iran, 20% live in Iraq and 5% live in Syria. Another 5 million are distributed in such countries as Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Germany, Sweden, France, and the United States. They represent 60 to 100 percent of the population in the dark grey zone in the map below. They have been fighting for centuries to regain control over their ancestral territories and to become a respected nation among nations. The Kurdish independence fighters are called peshmerga (those who face death). alt

The earliest evidence so far of a unified and distinct culture by people inhabiting the Kurdish mountains dates back to the autochtonous Halaf culture of 6,000-5,400 BC. This was followed by the spread of the Ubaidian culture, which was a foreign intrusion from Mesopotamia. After about a millennium, its dominance was replaced by the Hurrian culture, which could have arisen from the Halafian people reasserting their dominance over their homeland, the Zagros and Taurus mountains. The Hurrian period lasted from 4,300 to about 600 BC.

Around 2500 BC the indigenous civilisation of the Hattians arose in central Anatolia.

Around 2000 BC, the first Indo- European speaking tribes started to arrive in small numbers and to become the aristocracy of city states and kingdoms such as the Hittites, the Mittanni and the Urartu. The Hittites took over the Hatti capital of Hattusas in Anatolia and the Mittanis settled in Kurdistan where they were influenced by the Hurrian natives in several fields.The Mittanis seem to have been an Indic, and not an Iranic group of people. Their pantheon, which includes names like Indra, Varuna, Suriya, Nasatya, is typically Indic. The Mittanis could have introduced during this early period some of the Indic tradition that appears to manifest itself in the Kurdish religion of Yazdanism.

Around 1200 BC, the trickle of Indo-European tribes turned into a flood. The north was settled by the Haiks, who became the Armenians, while the rest of the mountains were settled by various Iranic peoples, such as the Medes, Persians, Scythians, Sarmathians and Sagarthians. By 850 BC, the last Hurrian states had been extinguished by these invading Aryans, who succeeded over time in changing the Hurrian language of the people in Kurdistan, as well as their genetic make-up. By the 3rd century BC, the Aryanization of the original Hurrians was complete. The resulting mountain tribes and independent kingdoms were known to the Greek as "Kurti" or "Carduchi".

The larger Kurdish Kingdoms of the west gradually disintegrated before the Roman and Byzantine power but in the east they survived until the advent of the Sasanian Persian empire in the 3rd century AD. The last major Kurdish dynasty, the Kayosids, fell in AD 380. Smaller Kurdish principalities, called the Kotyar, managed to preserve their autonomous existence until the coming of Islam replaced the Sasanids by the Muslim Caliphate around 650 AD . Arabs settled amongst and mixed with the Kurds who abandoned their ancient religion of Yazdanism for Islam. Local Kurdish dynasties emerged such as the Shaddadids of the Caucasus and Armenia, the Rawadids of Azerbaijan, the Marwandis of eastern Anatolia; the Hasanwayhids, Fadhilwayhids, and Ayyarids of the central Zagros and the Shabankara of Fars and Kirman.

Around 1050, Turkic Seljuk nomad tribes from north of the Aral sea, undertook their expansion which eventually dominated Iran, Iraq and Turkey as well as vast territories in central Asia. The Seljuks overran the Kurdish states, defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071 and established a provincial capital at Iznik not far from the still independent Constantinople. The crusades and the Mongol invasion in 1220 broke-up the Seljuk empire into several Turk kingdoms one of which (Osman) was destined to conquer Constantinople in 1453 and become the Ottoman empire. Meanwhile, after enduring the Mongol occupation and surviving the ravages of Tamerlane, Persia undertook its renaissance under the Safavids around 1500. Their expanding empire butted into the Ottoman empire in the Zagros mountains where the small Kurdish principalities that had managed to survive were devastated both by the Turkic Ottomans and the Persian Safavids.

After the defeat of the Ottomans in WW I, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres had envisaged an independent state for the Kurds in the former Ottoman Kurdistan but Britain and France got together and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne divided the Kurd territory between Turkey, Syria and Irak (where oil had been discovered) Revolts by the Kurds of Iran in the 1920s and of Turkey in 1925 and 1930 were forcibly quelled.

In Turkey, fighting erupted in the mid-1980s, mainly in SE Turkey, between government forces and guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which was established in 1984. The PKK also engaged in terrorist attacks. In 1992 the Turkish government again mounted a concerted attack on its Kurdish minority, killing more than 20,000 and creating about two million refugees. In 1995, Turkey waged a military campaign against PKK base camps in northern Iraq, and in 1999 it captured the guerrillas’ leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who was subsequently condemned to death. Some 23,000–30,000 people are thought to have died in this 15-year war. The legal People’s Democracy party is now the principal civilian voice of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey. The PKK announced in Feb., 2000, that they would cease their attacks, but the arrest the same month of the Kurdish mayors of Diyarbakir and other towns on charges of aiding the rebels threatened to revive the unrest. There were also clashes in the 1990s between the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq.

After the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958, agitation in 1960 among Iraq’s Kurds for a unified and autonomous Kurdistan led to prolonged warfare between Iraqi troops and the Kurds under Mustafa al-Barzani. In 1970, Iraq finally promised local self-rule to the Kurds, with the city of Erbil as the capital of the Kurdish area, but the Kurds demanded that the important oil center of Kirkuk be included in the autonomous Kurdish region. In 1974 the Iraqi government sought to impose its project of a limited autonomy for Kurdistan. It was rejected by the Kurds, and heavy fighting erupted. After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran (1979), the government there launched a murderous campaign against its Kurdish inhabitants as well as a special program to assassinate Kurdish leaders. Iraqi attacks on the Kurds continued throughout the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), culminating in1988 with poison gas attacks on Kurdish villages to quash resistance and with the rounding up and execution of male Kurds. All of resulted in some 200,000 Kurdish deaths in that year alone.

With the end of the Persian Gulf War (1991), yet another Kurdish uprising against Iraqi rule was crushed by Iraqi forces; nearly 500,000 Kurds fled to the Iraq-Turkey border, and more than one million fled to Iran. Thousands of Kurds subsequently returned to their homes under UN protection. In 1992 the Kurds established an “autonomous region” in northern Iraq but they were split into two opposed groups, the Kurdistan Democratic party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which engaged in sporadic fighting. In 1999 the two groups agreed to end hostilities.

To be continued...


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