The Kurds are considered the largest ethnic group in the world without a separate state. They live in an area that stretches over parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They even call this area Kurdistan. For almost a hundred years, a number of Kurdish political movements have fought for independence in this area. Today, the Kurds in northern Iraq have real autonomy , but without declaring independence from Iraq.
- Who are the Kurds?
- What separates and what unites the Kurds?
- What do the main Kurdish political movements want to achieve?
- How are the Kurds part of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the fight against IS?
At the same time, Kurdish areas in Turkey and Syria are marked by war and conflict, and a political solution seems remote. The various Kurdish political parties and guerrilla movements are today important players in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. Combined with the conflict in Turkey, this has given the Kurds a lot of media attention in recent years.
2: One people or several Kurdish ethnic groups?
According to smartercomputing, the Kurds live in a more or less contiguous area that extends over parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Many have also emigrated to Europe over the last 30 years. In total, there are about 30 million people who consider themselves Kurds. Most people see themselves as one people with a common language and culture.
The language of the Kurds is completely different from both Arabic and Turkish. The Kurds also celebrate certain holidays that are not common among Arabs and Turks. However, there are also significant differences between different groups of Kurds, both religiously and linguistically.
Religion – Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but some are Shiites or Jesuits . Many Kurdish Sunni Muslims are religious, and a few support Islamist movements. However, very many are secular and do not want religion to have a central place in society.
- Tribal society- Traditionally, most Kurds have lived in tribal or clan societies where clan affiliation has been more important than identifying as Kurdish.
- Languages- What we refer to as the Kurdish language are in fact several different languages or dialects that are relatively different from each other. The most common languages are Kurmanji , which is spoken in Turkey, Syria and parts of northern Iraq, and Soriani, which is spoken in parts of northern Iraq and Iran. In addition, zaza, gorani and kirmanshahi / faili are considered Kurdish languages. Kurdish is related to Iranian (Persian / Farsi) and belongs to the Indo-European language family.
- Written language- Only kurmanji and surani have standardized written languages and are written in Latin and Arabic letters, respectively.
- Mixed population areas- The Kurds do not live in a cohesive and ethnically homogeneous area. Although they are in the majority in many places, they share these areas with, among others, Arabs, Turks, Armenians and Assyrians. The Assyrians are a Christian people who speak their own languages (Assyrian dialects) and who live in the same areas as the Kurds.
3: The peace settlement after the First World War: The Kurds’ lost opportunity
Most of the Kurdish areas were formerly part of the Ottoman Empire , but after the First World War this empire disintegrated, and new states such as Turkey, Iraq and Syria saw the light of day. The new rulers in Turkey wanted to create a Turkish nation-state without room for its own separate Kurdish identity. In Iraq and Syria, the majority were Arabs. Here, too, those in power promoted their own language (Arabic) and culture and refused the Kurds to develop their identity. The Kurds were left without a separate state, and instead had to become citizens of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
The Kurdish language was banned at times . None of the states allowed Kurdish teaching in schools. Furthermore, there were strong restrictions on the ability to publish newspapers, magazines and books in Kurdish, and Kurdish political parties were banned. In the decades that followed, there were several Kurdish armed uprisings in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, but all were crushed by military means.
4: Northern Iraq: From the struggle for independence to internal self-government
After a long struggle for independence, the Kurds in Iraq have managed to achieve internal autonomy in the north of the country . In particular, two external events – the first and the second Gulf war (1991 and 2003) – the turning points on the road to self-government.
In 1990, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, but the following year, a US-led military coalition drove the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait again (the First Gulf War ). At the same time, riots broke out in the Kurdish areas that Iraqi forces tried to crush with military means. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 688 on the establishment of a protected zone in northern Iraq to allow humanitarian organizations to assist the civilian population. The United States, France and the United Kingdom then introduced no- fly zones in northern Iraq and southern Iraq. This gave the Kurds a new form of international protection, and Iraqi forces were forced out of northern Iraq. Kurdish guerrillas, so-called «peshmerga», could thus for the first time take control of the Kurdish areas.
Kurdish politics was at this time dominated by the two parties Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). There had been an intense rivalry between them for a long time . They therefore failed to agree on how the liberated area in northern Iraq should be administered and managed. In 1994, acts of war broke out which ended with the two parties taking control of their respective territories and establishing parallel autonomy.
In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and ousted the country’s dictator Saddam Hussein (the Second Gulf War ). Following the occupation, elections were held for a new National Assembly in Iraq. KDP and PUK then managed to put the contradictions aside and put forward a common Kurdish list in the election. This made them election winners along with the Shiite Muslim parties that represented the majority population in Iraq. PUK leader Jalal Talabani became president of Iraq, while the largest Shiite party gained the prime minister, who has executive power. KDP leader Masoud Barzani became president of the reunited Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, and the KRG had its status as an autonomous region enshrined in the Iraqi constitution .