- For the Iranian province of Kordestan, please see Kurdistan Province, Iran.
Map of proposed boundaries of Kurdistan.
Kurdistan is an area in the Middle East, inhabited mainly by the Kurds, covering parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, and Syria. Its borders are hard to define, as none of the states in question acknowledge Kurdistan as a demographic or geographical region, but it is generally held to include those regions with large Kurdish populations. According to one account it includes 25 million people in a 190,000 km2 (74,000 sq. mi) area. Others estimate as much as 40 million Kurds are on the globe and their land covers an area as big as France. The Kurdistan Province in Iran and the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq are both included in the usual definition of Kurdistan
Kurds were first promised an independent nation-state in the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, which divided the former Ottoman Empire among the United Kingdom, Turkey, and others, and gave independence to Armenia. Since that time Kurdish separatists have continued to seek independence in an area approximating that identified at Sevres.
Before World War I, most Kurds lived within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, in the province of Kurdistan. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Allies created several countries within its former boundaries. Originally Kurdistan, along with Armenia was to be one of them, according to the Treaty of Sèvres. However, the reconquest of these areas by Kemal Atatürk and other pressing issues caused the Allies to accept the renegotiated Treaty of Lausanne, giving this territory to Turkey and leaving the Kurds without a self-ruled region. Other Kurdish areas were assigned to the new states of Iraq and Syria under both treaties. These boundaries were drawn with more concern for the division of oil resources and influence between different colonial powers and for rewarding pro-Allied Arab leaders than for ethnic distributions. Turkey did request northern Iraq, but the allies were more concerned with oil than stability (one of the major reasons of conflicts in Africa and the Middle East).
Since WWII, Kurds have been divided between several states, in each of which they are minorities. Many Kurds have campaigned for independence or autonomy, often through force of arms. But there has been no support by any of the regional governments or by outside powers for changes in regional boundaries. A sizable Kurdish diaspora exists in Western Europe that participates in agitation for Kurdish issues, but most of the governments in the Middle East have historically banned open Kurdish activism.
In Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, Kurdish guerrilla groups, known in the Kurdish culture as 'Peshmerga', have fought for a Kurdish state. In Northern Iraq, Peshmerga fought against the Iraqi government before and during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq and now police the Kurdish Autonomous Region there. Another guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have fought an armed campaign in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. In Turkey this conflict has involved the deaths of over 30,000 people.
Northern Kurdistan is a geo-cultural region located in present-day southeastern Turkey. After the Treaty of Sèvres, there was no official claim of an independent Kurdish State. Kemal Atatürk often refered to a "Turco-Kurdish cooperation" during the years of Millî Mücadele ("National Struggle"). This was in accord with acts of the Ankara government such as sending a team of instructors to train the Kurdish rebels, who were then fighting against British troops under the banner of the "Kingdom of Kurdistan".
For over two decades, militant Kurdish seperatists such as the PKK have campaigned for independence through force of arms. Other Kurdish activists have campaigned constitutionally for the same ends or for various schemes of regional autonomy.
Southern Kurdistan is a geo-cultural region located in present-day Northern Iraq. The southern boundary of the present-day Kurdistan Regional Government – known as the 'Green Line' – passes roughly through the middle of the area in which most Iraqi Kurds live, leaving a number of Kurds outside the autonomous zone. On the other hand, this transitional region (which includes the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk) is ethnically quite diverse, as it includes the bulk of Iraqi Turkmen and Assyrians as well as large numbers of Sunni and Shia Arabs.
The Kurdish Autonomous Region was designated for three northern provinces in 1970. Since the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the Kurdistan Democratic Party under the leadership of Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan under the leadership of Jalal Talabani have controlled much of Southern Kurdistan. The capital of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region is Arbil (also known as Hewler in Kurdish), although the main Kurdish parties have indicated their preference for Kirkuk as the capital of an eventual Kurdish state. The latter city is currently hotly contested by Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen factions, and there is a strong and vocal opposition of Turkey to permanent Kurdish control of the city.
Other Kurdish inhabited areas
Iranian Kurdistan: In 1946, a short lived Soviet-created and Soviet-backed "Kurdish" entity in Iran was crushed by government forces when Soviet protective forces were withdrawn. In the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, all language minorities including Kurdish speakers have the right to teach the language in schools and have publications. There are various Kurdish books and newspapers published in Iran. In Iran there is also a province named Kurdistan.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 04:47:40