Kurdish people

ethnic group in the Middle East

Kurds (Kurdish: کورد ,Kurd) or Kurdish people are an Iranian[1][2][3] ethnic group indigenous to the mountainous region of Kurdistan in Western Asia, which spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. There are exclaves of Kurds in Central Anatolia, Khorasan, and the Caucasus, as well as significant Kurdish diaspora communities in the cities of western Turkey (in particular Istanbul) and Western Europe (primarily in Germany). The Kurdish population is estimated to be between 30 and 45 million.

Kurd کورد
Flag of Kurdistan.svg
Flag of Kurdistan
Total population
36.4–45.6 million[4]
(Kurdish Institute of Paris, 2017 estimate.)
Flag of Turkey.svg Turkeyest. 15–20 million[4]
Flag of Iran.svg Iranest. 10–12 million[4]
Flag of Iraq.svg Iraqest. 8–8.5 million[4]
Flag of Syria.svg Syria2,500,000–3,500,000[5][6]
Flag of Germany.svg Germany1.2–1.5 million[7][8]
Flag of Turkmenistan.svg Turkmenistan50,000[9]
Flag of Azerbaijan.svg Azerbaijan180,000[9]
Flag of France.svg France150,000[10]
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlands100,000[11]
Flag of Sweden.svg Sweden83,600[12]
Flag of Russia.svg Russia63,818[13]
Flag of Belgium.svg Belgium50,000[14]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom49,841[15][16][17]
Flag of Kazakhstan.svg Kazakhstan46,348[18]
Flag of Switzerland.svg Switzerland35,000[19]
Flag of Denmark.svg Denmark30,000[20]
Flag of Jordan.svg Jordan30,000[21]
Flag of Austria.svg Austria23,000[22]
Flag of Greece.svg Greece22,000[23]
Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg United States20,591[24]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg Canada16,315[25]
Flag of Finland.svg Finland15,368[26]
Flag of Georgia.svg Georgia13,861[27]
Flag of Kyrgyzstan.svg Kyrgyzstan13,200[28]
Flag of Australia.svg Australia10,551[29]
Flag of Armenia.svg Armenia37,470[30]
In their different varieties: Sorani, Kurmanji, Pehlewani, Laki[31]
Zaza, Gorani[32]
Majority Islam
(Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim)
with minorities of Kurdish Alevism, Yazidism, Yarsanism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Other Iranian peoples

Kurds are one of the largest and most important ethnic groups in the Middle East. There are between about 35 million and about 40 million Kurds.[33]:19 Most of the Kurdish population lives in Kurdistan. Kurdistan is the area where Kurds live. Today, it is a border country with lands in the east and southeast of Turkey, in the north-west of Iran, in the north of Iraq, and in the north-east of Syria.[33]:19 (Lands in Armenia and Azerbaijan also have small Kurdish populations.)[33]:19, 21 After most of these borders came into existence after World War I, many Kurds went out of Kurdistan. They migrated to the large cities in the Middle East and to Western Europe.[33]:21 Since the Middle Ages, there have also been Kurdish communities in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, and Aleppo.[33]:20[34]:38 Since the Early Modern Period, there have also been Kurdish communities in Khorasan (north-eastern Iran and Afghanistan).[33]:21

Many Kurds speak the Kurdish language. The two largest Kurdish dialects are Kurmanji Kurdish and Sorani Kurdish. The Kurds of Turkish Kurdistan and of Syrian Kurdistan speak Kurmanji. About half of Kurds in Iranian Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan speak Kurmanji, but other Kurds there speak Sorani. Some other Kurds in Iranian Kurdistan speak the Gorani Kurdish dialect, and others in Turkish Kurdistan speak Zazaki Kurdish.[33]:26–27

Until the 20th century, most Kurds were nomadic people.[33]:23 The Kurds' economy had a close connection with pastoralism and animal husbandry.[33]:23 In the 21st century, nomadism is not common among Kurds.[33]:23–24 Most Kurds now live in cities.[33]:27 In the economy of the 21st century, farming is the most important work in Kurdistan. Industrialization means that fewer Kurds work as farmers, and this has caused urbanization of the Kurdish population. In the past, Kurds were part of the Silk Road economic system. Trade routes form connections between different countries through Kurdistan.[33]:24

The Kurds share their lands with other ethnic groups. Some of the Kurds' neighbours are Turks, Arabs, Persians, Jews, Armenians, and Assyrians.[33]:24 In the past, some Arabic and Turkic people became Kurds by cultural assimilation.[33]:25–26 In the nationalist period, the governments of the states that control Kurdistan tried to assimilate the Kurds into Turkish, Iranian, and Arabic culture.[35][33]:26 These states (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) also moved Turks, Persians, and Arabs into Kurdistan.[35][33]:26 The governments of these states have used genocide, ethnocide, linguicide, and ethnic cleansing against Kurds.[36] The Soviet Union also forced Kurds from the Caucasus to migrate to Central Asia. When the Soviet Union ended, the First Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan affected most of the Kurds in the Caucasus.[37]

Most Kurds are Muslims. Most are part of Sunni Islam. Most Kurds are part of the Shafi'i school of jurisprudence, but some Kurds are part of the Hanafi school. Sufism is also common among Kurds. There are also Kurds who are part of Shia Islam and Kurds who are part of Alevism. There are also Kurdish Jews and Yazidis.[33]:26


The name of the Kurds is very old. The first proof of the name is from writing in Middle Persian (Pahlavi), the language of the Sasanian Empire. The name became most common after the Muslim conquests during the 7th century CE.[38]:3

In the Islamic world of the early Middle Ages, the word had a loose meaning. The meaning was variable, and people gave many tribes and nomadic peoples the word Kurd. Peoples living in the mountains between Anatolia and the Iranian plateau often had the name "Kurd". In the Persian language and the Arabic language, writers during the 10th century gave the name to different ethnic groups.[38]:3 Some scholars make an argument that the meaning of the name was not an ethnonym at that time, because many different groups of nomads and pastoralists had the name "Kurds" during the Middle Ages. However, other scholars make the argument that the name was not the name of lifestyle or economic system (like nomadism or pastoralism) but the name of a population. This population shared a common character in linguistics, shared an area to live in, and shared a mythology.[38]:3–4 Whether the people and groups who had the name "Kurds" thought that they were a common community before the 12th century is unknown.[38]:4



Some scholars have associated the Kurds with the Medes, an ancient Iranian people.[39][40] Gernot Ludwig Windfuhr, professor of Iranian Studies, states that the majority of those who now speak Kurdish most likely were formerly speakers of a Median dialect.[41] Windfuhr also states Kurdish languages as Parthian, albeit with a Median substratum.[42]

Rock relief of a Median man, Persepolis

During the Sassanid era, in "Kar-Namag i Ardashir i Pabagan" a short prose work written in Middle Persian, Ardashir I (founder of Sasanian empire) is depicted as having battled the Kurds and their leader, Madig. After initially sustaining a heavy defeat, Ardashir I was successful in subjugating the Kurds.[43] In a letter sent by Ardashir's enemy, Ardavan, and in the same work, it is stated that he was a Kurd.

You've bitten off more than you can chew and you have brought death to yourself. O son of a Kurd, raised in the tents of the Kurds, who gave you permission to put a crown on your head?[44]

The usage of the term "Kurd" during this time period most likely was a social term, designating Northwestern Iranian nomads, rather than a concrete ethnic group.[44][45]

Mediaval PeriodEdit

In the early Middle Ages, the Kurds sporadically appear in Arabic sources, though the term was still not being used for a specific people; instead it referred to an amalgam of nomadic western Iranian tribes, who were distinct from Persians. However, in the High Middle Ages, the Kurdish ethnic identity gradually materialized, as one can find clear evidence of the Kurdish ethnic identity and solidarity in texts of the 12th and 13th centuries,[46] though, the term was also still being used in the social sense.[47] Since 10th century, Arabic texts including al-Masudi's works, have referred to Kurds as a distinct linguistic group.[48] From 11th century onward, the term Kurd is explicitly defined as an ethnonym and this does not suggest synonymity with the ethnographic category nomad.[49]

In the 10th-12th centuries, a number of Kurdish principalities and dynasties were founded, ruling Kurdistan and neighbouring areas:

  • Shaddadids (951–1174) a dynasty of Kurdish origin.[50][51][52] They ruled parts of present-day Armenia and Arran.
  • Rawwadids (955–1221) a dynasty of Arab origin but later Kurdified.[53] They ruled southern Azerbaijan.
  • Hasanwayhids (959–1015) a dynasty of Kurdish origin.[54] They ruled western Iran and upper Mesopotamia.
  • Marwanids (990–1096) a dynasty of Kurdish origin.[55][56][57] They ruled eastern Anatolia.
  • Annazids (990–1117) a dynasty of Kurdish origin.[58] They ruled western Iran and upper Mesopotamia (succeeded the Hasanwayhids).
  • Hazaraspids (1148–1424) a dynasty of Kurdish origin.[59] They ruled southwestern Iran.
  • Ayyubids (1171–1341) was a Kurdish dynasty. Saladin, the Founder of the dynasty, was of Kurdish[60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67] origin.


In Classical Antiquity, the most important deities of the Kurds' lands were Ahura Mazda and Mithra.[68]:48–50 The most common religion was Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was probably the state religion of the Achaemenid Empire. There are connections between the writings of Zoroastrianism and the Vedas, the Hindu writings of ancient India.[68]:48–50

In Late Antiquity before the 7th century, Kurds had many different religious beliefs.[38]:4[68]:48 There were Christians and Zoroastrians.[38]:4 There were also Kurdish Jews.[68]:48 Some sects among the Kurdish Christians and Jews had religious beliefs from Zoroastrianism and Mithraism in their religion.[68]:48–50 There may have been Kurds among the Companions of the Prophet (the people who knew Muhammad).[68]:50–51

The Muslim conquests by Arab armies in the 7th century meant that most Kurds became Muslims in the 7th and 8th centuries.[38]:4 Most Kurds converted to Islam between the 7th and 9th centuries CE. Kurds who were not Muslim had to pay the jizya, a tax.[38]:4 Most of these were part of the Shafi'ite system of Islamic jurisprudence.[38]:4 However, although most Kurds are Muslims and part of Sunni Islam, there are also Kurds of many other religions and sects.[68]:48

There are Kurdish Jews in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Israel.[33]:25


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