Kurdish people

ethnic group in the Middle East
(Redirected from Kurds)

The Kurds (Kurdish: کورد ,Kurd‎) are an ethnic group from Western Asia. They speak Kurdish and the Kurdish homeland is Kurdistan, a region in the Middle East. Kurdish is an Indo-European language, and Kurds are an Indo-European people, like the peoples of western and north-western Iran.

Map of Kurdistan from 1948
Map of areas where Kurds live (from 1986)

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.[1]: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.[1]:19 (Lands in Armenia and Azerbaijan also have small Kurdish populations.)[1]: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.[1]:21 Since the Middle Ages, there have also been Kurdish communities in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, and Aleppo.[1]:20[2]:38 Since the Early Modern Period, there have also been Kurdish communities in Khorasan (north-eastern Iran and Afghanistan).[1]: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.[1]:26–27

Until the 20th century, most Kurds were nomadic people.[1]:23 The Kurds' economy had a close connection with pastoralism and animal husbandry.[1]:23 In the 21st century, nomadism is not common among Kurds.[1]:23–24 Most Kurds now live in cities.[1]: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.[1]:24

The Kurds share their lands with other ethnic groups. Some of the Kurds' neighbours are Turks, Arabs, Persians, Jews, Armenians, and Assyrians.[1]:24 In the past, some Arabic and Turkic people became Kurds by cultural assimilation.[1]: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.[3][1]:26 These states (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) also moved Turks, Persians, and Arabs into Kurdistan.[3][1]:26 The governments of these states have used genocide, ethnocide, linguicide, and ethnic cleansing against Kurds.[4] 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.[5]

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.[1]: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.[6]: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.[6]: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.[6]: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.[6]:4


Late AntiquityEdit

The history of the Kurds starts with the late Sasanian Empire and the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia.[2]:23 Arab armies first fought against the Kurds in the late 630s. At that time, the Arabs overcame the tribes of Kurds in the mountains near Mosul.[6]:4 Arab armies took control of Mesopotamia in 637.[2]:23 Kurdish tribes helped the Sasanian armies fight against the Arabs in 639 and 644, but the Arabs had more success.[2]:23 Utba bin Farqad led the Arab armies that took control of the Shahrizor (a plain now in Sulaymaniyah Governorate, Iraqi Kurdistan) and the lands around Hulwan (a town now in Kermanshah Province, Iranian Kurdistan).[6]:4

Then the Kurds came under the control of the Rashidun Caliphate and converted to Islam.[2]:23 The Arab Muslim armies came to Kurdistan after they took control of Ctesiphon (the capital of the Sasanian Empire) in 636. This was in the time of Umar, the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate. The Muslim armies attacked and overcame the cities Masibezan (near Ilam) and Hulwan (now Sarpol-e Zahab). When the armies of the Sasanian Empire and the Rashidun Caliphate met at Nahavand, they fought the Battle of Nahavand. In the battle, the Rashidun Caliphate's army overcame the army of the Sasanian Empire.[7]:50–51 The Arab armies also took control of Mosul, Shahrizor, and Urmia by force. Some places surrendered, like Mandali.[7]:50–51

Most Kurds converted to Islam between the 7th and 9th centuries CE. The exact process of their religious conversion is unknown, but Kurds probably wanted to free themselves from the jizya, a tax on people who were not Muslims. Most became part of Sunni Islam, and most were Shafi'ites.[6]:4 The Kurds fought against the government at some times, but fought with the government's army at other times. Kurdish tribes made rebellions against the Rashidun Caliphate in 645 and in 659. In 666 there were two rebellions (in Ahvaz and in Fars). During the Umayyad Caliphate, Kurds made rebellions in 685, 702, and 708. Kurdish tribes fought for Marwan II (who controlled the Umayyad Caliphate) against the rebellion in 746.[2]:23

When the Kurds became Muslims, they became part of the community of the Islamic world. Kurds were then able to became a part of the political and military power of the region.[6]:4 When the some of largest towns in the area became part of the Rashidun Caliphate (Mosul, Erbil, Shahrizor, Seymere, Borujerd, Hamadan, Dinavar, Nahavand, Siravand, and Karaj of Abu Dulaf), they became important places of education and religion during early Islam.[7]:51

Middle AgesEdit

During the Abbasid Caliphate, there were many rebellions by Kurds. During rebellions in 840, 846, and 866, Kurds took control of Mosul. Some Kurds were part of the Zanj Rebellion (869–883) and some were part of Ya'qub ibn al-Layth as-Saffar's rebellion.[2]:23 The Abbasid Caliphate became weak in the 9th century, and Kurdish lords were sometimes able to take control of government in the mountains.[6]:4

There were a number of Kurdish dynasties that controlled a number of emirates in the Kurdish region. The Shaddadids controlled lands in Armenia and Azerbaijan from 951 to 1174. The Rawwidids controlled lands in Azerbaijan between 955 and 1071. The Hasanwayhids controlled parts of western Iran between 959 and 1095. The Marwanids controlled the lands around Diyarbakır (a city now in Turkish Kurdistan) and Lake Van between 990 and 1096.[6]:4

In the 11th century, the Seljuk dynasty and the Zengid dynasty fought wars with the Kurdish emirates. The Seljuk dynasty took control of Iran, Iraq, and Anatolia. The Zengid dynasty controlled the lands around Mosul for the Seljuks. The success of their armies ended the independence of the Kurds' emirates.[6]:4 When the Seljuks took control of Dvin (now in Armenia) from the Shaddadid dynasty, Shadhi ibn Marwan and his two sons Najm ad-Din Ayyub and Asad ad-Din Shirkuh worked for the Shaddadids. They went away from the city and came to Iraq. Najm ad-Din Ayyub and Asad ad-Din Shirkuh became important soldiers in the armies of Nur ad-Din Zengi, who controlled Syria and Mosul. Najm ad-Din Ayyub became governor of Baalbek and Damascus. Asad ad-Din Shirkuh became governor of Homs.[6]:5

In 1163, Shirkuh led an invasion of the Fatimid Caliphate, which controlled Egypt.[6]:5–6 After this first attack, Shirkuh's Zengid army went out of Egypt in 1164, but they attacked again in 1167. This invasion had success, but after two years Shirkuh died.[6]:6 The son of Najm ad-Din Ayyub then took control of his uncle Shirkuh's army in Egypt. This son was Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub ("Saladin"). Working for Nur ad-Din Zengi, Saladin then used the Zengid army for the destruction of the Fatimid Caliphate. Doing this, Saladin ended the control of Shia Islam in Egypt and took control of Egypt himself when Nur ad-Din died in 1174.[6]:6

Saladin's Ayyubid dynasty controlled many lands. Libya, the Hejaz, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, and Syria were all under Saladin's control. Saladin also took control of many castles, and he took control of Jerusalem after the Battle of Hattin in 1187. (Jerusalem had been part of the Roman Catholic Kingdom of Jerusalem from the time of the First Crusade. Saladin took back Jerusalem for the Muslims.) Saladin died in 1193.[6]:6 The Ayyubid dynasty ended in 1250, when the Mamluks took control of Egypt and the Mongols attacked the Ayyubids in Syria. With the end of the Ayyubids' government in Egypt and Syria, Kurdish power there ended. (Some of the Ayyubid dynasty continued to control Hasankeyf into the 16th century.) Kurds continued to live in many lands that the Ayyubids had controlled.[6]:6 From this time, many Kurds lived in the Kurdish quarter of Damascus. (They spoke Kurdish there into the 20th century.)[6]:6–7

Safi ad-Din Ardabili (1252–1334), a Kurdish mystic, started the Safavid order. The Safavids were Sufis, and at first they were Sunni Muslims. (Safi ad-Din Ardabili was the first of the Safavid dynasty, a family that later came to be the rulers of Iran.)[6]:7

Kurdish emirates and tribes continued to have military power. Both the Mongols' Ilkhanate in Iran and the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt tried to use Kurds as allies, because many Kurds lived in the mountains on the border between the Mongol Ilkhanate and the Mamluk Sultanate. The Ilkhanate government gave authority to some Kurdish rulers among the tribes. The Sultanate gave authority to an officer with the title Generalissimo of the Kurds (Arabic: Muqaddam al-Akrad‎).[6]:7 Kurdistan became part of the Timurid Empire in the time of Timur, but after Timur died in 1404, the Timurid dynasty started to lose control of the country. The Qara Qoyunlu took control of the Kurdish emirates around Bitlis, Siirt, and Hasankeyf before 1450. By that time, the Kurds around Diyarbakır were controlled by the Aq Qoyunlu. In 1460 the Aq Qoyunlu attacked and took control of Siirt and Hasankeyf. Then they took control of Cizre (the emirate of Bohtan), Bitlis, and Hakkari.[6]:7

Kurds were common in the hills near Gaziantep and Kilis. Near Antakya, the hills of the Jabal al-Akrad and the Kurd Dagh both had Kurdish populations. Qusayr, by the Jabal al-Akrad was the same.[2]:39 By the 11th century, Kurds had migrated to Jabal al-Ansariyya ("the Alawite mountains") and parts of Greater Lebanon (the lands of modern Lebanon). Most of these Kurds joined the Arabs in these lands and became "Arabized", but others became warlords in the time of the Ottoman Empire. Kurds that came from Diyarbakır in the early 16th century were the ancestors of the Druze Ma'an dynasty. They controlled Mount Lebanon in the 17th century. Some Arab families of the area have Kurdish ancestors.[2]:39

Early Modern PeriodEdit

At the end of the 15th century, the Safavids overcame the Aq Qoyunlu and started the Safavid Empire. The leader of the Safavid order became shah as Shah Ismail I in 1501. He controlled the lands from Kurdistan to Afghanistan. By the 15th century, the Safavid order had become Shia Muslims, and they had military power with help from Turkmen tribes. Shah Ismail made the Twelvers' Shia Islam the state religion. Many of the Kurds, who were mostly Sunni Muslims, became enemies of the Safavid government.[6]:7 Although some Kurdish emirs joined the Shiites, Shah Ismail took away the authority of many Kurdish emirs. The shah gave the lands of these emirs to the Qizilbash, men who supported the shah's religious ideas.[6]:7–8

The rulers of the Ottoman Empire were also Sunni Muslims, and they became the enemies of the Safavid Empire. At that time, the Ottoman Empire gave better treatment to Sunni Muslim Kurds than did the Safavid Empire. Kurdistan was part of the Safavid Empire. The Ottoman sultan, Selim I, started an invasion of Kurdistan. The armies of Sultan Selim overcame the armies of Shah Ismail at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514.[6]:8[2]:39 The Ottoman Empire took control of the western part of Kurdistan.[2]:39 The majority of Kurdistan became part of the Ottoman Empire, but the eastern part continued to be a part of the Safavid Empire.[6]:8–9

The Ottoman government gave Idris Bitlisi authority to get help from the Kurdish emirs. The Kurdish emirs sent their soldiers to help the Ottomans. In the first half of the 16th century, many important Kurdish soldiers fought against the Safavids' allies in Kurdistan.[6]:8 The Ottoman government made variable allowances for the autonomy of Kurdish emirs and tribes in their own lands. There was also an Ottoman governor in each province. The emirs of Bitlis, Hakkari, and the emirate of Bohtan (Cizre) did not have to pay tax to the Ottoman government. Other tribes did pay tax, but the Ottoman government gave their "Kurdish counties" (Turkish: ekrad sancakları, lit.'Kurdish sanjaks') as fiefs (yurtluk/ocaklık) to Kurdish tribes' own leaders, who inherited their position. For the Ottoman Empire at this time, the Kurds were useful as allies on the border with the Safavid Empire.[6]:8 The Ottomans had success in getting Kurdish allies, and the Safavids gave the Kurds better treatment in order to get the same result.[6]:8–9 Some parts of Iranian Kurdistan became parts of the provinces of the Safavid Empire, but others had Kurdish governors who inherited their positions.[6]:9 The Ardalan clan of Sanandaj and the Mukriyani tribes of west Azerbaijan both had Kurdish governors of this kind.[6]:9 The sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, took away the authority of the Kurdish emir of Bitlis, so he and his clan went to the Safavid Empire, where the shah gave them good treatment and gave the emir's grandson education at the royal court. The Safavid government gave the emir's grandson, Sharaf Khan Bidlisi, authority for the Kurds at the royal court, and gave him a title: "the high emir of the Kurds" (Persian: amir al-omara al-akrad‎). However, Sharaf Khan Bidlisi later returned to his grandfather's emirate in Bitlis, defecting from the Safavid Empire to the Ottoman Empire.[6]:9

Some Safavid shahs forced Kurdish tribes to migrate to Khorasan to the east of the Safavids' lands. There they set up Kurdish emirates which defended the border against attacks from the Turkmen and Uzbek tribes.[6]:9 The government moved many Kurds there in the 16th century, in order to make the Kurds fight against the Uzbek people who were then attacking Iran.[8]:232 Abbas the Great, the shah, moved tens of thousands of Kurds from Iranian Kurdistan to the borders of Afghanistan and the land that is now Turkmenistan.[8]:232 Shah Abbas's government did this between 1598 and 1610.[8]:232 The Safavid government continued to threaten the Ottoman government's control in Kurdistan.[6]:9

It was most common for the Ottomans to use the Turkoman people to control the population, but they also used Kurds.[2]:39 Ali Janbulad was a Kurdish warlord from Kilis. He fought in the Ottoman armies, and controlled the Ottoman army in Palestine.[2]:39 The Ottomans tried to settle the nomadic people and tried to make them become farmers. The Kurds, however, started to have firearms in the 1580s and 1590s. Kurdish lords became more powerful and started to control the trade routes between Mosul, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Adana.[2]:39 Kurdish lords controlled the mountain lands between the inland cities of Syria (Aleppo, Damascus, Hama and Homs) and the ports of the Mediterranean Sea (Payas, Iskenderun, Antioch, Latakia, Tripoli). Kurdish traders carried the imports and exports, and Kurdish tribes sometimes attacked the trade routes.[2]:40 Kurdish soldiers attacked the river trade route of the Tigris, and the Yazidis on the way between Mosul and Aleppo always gave resistance to the Ottoman government.[2]:39 The mountain roads were sometimes impossible to pass through for months or years because of the Kurdish lords. Travellers would bribe the Kurds, and take hostages. The Ottoman government did not have success in trying to control the roads with the army and with fortifications.[2]:40 The Ottoman government sometimes gave Kurdish warlords government authority, so that they might do as the government wanted.[2]:40 After 1600, the power of the Ottoman governors in Aleppo and Mosul was weak, so each governor had an army. The cavalry in these armies were mostly Kurds from the area of Kilis.[2]:41 However, when governors went away after their term of office, their armies' veterans became unemployed and many became bandits in rural areas.[2]:42 Banditry from Kurds and Bedouins was so common in the early 18th century that the population of farmers around Homs and Hama became smaller and there was not enough food in Damascus as a result.[2]:42–43

The Safavid Empire started to become weak at the end of the 17th century. The authority of the government became weak, and some Kurdish tribes were able to take power for themselves. Attacks from Afghans started in 1709. At the time of these attacks, Kurdish tribes were able to take control of some lands from the Safavid government. In 1719, Kurds took control of Hamadan and the tribes were able to move almost to Isfahan. The Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire both took control of lands in the north and west of Iran. The Russian Empire's armies took control of Derbent and Baku in the years 1722 and 1723. They were also able to move to Rasht. The Safavid dynasty's downfall was in 1735. Nader Shah, the first shah of the Afsharid dynasty, went to try to stop a rebellion among the Kurds in 1747. (He was assassinated on his way.)[9]:86

From the 1790s, Ardalan rulers (walis) were an important part of the political support for the Qajar dynasty. The Qajar dynasty started to come to power in Iran in the 1790s.[9]:87 The Qajar rulers took hostages from the tribes to keep the Kurdish rulers' loyalty.[9]:87 The Qajar Empire continued to lose lands to the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Both of these empires wanted to control Kurdistan and Azerbaijan. The Qajar Empire lost most of the land to the north of the Aras (Latin: Araxes) river before 1800.[9]:86

During the 18th century, the Kurdish emirate of Baban came into power in the Shahrizor area. Its capital city was Sulaymaniyah. In 1821, the emir of Baban defected from the Ottoman Empire to the Qajar Empire. The emir started to help Abbas Mirza, the crown prince of Iran and the Qajar governor of Azerbaijan. The emir's defection caused a war to start between the Ottomans and the Qajars (the 1821–1823 Ottoman–Persian War).[6]:9

During the early modern period, the importance of the Baban emirate in the later 18th century was one of the reasons for the growth of the Sorani Kurdish dialect. From Amadiya's emirate came poetry in the Kurmanji Kurdish dialect. The rulers of the Ardalan emirate were patrons of poetry in the Gorani Kurdish dialect.[6]:9

Working with the Kurds in Anatolia, Kurds in Syria came to control most of the trade in livestock and in the galls of oak trees across the region. (The oak galls traded at Aleppo and were exports to Europe for making into ink. The livestock they sold for meat.) In the cities of the region, Kurdish lords and landlords became powerful leaders with authority over the Kurdish people who lived in and came to the city.[2]:42

In the past, people feared the Kurds. In the Middle Ages, people thought of the Kurds as being bandits. In the 18th century, people in Aleppo and Mosul would say that Kurds were as dangerous as rats and locusts. People in Aleppo would also say the Kurds were like the Bedouin (a group of nomadic people). They would say: "Four were born to do mischief: rats, locusts, Bedouin and Kurds".[2]:38 Because of this, and because many Kurds were in military units, Kurds often lived outside the defensive walls of big cities like Aleppo and Damascus.[2]:38 Many of the veterans of Ottoman governors' private armies who became bandits were Arabs and Turkomans as well as Kurds, but Kurds were the group most connected with the problem.[2]:42 People in northern Syria and Mesopotamia thought of themselves as different from the Kurds, who did not have a good reputation. These differences were in existence into the 21st century.[2]:43

19th centuryEdit

In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire and the Qajar Empire both started reforms. The reforms' purpose was to modernize each empire, because both had started to have less power than the Great Powers of the Western world. The reforms meant that the governments took away the autonomy of the Kurdish rulers and the existence of the Kurdish emirates ended.[6]:10 Muslims, including Kurds, feared the successes of the Western powers, and feared the power that Christian empires had. The Tanzimat reforms were part of a new, secular nationalism, in the Ottoman Empire, and this made many traditional Muslim Kurds unhappy. Nationalism among the Ottoman Empire's Christian Armenian people also caused unhappiness to grow among the Kurds. The power of Sufism grew among the Kurds.[6]:11 As a result of the reforms, a social class of Kurdish intellectuals and professionals came into existence with the development of Western education. Many of this new class were descendants of the families that had been the rulers of emirates. Many of these Kurds joined the new institutions of the Ottoman state, including the army. For these Kurds, there was some cultural assimilation with the other people who formed the empire's government social class. Among these Kurds too was also the start of Kurdish political nationalism.[6]:12

In the Qajar Empire, this reform process was not as fast as it was in the Ottoman Empire.[6]:10 The Qajar Empire got help from Europe to make military reforms in the Qajar army. In 1812, the Qajar Empire tried to take back lands from the Russian Empire when the armies of Napoleon's First French Empire were attacking Russia. The British Empire helped the Qajar Empire with its reforms in the early the 19th century because the Russian Empire's growth was a threat to the British Empire's control of India. In 1828 (after the Russo-Persian War), the Russian Empire took control of all the lands and all the Kurdish tribes to the north of the Aras river. This was the agreement of the Treaty of Turkmenchay.[9]:86 The influence of the Russian Empire was growing in the north of Kurdistan, and the influence of the British Empire was growing in the south of Kurdistan.[9]:86 Many of the Kurdish rulers on the border between the Ottoman Empire and the Qajar Empire chose to work with the Ottoman Empire. This was because the most of the Kurds in the north of Kurdistan were part of Sunni Islam, like the Ottoman dynasty's sultan (and caliph) in Constantinople. (Other Kurds in the south of Kurdistan were part of Shia Islam, like the shah in Tehran.) The Kurdish rulers thought that the Ottoman government would not be as able to tax or conscript their tribes, because the Qajar government in Tehran was nearer than the Ottoman government in Constantinople.[9]:86–87 Both governments helped rebels who had fought against the other government. For the governments of both empires, controlling the Kurdish lands on the border with their armies was not possible.[9]:87

Tent of a Kurdish chief in Mesopotamia in 1850, with Austen Henry Layard

The provinces and government of the Ottoman Empire started to have a different organization because of the reforms that Sultan Mahmud II started. His government named new governors for the provinces, and took away the authority of the Kurdish emirs and governors. There was a lot of fighting against this and the Ottoman army started to attack the Kurdish emirs. In the Qajar Empire, the existence of the Kurdish emirates in Khorasan ended in the first half of the 19th century. The Ardalan clan continued to control Sanandaj until the 1860s. At that time, the Qajar government ended the clan's inherited position as governor.[6]:10

During the 19th century, farmers started to grow new crops that had greater profits. Farmers started to grow Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco), and farming became more common. At the middle of the 19th century, about a third of the population of Iranian Kurdistan were nomadic people.[9]:88 Many of the crops from Iranian Kurdistan (grains, fruits, and nuts) went out of the Qajar Empire as exports along the trade route between Tabriz and the Black Sea at Trabzon. Carriage of the exports from Kurdistan to the sea was by draught animals. The peasant farmers grew the crops, and the nomads of the tribes supplied the domestic animals for the crops' transport. (The peasant farmers also had to pay taxes and extortion to the tribes.) In 1870, 40% of Iran's international trade went through Iranian Kurdistan on the Tabriz–Trabzon trade route. [9]:88–89 However, from that time the trade route became less important. The Russian Empire completed a new railway from Baku (on the Caspian Sea) to Tbilisi and then to Poti (on the Black Sea). The British and French empires completed the Suez Canal in 1869, and because of this, many exports started to go to the Persian Gulf at Bushehr or through Baghdad at Basra. These two new trade routes meant that Kurds did not profit from the exports and the Kurdish tribes became more weak. [9]:88–89

Bedir Khan Bey was the emir of Cizre (the emirate of Bohtan). Bedir Khan Bey, the emir of Hakkari, and the emir of Mûkûs all took part in a rebellion against the Ottoman government. Bedir Khan Bey started the rebellion in 1842, but in 1846 the Ottomans took him prisoner and he went into exile. In 1849, the government took away the authority of Hakkari's emir, Nurullah Bey. The Ottoman government also took away the power of the Baban emirate, and they took control of Sulaymaniyah themselves.[6]:10 In the towns and cities, the Ottoman and Qajar governments of Kurdistan started new schools, newspapers, law courts, and government councils. In the countryside however, where most Kurds lived, modernization brought new taxes and conscription into the army.[6]:10–11 Sufi religious leaders – sheikhs – started to have more power in Kurdistan. Some Kurdish sheikhs helped the Ottoman army fight the army of the Russian Empire during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878). However, Kurdish sheikhs also worked against the government. One sheikh who had fought for the Ottoman side in the war, Sheikh Ubeydullah, started a rebellion against the Ottoman government.[6]:11

During the Russo-Turkish War, the government in both parts of Kurdistan (Ottoman Kurdistan and Iranian Kurdistan) lost control of the land. After the war there was a famine. There was also a rumour that the Ottoman Empire was going to recognize a new state for the Armenians.[6]:11 Armenians were the largest minority in parts of Kurdistan.[1]:24 At that time, Sheikh Ubeydullah started his rebellion. He hoped to start new Kurdish state whose lands would be both Ottoman Kurdistan and Iranian Kurdistan. The rebellion ended without having this success.[6]:11 The Shi'ite Qajar government punished the Sunni Kurds in Iranian Kurdistan when they took control again.[6]:11 In Ottoman Kurdistan, Sultan Abdul Hamid II started to get support from Muslims by using Islamism, going against the secularization of the modernization reforms. The sultan's government tried to get friends among the Kurdish tribes.[6]:11–12 In 1891, the sultan started a new Ottoman military unit in the cavalry: the Hamidiye. Many Kurdish men from the tribes started to work for the government in the Hamidiye. Abdul Hamid II gave the Hamidiye his own name.[6]:11–12

The Ottoman government gave the Hamidiye and the Kurdish tribes' rulers power because the government feared the growth of Armenian nationalism. The Hamidiye became famous across the world when they took part in pogroms, attacking the Armenian people in the east of Anatolia between 1894 and 1896.[6]:12 The government gave many tribes' rulers good treatment. Sheikh Said Berzinci became the ruler of Sulaymaniyah, and had a good relationship with the Ottoman government in Mosul. Said Berzinci became the most important of the government's friends in the Mosul Vilayet. Milli Ibrahim Pasha was ruler from the tribes; he was an important military officer in the Hamidiye and a friend of the sultan. [6]:12 The power, tyranny, and violence of the Hamidiye and some of the Kurdish tribes' rulers made some other Kurds unhappy. Many of the Kurdish professionals and intellectuals were part of the constitutionalist political groups. They were against the Islamism of Sultan Abdul Hamid and the autocracy of his government.[6]:12

Two Kurds, Abdullah Cevdet and İshak Sükuti were part of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) from its start. The CUP was the most important organization in the Ottoman Empire to want a revolution.[6]:12 The first Kurdish newspaper was Kurdistan which started in 1898. The writings in the newspaper supported constitutionalism and the CUP, and the CUP gave money and other help to the newspaper's publishers. However, writings in the newspaper also spoke of Kurdish culture and Kurdish politics for the Kurdish intelligentsia. The publishers of Kurdistan were two sons of the old emir of Cizre, Bedir Khan Bey. His sons were Mikdad Midhat Bedir Khan and Abdurrahman Bedir Khan, and both had worked in the Ottoman government. Their newspaper made the argument that constitutionalism was the answer to the Kurds' problems.[6]:12–13

In Iranian Kurdistan, chiefs and men from the tribes started to become farmers and landlords. By 1900, most of the men of the tribes had become peasants on lands a landlord owned. Some of the tribes' chiefs went to live in cities: some worked with the local government.[9]:88 In the second half of the 19th century, the Tabriz–Trabzon trade route through Iranian Kurdistan became less important because of the Suez Canal and the new railways in the Russian Empire. In 1900, the Tabriz–Trabzon trade route was responsible for only 10% of Iran's international trade.[9]:89

20th centuryEdit

During the second half of the 20th century's first decade, the political power of constitutionalism in Qajar Iran and Ottoman Turkey became very strong. In Ottoman Kurdistan, some Kurds took part in tax resistance revolts that did not have success. In Iran, Mozaffar ad-Din Shah made a constitution in December 1906 after there were many protests in the country during 1905. However, Mohammad Ali Shah became Iran's ruler when Mozaffar ad-Din Shah died, and the new shah ended the constitution and the new parliament in 1908. The Russian Empire and the British Empire helped Mohammad Ali Shah take power. By that time, the Qajar government's power was weak, and it had lost control in Iranian Kurdistan.[6]:13 Many Kurdish rebels came there from Ottoman Kurdistan, where the control of the government was more complete. In June 1908, a constitutionalist rebellion in the Ottoman military started. There were connections between this rebellion and the CUP. The rebellion forced Sultan Abdul Hamid II to set up a parliament and a constitutionalist government.[6]:13–14 The end of Abdul Hamid's autocracy was important for many Kurds living in the capital city, Constantinople. Many of them supported the CUP and the new constitution. A number of Kurdish organizations then started in Constantinople. The Society for Kurdish Mutual-Aid and Progress (SKMP) was in existence from September 1908 until 1909.[6]:14 The Society for the Propagation of Kurdish Education (SPKE) was in existence from 1910 to 1911. The Kurdish Students' Hope Society, however, was in existence from 1912 until the start of World War I.[6]:14

In Constantinople, the political Kurds supported the Ottoman Empire and the constitutional government. In Ottoman Kurdistan, other Kurds were not as happy with the revolution. The CUP wanted to take away the power of the Hamidiye. The government planned to end the existence of the Hamidiye itself.[6]:14 Many rulers from the tribes feared that they would lose their power. Many Kurds from the tribes joined local Kurdish organizations in 1908 and 1909. Although these "clubs" were part of the constitutionalist SKMP organization, they started to work against the constitutional government. The club at Bitlis started a rebellion against the CUP. After that, the government forced the clubs' existence to end.[6]:14 The existence of the Hamidiye continued, although the government took away more of its power. The government also planned to give lands to Armenian farmers, whose lands Kurdish tribes took in the past.[6]:14 Many Kurds started to think that constitutionalism was helping the Armenians but not helping the Kurds.[6]:15 Many Muslim Kurds thought the CUP was irreligious, and thought the empire was becoming weak. Italy overcame the Ottomans in the Italo-Turkish War (1911–1912). The Balkan League (Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro) overcame the Ottomans in the First Balkan War (1912–1913). In these wars, the Ottoman Empire lost many lands in Africa and Europe.[6]:15

Starting in 1911, Abdürrezzak Bedir Khan (another descendant of Bedir Khan Bey) was moving through Kurdistan and the Ottoman–Qajar border. He set up a network of important men from the tribes, which worked for an independent Kurdistan. Abdürrezzak Bedir Khan hoped to get help for this plan from the Russian Empire. Simko Shikak, Sheikh Taha of Nehri, and Sheikh Abdüsselam Barzani all joined Abdürrezzak Bedir Khan in having this plan. They did not start a rebellion, but they were an important danger to the government. However, the position of the Kurds in Ottoman Kurdistan and in Iranian Kurdistan changed with the start of World War I.[6]:15

During World War I, Kurdistan became a battlefield. The armies of the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire fought in Ottoman Kurdistan and in Iranian Kurdistan.[6]:15 After the Battle of Sarikamish (January 1915), the Russian army took control of many Ottoman lands.[6]:16 Kurds fought in the Ottoman army across the empire. Many Kurds fought as conscripts in the Ottoman army against the Russian armies. Others fought in the Ottoman army in Mesopotamia. When the Ottoman Empire asked for their help, other Kurds in the tribes of Iranian Kurdistan fought against the Russian Empire there. Kurdish tribes fought for the Ottomans in the Battle of Dilman (April 1915).[6]:15 Other Kurds helped the Russian armies. Abdürrezzak Bedir Khan was one of those who helped the Russians. The Russian Empire made Abdürrezzak Bedir Khan governor of Erzurum when the Russians took military control of that city.[6]:15 Many people in the Kurdish population were persecuted by the Russian army and by Armenian partisans fighting with the Russians. Other Kurds were persecuted by the CUP Ottoman government. The government wanted to Turkify the Kurds, and in 1916, the CUP wanted the Kurdish refugees from the war to separate from one another to make Turkification more easy.[6]:15 Many Kurds themselves took part in the Armenian Genocide, a genocide planned by the government.[6]:15 Armenians were the largest minority in parts of Kurdistan before the Armenian Genocide.[1]:24

After the Russian Revolutions in 1917, the Ottomans again took control over some lands Russians controlled. The Ottomans executed Abdürrezzak Bedir Khan.[6]:16 However, in Mesopotamia the British Empire took control of Baghdad. The British military was on its way to Mosul when the Ottoman government surrendered, and made an armistice (the Armistice of Mudros) with the Allies of World War I in October 1918. Simko Shikak took control of lands in Iranian Kurdistan near Lake Urmia. (Simko Shikak kept control of these lands until 1920.)[6]:16 In December 1918, Kurds in Constantinople started the Society for the Betterment of Kurdistan (SBK). The power in this organization was in two parts: a Kurdish nationalist political faction and another faction which supported the Ottoman Empire's existence.[6]:16 The son of Sheikh Ubeydullah, Sheikh Abdülkadir, was the leader of the Ottoman faction of the SBK. Bedir Khan Beg's son, Emin Ali Bedir Khan, was the leader of the SBK's nationalist faction.[6]:16

In the north of Ottoman Kurdistan, in Anatolia, the power of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) was growing. Mustafa Kemal's Kemalist (Turkish nationalist) armies fought against the First Republic of Armenia. In this fight, the help of Kurds was important for the Kemalists' success. The Kemalists got help from the Kurds by saying that the Armenians wanted their land, and by saying that the Great Powers (the Allies of World War I) wanted Kurdistan to become part of the new Armenian state. In August 1919 Kurdish leaders were at the Erzurum Congress, and in September 1919 they were at the Sivas Congress.[6]:16

At the Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920), the SBK's representative was Şerif Pasha. With the representatives of the Armenians, Şerif Pasha made an agreement about the lands of a new Kurdish state and the lands of a new Armenian state.[6]:16 A possible Kurdish state in Ottoman Kurdistan was one of the agreements in the Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920).[6]:16 However, other Kurds did not support the Treaty of Sèvres. They were unhappy that lands of a Muslim empire were going to have a Christian government when they became parts of Armenia. Some Kurdish leaders sent telegrams to Paris to say that they were not in agreement with the Treaty of Sèvres.[6]:16–17

In both the south and the north of Ottoman Kurdistan, new powers were in development. In the north, the Kemalists were taking control. In the south, the British Empire was in control. The son of Said Berzinci, Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji was the leader of the Kurdish nationalists in Sulaymaniyah. The British Empire overcame the rebellion of Mahmud Barzanji, and the south of Kurdistan became part (Iraqi Kurdistan) of the new Kingdom of Iraq.[6]:16 In 1921, the Kemalists overcame a Kurdish rebellion (the Koçgiri rebellion) in the area of Koçgiri (near Sivas).[6]:17 By 1923, the Kemalist government was in control of all Anatolia. After the Kemalist armies overcame the Kingdom of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922), the Allies ended their Occupation of Constantinople in 1923. Then the Kemalists took control of the capital city. The new government in Constantinople ended the existence of many Kurdish organizations. Many Kurds went into exile.[6]:17

As a result of the Kemalists' military success, the Treaty of Lausanne (July 1923) took the place of the Treaty of Sèvres. The Treaty of Lausanne did not set up an independent Kurdistan or give autonomy to the Kurds. [6]:17 The Berlin–Baghdad railway became the border between the new Turkish Republic and the French Empire. The Kurdish lands between Aleppo and Antep became part (Syrian Kurdistan) of the French Empire.[6]:17 The parts of Kurdistan to the north of the railway became part (Turkish Kurdistan) of the new Turkish state. The Kemalist government ended the Ottoman caliphate March 1924. The division of the Ottoman Empire's Kurds and of Ottoman Kurdistan was complete when the League of Nations gave Mosul and its Kurdish lands to the Kingdom of Iraq in 1926.[6]:17 The division of Kurdistan and the Kurdish population into four (Turkish Kurdistan, Iranian Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan) continues to exist.


In Classical Antiquity, the most important deities of the Kurds' lands were Ahura Mazda and Mithra.[7]: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.[7]:48–50

In Late Antiquity before the 7th century, Kurds had many different religious beliefs.[6]:4[7]:48 There were Christians and Zoroastrians.[6]:4 There were also Kurdish Jews.[7]:48 Some sects among the Kurdish Christians and Jews had religious beliefs from Zoroastrianism and Mithraism in their religion.[7]:48–50 There may have been Kurds among the Companions of the Prophet (the people who knew Muhammad).[7]:50–51

The Muslim conquests by Arab armies in the 7th century meant that most Kurds became Muslims in the 7th and 8th centuries.[6]: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.[6]:4 Most of these were part of the Shafi'ite system of Islamic jurisprudence.[6]:4 However, although most Kurds are Muslims and part of Sunni Islam, there are also Kurds of many other religions and sects.[7]:48

There are Kurdish Jews in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Israel.[1]:25


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 Aydin, Selcuk (2018). "Geography". In Maisel, Sebastian (ed.). The Kurds: An Encyclopedia of Life, Culture, and Society. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 19–30. ISBN 978-1-4408-4257-3.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 McDowall, David (2021) [1996]. "Kurdistan Before the Nineteenth Century". A Modern History of the Kurds (4th ed.). London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 23–44. doi:10.5040/9780755600762.ch-002. ISBN 978-0-7556-0076-2.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hassanpour, Amir (2005), Shelton, Dinah L. (ed.), "Kurds", Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Macmillan Reference USA, pp. 632–637, retrieved 2021-06-05, The majority live in Kurdistan, a borderless homeland whose territory is divided among the neighboring countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. … The dismantling of the Ottoman empire in World War I led to the division of its Kurdish region and the incorporation of that territory into the newly created states of Iraq (under British occupation and mandate, 1918–1932), Syria (under French occupation and mandate, 1918–1946), and Turkey (Republic of Turkey since 1923). The formation of these modern nation-states entailed the forced assimilation of the Kurds into the official or dominant national languages and cultures: Turkish (Turkey), Persian (Iran), and Arabic (Syria, and, in a more limited scope, Iraq).
  4. Hassanpour, Amir (2005), Shelton, Dinah L. (ed.), "Kurds", Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Macmillan Reference USA, pp. 632–637, retrieved 2021-06-05,
    • "The intent to commit genocide is inscribed, explicitly, in Turkey's Law No. 2510 of 1934, which stipulated the transfer of non-Turks to Turkish speaking regions, where they would not be allowed to form more than 5 percent of the population. ...
    • "... Iran undertook a policy of forcible Persianization of the Kurds through linguicide and ethnocide as well as war, killing, jail, and deportations. ...
    • "The 1988 campaign of mass murder, code-named Operation Anfal ("spoils" of war, also the title of a chapter in the Koran), is widely considered a genocide. ...
    • "Although the Kurds of Syria have not engaged in armed conflict with the state, they were targeted for ethnic cleansing beginning in the early 1960s. ...
  5. Hassanpour, Amir (2005), Shelton, Dinah L. (ed.), "Kurds", Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Macmillan Reference USA, pp. 632–637, retrieved 2021-06-05,
    • "... thousands of Caucasian Kurds were subjected to two waves of forced deportation to the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, and Uzbekistan in 1937 and 1944. ...
    • "Muslim Kurdish populations of Armenia and Nagorny-Karabakh were largely displaced in the course of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan between 1990 and 1994 ...
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 6.23 6.24 6.25 6.26 6.27 6.28 6.29 6.30 6.31 6.32 6.33 6.34 6.35 6.36 6.37 6.38 6.39 6.40 6.41 6.42 6.43 6.44 6.45 6.46 6.47 6.48 6.49 6.50 6.51 6.52 6.53 6.54 6.55 6.56 6.57 6.58 6.59 6.60 6.61 6.62 6.63 6.64 6.65 6.66 6.67 6.68 6.69 6.70 6.71 6.72 6.73 6.74 6.75 6.76 6.77 6.78 6.79 6.80 6.81 6.82 6.83 6.84 6.85 6.86 6.87 Bajalan, Djene Rhys (2018). "Origins and History". In Maisel, Sebastian (ed.). The Kurds: An Encyclopedia of Life, Culture, and Society. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 3–18. ISBN 978-1-4408-4257-3.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Chaman Ara, Behrooz; Gholami, Vali (2018). "Religion". In Maisel, Sebastian (ed.). The Kurds: An Encyclopedia of Life, Culture, and Society. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 48–63. ISBN 978-1-4408-4257-3.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Chaman Ara, Behrooz; Amiri, Cyrus (2018). "Iran". In Maisel, Sebastian (ed.). The Kurds: An Encyclopedia of Life, Culture, and Society. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 231–241. ISBN 978-1-4408-4257-3.
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 McDowall, David (2021) [1996]. "The Qajars and the Kurds". A Modern History of the Kurds (4th ed.). London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 85–102. doi:10.5040/9780755600762.ch-005. ISBN 978-0-7556-0076-2.