In recent years, Kurdistan and the Kurdish people have been in the news. Many of the stories concern the current refugee crisis in the broader Middle East.
Where is the Kurdish Region?
Kurdistan is not an independent country. It is a geographic region where Kurds are the majority population, located where Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran come together.
Who are the Kurdish People?
Kurdistan represents a geo-cultural region where Kurds have historically formed a prominent majority population and share a similar cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic identity. Although there is no reliable census data on the population, an estimated 35 million Kurds live in this region; about half reside in Turkey.
The Kurds are widely recognized as the world’s largest stateless national group. Following World War I, Kurdish efforts to establish a national state were unsuccessful as the Middle East was carved into new nation-states based on British and French political considerations and not on any ethnic unity. The new borders of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Persia/Iran divided the Kurds and left them as large minorities in each country. Kurds continue to share a national ethnic identity even though they remain split among different countries. They anticipate the opportunity to become an independent nation.
In each country where they reside (Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran), Kurds have been subject to varying degrees of persecution and prejudice. Most noteworthy was the late 1980s genocidal campaign of Saddam Hussein, resulting in, among other atrocities, the chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988.
U.S. – Kurdish Relations
During the U.S.-led 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraqi Kurds strongly supported U.S. efforts against the Saddam Hussein regime. Following continued Iraqi Government persecution and hostility, a no fly zone was established by the U.S. that protected the Kurds from air attack. Under the protection of U.S.-led aircraft coalition, a semi-autonomous Kurdish region was carved out of northern Iraq. The Iraqi Kurdistan Region established its own government. Although not sovereign, for most purposes, it behaves independent of the central Iraqi Government in Baghdad.
In 2014, the so-called Islamic State, or Da’esh in Arabic, conquered large regions occupied by Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups in Syria and Iraq. In areas under Da’esh control, Kurds, Yazidis (Ezidi), Chaldeans, Christians, and others, including Shia’a Arabs and Turkmens, have suffered terrible persecution. News stories portray only a fraction of the maltreatment being meted out by Da’esh. Until Da’esh is eradicated and stability returns to the region, none of these minorities will be safe.
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