Who are the Kurds? About Kurdistan and its Refugees

Today we will be highlighting the Kurds, one of the largest ethnic groups that have settled here in Broome County. The Kurds are located across southeastern Anatolia, western Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, Turkey, and western Armenia. The Kurds have an estimated population of 25-30 million people across these areas and Europe. Their language is Kurdish, a West Iranian language that shares similarities with Persian and Pashto. Prior to World War I, the Kurds were primarily nomadic and practiced little agriculture. After World War I, the boundaries of countries became enforced, which impacted the seasonal migration of flocks of animals. The Kurds then had no choice but to settle into villages and farm, or try employment elsewhere.

Photo by Farshad Ghorbani on Unsplash

Despite the Kurds being dated back to at least the 7th century, they have never had their own nation-state. The area of Kurdistan is recognized by different names in both Iran and Iraq. In Iran, the Kurds were pressured into assimilating, as well as facing persecution due to Iran’s Shi’i majority religion. In Iraq, Kurds faced less pressure to assimilate, but greater government repression and violence. In the 1970s, the Iraqi government settled Iraqi Arabs in areas where they knew there was a Kurdish majority, then causing the Kurds to relocate. In the 1980s, the Kurds were forcibly relocated away from the Iranian border as the Iraqi government suspected the Kurds were aiding the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War. In 1988, Iraqis used chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians on multiple occasions. This did not stop the Kurds from rebelling, but the continued suppressions caused many to leave their homes for safety.

The United States helped the Kurds form a “safe haven” in northern Iraq, and had a period of success after Saddam Hussein’s fall. However, the violence and instability after Hussein combined with the war in Syria allowed for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Kurdish forces fought ISIL, hoping to eliminate them and give their own people the chance to finally have autonomy. The Iraqi government is still pushing back on the idea of an independent Kurdish state.

Additional problems began to arise in Turkey during the 1970s, and Abdullah Öcalan formed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK in Kurdish) to fight for an independent Kurdistan. PKK guerilla and terrorist attacks in eastern Turkey continued through the end of the 20th century, until the Turkish government conceded and allowed broadcasts and education in Kurdish. Although there were hopes of peace talks in 2013, the two groups are currently involved in the conflict in Syria. In 2019, President Trump decided to withdraw a significant number of troops from Syria, leaving the Kurds vulnerable to attacks from Turkey. Many Kurds had to flee, and are still fleeing Turkish offensives against them.

We hope that you have enjoyed learning about the Kurds and their history. We want to highlight that this is a very simplified version of the history and conflicts of the Kurdish community, and we encourage you to do more research to learn about the conflicts. Tomorrow, we will highlight another important population of refugees in our county, Ukrainians.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Kurd.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 17 Dec. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/Kurd.

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