The Kurdish people are an Indo-European ethnic group, whose origins are in the Middle East. They are the largest ethnic group in the world that do not have a state of their own. The region of Kurdistan, the original geographic region of the Kurdish people and the home to the majority of Kurds today, covers contemporary Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. This geo-cultural region means "Land of the Kurds". Kurdish populations occupy the territory in and around the Zagros mountains. These arid unwelcoming mountains have been a geographic buffer to cultural and political dominance from neighboring empires. Persians, Arabs and Ottomans were kept away, and a space was carved out to develop Kurdish culture, language and identity.
According to a report by Turkish agency KONDA, in 2006, out of the total population of 73 million people in Turkey there were 11.4 million Kurds and Zazas living in Turkey (close to 15.68% of the total population). The Turkish newspaper Milliyet has reported in 2008 that the Kurdish population in Turkey is 12.6 million; although this also includes 3 million Zazas. According to the World Factbook, Kurdish people make up 18% of Turkey's population (about 14 million, out of 77.8 million people). Kurdish sources put the figure at 20 to 25 million Kurds in Turkey.
Kurds mostly live in southeastern and eastern parts of Anatolia. But large Kurdish populations can be found in western Turkey due to internal migration. According to Rüstem Erkan, Istanbul is the province with the largest Kurdish population in Turkey.
From the 7 million Iranian Kurds, a significant portion are Shia. Shia Kurds inhabit Kermanshah Province, except for those parts where people are Jaff, and Ilam Province; as well as some parts of Kurdistan, Hamadan and Zanjan provinces. The Kurds of Khorasan Province in northeastern Iran are also adherents of Shia Islam. During the Shia revolution in Iran the major Kurdish political parties were unsuccessful in absorbing Shia Kurds, who at that period had no interest in autonomy. However, since the 1990s Kurdish nationalism has seeped into the Shia Kurdish area partly due to outrage against government's violent suppression of Kurds farther north.
Kurds constitute approximately 17% of Iraq's population. They are the majority in at least three provinces in northern Iraq which are together known as Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurds also have a presence in Kirkuk, Mosul, Khanaqin, and Baghdad. Around 300,000 Kurds live in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 50,000 in the city of Mosul and around 100,000 elsewhere in southern Iraq.
Kurds led by Mustafa Barzani were engaged in heavy fighting against successive Iraqi regimes from 1960 to 1975. In March 1970, Iraq announced a peace plan providing for Kurdish autonomy. The plan was to be implemented in four years. However, at the same time, the Iraqi regime started an Arabization program in the oil-rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqin. The peace agreement did not last long, and in 1974, the Iraqi government began a new offensive against the Kurds. Moreover in March 1975, Iraq and Iran signed the Algiers Accord, according to which Iran cut supplies to Iraqi Kurds. Iraq started another wave of Arabization by moving Arabs to the oil fields in Kurdistan, particularly those around Kirkuk. Between 1975 and 1978, 200,000 Kurds were deported to other parts of Iraq.
Syrian Kurdistan is an unofficial name used by some to describe the Kurdish inhabited regions of northern and northeastern Syria. The northeastern Kurdish inhabited region covers the greater part of Hasakah Governorate. The main cities in this region are Qamishli and Hasakah. Another region with significant Kurdish population is Kobanê (Ayn al-Arab) in the northern part of Syria near the town of Jarabulus and also the city of Afrin and its surroundings along the Turkish border.
Many Kurds seek political autonomy for the Kurdish inhabited areas of Syria, similar to Iraqi Kurdistan in Iraq, or outright independence as part of Kurdistan. The name "Western Kurdistan" (Kurdish: Rojavayê Kurdistanê) is also used by Kurds to name the Syrian Kurdish inhabited areas in relation to Kurdistan. Since the Syrian civil war, Syrian government forces have abandoned many Kurdish-populated areas, leaving the Kurds to fill the power vacuum and govern these areas autonomously.
According to the 2011 Armenian Census, 38,325 Kurds live in Armenia, mainly Yazidi. They mainly live in the western parts of Armenia. The Kurds of the former Soviet Union first began writing Kurdish in the Armenian alphabet in the 1920s, followed by Latin in 1927, then Cyrillic in 1945, and now in both Cyrillic and Latin. The Kurds in Armenia established a Kurdish radio broadcast from Yerevan and the first Kurdish newspaper Riya Teze. There is a Kurdish Department in the Yerevan State Institute of Oriental studies. The Kurds of Armenia were the first exiled country to have access to media such as radio, education and press in their native tongue but many Kurds, from 1939 to 1959 were listed as the Azeri population or even as Armenians.
According to the 2000 Georgian Census, 20,843 Kurds live in Georgia. The Kurds in Georgia mainly live in the capital of Tbilisi and Rustavi. According to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees rerport from 1998, about 80% of the Kurdish population in Georgia are Yazidi Kurds.
According to the 2010 Russian Census, 63,818 Kurds live in Russia. Russia has maintained warm relations with the Kurds for a long time, During the early 19th century, the main goal of the Russian Empire was to ensure the neutrality of the Kurds, in the wars against Persia and the Ottoman Empire. In the beginning of the 19th century, Kurds settled in Transcaucasia, at a time when Transcaucasia was incorporated into the Russian Empire. In the 20th century, Kurds were persecuted and exterminated by the Turks and Persians, a situation that led Kurds to move to Russia.
The existence of a community of at least 100,000 Kurds is the product of several waves of immigrants, the first major wave was in the period of 1925-1950 when thousands of Kurds fled violence and poverty in Turkey. Kurds in Lebanon go back far as the twelfth century A.D. when the Ayyubids arrived there. Over the next few centuries, several other Kurdish families were sent to Lebanon by a number of powers to maintain rule in those regions, others moved as a result of poverty and violence in Kurdistan. These Kurdish groups settled in and ruled many areas of Lebanon for a long period of time.:27 Kurds of Lebanon settled in Lebanon because of Lebanon's pluralistic society.
The Kurdish diaspora in Western Europe is most significant in Germany, France, Sweden and the UK. Kurds from Turkey went to Germany and France during the 1960s as immigrant workers. Thousands of Kurdish refugees and political refugees fled from Turkey to Sweden during the 1970s and onward, and from Iraq during the 1980s and 1990s.
In France, the Iranian Kurds make up the majority of the community. However, thousands of Iraqi Kurds also arrived in the mid 1990s. More recently, Syrian Kurds have been entering France illegally
In the United Kingdom, Kurds first began to immigrate between 1974-75 when the rebellion of Iraqi Kurds against the Iraqi government was repressed. The Iraqi government began to destroy Kurdish villages and forced many Kurds to move to barren land in the south. These events resulted in many Kurds fleeing to the United Kingdom. Thus, the Iraqi Kurds make up a large part of the community. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran and installed Islamic law. There was widespread political oppression and persecution of the Kurdish community. Since the late 1970s the number of people from Iran seeking asylum in Britain has remained high. In 1988, Saddam Hussein launched the Anfal campaign in the northern Iraq. This included mass executions and disappearances of the Kurdish community. The use of chemical weapons against thousands of towns and villages in the region, as well as the town of Halabja increased the number of Iraq Kurds entering the United Kingdom. A large number of Kurds also came to the United Kingdom following the 1980 military coup in Turkey. More recently, immigration has been due to the continued political oppression and the repression of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Iran. Estimates of the Kurdish population in the United Kingdom are as high as 200-250,000.
In Finland, most Kurds arrived in the 1990s as Iraqi refugees. Kurds in Finland have no great attachment to the Iraqi state because of their position as a persecuted minority. Thus, they feel more accepted and comfortable in Finland, many wanting to get rid of their Iraqi citizenship.
In the United States, it is believed that the Kurdish population is approximately 58,000, the large majority of which come from Iran. However, estimates may vary greatly because of the lack of official census numbers accounting for Kurdish populations in the United States. It is estimated that some 23,000 Iranian Kurds are living in the United States. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, about 10,000 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States, most of which were Kurds and Shiites who had assisted or were sympathisers of the U.S –led war. Nashville, Tennessee has the nation's largest population of Kurdish people, with an estimated 8,000-11,000. There are also Kurds in Southern California, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
In Canada, Kurdish immigration was largely the result of the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War. Thus, many Iraqi Kurds immigrated to Canada due to the constant wars and suppression of Kurds and Shiites by the Iraqi government.
In Australia, Kurdish migrants first arrived in the second half of the 1960s, mainly from Turkey. However, in the late 1970s families from Syria and Lebanon were also present in Australia. Since the second half of the 1980s, the majority of Kurds arriving in Australia have been from Iraq and Iran; many of them were accepted under the Humanitarian Programme. However, Kurds from Lebanon, Armenia and Georgia have also migrated to Australia. The majority live in Melbourne and Sydney.
Statistics by country
Traditional areas of Kurdish settlement
|Country||Official figures||Official figures in %||Current est. Kurdish population||Further information|
|Turkey||a2,819,727 (1965 census, Kurdish speakers)||8.98%||13,400,000– 18,600,000||Kurds in Turkey|
|Iran||N/A||—||6,500,000– 7,900,000||Kurds in Iran|
|Iraq||N/A||—||6,200,000– 6,500,000||Kurds in Iraq|
|Syria||N/A||—||1,750,000– 2,200,000||Kurds in Syria|
|Armenia||2011 census)d38,325 (||1.27%||—||Kurds in Armenia|
|Azerbaijan||b6,100 (2009 census)||0.07%||150,000– 180,000||Kurds in Azerbaijan|
|Russia||2010 census)c63,818 (||0.04%||—||Kurds in Russia|
|Georgia||20,843 (2002 census)||0.48%||—||Kurds in Georgia|
|Country||Official figures||Official figures in %||Current est. Kurdish population||Further information|
|Israel||N/A||N/A||150,000||Kurds in Israel|
|Sweden||N/A||N/A||100,000||Kurds in Sweden|
|Lebanon||N/A||N/A||80,000||Kurds in Lebanon|
|Switzerland||7,531 (2000 census, Kurdish speakers)||0.5%||70,000||—|
|Austria||2,133 (2001 census, Kurdish speakers)||0.03%||60,000||—|
|United Kingdom||2011 census)49,921 (||0.08%||—||Kurds in the United Kingdom|
|Kazakhstan||41,431 (2013 annually statistics)||0.25%||—||Kurds in Kazakhstan|
|Jordan||N/A||N/A||–100,00030,000||Kurds in Jordan|
|United States||ACS)15,361 (2006-2010||0.01%||—||Kurds in the United States|
|Kyrgyzstan||13,171 (2009 census)||0.25%||—|
|Canada||11,685 (2011 census)||0.04%||—||—|
|Finland||10,075 (2013 annually statistics)||0.18%||—||—|
|Turkmenistan||6,097 (1995 census)||0.14%||—||Kurds in Turkmenistan|
|Australia||2006 census)5,740 (||0.03%||—||—|
|Ukraine||2001 census)2,088 (||0%||—||—|
|Uzbekistan||1,839 (1989 census)||0.01%||—||—|
|Ireland||128 (2011 census)||0%||1,500||—|
720 (2013 census)|
828 (2013 census, Kurdish speakers)
|Japan||N/A||N/A||300– 400||Kurds in Japan|
|Poland||224 (2011 census)||0%||—||—|
|Hungary||191 (2011 census, Kurdish speakers)||0%||—||—|
|Bulgaria||147 (2011 census)||0%||—||—|
9 (1989 census)|
132 (Immigrants 1993-2012)
|Czech Republic||100 (2011 census)||0%||—|
|Belarus||81 (2009 census)||0%||—||—|
|Abkhazia||29 (1989 census)||0.01%||—||—|
|Latvia||29 (2014 annually statistics)||0%||—||—|
|Estonia||23 (2011 census)||0%||—||—|
|Serbia||<12 (2011 census)||0%||—||—|
|Lithuania||<10 (2011 census)||0%||—||—|
|Croatia||8 (2011 census)||0%||—||—|
|Tajikistan||7 (2010 census)||0%||—||—|
|South Ossetia||1 (1989 census)||0%||—||—|
- ^a According to the Turkish 1965 census, 2,219,502 people indicated Kurdish as their mother language and 429,168 as their second best language spoken. 150,644 people indicated Zaza as their mother language and 20,413 as their second best language spoken.
- ^b Official Azerbaijani records claim only 6,100 Kurds in 2009, while Kurdish leaders estimate as much as 200,000. The problem is that the historical record of the Kurds in Azerbaijan is filled with lacunae. For instance, in 1979 there was according to the census no Kurds recorded. Not only did Turkey and Azerbaijan pursue an identical policy against the Kurds, they even employed identical techniques like forced assimilation, manipulation of population figures, settlement of non-Kurds in areas predominantly Kurdish, suppression of publications and abolition of Kurdish as a medium of instruction in schools.
- ^c In the 2010 Russian Census, 23,232 people indicated Kurdish (Курды) as their ethnicity, while 40,586 chose Yazidi (Езиды) as their ethnicity.
- ^d In the 2011 Armenian Census, 2,131 people indicated Kurdish (Քրդեր) as their ethnicity, while 35,272 indicated Yazidi (Եզդիներ) as their ethnicity.
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