Thursday, 17 April 2014

Part Twelve: Kurdish Culture, Government and Society

    Part Twelve: Kurdish Culture, Government and Society
   Prior to the rise of modern, centralized nation-states in the region, most Kurds lived in nomadic or seminomadic tribes, and these were the dominant military and, therefore, political social units. Tribal chieftains and their families formed a unique elite stratum. This elite was the main social class from which educated Kurdish elements were drawn until the mid-20th century. Indeed, the Sharaf name, a history of the Kurds composed in 1597 by Sharaf Khan Bitlisi, focused exclusively on urban and tribal elites; peasants and lower-class urban elements were not considered to be Kurds. Modern states developed a series of indirect means of influencing, if not always directly controlling, Kurdish elements. In Ottoman Turkey the authority of tribal figures in a particular area might be recognized by the state in return for some declaration of allegiance, the payment of nominal taxes, or the rendering of some amount of military or civilian administrative service. This system enhanced the authority of these figures. 
     In the early and mid-20th century both the Turkish and Iranian states attempted to extend their direct control over the Kurdish areas within their boundaries. Tribal leaders and even entire tribes were resettled and non-Kurdish security forces were moved in to enforce central government edicts. More effective at breaking the power of local elites was the establishment of schools and land-reform policies. These threatened to generate a middle class that had an allegiance to the state rather than to Kurdish identity and to undermine the economic power of the elite, which was based on land. The subsequent importation of the center’s political parties into the region, however, tended to reinforce the power of the elite, and land reform could be circumvented because it allowed tribal chiefs to accumulate official titles to large areas of unregistered peasant land. Dispossessed peasants swelled the number of migrants into nearby cities as a result.

Part Eleven: Kurds during the Recent History: Russia and the USSR, Europe, The United States and Israel

   Kurds during the Recent History: Russia and the USSR
  When Georgia, Armenia, and eastern Azerbaijan were conquered by the Russians in the early 19th century, about 100,000 Kurds lived in these territories. The origins of many of these groups are uncertain, but the Kurds in Armenia today are mainly followers of the Yazidi faith and are descended from post–World War II immigrants from northern Kurdistan. A number of Kurds also reside in Turkmenia, descendants of those moved there from Kurdistan by the Safavid ruler Abbas I in the 17th century to ward off Uzbek attacks. The rise of Armenian nationalism in the latter part of the 19th century encouraged Kurdish nationalist sentiment, and the 1895–96 massacres of Armenians impacted Kurdish elements
in Armenian and northern Kurdistan during Russian moves into eastern Turkey in 1914–15. Some Turkish forces, including those involved in the attacks on Armenians, and similarly motivated by pan-Turkish sentiments, attacked Kurds as well. Russia opposed Kurdish separatism, but from the mid-1800s the Russian city of St. Petersburg became a leading center of Kurdish studies. Dictionaries of Kurdish and European languages were published there, as was the Persian-language history of the Kurds written by Sharaf Khan Bitlisi in 1597. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, there was talk of the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region. This, however, came to nothing, as the Soviets did not wish to encourage good relations with Turkey in the post-Ottoman period. Kurds then came to comprise important minorities in the various Caucasian republics that were subsequently formed. Kurdistan as an autonomous region in Soviet Azerbaijan, with its own schools, books, and journals, then became a “district” in 1925. 
     In the 1930s Kurds from Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia were among the millions deported to Siberia; in the latter two instances the deportations continued Turkish government policies and included forced assimilation. During this period the Soviets declared the 16th-century Kurdish historian Sharaf Khan Bitlisi to have been an Azeri. Soviet-produced population figures for Kurds from 1926 to 1979 are regarded as highly inaccurate. The Kurds of Turkmenia were likewise subjected to forced assimilation. The current Kurdish population in the region is unknown, and in the 1980s there was considerable internal migration between and within the Caucasian states. Armenia was apparently the only state to permit some freedom of expression for Kurds, although in some
regions of the former USSR Kurds had been able to use Kurdish as a medium of education.
  Kurds during the Recent History: Europe, the United States, and Israel
  The 1960s saw the arrival of Kurds in Europe, especially Germany. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, the military coup in Turkey in 1980, and the Iraqi government’s repression of the Kurds throughout the 1970s and 1980s all contributed to the increasing number of Kurdish immigrants. By the mid-1990s nearly 1 million Kurds, over half of whom were of Turkish origin, had settled in western Europe. Most of Europe’s Kurds now live in Germany, but there are also communities in France, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries. Iraqi Kurds constitute the majority of the Kurds in the United Kingdom and North America. About 100,000 Kurdish Jews have arrived in Israel from Kurdistan since the state was founded in 1948.

Part Ten: Kurds during Recent History: Lebanon

    Part Ten: Kurds during Recent History: Lebanon
   Kurds have been living in the mountain areas of Lebanon from the medieval period. Initially they were the remnants of elements that had served in the armies of the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty who had been remunerated with land grants in the mountains. Today most of these have long since been Arabized. Most Kurds in modern Lebanon are immigrants who fled there after failed risings in other countries during the early years of the 20th century. Their numbers have been supplemented by Kurds fleeing oppression in Syria’s Jazira province. In 1983 some 90,000 Kurds were said to be living in Lebanon, mainly in Beirut, but also in Tripoli. They are Lebanon’s only Muslim minority. They do not have citizenship rights and have been relegated to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. However, there is little of the anti-Kurdish sentiment found in other Middle Eastern states in Lebanon. Political and cultural activities find few official impediments in Lebanon. The Kurds have not always been neutral in domestic Lebanese politics; some have favored the Druze leader Walid Jumblat, who has distant Kurdish origins, and others the Sunni politico-military forces, including the Murabitun.

Part Nine: Kurds during the Recent History: Syria


   Kurds during the Recent History: Syria
   Kurds make up some 10 percent of the population of modern Syria. Living in the northeast of the country, Syria’s Kurds are the country’s largest minority group. In the northeastern province of Hasaka, also called Jazira, they number some half million and are the majority group. These represent the descendants of families that fled Turkey in the 1920s in the aftermath of the failed revolt of Shaykh Said. At that time Syria was under the control of France as a mandated territory. The French recognized the particular agricultural skills that these immigrants brought with them, and all were granted Syrian citizenship. Most live in the northern part of the province, while the south is inhabited by Arab Bedouin. There are also Kurds in the area known as Arab-Pinar, chiefly in the area’s main town Ain al-Arab. The Kurd-Dagh Mountains, not far from the Mediterranean coastline, are also inhabited by Kurds. Even in the late 1980s, the Kurds here knew little Arabic, in contrast with those Kurdish elements living in the urban areas. Most Kurds in Syria are Sunni Muslims but there are also Yazidi, Christian, and Alawi elements among them. In the early 1930s the Kurdish journal Hewar, published in the Kurmanji dialect of the Kurdish language, was an important vehicle for raising the consciousness, and the literacy, of Syrian Kurds. The publisher adapted the Roman alphabet and also standardized rules for Kurdish grammar, thus encouraging the rise of a Kurdish cultural movement in the country. 
   In 1957 Kurdish intellectuals founded the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria (KDPS) with the aim of securing linguistic and cultural rights. The movement was forced to operate underground, however, and in 1960 a score of its members were arrested. The same year a cinema fire, allegedly set deliberately, killed some 250 Kurdish schoolboys. A new constitution promulgated in 1961 declared that the country was to be known as the Syrian Arab Republic, and the following year the Syrian government census registered the approximately 120,000 Kurds of the Jazira region as foreigners. As such Kurds may not hold government jobs, vote, or be issued with any sort of travel documents. In 1963 the Baath Party launched a coup in Syria, the month after a Baath coup attempt in Iraq. A report written in late 1963 by the head of Syrian security forces in the Jazira region emphasized the seriousness of what it called “the Kurdish threat” and called for the Jazira to be “purified.” The following year government forces moved against the Kurds of Jazira but incurred heavy casualties and were forced to withdraw. The Syrian government formally adopted the programs called for in the 1963 report in 1965, the centerpiece of which being the deportation of all Kurds in the area under the guise of land redistribution. The plan was to resettle them further south in the desert areas of the province. The deportation program got under way in the midst of the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 and included the resettlement of Arab Bedouins into the area vacated by the Kurds. Many of the Kurds involved, mainly peasants, refused to leave their homes, and force was not used against them. However, with their agricultural lands taken from them, most, even those who managed to obtain Syrian citizenship, soon found that they could do no more than eke out a minimal existence. The Syrian government supported Kurdish separatist activities in both Iraq and Turkey throughout the late 1970s. Syrian Baathism tolerated very limited expressions of Kurdish nationalism, but not overt separatism, within a larger “Arab Syrian” framework. Syria’s own Kurds suffered greatly in the country’s economic crises and many left the country. Kurdish teachers and army officers were also routinely dismissed. However, President Hafez al-Asad, who was in power from 1970 until 2000, himself of the Alawi minority group, recruited both his own coreligionists and Kurds into elite units of the military. The government used these units to crush several risings in the country, including those of 1980 and 1982 in the cities of Aleppo and Hama, respectively. The prominent role played by Kurds in both these actions further encouraged Arab resentment. These special units were disbanded in 1984. Kurds in Syria are not permitted to use Kurdish or to set up Kurdish-language schools. 
    In March 2004, following an incident between Kurdish and Arab fans at a soccer match in al-Qamishli, a town near Iraq on the Syria-Turkey border, fighting broke out between security forces and both elements. The conflict spread to Damascus, and there were reports that a thousand or more Kurds had been detained and that many of these had been tortured. In February 2006 there were reports that the government was considering granting citizenship to Kurds in Syria.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Part Eight: Kurds during the Recent History in Iran

    Kurds during the Recent History in Iran
    In Iran, as in Turkey, in the aftermath of World War I Kurds also attempted to gain some independence from the central state. From 1918 to 1922 an uprising led by Ismail Simko, a local Kurdish tribal chief, allowed Kurdish elements around Lake Urmia to establish a measure of autonomy. Kurds in the Hewramen area were also able to seize control of areas north of Halabja and held them independently of the state until 1925. These were not nationalist movements so much as they were opportunistic moves by local political figures to expand their influence. Simko’s forces were powerful enough to defeat those of the government on several occasions, and it was these victories rather than nationalism that attracted local support. Indeed, other Kurds as well as government forces often suffered in Simko’s attacks. As Reza Pahlavi, the newly crowned king, or shah, of Iran, asserted his authority over the central government from 1922, he also moved to regain control of these
areas. After crushing these and other efforts at Kurdish autonomy, he deported many Kurdish chiefs and seized their lands.
    In 1941, during World War II, Russian and British forces entered and occupied Iran in the north and south respectively. In the aftermath of the Allies’ subsequent exiling of Reza Pahlavi, Kurdish elements seized the Iranian army’s abandoned weapons and several chiefs took control of areas in western Iran. In 1945 the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) was founded in Mahabad, a city in northwestern Iran south of Lake Urmia. The party mainly enjoyed the support of elite elements in Kurdish society. In January 1946, after the end of World War II but with Iran still under Allied domination, Kurdish elements declared a republic in Mahabad, with the support of the Soviets, whose forces were still occupying this area as well as Iranian Azerbaijan. In contrast to the Simko rising of the early 1920s, the declaration of the Mahabad Republic was a distinctly nationalist move. By March the Soviets, having pledged to withdraw their forces from Iran after the war, did so. The result was that the republic was sufficiently isolated that Iranian forces were able to secure control over the area by December. Massoud Barzani, son of Mustafa Barzani, who founded the KDP in 1946, was born in Mahabad. His father fled to Iraq and then the Soviet Union at the fall of the republic and returned to northern Iraq in 1958. The fall of the government of Muhammad Mossadeq, who was prime minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953, and the return to Iran of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, son of Reza Pahlavi, as shah led to further repression of Kurdish separatist activities in the country. In the following decades Iran supported Kurdish nationalist activities in Iraq as a means of checking the regional aspirations of the Iraqi government. The Israeli government and the United States are also known to have channeled funds to Iraqi Kurdish movements via Iran in these years. In 1969 the Revolutionary Organisation of the Toilers of Kurdistan (Komala) was founded. This group had a more radical and avowedly anti-elite orientation than the KDPI, and was the Kurdish subbranch of Iran’s small Communist Party. The next wave of nationalism among Iran’s Kurds was felt at the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Many Kurdish elements supported the revolution, having been generally antishah since the Algiers Treaty, signed with Iraq in 1975, ended Iranian, United States, and Israeli aid to Kurdish activities. 
    In March 1979, the KDPI formulated and publicly announced an eight-point plan for Kurdish independence, but clashes between Kurdish and government forces became more frequent. In August of the same year the new Iranian government declared jihad (holy war) against the Kurds, and key nationalist figures were denounced as enemies of the Islamic Republic. Government forces moved against Kurdish towns throughout Iranian Kurdistan. Many Kurds were arrested, tried, and executed; some sources claim that thousands were killed. There were also reports of discrimination against Sunni Kurds by Shia Kurds and by the government. A cease-fire and negotiations in November came to nothing. The new Iranian constitution that came into effect in November 1979 did not address certain concerns for minority ethnic and religious rights that had already been weakened in earlier drafts, and the government rejected changes suggested by the Kurds. Following the fall of the interim administration of Mehdi Bazargan in November of 1979 as a result of the occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Iranian militants, the government position hardened further.
     During the Iran-Iraq War Iran was faced with Iraqi support for Iranian Kurdish separatism and was waging its own campaign to encourage risings by various Iraqi groups. Iraqi Kurds from the KDP split with their Iranian counterparts to support Iraq, and Iranian and Iraqi Kurdish groups experienced a series of internal conflicts and splits. In the mid-1980s Iran legalized various Kurdish publishing houses, though it closely monitored their activities and in 1985 the government markedly increased its aid to Iraqi Kurds. The Syrian government also resumed its aid to Iraqi Kurds. The 1988 cease-fire, which marked the end of the Iran-Iraq War, and the consequent scaling down of Iranian aid revealed again the extent to which the visibility of Kurdish nationalist activities has been dependant on outside support. In 1989, however, the head of the KDP, then in Vienna involved in discussions with the Iranian government, was assassinated.
     During the two terms in which Muhammad Khatami was president of Iran (1997–2005) he lauded the importance of Kurdish culture and history and appointed a Kurdish governor for Kurdistan. Sunni and Shia Kurds were also made cabinet officials, but splits among Iran’s Kurdish activists contributed to the failure of some of their initiatives. In 1999 demonstrators in support of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kurdish areas protested against government policies. In 2005 the deaths of several Kurdish activists at the hands of security forces in Mahabad caused widespread demonstrations throughout Iranian Kurdistan. The government claimed they had been killed while trying to avoid arrest, but opposition elements alleged the men had been deliberately killed. Since 2005 the PJAK, an Iranian Kurdish nationalist group said to be linked to U.S. forces in Iraq and to be part of U.S. efforts to destabilize Iran, have carried out actions against security forces. Today there are an estimated 4 million Kurds living in Iran, mainly in the country’s northwestern provinces.

Part Seven: Kurds during the Recent History in Iraq

    Kurds during the Recent History in Iraq
    In 1920 the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations, put Iraq under the control of the British as a mandated territory. Iraq had been part of the Ottoman Empire, but
this came to an end in 1919 following its defeat in World War I. In 1921 the British chose the Hashemite Faysal ibn Husayn, son of the sharif of Mecca, to be ruler of Iraq and also agreed to establish a standing Iraqi army. Iraqi Kurds launched a series of revolts from 1919 until 1922 with the aim of establishing a Kurdish homeland. The British launched air attacks against these Kurdish risings, and in the process the use of poison gas appears to have been considered. In 1922 Kurdish elements established the Kingdom of Kurdistan, based in the city of Sulaymaniya, and the British supported this move in the hope that this state would act as a buffer against Turkey. The British, however, defeated the kingdom’s military forces in 1924, and two years later, in 1926, the League of Nations gave the mandate over the area to Iraq. In 1930 Iraq became a member of the League of Nations. The Iraqi Kurds launched a fresh rebellion and, in 1931, unsuccessfully petitioned the league to establish an independent state. The Barzani clan was at the forefront of these moves, and in 1945 Mustafa Barzani was exiled to Iran because of his activism. The next year the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) was founded in Baghdad with Barzani as its president. Barzanini himself was in Iran, where he held the post of military commander of the short-lived Republic of Mahabad, a Kurdish state that had been set up with the support of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Republic of Mahabad in May 1946, Barzani moved to the Soviet Union and then returned to Iraq in 1958 following General Abd al-Karim Qasim’s coup against the Hashemite monarchy. 
     In 1961 Barzani launched another revolt. The failure of the new government to put down this rising was a key factor in the 1963 assassination of General Qasim and the coup that brought the Baath Party to power in Iraq. The next year, the new government declared a cease-fire that was agreed. In the wake of a failed government attack on Barzani in 1966, a peace plan was tabled. An internal Baath Party coup in 1968 ended this effort and generated further military action against the Kurds. An agreement in March 1970 promised new measures that would give increased autonomy to Iraq’s Kurds and was due to come into effect in 1974. That year, however, the Iraqi government changed the terms of the agreement and excluded oil-rich areas such as Kirkuk from consideration for inclusion in the autonomous zone, although the majority of the inhabitants of these areas had historically been Kurds. In 1975 Iraq and Iran signed a treaty in the Algerian capital Algiers that settled a variety of issues outstanding between the two countries but also ended long-standing Iranian support for Iraq’s Kurds. Large numbers of Kurdish fighters began to surrender, while many others took refuge in Iran. The Iraqi government then undertook a new series of military efforts against the Kurds, pushing them closer to the Iranian border. The government also began its policy of the “Arabization” of Kurdish territories. This campaign, which continued for many years, forced tens of thousands of Kurds from the area and settled Iraqi Arabs in their place. This was carried out with particular vigor in the oil-rich areas around the city of Kirkuk. The Arabization policy sparked renewed clashes between Kurds and government forces beginning in 1977. In response the government resettled many Kurds and destroyed hundreds of Kurdish villages. 
      In 1975 Jalal Talabani, with some former KDP elements, established the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which was a coalition of five Kurdish groups. The PUK’s ideology was socialist, and it drew support especially from rural areas in the southern part of the Kurdish region of Iraq. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88) the Iraqi government substantially expanded its anti-Kurdish activities. These included the use of poison gas in March 1988 on the Kurdish town of Halabja, which is situated on the Iranian border some 150 miles northeast of Baghdad. At least 5,000 Kurds were killed and thousands more suffered long-term effects from these attacks. Simultaneously, the government was in the midst of the al-Anfal campaign (1986–89) against both Kurdish fighters and civilians across some six regions of Iraqi Kurdistan. Chemical weapons were so widely used that the organizer of these attacks, Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, earned the nickname “Chemical Ali.” Some 2,000 villages were destroyed and 50,000 civilians were killed, although some reports suggest that three times that number died. The vigorous Arabization of the region continued throughout this period and many Kurds fled across the border to Turkey. After the First Gulf War (1990–91) the United Nations, motivated by revelations about the Iraqi government’s atrocities against the Kurds, declared a Kurdish safe zone inside northern Iraq. This zone did not, however, include the large Kurdish cities of Kirkuk or Sulaymaniya. Despite the creation of this zone, Iraqi government forces repeatedly clashed with Kurdish fighters. Gradually, however, the safe zone achieved some measure of independence under the control of the KDP and the PUK. Relations between these two Kurdish political groups were frequently tense, but after 1996, when a percentage of Iraqi oil sales were designated for the region by the United Nations, a degree of prosperity followed. With the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a coalition led by the United States, both the KDP and the PUK allied to play a role in the downfall of then President Saddam Hussein and the Baath party and in subsequent post-Saddam Iraqi politics. Some Kurds also began to move back from areas to which they had been forcibly resettled and to reclaim land and homes seized by the government for occupation by Arabs. The Faili Kurds in particular suffered badly under Saddam. Most of the Faili have been Shii since the Safavid period in Iran (1501–1722), but they elected to remain in Sunni-dominated Iraq. In the 1940s most had decided to apply for Iraqi citizenship. By this time, however, the process of acquiring Iraqi citizenship had become much more complex, so they applied to become and were accepted as Iranian citizens but continued to live in Iraq. From 1948 many Faili Kurds also took over Jewish businesses as their owners left Iraq and emigrated to the newly formed State of Israel. A number affiliated themselves with the anti-Baathist Iraqi Communist Party. The consequent visibility of such a prominent minority left the Faili Kurds in a very exposed position. The Baath government used all these factors as reasons to deport hundreds of thousands of Faili Kurds to Iran from 1969 to 1988, mainly after 1980.


Part Six: Kurds during Recent History in Turkey


      Kurds during Recent History in Turkey
    In modern Turkey the Kurds have been perceived as the only minority group that challenge the country’s national unity. The government has utilized an increasing degree of suppression of Kurdish cultural identity to counter this perceived threat. Military coups in Turkey in 1960, 1971, and 1980 have accentuated these developments. In the early 1960s the first Kurdish-language publications appeared in Turkey and the clandestine Democratic Party of Turkish Kurdistan was also formed with the encouragement of the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party. Mainly, however, aspirations in this period concerned civil and social rights, underdevelopment, and the low level of state investment in Kurdish areas rather than Kurdish nationalism. 
    From 1967 to 1969 demonstrations broke out in a number of Kurdish urban areas, and in 1969 thousands of Kurdish workers and students clashed with police in Istanbul. Encouraged by student and nationalist movements worldwide, the Turkey-based movement itself became more independent of Iraqi Kurdish nationalism. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was formed in 1978. Led by Abdullah Ocalan, the party espoused an ideology that combined Marxism-Leninism and Kurdish nationalism to contend that violent struggle was the only means by which a Kurdish state could be brought into being. From 1978 to 1984, the PKK attacked government targets and organized demonstrations. Following the September 1980 Turkish military coup, the third such coup in this period, the 1982 Turkish constitution banned ethnic-based political parties, and in 1983 the use of the Kurdish language was also officially banned. In 1983 and 1984 the government launched military actions against Kurdish nationalist movements in Iraq. In the second phase of this struggle, beginning in 1984, the PKK and the government waged open war across the country. Thousands of civilians across southeast Turkey, an area in which the government had proclaimed states of emergency, were killed and whole Kurdish villages were depopulated and destroyed. The conflict also spilled over into adjacent countries. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the PKK began both to downplay its socialist roots and to adopt more violent tactics, including suicide bombings. In 1991, the ban on the Kurdish language was partially lifted, but Turkish remains the only official language
allowed in schools to date.
     In 1999 the Turkish military captured Ocalan, the PKK leader. He was tried and sentenced to death, but the European Court of Human Rights described the trial as unfair and otherwise encouraged Turkey to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. The PKK announced a unilateral truce, but in the face of the government’s apparent failure to initiate true reforms, this came to an end after five years in 2004. Two Kurdish television channels and one radio channel were permitted by the government in 2006. Despite the party’s call for a new cease-fire in September 2006, a move rejected by the Turkish government, PKK-organized attacks resumed. At the same time, however, the party has also been moving further away from strident ideological attacks toward an emphasis on political and cultural rights for Turkey’s Kurds. Turkey’s desire to be admitted into the European Union has encouraged a more accommodating attitude toward Kurdish claims. A number of Kurdish political parties have become active, or have sought to become active, in the Turkish parliament.

Part Five: Kurds during the Early Modern Period

     Kurds during the Early Modern Period
    The early Modern Period Nadir Shah, the founder of the Afsharid dynasty that ruled Iran throughout the 18th century, enjoyed the loyalty of some of the Baban Kurds along the Ottoman border, as did Karim Khan Zand, who held sway in southern Iran from 1760 to 1779. Other Baban elements, however, maintained connections with the Ottomans. When fighting between the Ottomans and Iran broke out in 1774, the rival Baban elements continued their machinations with and against each other and both powers. These continued even after the Qajar dynasty (1795–1925) assumed power in Iran. 
   In the aftermath of Turkey’s war with Russia in 1828–29, Kurdish elements tried to assert further independence from Istanbul and there were risings in 1830 and 1834. With the Turks otherwise occupied fighting an Egyptian invasion, the revolt of Bedr Khan of Botan in western Kurdistan resulted in the establishment of a Kurdish state with its own coinage system. The Ottomans defeated Bedr Khan in 1847 and dismantled his state, but further revolts broke out in 1850 and 1852. Following the 1877–78 war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans actually encouraged the formation of an independent Kurdish state under their own protection, partly as a response to the Russians’ encouragement of an independent Armenian state. Until this point the Kurds and the Armenians had coexisted reasonably well. In the 1890s, however, the Ottomans, in response to Armenian military activity, established a Kurdish cavalry troop. Kurdish soldiers are said to have taken part in Armenian massacres in the mid-1890s.
    After World War I, with the Ottoman Empire formally dissolved, some Kurdish elements agitated for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. The victorious allies had supported both this idea and the creation of an Armenian homeland; U.S. president Woodrow Wilson contemplated the creation of a Kurdish homeland in his January 1918 “Fourteen Points” address to Congress. A Kurdish delegation made a presentation on Kurdistan to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I. The 1920 Treaty of Sevres outlined a limited “Turkish” Kurdish state, which was recognized in 1922. This treaty established modern Turkey’s borders but left the region without an actual Kurdish state. Other areas populated by Kurds were assigned to the newly established British and French mandates in Syria and Iraq. In all of these the Kurds were a minority. 
   In Turkey, Kurdish risings continued. Later rebellions included the 1925 Shaykh Said Rebellion and the 1927 rising of Shaykh Abdurrahman. In 1927, supported by Britain, the Kurdish Republic of Ararat was declared, comprising parts of eastern Turkey, but this was crushed in 1930–31 by Turkish forces. The Dersim rebellion of 1937–38 was also put down, and accusations of genocide have been raised with respect to the Turkish response at Dersim.

Part Four: Kurds during the Medieval Period (1258–1722)

    The Medieval Period (1258–1722)
   The invasions of the Mongol leaders Hulegu Khan in the 13th century and Timur in the 14th century devastated Kurdish areas. The Qaraqoyunlu Turkish dynasty (1375–1468), which ruled from the Iranian city of Tabriz, helped the Kurds recover some of their lands. Under their successors, the Aq-qoyunlu (1378–1508), however, the Kurds were poorly treated. Some areas were nonetheless able to establish self-rule. The best known of these was the semi-independent state known as Ardalan, whose founder was a descendant of the Marwanids and also claimed descent from Saladin. Sandwiched between the empires of the
Sunni Ottomans (1453–1922) to the west and that of the Shii Safavids (1501–1722) to the east, Ardalan was eventually incorporated into the latter as a frontier province. Both the Ottomans and the Safavids, however, at times deported large numbers of Kurds from along their common border. Following his defeat of the Safavids at the 1514 Battle of Chaldiran, near Tabriz in the northwest of modern Iran, the Ottoman Sultan Selim I (r. 1512–20) took control of Kurdistan and Armenia. He also deported Kurds westward during his reign. Selim I entrusted the areas of Kurdistan that he had annexed to Idris Bitlisi, a Kurd who was his advisor and a former Aq-qoyunlu official. Given almost complete freedom to act by Selim, Bitlisi restored a certain degree of independence to some of the settled Kurdish areas in return for their recognition of Ottoman authority and for agreements to provide troops for Ottoman campaigns; some were even declared exempt from taxation. It is also understood that under the Ottomans the power of local Kurdish chiefs increased markedly, a hereditary system of succession developed, and a system of vassalage emerged in Kurdistan even though the Ottomans were striving to abolish this elsewhere in their empire. The Ottomans also created an apparently separate system of tribal confederations, including at least some for major Kurdish groups. Some of these were sent to police border areas. After the Battle of Chaldiran the defeated Safavids permitted Ardalan to continue its rule over the eastern Zagros Mountains, although the Ottomans now dominated Ardalan’s western territories. Following a Kurdish rising at a fortress called Dim Dim, near Urmia in northwestern Iran, from 1609 to 1610, the Safavid ruler Abbas I (r. 1587–1629) deported many Kurds to the east, especially to the Khurasan region of eastern Iran, to serve as a buffer against the Uzbeks, who were the Safavids’ traditional enemies in the east. Over the Safavid period the Kurds also provided troops and key administrative and military figures to the Safavid state. The Sunni Shaykh Ali Khan (d. 1689) of the Zanganeh Kurds, was vizier to the Safavid ruler Shah Sulayman (r. ca. 1666–94) for some two decades. Other members of this clan also served the Safavid court. In practice most Kurdish groups under Safavid authority enjoyed more autonomy during this period than their counterparts under the Ottomans. By this period, if not earlier, a sense of Kurdish self-awareness may be said to be identifiable in written records. An example can be seen in the writings of Sharaf Khan Bitlisi, who composed his Sharafname, a history of the Kurds, in 1597. Although this text was written in Persian, the Kurdish poet Ahmad Kani (1650–1707) composed his epic poem Mem u Zin in Kurdish, and the Turkish traveler Chelebi (1611–84) wrote of the Kurds as a distinct people and described their languages and tribes in his travel journal. It is clear from these works that the Kurds had some sense of selfidentity as a people at this time, but it is also true that these works refer exclusively to the elite elements of Kurdish society; they do not describe rural peasants or lower-class inhabitants of urban areas as Kurds. The narrowness of this idea of Kurdish identity indicates why it was difficult for the Kurds to achieve the kind of unity that might have made it possible for them to establish an independent state. Another indication of the lack of unity among the Kurds is evidenced by the fact that some Kurdish elements were loyal to Ottoman patrons while others fought for their rivals, the Safavids. For example, Ardalan’s greatest rivals, the Baban, lived on the Ottoman side of the Zagros Mountains and served the Ottomans throughout this period. When the Afghans invaded Iran and sacked the Safavid capital of Isfahan in 1722, the Baban Kurds seized and held some Ardalan territory on behalf of the Ottomans until 1730. But they were also part of the Ottoman force that was defeated by the Afghans at Hamadan in 1726.

Part Three: Kurds and the Pre-islamic & the Early Islamic Periods

    The Pre-islamic Period
   Although subdued by the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great (d. 530 b.c.e.), the people then known as the Kurdu or the Guti or the Carduchi frequently rebelled, and by the fifth century b.c.e. they had achieved independence from Persian rule. A Greek historian, Xenophon (d. ca. 355 b.c.e.), described them as a warlike people who had destroyed a Persian army of 120,000. From about 300 b.c.e. Kurdistan began to experience population changes and resettlement, resulting in the establishment of many Kurdish polities, or self-governing groups. The Roman advance into the region that the Roman writer Strabo (d. 48 c.e.) described as being inhabited by the “Kurts” subdued all the western kingdoms by the first century b.c.e. In the East, however, the larger independent polities maintained their formal independence and survived as allies of the Parthians until the advent of the Sassanian dynasty of the Iranian Empire in the third century c.e.
   The early Islamic Period (632–1258)
   By the mid-seventh century, invading Muslim Arab armies had conquered the Kurds’ allies, the Sassanians. These Muslim armies had also captured Kurdistan itself. The Kurds’ desire for independence, however, did not diminish.They are recorded as having risen against the government during the period of the Rashidun (632–661), the rule of the first four successors to the prophet Muhammad, in 645 and 659, and during the period of the Umayyad dynasty (661–750). During the rule of the Abbasid dynasty (750–1258) revolts are recorded during the period 833 to 838. In the 840s Kurdish elements seized the city of Mosul and from 869 to 883 Kurds are said to have supported the slave revolts of the Zanj against the Abbasids. The political fragmentation of the Abbasid Empire in the ninth century encouraged the rise of semi-autonomous entities in Kurdish areas. By the later 10th century some five selfgoverning communities had appeared in the region. Two were in the North: the Shaddadid (951–1174) and Rawadid (955–1221), the latter around Tabriz and Maragheh. Two were in the East: the Hasanwahids (959–1015) and the Annazid (990–1117), in Kermanshah. In the West were the Marwanids (999–1096), based at Diyarbakr. The immigration of the Turkic Peoples from the Central Asian steppes into the Middle East, which began in the 11th century, effectively thwarted efforts by any of these five
dynasties to expand their influence in the area. Around 1150 Ahmad Sanjar, one of the rulers of the Seljuk dynasty that ruled parts of Central Asia and the Middle East from the 11th to the 14th century, designated the region as Kurdistan, with Bahar, a village near the Median capital of Hamadan, as its capital. The best-known Kurdish dynasty of this period, however, was the Ayyubid dynasty (1171–1250), founded by Saladin (1138–93). Born in the city of Tikrit, in modern-day Iraq, he became vizier, or chief advisor, to Nur al-Din (d. 1174),
of the Zengid dynasty. In this role he conquered Egypt in 1169, deposing the last caliph, or ruler, of the Fatimid dynasty, and then defended the land he had conquered against Christian invaders from Europe known as the Crusaders. Following Nur al-Din’s death, Saladin assumed the title of sultan in Egypt, declared independence from the Seljuks, restored Sunnism to Egypt, and seized Damascus. In 1177 Crusader forces based in Jerusalem defeated Saladin, but 10 years later he reconquered the city. At its height under Saladin the Ayyubid dynasty ruled over Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Diyarbakr, the Hijaz, and northern Iraq. Family squabbling marked the years between Saladin’s death in 1193 and the murder of the last Ayyubid ruler of Egypt in 1250 by the founder of the Mamluk dynasty that subsequently conquered Ayyubid territories.

Sarkawt A. Sabir