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.

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Sarkawt A. Sabir