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Kurds in the Middle East

A funeral of a Kurdish fighter killed in the fighting against the islamic state in Kobani, November 2014 /Photo Corbis
A funeral of a Kurdish fighter killed in the fighting against the islamic state in Qamishli, July 2016 /Photo AFP

The Kurdish question is one of the most complicated issues in the Middle East and North Africa. Although the Kurds settled in the region thousands of years ago, they were not able to realize their dream of establishing a national state. This has been due to several intertwined factors. In this special file, Fanack presents various articles for our visitors about the Kurds’ situation in the region and the crisis and issues they face.

Kurds are an ethnic-linguistic group in the region. They reside in Taurus Mountains (Southeast Anatolia), Zagros Mountains (western Iran), parts of northern Iraq, Northeast Syria, West Armenia and other adjacent regions.

Kurd’s homeland is an adjacent area in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. This rather loose geographic region is generally referred to as Kurdistan (Land of the Kurds).

Iran and Iraq officially acknowledge the Kurds’ existence as two internal entities: Kurdistan Province in the west of Iran and Iraq’s Kurdistan which is an autonomous region inside the Republic of Iraq. There is also a great number of Kurdish populaces in Khorasan, located in the Northeast of the Iranian Islamic Republic. In addition, some Kurdish societies spread among Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Syria.

The Kurdish population is estimated between 25 to 35 million Kurds around the world, comprising the 4th largest ethnic group in the Middle East.

After WWI and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious western alliances worked towards establishing a Kurdish state in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. However, these hopes dissipated 3 years later, as the Treaty of Lausanne, which laid the borders of Modern Turkey, didn’t state establishing a Kurdish state. Thus, the Kurds was left as a minority in their respective countries. Over the next 8 years, all Kurds’ movements and activities towards establishing their state were oppressed.

Thousands of Kurds protest in Istanbul over Islamic State attacks on Kobane, October 2014 /Photo Corbis
Thousands of Kurds protest in Istanbul over Islamic State attacks on Kobane, October 2014 /Photo Corbis

The Kurdish issue remained as Turkey’s Gordian knot. Since 1984, the southeastern Kurdish part of Turkey has played the main role in the conflict between Ankara’s armed forces and the armed Kurds who were demanding the complete separation and independence. The relationship between the two parties interchanged between peace negotiations and cease-fire agreements that were on and off over and over.

In 2004, the terms that the two parties came to for 5 years were ended. Since then, violence has found its way back to Turkish society, supported by the war in Syria, and the ambitions of the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In summer 2015, Erdogan revoked the existing understanding between the Turkish government and the Kurdish movement, in an agreement known as “Dolmabahçe Palace” which was held in February 2015.

Between murder and isolation; the wounded Kurdistan Workers’ Party continued threatening to escalate its attacks against the Turkish forces.

In 2018, Turkey’s attack on the Syrian Kurds (Operation Olive Branch) redrew the conflict in the Syrian North. The Turkish army targeted People’s Protection Units – the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party – under the pretext of its association with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party. This came at the time when the People’s Protection Units were fighting an existential war against ISIS with the support of the USA.

In Iraq’s Kurdistan, the Kurds groan under the weight of the 2016 independence referendum results. The referendum didn’t only fail to secure international recognition but also contributed in turning the establishment of an independent Kurdish state into an unattainable dream. In October 2017, the Iraqi army regained control over the oil-rich Kirkuk from the Kurdish forces, with the help of Shiite militias supported by Iran. The Peshmerga forces also retreated from Makhmour and Gwir to the south of the Kurdistan region capital “Erbil”. The Peshmerga had taken over these two cities after the Iraqi army fled as IS advanced on the ground in 2014. Furthermore, Sulaymaniyah International Airport was closed – which is the aerial gateway to Iraq’s Kurdistan.

Iraq’s Kurds currently fear that IS would regain power, and that they won’t be able to unite themselves with the Kurds in Syria, facing the ongoing Turkish assaults on them.

For more details about Kurds and their issues, kindly go through the articles of this special file made by Fanack.

Further Reading

The Kurds were the first to realize that the Baath regime was not really interested in political accommodation: Baghdad never honoured promises of Kurdish autonomy.
From the beginning of the Syrian civil war, in March 2011, the Turkish government has been open about the goals of its Syria policy: President al-Assad has to be removed from power, and the Syrian Kurds can’t be allowed autonomy...
Kurdistan has been suffering immense security and economic problems since early 2014, which argue against changing the leadership of the region now. Islamic State (IS) poses the greatest security threat to the region. The peshmer...
In 1994 a bloody civil war broke out, which led to a de facto division of the area into a KDP-ruled zone and a PUK-ruled zone. Only after the downfall of the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003 were the KDP and the PUK reconciled.
The battle against the PKK inside Turkey is probably not going as planned. The AKP government and the security forces continually claim scores of PKK fighters killed, with unverifiable claims as high as hundreds of casualties on t...
The KRG has continued to grow in stature and international standing, even as ISIS has harassed its borders and threatened its very existence. But the greatest threat to a prosperous future remains an internal one. The demon of int...
The Kurds in Syria declared a “federal democratic system” in the areas they control in northeastern and northwestern Syria. They consider the system a model for the whole of Syria, not just for the Kurdish regions, but the Syr...
Kurds in Iran are still waiting for recognition of their very identity. The Kurds seem trapped in a system that discriminates strongly against them. Several web sites that publish news from Iranian Kurdistan have reported that the...
With the lives of some 30,000-40,000 people lost in the conflict between Turkey and Kurdish militants since 1984, it is without doubt one of the greatest stains on the republic’s history.
Kurds went to the polls in the hope of making history and beginning the march to an independent state in the eyes of the world. Yet that longed-for result is still far from certain. With such international opposition to their caus...

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