Kurd is the ethnic name of a number of tribal groups inhabiting
the mountainous border regions of southeast Turkey, northwest
Iran, north Iraq, northeast Syria, and Soviet Azerbaijan.
These tribes speak various dialects of Kurdish, an Indo-Iranian
language. They call their rugged homeland Kurdistan. Most
Kurds are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi rite; various heretical
and mystical sects also exist locally. Physically, they
resemble neighboring southwest Asian populations except that
the Kurds tend to show a somewhat higher incidence of fair
coloring. Although reliable statistics are lacking, their
total population is estimated at 10 to 12 million, of which the
greatest number are in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.
Most Kurds are agricultural-village dwellers, cultivating
wheat, barley, cotton, and fruit. Some live in nomadic
communities that emphasize pastoralism, but such groups have
dwindled since the closing of national frontiers and the
Kurdish political struggles of the last several decades. The
traditional Kurdish tribal system generally resembles that of
the Arabic BEDOUIN in its emphasis on patrilineal genealogy and
endogamous marriage, but it is marked by greater status
differentiation of leaders.
Although the Kurds have never been united politically, Kurdish
autonomy has had a long history. Kurd as a collective name was
first applied to the tribal groups in the 7th century AD when
the Arabs converted them to Islam. Three short-lived Kurdish
dynasties with more than local power existed in the 10th to
12th centuries; the 12th century Kurdish warrior SALADIN, a
prominent foe of the Christian Crusaders, founded another
dynasty that lasted into the 13th century. During succeeding
centuries numerous Kurdish principalities vied for local power,
showing little interest in achieving unity. Only in the late
19th and early 20th centuries did a nationalist movement
emerge. With the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War
I, Turkey agreed to the establishment of an independent
Kurdistan under the Treaty of Sevres (1920). This part of the
treaty was never ratified, however, and the autonomy clause was
completely eliminated from the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)
through Turkish efforts under Kemal Ataturk.
Sporadic uprisings by Kurds occurred in Iraq (1922-24) and
Turkey (1924). Since 1946 most nationalist activity has been
in Iraq, where Kurds waged continuous guerrilla warfare
(1961-70) and open rebellion (1974-75) against the Iraqi
government. This movement collapsed after unofficial Iranian
support was withdrawn after a 1975 Iran-Iraq border accord. In
Iran, Kurds began pushing for cultural and political autonomy
after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iraqi Kurdish separatists
later backed Iran in the GULF WAR. The Iraqi government
forcibly removed many Kurds from areas bordering Iran, and in
1988 it was accused of using chemical weapons against the
Kurdistan, which means "land of the Kurds," is a large,
mountainous plateau region encompassing parts of eastern
Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, and areas of Syria
and Soviet Azerbaijan. The area measures about 720 km (450 mi)
from north to south and 600 km (375 mi) from east to west at
the broadest part. The region is bounded by the ZAGROS
MOUNTAINS in Iran and Iraq and by the TAURUS MOUNTAINS in
eastern Turkey. The TIGRIS and EUPHRATES rivers rise in
eastern Kurdistan, as do many other smaller rivers and streams.
The average elevation is about 2,500 m (8,300 ft), but some
peaks reach over 4,000 m (13,100 ft). The climate is extreme,
with bitterly cold, harsh winters and hot, dry summers.
Kurds have lived in Kurdistan since about 2400 BC.
Traditionally, the Kurds were nomads. In recent times,
however, most of them have settled down because the separate
governments have introduced sedentary agriculture and have
forced Kurds to move their goat herds within national
boundaries. Barley, wheat, cotton, corn, and fruits are grown
in the lowlands.
Kurdistan (Kordestan) is also the name of a province in western
Iran, with an area of 24,998 sq km (9,652 sq mi), which lies
mainly in the Zagros Mountains. The capital is Sanandaj. Most
of the inhabitants of the province are Kurds.