Kurdistan is a cultural region that encompasses over 200,000 square miles of territory
in several southwest Asian countries, including Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Armenia, and
parts of the former Soviet Union. Kurds in Kurdistan are distributed
across this transnational region in the following
nation-states and in these proportions: Turkey (43%), Iran (31%), Iraq (18%), Syria (6%), and the
former Soviet Union (2%). What defines Kurdistan
instead of recognized national boundries is the concentration of Kurds in the area. Their ethnic neighbors
include Arabs to the south, Persians to the east, and
Turks to the west. Other small ethnic enclaves are nearby as well, including those of the Azeris, Lurs,
Evidence of some of humankind's first experiments with animal domestication and agriculture can be found in
Kurdistan. The area seems to have been consistently settled for over 7,000 years, primarily by Caucasians.
About 4,000 years ago successive waves of Indo-European invaders including the Hittites settled in the region.
Archeological evidence supports the assertion that this was an area of high migration from pre-literate
through modern times. Racially, Kurds are the product of all these incursions. Rather than being racially distinct, they claim ancestry from a wide variety of peoples.
The Romans made their mark on the western part of the region around the first century B.C., whereas the eastern part was
confederated into the Parthian Federation. While the west was dominated by Rome, most major Kurdish principalites
remained autonomous until about 380 A.D. Smaller Kurdish principalites persisted until the 7th century and the
advent of Islam. The decline of the Byzantine Empire and Muslim caliphate allowed for a revival of Kurdish
medeval states in later centuries.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the more prominent Kurdish states succumbed to the conquering Turks. Again, some
smaller principalities avoided this and maintained a degree of autonomy until the 17th century. The period between the 16th and 18th
centuries was a defining period for the Kurds.
This was because the Ottomans and Persians so thoroughly decimated Kurdistan with artillery and deportation. Resentment from this brought forth the spread of Kurdish nationalism, and along with it, the desire for a unified Kurdistan. In 1597,
Sharaf al-Din Bitlisi wrote the first pan-Kurd history, and in 1695, Ahmad Khani composed an epic poem, Mem-o-Zin,
that called for a Kurdish state. These works, and others, inflamed the desire for an independent, sovereign Kurdistan among the Kurdish diaspora. However, statehood, other than one or two brief experiments, remained elusive for the Kurds.
After the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I, the Treaty of Sevres (1921) provided fresh hope for an independent Kurdistan. However, due to
constant bloody nationalist uprisings, France and Great Britain withdrew their support for the idea and divided Kurdistan up between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq in
the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). Persian Kurds fared no better and remained within the borders of Persia.
There were frequent attempts to assert Kurdish nationalism and establish a Kurdish state throughout the rest of the 20th century, but none were successful. Between the 1970s and the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi Kurds enjoyed a degree of freedom in the northern part of that country, but in an uprising following the war, they were decimated by the remnants of the Iraqi military. Kurds in Turkey persist in a civil war with the hope of one day having an independent state carved out of that country. Armenian Kurds were victims of ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s, and that community is virtually nonexistent today.
Kurdistan is primarily mountainous and rough. The areas composing Kurdistan were once densely forested, but in the last two centuries, most of these areas have been cleared. Adding to the problem, nearly constant civil unrest, military bombardment and the use of land mines has made vast regions unusable. While erosion and pollution are serious problems in many areas, other areas support good pastures and basic agriculture. Despite the poverty and devistation of the region, Kurdistan is regarded to have rich natural resources. This might partially explain the unwillingness of established powers to cede the land to the Kurdish people.