- Middle East -
The Kurds belong to the Indo-European peoples. With about 25 to 30 million members, they are the world’s largest people without a state of their own. After the First World War, their settlement area was divided up between the newly created states of Syria, Iraq, the Turkish Republic, and Iran. There is also a scattered minority of Kurdish people in the former Soviet Union. Most of them follow Sunni Islam, but there are also Kurdish Shiites, Yazidis, Alevis, Zoroastrians, and Christians. There is no uniform Kurdish language.
The rough mountainous region in their settlement area has always been a natural border between the Ottoman and the Persian empires, as it is difficult to control. Therefore, the regional Kurdish rulers remained quite independent for a long time – and open borders enabled them to travel from one kingdom to another without hindrance. Until the 20th century, most of the Kurdish people considered themselves as members of certain tribes. The second basis for their identity was to be seen in their affiliation to Islam, predominantly Sunni. It was not until the 20th century that the Kurdish people developed a more specific sense of national identity, primarily due to the influence of European ideas and in response to the respective states’ efforts towards centralization and assimilation.
In Iran, the Kurds are not recognized as a people – despite their diverse cultural heritage – and their political parties are banned. Since many Kurds are not only members of an ethnic minority, but also of Sunni faith, there have been many bloody clashes between Kurds and the Iranian security personnel, which are usually Shiites.
Based on the Treaty of Lausanne, the Kurdish people of Turkey are no longer considered as a minority group, but as Turkish nationals – in accordance with the Islamic concept of nationality. As the Kurdish people were denied their Kurdish identity, they started to feel under assimilation pressure – which ultimately led to violent uprisings. Since 1984, a total number of about 5,500 civilians lost their lives in the clashes between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (which, in Germany, is considered a terrorist organization) and the Turkish army. In 2012, peace negotiations were held between the detained PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan and the Turkish government. Following the parliamentary elections in June 2015, Turkish President Erdogan terminated the peace talks with the Kurds: Now, elected Kurdish representatives are under pressure again; there are attacks against PKK positions in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, and closures of border crossings to the Kurdish areas of northern Syria, where hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons have sought protection from Islamic State (IS).
Further information about the Kurds
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