The first possible references to the Kurds come from Sumerian inscriptions from 2000 BC and their battles with the Assyrians are mentioned by Xenophon. During the C13th, the most famous opponent of the Crusaders was Saladin (Salah-ad-Din), a Kurd. The area came under the control of Ottoman Turkey and in the 1880s an attempt to set up an autonomous Kurdish state failed although in 1921, the Treaty of SÀ vres produced a draft scheme for Kurdish independence. This was reneged on by France and Britain who divided the Kurds' territory between their Middle Eastern client states.
Sheik Said led a rebellion against the newly founded Turkish republic in 1925 but this was savagely put down and a movement to eradicate Kurdish history began, with speaking or writing Kurdish or listening to Kurdish music becoming illegal in 1938. After the new Turkish constitution of 1961, some Kurdish publications appeared but were often banned and from 1967 further laws to repress Kurdish were passed. Since 1991, it has been legal to speak Kurdish but Turkish Kurds still have far fewer rights than ethnic Turks and some cannot speak or write Kurdish
Soviet backing persuaded Iran to allow the Kurds their own representative but they were repressed by the Shah and their revolt against Ayatollah Khomeini was violently suppressed in 1979-80. Since 1984 there has been a more open policy with Kurdish schools and radio broadcasts becoming allowed. In Armenia, there was some freedom under the Soviets and Kurdish publications were allowed.
In the Iraqi province of Kurdistan, Kurdish is the official regional language. The Iraqi Kurds in the northern mountain province of Kirkuk rebelled in 1961-75 to try to obtain an autonomous state which led to their being moved south and there were further revolts in 1974-5 and 1977. In 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons against the Kurds to drive them into Turkey and in 1989, moved several hundred thousand of them to leave an uninhabited 'security zone' on its borders with Turkey and Iran. When Iraq was defeated in the Gulf War, the Kurds used the opportunity to revolt and took control of many of northern cities but over a million were forced to flee to Turkey and Iran during the Iraqi backlash and thousands died due to poor conditions. In May 1991, the USA and its allies set up a 'safe zone' for the refugees and when Iraqi forces had withdrawn and the Kurds were allowed home, a multi-national force remained in Turkey to protect them.
Although the four Kurdish provinces were promised autonomous unity, they remain divided between Iran, Iraq and Turkey. There are about 13 million speakers of Kurdish, an Indo-European language from the Iranian branch which can be divided into two related languages. Kurmanji or Kurmanci (Northern Kurdish) has about 4 million speakers in Turkey and almost 3 million in northern Iraq. There are other groups in Syria, Armenia and Iran in areas bordering Iraq. Kurdi or Sorani, (Southern Kurdish) has about 2.8 million speakers in Iraq, 3 million in Iran. Some Kurds do not speak Kurdish due to assimilation laws and some who regard themselves as Kurdish speak languages such as Zaza or Gurani. There may be as many as 20 million ethnic Kurds.
Modern Kurds seem to use similar names to the country within whose territory they live but this may be due to assimilation laws rather than a natural preference. The few Kurdish people I have found in reference books have had Muslim or Arab names.
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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