Article

The Kurds

Michael M. Gunter

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online April 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0161
The Kurds

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The twenty-five to thirty million Kurds straddling the mountainous borders where Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria converge in the Middle East constitute the largest nation in the world without its own independent state. The Kurds are a largely Sunni Muslim, Indo-European-speaking people. Thus they are quite distinct ethnically from the Turks and Arabs but are related to the Iranians, with whom they share the Newroz (New Year) holiday at the beginning of spring. No precise figures for the Kurdish population exist, because most Kurds tend to exaggerate their numbers, while the states they live in undercount them for political reasons. In addition, a significant number of Kurds have partially or fully assimilated into the larger Arab, Turkish, or Iranian populations surrounding them. Although a large majority within this geographical area, often called Kurdistan, the Kurds have been gerrymandered into being mere minorities within the existing states where they live. The desire of many Kurds for statehood, or at least cultural autonomy, has led to an almost continuous series of Kurdish revolts since the creation of the modern Middle East state system following World War I and constitutes the Kurdish problem or question. On the other hand, the states the Kurds live in still greatly fear Kurdish autonomy as a threat to their territorial integrity. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the Kurdish problem has become increasingly important in Middle Eastern and even international politics for two fundamental reasons. First, the wars against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003 resulted in the creation of a virtually independent Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in a federal Iraq. This KRG has inspired the Kurds elsewhere to seek cultural, social, and even political autonomy if not independence. Second, Turkey’s application for admission into the European Union (EU) also has brought the Kurdish issue to the attention of Europe. Since the Kurds sit on a great deal of the Middle East’s oil and possibly even more important water resources, the Kurdish issue probably will become increasingly more salient in the coming years.

Article.  15658 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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