The Kurds
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map of Kurdish populationThe  Kurdish population of the Republic of Azerbaijan is estimated to be about 13.000, although some sources suggest numbers as large as 200.000.

Many of the Azeri Kurds lived around Kelbajar and Lachin, Minkend and Zangelan, in the strip of land between Nagorno Karabakh and the Azeri-Armenian border, most were dislocated as a consequence of the war. This area was briefly (1923-1929) a Kurdish autonomous province, also called 'Red Kurdistan'. The other significant concentrations of Kurdish population in Azerbaijan are around Zardaba, in the centre of the country and around Sadarak and Teyvaz in the Nakhchivan exclave. Kurds are also found in several Azeri cities, in fact it should be mentioned that Azeri Kurds (and 'Soviet'-Kurds in general) have a much higher level of urbanization and education than Kurds elsewhere.

Kurdish parliament flagLarge numbers of Kurds arrived in the Caucasus during the late 19th century and early 20th century. They were seeking refuge from the wars between Ottoman and Russian Empires. The Kurds in Azerbaijan belong to a much larger population, totalling well over 20 million people. Today Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the greater Middle East, after the Arabs, Persians and Turks. Nevertheless the Kurds are the largest people in the world without an independent homeland. Most Kurds live in Kurdistan divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran (there are more Kurds in the Iranian South Azerbaijan than in the Republic of Azerbaijan itself).


Mahabad Republic flagThe Kurds are the descendants of the Medes, who helped Persia defeat Babylon. Their history since then is one of subjugation by other nations. In the 8th century they were conquered by the Arabs, who introduces Islam. They were also subdued by the Mongols in the 11th century and later by the Ottoman Turks, under whose rule they remained until the collapse of the Ottoman empire following World War I. Their homeland was then divided between the nations of the area. In 1920 the treaty of Sévres established the principles for the creation of a Kurdish state, but it was never implemented.

Ever since the Kurds have been cruelly oppressed in most countries. Turkey, Iran and Syria all prohibited the Kurdish languages to varying degrees, with Turkey illegalising even everyday speech in Kurdish until recently and performing systematic ethnic cleansing of vast areas, transferring the Kurdish populations to urban centres with a Turkish majority. During insurrections the Iraqi government poisoned thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons. Ironically, only in the Soviet Union did the Kurds remain unmolested, and the Soviet authorities even supported the last but short lived Kurdish independent state, the Mahabad republic, crashed by Iran in 1946.

Kurdish village: painted hand (photo (c) Al. Slobodianik / such a tragic history their own petty arguing has prevented any unified attempt to gain independence, with different factions fighting against. Kurds have religious differences, with numerous competing sects of Islam, and language differences with mutually unintelligible dialects.

The Kurdish language is Indo-European from the same group as Farsi (Indo-Iranian), not Altaic as Azeri or Turkish. The most widely spoken dialect is Kurmanji, which is used by Kurds in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and parts of Iran and Central Asia. The other main dialects are: Kurdi, Dimili, Herki and Shikaki. A pan-Kurdish alphabet has been developed, based on the Latin script. Armenia has become an important cultural centre for the Kurds, there are radio broadcasts in Kurmanji dialect and there is a Kurdish publishing house.

Nearly all Kurds are Muslim, most being Shafiite Sunnis. However religion has created deep rifts among the Kurds. Many of the dispossessed Kurd minorities outside the former USSR have become associated with the secret and unorthodox sects of Islam.

sources: multimap, bethany, KHRP, M.Izady
see also: maps, people, geography, Lezgin, Meskhetian Turks, Talysh, Avar, Tatar, Tat, Tsakhur, images of Kurdistan

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