The Soviet union and the Kurds : a study of National minority problems in soviet policy

Citation preview

This dissertation has been microfilmed exactly as received


HOWELL, J r ., W ilson N athaniel, 1939THE SOVIET UNION AND THE KURDS: A STUDY OF NATIONAL MINORITY PROBLEMS IN SOVIET POLICY. U n iv ersity of V irgin ia, P h.D ., 1965 P o litic a l S cien ce, international law and rela tio n s

University Microfilms, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan

THE SOVIET UNION AND THE KURDS A Study of National Minority Problems in Soviet Policy

by W. Nathaniel Howell, Jr., B. A. With Honors

A Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Faculty of the University of Virginia in Candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy


First Reader

.. .S,. .0 v . O ^ k ^ ^ v S e c o n d Reader

August 1965

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The author wishes to take this opportunity to ex­ press his deep appreciation for the assistance of numerous individuals in the preparation of this study.


thanks are due the readers, Dr. Rouhollah K. Rarnazani and Dr. Shao C. Leng, for their encouragement, suggestions and fortitude throughout the entire process of investigation and composition.

Dr. Ramazani has been particularly instru­

mental not only in arousing my interest in Soviet policy in the Middle East, but in helping to sharpen the focus of this study as well. Several institutional libraries have generously pro­ vided their facilities for research purposes.

I particularly

wish to thank Miss Helena Koiner of the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia for her diligence and patience in procuring indispensable sources through inter-library loan. The staffs of the Library of Congress

(particularly, Mr.

Pourhadi of the Orientalia Division); The Mew York Public Library (Photographic Service); the Department of State Library; and the Middle East Institute Library have kindly lent their assistance in suggesting, locating and reproducing useful materials. In addition, the following persons have provided suggestions and factual information for this study in interviews

and correspondence: Professors Majid Khadduri and Vladimir Reisky de Dubnic of the University of Virginia; Professor C. J. Edmonds of Great Britain; Emir Dr. Kamuran Aali Bedir-Khan of Paris; Silvio E. van Rooy, President of the International Society Kurdistan (Amsterdam); Dr. Thomas Mansy of the Counter­ insurgency Department of the U.S. Army Special Warfare School; Shafiq Kazzaz, former President of the Kurdish Students Organi­ zation in the U S . A . ;

and Mr. A. I. Lebed, Deputy Head of the

Research Section of the Institute for the. Study of the USSR (Munich).

Finally, I have had the benefit of extended con-

versations, portions of which are reproduced in an Appendix of this study, with Mr. Ismet Cheriff Vanly, Envoy-at-Large of the Command Council of the Revolution in Iraqi Kurdistan. Confidential interviews were also conducted with officials of several interested governments and organizations, including Colonel Mohammed T. Kashmoula, Iraqi Armed Forces Attache^ but, because of the topical nature of the subject-matter discussed, they have asked not to be identified by name. It should be emphasized, in conclusion, that while the above-mentioned individuals have provided information which has made it possible to fill in many gaps in the published material on the subject of this study, they incur no responsibility for the interpretations or conclusions reached, which are solely those of the author.


TABLE OF CONTENTS Page P R E F A C E .......................................... "/iii LIST OF MAPS........................................ vii INTRODUCTION...................................... PART I .



Chapter I. KURDISTAN: THE GEOGRAPHIC SETTING........... 14 The Topography of Kurdistan A Historical Approach An Ethnic Approach Kurdish Nationalist Claims


III. ..

THE KURDS: CULTURAL AND SOCIAL ASPECTS. Origin of the Kurds Numerical Strength of the Kurds Characteristics Modes of Social Organization

. . 56

KURDISH POLITICS: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NATIONAL M O V E M E N T .......................... 125 The Treaty of Sevres Kurdish Nationalism: Manifestations Kurdish Nationalism: Political Evolution Kurdish Nationalism: Objectives Kurdish Nationalism: The Record Kurdish Nationalism: The Problem of Leadership PART II. ...AfTO THE SOVIET UNION


MAINSPRINGS OF SOVIET KURDISH POLICY: BACKGROUND FACTORS..........................226 The Tsarist Heritage The Kurds of the Soviet Union Soviet Kurdology Kurdistan in Soviet Strategic Thought Soviet Policy Alternatives in Kurdistan The Profile of Soviet Policy

vi V.



THE SOVIET UNION FACES THE KURDISH PROBLEM THE EVOLUTION OF AN OFFICIAL POLICY.......... 289 A Period of Adjustment, 1917-1921 Quiet Interlude: The Soviet Union and the Inter-war Revolts Watershed of Soviet Kurdish Policy, 1939-1947. The Soviet Retreat From a "Policy of Force" Kassem and After: Soviet Kurdish Policy in a Minor Key

SOVIET CLANDESTINE OPERATIONS AMONG THE KURDS.433 Propaganda Scale Themes Agents Mullahs and Dervishes tmigres, Refugees and Students The Role of Other Socialist States COMMUNISM AMD THE KURDS 522 Kurdish Politics and Communist Dogma Kurdish Society and Communism Regional Communist Parties and the Kurdish Question Kurdish Communists











Distribution of Kurds in the Middle East..

. . 32


Approximate Limits of "Ethnic" Kurdistan.


Distribution of Kurds in Soviet Transcaucasia.239

. ..55


Introduction The Kurdish problem gives every indication of remaining a major factor in the chronic instability of the Middle East. A final solution to the difficulties presented by this sig­ nificant minority and its unrealized aspirations is no closer today than it was at the conclusion of World War I.

The most

recent manifestation of Kurdish discontent - the four-year-old uprising led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani in Iraqi Kurdistan


in fact, exhibited a degree of unity and resiliency absent in previous Kurdish revolts. in the

Despite differences of opinion with­

Kurdish leadership and the strenuous efforts of three

successive Iraqi regimes to dislodge and defeat the insurgents, Mullah Mustafa's forces are in effective control of a substantial area in northern Iraq.

Recent reports on the situation in this

region, moreover, indicate the real possibility that armed hostilities between the Kurds and the Baghdad government, inter­ rupted since February, 1964 by an uneasy cease-fire, will be re­ sumed in the near future.'*'

It is difficult to see how either

side in this struggle can achieve a definitive military victory. The real significance, therefore, of this as of former Kurdish uprisings is not its military aspect, interesting as it may be; it is rather the political implications of -the Kurdish problem


Dana Adams Schmidt, New York Times, March 8, 1965, p. 8. Since this introduction was written, the Iraqi Army has resumed operations against the Kurds. Subsequent chapters will take this development into account.

for the states of the Middle East where the Kurds form large minorities of a million or more persons. The current uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan raises once again the spectre of Soviet intrigue in the strategic territory south of the Soviet Republics of Transcaucasia.

Though the

official position which the Soviet government will assume in the event Kurdo-Iraqi hostilities are resumed is not yet clear,


the evidence of Soviet activity among the Kurds, as well as the expressions of sympathy for Kurdish aspirations which have emanated from Moscow, have done much to rekindle both scholarly and popular interest in Soviet Kurdish policy in the West.

While this policy

is a fitting subject for academic investigation, it is of most immediate concern to policy-makers responsible for the development of Cold War strategy in the region that has come to be called the "Northern Tier." The attitudes and behavior of the Kurds is quite naturally of vital interest to the states of the Middle East - Turkey, Iran, and Iraq - for which they have been a perennial problem.


efforts to exploit the frustrations and aspirations of the Kurdish minorities in these countries cannot but occasion alarm in govern­ mental circles since the repercussions of Kurdish activity in any: one are generally felt in all three.

The existence of this common

1 The Soviet government, as well as the governments of the United Arab Republic and the United States, has been exerting pressure in recent weeks to compel a negotiated settlement of the question. See Patrick Seale, Washington Post, April 18, 1965, p. A14

3 threat to internal security and stability has been a major factor in determining the foreign and domestic policies pursued by the three neighboring states.

It is certainly no accident

that they have sought twice in the last half century to mitigate the disruptive effects of the common Kurdish problem.

Both the

Sa'adabad Pact of the 1930's and the Baghdad Pact of the 1950's were, in large part, motivated by a desire to eliminate the in­ ternational aspects of the Kurdish question by reducing the vunerability of the Kurdish minority in each to external in­ fluences and manipulations.

The Kurds, inhabiting a central

area around which these three allies clustered, represent not only a direct threat to internal order but an impediment to active and effective cooperation between the several governments. The alteration of the orientation of the Iraqi government follow­ ing the Kassem coup in 1958 and the withdrawal from the Baghdad Pact a year later paved the way for the Barzani revolt and breached the united front on the Kurdish question developed "over the previous decades.

In spite of this defection, however, the

Kurdish question continues to be a matter with which the govern­ ments of these three states must contend and, as an examination of the history of the problem demonstrates, Soviet exploitation of Kurdish unrest in each presents a danger which cannot be ig­ nored.

Whether individually or in concert, these three states

must recognize and counteract the threat. Soviet Kurdish policy is not a subject of regional signi­ ficance only.

In the context of the world-wide struggle for

4 power and influence between the Soviet Union and the West, the Kurds possess an importance which may not be immediately apparent.

Though the opponents of Soviet expansion have been

concerned with the defense of the Middle Hast against armed attack or subversion since 1917, the Soviet threat to this area increased substantially following World War II.


Soviet Union emerged from that conflict with the status and attributes of a major power as well as a continuing desire to extend its southern frontiers and it is quite interesting that in this same period Turkey, Iran and, until 1959, Iraq became members of a pro-Western alliance system.

Soviet efforts

to manipulate the Kurdish question contributed to this orienta­ tion.

The Central Treaty Organization, as the Baghdad Pact

became known after the withdrawal of Iraq, represents the response of the Western powers and their Middle Eastern allies to Soviet pressure in this quarter.

The position of the Kurds

in the regional defense system is crucial to its success. Kurdistan occupies an area in the center of the "Northern Tier" which, extending from Soviet Armenia'in the north to Iraq in the south, effectively separates Turkey from Iran.

For the Soviet

Union, therefore, the Kurds offer an attractive instrument for the penetration and disruption of the CENTO region.


the behavior and orientation of this volatile people is of great importance to Western strategists and Soviet Kurdish policy is an aspect of this subject to be analyzed in some detail.

5 The exploitation of Kurdish nationalism by the Soviet Union is illustrative of a prominent characteristic of Soviet policy.

National minorities throughout the world exercise a

fascination for Kremlin strategists that has not been fully recognized in the West.

Such minorities, often frustrated in

their efforts to achieve their national aspirations, constitute elements in many countries which are susceptible to Soviet manipulation.

Though the Soviet government takes every pre­

caution to assure that the national predilections of its own peoples are not exploited from abroad, it has consistently sought to arouse and direct the national sentiment of minorities in foreign countries.

Its support of the principle of national

self-determination is not, however, unqualified.

While holding

out the hope which this principle implies for subject minorities, the Soviet leadership developed a highly subjective standard for judging the merits of national movements.

As early as 1924,

Stalin, speaking at Sverdlovsk University, enunciated the Soviet position on the national question when he stated: The proletariat should support nationalist move­ ments which tend to weaken and subvert imperialism, not those which tend to strengthen and maintain it. In certain oppressed countries, national movements may run counter to the general interests of the pro­ letarian movement. Obviously, there can be no ques­ tion of our helping such movements as these. The problem of national rights does not stand alone; it is part of the general problem of the proletarian revolution, is subordinate thereto, and can only be considered by the proletariat from that angle.^ 1 U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Foreign Affairs, The Strategy and Tactics of World Communism, 80th Cong., 2d Sess., 1948, p. 100.

6 From the outset, therefore, the Soviet policy-makers have viewed the problem of national minorities, as well as national movements in general, in the context of the struggle between the Soviet state and its international opponents.

Where Soviet

agents or local communists were successful in seizing control of a particular movement or the nationalist leadership adopted a course which coincided temporarily with Soviet interests and goals, Soviet support and assistance have been accorded it. National movements which meet the Soviet criteria are granted the status of National Liberation Movement, which carries with it the public promise of Soviet support.

While relations with

constituted governments greatly complicate the implementation of this policy with regard to national minorities, the Soviet state is on record in support of these movements.

The 1960

Declaration issued by the Moscow Conference of Communist Parties, for example, declares "Communists have always recognized the progressive, revolutionary importance of national-liberation wars and are the most active champions of national independence."^ The Kurdish question provides a uniquely rewarding vehicle for an investigation of the place of national minority problems in the totality of Soviet policy.

Although a complete under­

standing of this aspect of that policy must await further study of other minorities, the Kurdish example possesses several apparent

^ John C. Clews, Communist Propaganda Techniques. (London: Methuen & C o ., 1964), p. 59.

7 advantages.

In the first place, Soviet interest in and policy

toward the Kurdish problem dates from the installation of the Bolshevik regime in Russia.

Indeed, the Soviet state inherited

from its Tsarist predecessor a tradition of employing the Kurds of the Middle East in promoting its interests in the area.


cause of the duration of Soviet concern with the Kurds, a suffi­ cient period has elapsed to permit examination of Soviet patterns of behavior.

Closely related to and partially underlying the

longevity of Soviet involvement is the strategic position which the Kurds occupy viv-a-vis the Soviet Union.

Because the Kurds

inhabit a region In which the expansionist thrusts of the Russian state have historically encountered the resistance of its southern neighbors, the Kurds are an important factor in both the defensive and offensive calculations of Soviet policy-makers.


since the Kurds occupy the territory of several Middle Eastern states, including two Western allies, the potential benefits to Moscow of Kurdish unrest are multiplied.

Finally, the Kurds are

not located exclusively in the Middle East.

A tiny fraction of

this people is located in the Soviet Union itself and, therefore, the opportunities for attracting the sympathy of Middle Eastern Kurds through relatively generous treatment of this small community and of infiltrating the Kurdish national movement abroad are en­ hanced.

Consequently, a study of Soviet Kurdish policy possesses

the additional advantage of revealing an important aspect of Soviet tactics toward national minorities inhabiting areas on both sides

8 of the Soviet frontier.

In view of these considerations, it

is felt that the Kurdish case promises to provide a useful starting point for understanding a significant phenomenon in Soviet strategy.

The present situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the resumption of hostilities probable and the official Soviet position with regard to this contingency uncertain, offers a good opportunity to consider the broad sweep of Soviet Kurdish policy.

It is worthwhile to note at the outset that the Kurds,

in common with most national minorities, are not a legitimate subject of foreign policy.

Only during the period between the

end of World War I and the conclusion of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 did the possibility of the creation of an independent Kurdish state invest

this people with quasi-legal status in

international affairs.

Since that time, however, the Kurds have

been recognized as citizens of the states among which they were ultimately divided by the post-war settlement.

Soviet Kurdish

policy, therefore, does not fit easily into the normal patterns of foreign policy.

It is essentially unilateral in the sense

that it is the policy of a state vis-a-vis minority elements in neighboring states.

Since the Kurds, without a government of

their own or international status, do not possess the jural capacity to enter into reciprocal relations with the Soviet government, Soviet involvement must be regarded as intervention

9 in the internal affairs of the relevant Middle Eastern states. While this situation and the secrecy which it necessitates makes an investigation of Soviet Kurdish policy difficult, it does not obviate the fact that, over an extended period, the Soviet Union has, through both official and clandestine channels, engaged in the exploitation of Kurdish unrest and has, upon occasion, actually entered into unofficial relations with certain Kurdish leaders.

These maneuvers, however, are incomprehensible

when considered in isolation; because of the extreme complexity of the Kurdish question the subject

can be placed in proper

perspective and the elements of consistency discerned only by a multi-dimensional approach. In the first place, a balanced impression of Soviet Kurdish .policy can be gained only by an effort to appreciate the Kurdish problem itself.

Due emphasis must be accorded to

the nature and development of the Kurds and their aspirations in the period under scrutiny.

While in no sense a history of

the Kurds, a preliminary investigation of the problem per se adds a dimension of depth that is often missing in attempts to assess Soviet influence among the Kurds.

Like all policies,

that of the Soviet Union on the Kurdish question is compounded not only of national objectives in a particular area but of an understanding, however imperfect, of the possibilities for their achievement.

For this reason, it is vital to recognize both the

constant and the dynamic features of Kurdish society and

10 nationalism.

Such an understanding not only facilitates

analysis of the policy decisions of the Soviet government but also provides a basis for evaluating the vunerability of the Kurds to the enticements of Soviet policy. An analytic introduction to the Kurdish problem is indispensible in dispelling some of the misconceptions and halftruths which the Western observer often brings to the. subject. As one commentator has written: is only since the first World War that they ,/the Kurd^7 have come before the eyes of the world in any except their traditional role of friends, fantastic savages stealing out of their mountain fastnesses and carrying desolation before them, resisting any interference by princes and powers or any attempt to conquer them.l Unfortunately, outside of a small, highly-competent circle of Kurdologists, the Kurds have been victims not only of "crisis" diplomacy but of "crisis" reporting as well.

Largely ignored during

periods of relative calm in Kurdistan, they are suddenly catapulted to world attention whenever underlying dissatisfactions attain the proportions of armed uprising.

As a partial result of this circum­

stance, the prevailing attitude toward the Kurds is a curious mix­ ture of ignorance, romanticism and suspicion.

They are, in the popu­

lar mind, the perpetrators of the Armenian massacres, gallant brigands of epic proportions, or the nefarious agents of Soviet imperialism.

The grain of truth implicit in each of these images

does not permit their representation as a complete and accurate

1 Touvia Ashkenazi, "Kurdistan for the Kurds," Asia and the Americas, XLVI (April, 1946), p. 164.

11 picture of the Kurdish people, their aspirations and their behavior.

A meaningful evaluation of Soviet Kurdish policy

must be based upon a realization that the traditional system of Kurdish life and thought is challenged not only by inter­ national communism but by the disruptive forces of moderniza­ tion and nationalism. Secondly, it is vital that Soviet policy on the Kurdish question be considered in relation to the breadth of Soviet interests and objectives in the Middle East in particular and the world in general.

As noted previously, the Kurds, like any

other national minority, are important in Soviet planning only insofar as they can be used to serve Soviet interests.

As T.

Cuyler Young has observed: In this region the aim of the USSR has been the elimination of British influence and the preven­ tion of its replacement by the United States, with the Soviets prepared to fill the power vacuum thus created .-*■ It is only if the position of the Soviet Union on the Kurdish question is viewed within this context that a definite pattern of Soviet behavior emerges.

It soon becomes clear that the Kurds

possess no intrinsic attraction for Soviet policy-makers and that *the Soviet attitude towards the Kurdish movement was and is opportunistic and ambiguous."2

In the Soviet view, the major

^ T. Cuyler Young, "The Eastern Mediterranean in the East-West Conflict," in C. Grove Haines (ed.), The Threat of Soviet Im­ perialism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1954), p. 294. 2 Letter from Silvio E. Van Rooy, Chairman, International Society Kurdistan, Amsterdam, October 20, 1963.

12 antagonist in this region, as throughout the world, is the Western coalition the elimination of which has consistently been the criterion for choosing indigenous allies.


while the exploitation of Kurdish grievances offers one alter­ native means of achieving this objective, it runs the risk of alienating the Turks, Persians and Arabs and thereby negating simultaneous efforts to woo these dominant peoples to the Soviet side.

Consequently, Soviet policy must be understood

in terms of its ultimate objectives and considered judgements on the most effective means of attaining them.

Whatever its

position at a particular moment, however, the Soviet Union has shown itself anxious to cultivate the Kurds and to hold them in reserve against the time when they might be the most appro­ priate instrument for serving Soviet interests in a particular state or in the area as a whole.’*' Finally, a time-span of sufficient duration to permit a study of enduring patterns of Soviet Kurdish policy is an im­ portant consideration.

In this investigation, the entire Soviet

period, from 1917 to the present, is considered.

Selection of

time segments of lesser duration encounters the risk of present­ ing a distorted picture, suggesting, according to the period chosen, that the Soviet Union has either pursued a vigorous policy among the Kurds or that it has exhibited only a casual interest in them.

By analyzing the Soviet attitude on the

■*• Confidential interview, December 13, 1963.

13 Kurdish questions over the decades since the Bolshevik Revo­ lution, such false impressions may be avoided and a balanced evaluation of this phenomenon achieved.

The over-view of

Soviet Kurdish policy which an expanded temporal dimension permits also encourages observation of the interaction of Soviet interest in the Kurdish national minority with other relevant and often incompatible considerations.

From such a vantage

point, the enduring character of Soviet Kurdish policy may be grasped. Despite frequent assertions that the Kurdish problem had been "solved," the current situation in northern Iraq belies this conclusion.

The dissatisfaction of many Kurds with

their present status continues to make this people a volatile element in the instability of the Middle East.

The Soviet Union

has consistently recognized and exploited this unrest in its efforts to achieve its objectives in this vital region.


too long this aspect of Soviet policy has escaped the systematic investigation it deserves.

And yet, the probability that the

Kurdish problem will present a target for Soviet exploitation for the foreseeable future makes an examination of the Soviet role a timely exercise.



Our religion teaches us to hope for a paradise Where the shadow beneath the trees is cool, Where the waters flow quietly and sweet as honey, , Where beautiful girls preen themselves like angels, When I perceive the springs and the women of my country, I think that I have already entered into the promised land. Eli Termuki, Kurdish poet of the 15th or 16th century.



15 The Topography of Kurdistan. Kurdistan, as shown on many modern maps of the Near and Middle East, is an undefined territory which straddles the highlands of eastern Turkey, western Iran, and northern Iraq.

Such maps fail, quite understandably, to give content

to the designation by indicating the outer limits of this region. It is possible, nonetheless, to identify Kurdistan roughly as a territory occupying that portion of the mountain complex ex­ tending from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf which separates the Anatolian from the Iranian Plateau.

It is this location and

the topographical character derived from it that have earned for Kurdistan a reputation as " l ’epine dorsale du Moyen-Orient. Actually, Kurdistan occupies an area in which a number of important mountain ranges converge.

In northwestern Iran, the

chain which extends southward from the Soviet Caucasus divides near Tabriz into two distinct ranges - the Elburz, which runs eastward along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea and the Russo-Iranian frontier, and the Armenian complex which, merging into the Zagros chain farther south, extends in a southeasterly


The origin of this characterization is unknown, but the idea is widespread. The Kurdish nationalists employed it in a note addressed to the Allied Governments during World War II. They have rendered it into English as "the backbone of the Middle East." "Memorandum sur la Question kurde, pr£sente' aux Grandes Puissances, le 30 aout 1943," Bulletin du Centre d 1Etudes Kurdes. no. 6 (April, 1949), pp.2 and 12.

1 direction along Iran’s western border.

The relatively narrow

strip of Kurdistan in Iran lies almost entirely along this mountain system or on its slopes.

Like Kurdistan itself,

however, the Zagros Mountains and their northern extensions do not conform with the facts of political geography.

In the west,

they spill over the Iranian frontier to influence the topography of eastern Turkey and northeastern Iraq.


Two additional mountain ranges, originating in western Turkey, feed into the Armenian-Zagros complex to determine the topographical character of Kurdistan.

Northwest of Ankara, the

Pontus rises and runs eastward parallel to, but at some distance 3 from, the southern coastline of the Black Sea. Reaching eastern Turkey north of Erzurum, the Pontic range merges with the East Anatolian or Armenian complex.

To the south, the Taurus, or more

correctly the Anti-Taurus, chain also joins the mountain mass 4 along the Iranian border from the west. These three ranges, meeting in the heart of western Kurdistan, overlap sufficiently to create an almost totally mountainous region.

The southern

limit of this territory may be placed along a line prescribed

1 2 3 4

Norman J. G. Pounds and Robert C. Kingsbury, An Atlas of Middle Eastern Affairs (N.Y.: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), p. 43, map 17A. George B. Cressey, Crossroads; Land and^Life in Southwest Asia. (Chicago; J. B. Lippincott, 1960), p. 383. Pounds and Kingsbury, op.cit.. p. 51, map 18A. Cressey, op.cit., p. 264. Cressey places the point of merger between longitudes 40° and 43° East.

17 by the Anti-Taurus system as it turns upward around the head of the Tigris basin.

From this point, the terrain drops

sharply from elevations of 10,000 feet or more to the low­ lands..^

This change, however, is a relative one because the

foothills flanking the Anti-Taurus range are evident along the Turco-Syrian frontier. The predominantly mountainous character of the area which the Kurds inhabit is equally striking when considered on the basis of the pattern of land use.

Cressey has prepared p

a map showing this pattern for the entire Middle Hast.


a chart covering so extensive an area cannot be expected to reveal details, it does demonstrate the extent to which Kurdistan is dominated by peaks of sufficient elevation (12,000 feet) to be snow-capped.

Several localities are shown to de­

part from the norm to a degree that permits cultivation.


the western and southern fringes of Kurdistan in Turkey and Iraq are areas of extensive agricultural activity where the highlands give way to foothills and rolling plains.

In addition, a fertile

plain is found on the western shore of Lake Urmia in Iran which 3 is approximately twenty miles wide. In the interior of Kurdistan, however, arable land is extremely scarce.

Besides the level areas

east of Lake Van in Turkey and between Diarbekr and the Syrian border, the Kurdish nationalists cite Passen, Mus, Kharput, Jezireh, Mahabad, Hawler, Jawanrud, and Sharizor as regions of


Ibid., p. 265.


Ibid., p. 8.


Ibid., p. 516.

"rich pastureland and beautiful fertile valleys."1

In spite

of this expanded list, however, the conclusion is inescapable that little more than a fraction of the total area of Kurdistan consists of non-mountainous terrain.

Resources. The resources of Kurdistan of particular significance are, with one important exception, meagre.

Even the rather

generous evaluation of the riches of this region presented by Emir Dr. Kamuran Aali Bedir-Khan fails to alter this assessment 2 substantially. Besides the chrome discovered in Turkish Kurd­ istan and the small deposits of copper and petroleum known to exist in several parts of Kurdish territory, the hydro-electric potential of the swift rivers constitutes an important, but hardly tapped, resource.

At the present time, however, these

resources have not been fully developed and, in the shadow of Kurdistan’s primary petroleum deposits, have not achieved great importance. The oil fields in the Mosul-Kirkuk region of Iraq are among the richest in the world.

The known reserves have been

estimated at 7.5 billion barrels and extensive drilling and



Memorandum on the Situation of the Kurds and Their Claims. Summary of the Memorandum presented by the Kurdish delegation in Paris on November 29th 1948 to His Excellency Mr. Trygve Lie, Secretary General of the United Nations (Paris, 1949), p. 5. Emir Dr, Kamuran Aali Bedir-Khan, "The Kurdish Problem," Royal Central Asian Society Journal, XXXVI (July-October, 1949), pp. 238-39.

19 production facilities have been constructed.'1' Any considera­ tion of Kurdistan as an independent state, a. part of Iraq, or a pawn in the game of international politics cannot fail to take note of the existence of these rich deposits on the southern fringe of this region.


Natural Barriers Id the Unification of Kurdistan. The mountainous character of Kurdistan has been influential in determining not only the internal development of Kurdish society but also the nature of the relationship established between the Kurds and members of adjacent societies.

It is, in

fact, tempting to explain almost any aspect of Kurdish history and behavior on the basis of the physical configuration of this environment.

Undoubtedly, an appreciation of this environment

is essential to an understanding of its inhabitants; their traditional mode of life and social organization; their success in retaining a distinctive culture, while incorporating selected alien influences; and their capacity to defy the superior power of surrounding states for extended periods.

Dependence upon a

geopolitical approach alone, however, will not explain or illum­ inate the whole question because vital psychological, intellect­ ual and physical influences must also be considered.

It is


Cressey, op.cit., p. 213.


For further details on the Iraqi oil fields, see Stephen H. Longrigg, Oil in the Middle East: Its Discovery and Develop­ ment (London: Oxford University Press, 1954); Benjamin Shwadran, The Middle East, Oil, and the Great Powers (N..Y.: Frederick A. Praeger, 1955); and George Lenczowski', Oil and State in the Middle East (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, I960).

20' necessary to remember that topography, as important as it is, is only one factor establishing the limits within which develop­ ments will occur. Nature has given little encouragement to the unification of the Kurds.

Their territory has, historically, placed serious

obstacles in the way of this process.

No less than the state

frontiers that wind through the Kurdish highlands, the mountains themselves have contributed to the fragmentation of Kurdish society and retarded the creation of social and political co­ hesion among the entire people.

The physical character of their

homeland has provided no natural inducement for the extension of traditional loyalties and the forms of social and political organization on which they are based.

Living in relatively

small communities, isolated from similar groupings by high peaks and deep gorges the Kurds have tended to retain limited social and political horizons.

Under these conditions, kinship and

tribal groupings have, until recently, fulfilled most of the needs of their members.

Without rapid and reliable means of

communication and sustained contact between these entities, a conscious effort is required

to achieve a higher and more in­

clusive form of organization and social consciousness in the face of overwhelming environmental impediments. The physical barriers to internal communication and trans­ portation have contributed to the patterns of trade within Kurdistan, tending to perpetuate the lack of economic integration

21 in that region.

Kurdistan certainly does not constitute a

single market or even a series of interlocking markets.


has tended to flow outward toward the nearest non-Kurdish area; the exchange of goods and services among the various parts of Kurdistan itself has never attained significant proportions.^ The predominant tribal or village communities, largely selfsufficient, have found it easier and more advantageous to im­ port the necessities which they are unable to produce locally from adjacent non-Kurdish lowlands along the periphery of Kurdistan.

The limited commercial activity of the region has

tended to tie the various parts of this territory to the eco­ nomies of the states surrounding it.

This disruptive tendency,

reflecting geographic realities, has precluded the possibility of large-scale commercial interchanges within Kurdistan and the economic integration of that region that such a flow of trade would make possible. Well-established patterns of commercial activity are extremely difficult to alter.

The numerous Kurdish sub-groups

are highly self-sufficient economically and therefore little specialization of production is evident.


By trading with areas

It may be argued, quite accurately, that the establishment of state frontiers which dissect Kurdistan has made infra-trade more difficult. It is significant, however, that such trade failed to develop in the past when such boundaries were ephemeral or not enforced. Even today the states involved control traffic across these lines only with difficulty and some smuggling, particularly in arms and ammunition, still occurs.

22 outside of Kurdish territory, these people have felt little need to specialize and their economies have developed along competitive rather than complementary lines.

Thus, the habits

of the Kurds have served to reinforce the limitations of their physical environment and there is no basis for the exchange of locally-produced goods.^ As the case of the Kurdish economy demonstrates, the topography of Kurdistan is a divisive factor as regards physical contact.

These highlands have not, however, proven impenetrable

to the force of ideas.

The spread of Islam among the inhabi­

tants is a case in point.

A similar process is, perhaps, in

progress at the present time.

The realization that they are a

part of a distinct "nation" appears to be spreading among the Kurds and creating a basis for the acceptance of the concept of Kurdish nationalism.

The scope and strength of this move­

ment is not completely clear, but it would be irresponsible, on the basis of available evidence, to conclude that this ideology does not have the potential to overcome the physical fragmenta­ tion apparent in Kurdistan.

In the meantime, advancing techno­

logy is making social.intercourse within some parts of the region more feasible. 1

As one observer, well-equipped to comment on

Economic conditions in Kurdistan need not remain static although the passage of time alone will not solve its prob­ lems. As kinship groups are settled and traditional ties are weakened, there is, for example, an observable tendency for some specialization in such commodities as tobacco, wheat and rice to develop. This development will necessitate the creation of more adequate transportation and communications systems if it is to be encouraged. For a discussion of this and related problems, see Robert Clarke Johnson, "The Kurdish Question: A Study in Nationalism" (unpublished Master's thesis, Georgetown University, 1954), p. 152 et passim.

23 this aspect of the Kurdish question, points out, "communi­ cations . . .are being improved at such a rate that it will soon not be true to say that as all parts of Kurdistan are so isolated a Kurdish federation is virtually impossible."^

The Territorial Extent of Kurdistan:

A Historical Approach.

In the absence of any consensus on the boundaries of Kurdistan, the problem of its approximate location may be approached from either a historical or an ethnic point of p


Though neither approach is entirely satisfying, in

combination they provide the most objective working definition of the area of Kurdistan that is possible under present con­ ditions.

The primary value of viewing

the question histori­

cally is to understand, at the outset, what Kurdistan is not and apparently never has been - a single, unified*state em­ bracing all or most of the Kurds. tively recent vintage.

The term itself is of rela­

Since it means, quite literally, "the

land of the Kurds", its origins must be sought in connection with those of the term "Kurd."

On the basis of fragmentary

documentation, it is possible to trace the people which we now know as the Kurds far back into the recesses of time.



A.M.H./Hamiltor^, Review of C. J. Edmonds, Kurds, Turks, and Arabs. Royal Central Asian Society Journal, XLV (January, 1958), p. 78.


This dual approach is also suggested by Vladimir Minorsky; see his article on "Kurdistan? !The Encyclopaedia of Islam: A Dictionary of the Geography. Ethnography and Biography of the Muhammadan Peoples, II /London: Luzac and Company, 1927/, p. 1130 ff.

24 various names they have played a part in the history of Southwest Asia at least since 2000 B. C. when they are first mentioned in Sumerian inscriptions.

Further records of their

exploits may be found in the works of numerous historians, including Xenophon, Herodotus and Strabo.^

Insofar as it is

possible to discover, however, the designation "Kurd" was not applied to them until the third century A. D. when Artakhshiri-Papakan, who established the Sassanid Dynasty in 226, listed among his enemies a certain Madig, the king of the Kurdan. By the time of the Arab conquests in the seventh century A. D . f the name "Kurd" was generally accepted as the proper designation for the ancestors of the people which inhabits the Southwest Asian highlands today.

It was approximately one

thousand years, however, before the derivative "Kurdistan" came into use to denote a portion of the territory inhabited by the Kurds.

Sandjar, the last of the Seljuk rulers, first

employed it in connection with an administrative unit of his empire.

This unit, Kurdistan,

comprised the vilayets of 3 Hamadan, Dinanar, Kermanshah, Ghehrizor, and Sindjar. 1

W. G. Elphinston, "Kurds and the Kurdish Question," Royal, Central Asian Society Journal, XXXV (January, 1948), p. 41.


Arshak Safrastian, Kurds and Kurdistan, (London: Harvill Press, 1948), p. 16.


Basil Hikitine, Les Kurdes: Etude socioloqique et historique (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale/Libraire C. Klincksieck, 1956), p.22. There is some confusion among the experts as to the relation of the district of Ardelan to Persian Kurdistan. For further information on this subject, see "Kurdistan," Encyclo­ paedia Britannica. 1964 ed., Vol. XIII, p. 520. C. J. Edmonds (Kurds, Turks and Arabs: Politics. Travel and Research in North Eastern Iraq, l9l9-1925/London: Oxford University Press, 1957/, p.8) believes that "in Persia the name Kurdistan is applied officially not to the Kurdish districts in general but only to a province corresponding to the old Ardelan."

25 According to Basile Nikitine, the area of Kurdistan was redefined in the Nouzhat-ool-Qoulous of the fourteenth century writer, Hamdoullah Moustowfi Kazvini, where it is described as the province bounded on the east by Iraq-e Adjem, on the north by Azerbaijan, on the west by Iraq-e Arab, and on the south by Khorizistan.^

In the period since the creation of the Seljuk

Kurdistan the political geography of the region inhabited by the Kurds has been drawn and redrawn to reflect fortunes of the peoples and states established there.

This process of adjustment

and alteration, however, was carried on largely without the parti­ cipation of the Kurds whose territory remained divided - frag­ mented and undefined. A number of Kurdish principalities existed in various parts of Kurdish territory when Sandjar established the original Kurdistan.

The Ayyubi Dynasty, for example, flourished in and

around Erbil during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, pro­ ducing the greatest of Kurdish heroes, Saladin.

None of these

indigenous kingdoms, however, succeeded in establishing its p control over the entire Kurdish territory. The rise of the Ottoman and Safavi Empires considerably diminished the prospects for a unified Kurdish state, and their conclusion of a frontier agreement in 1639 established a political and geographic pattern for the area which persisted substantially unaltered until the


Nikitine, loc. cit.


Elphinston, op.cit., p. 42.

26 First World War.^

By this treaty the region occupied by

the Kurdish tribes was divided between these two dominant states.

With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following

World War I and the creation of the new Arab states from a portion of its territory, the Kurds were further subdivided. Having never been applied officially to the entire Kurdish region, the name "Kurdistan" possesses legal signifi­ cance today only with regard to a part of western Iran.


1961 the Teheran government granted the status of ostan (province) to an administrative division composed of the districts of Sanandaj, Saqqiz and Garrus.

The boundaries of

Kurdistan province are defined by Iraq in the west, Azerbaijan in the north, the provinces of Gilan and Teheran in the east, and Kermashah in the south.


The Territorial Extent of Kurdistan: An Ethnic Approach. If Kurdistan - the entire area inhabited by Kurds living in a compact mass - has never been defined authoritatively, it is because this territory has not been subject in recorded history to a single government able or willing to consider it as a distinct entity.

Local political geography has been de­

termined by the power and inclination of its architects rather than by strictly ethnic considerations.

It has been the Turks,

Persians and Arabs who have been most influential in drawing


Ibid., p. 41.


"Kurdistan," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1964 ed., Vol. XIII, p. 520.

27 the state boundaries of this portion of the Near and Middle East.

The concept of Kurdistan is, however, no less real

because its outlines cannot be traced with precision on his­ toric or contemporary maps.

Such lines as do exist are often

artificial insofar as they do not necessarily mirror geographic, economic, ethnic, or even psychological realities.

For this

reason, the precise frontiers which are characteristic of political geography in the present day often, as in the case of Kurdistan, obscure serious internal discontent which lends itself to external manipulation.

Walter Sulzbach, in discussing

situations of this kind, has suggested that nation-states exist only "where the peoples themselves demand the establishment of particular boundaries between sovereign states,"whereas other boundaries are "unnatural."^

"Natural" boundaries are considered

to be those of tribes and other traditional groupings which are motivated by a common sense of social consciousness.


the Kurds are mainly organized along tribal lines, this is less true than in the past and there is growing evidence of widespread national consciousness among this people.

This realization,

quite naturally, involves a recognition that they constitute a "nation" apart from the states to which they have been and are subject.


This statement is quoted by Rupert Emerson in Karl W. Deutsch and William J. Foltz (eds.), Nation-Building (N. Y . : Atherton Press, 1963), p. 101.

28 The recognition that Kurdistan constitutes a distinct region does not necessarily lead to the doctrine of Kurdish separatism.

Given the proper attitudes on the part of the

Kurds and of the governments under which they live, it may still be possible to achieve a mutually-acceptable solution to the Kurdish question short of the creation of a unified and in­ dependent Kurdish state.

At the same time, the realization

that Kurdistan, whether united or divided as at the present, constitutes an area requiring special attention is a prerequi­ site for constructive action on any aspect of the Kurdish question.

Without some concrete and meaningful idea of the

location and extent of Kurdistan, it is not possible to evaluate the implications and consequences of past, present and future developments among its inhabitants. Since Kurdistan can obviously be defined only by avoiding unessential reference to existing political geography, its sole legitimate claim to separate consideration is that it is a region set apart by "natural" boundaries.

The major argument

for this distinctiveness is, of course, the predominance of Kurd's within its frontiers, and the ethnic approach to the task of defining Kurdistan offers the soundest basis for an accurate assessment.

By concentrating on the distribution of Kurdish

population, it is feasible to avoid excessive dependence on arbitrary international and internal political divisions.


long as detailed data concerning the ethnic composition of the

29 population in this part of the world is either unavailable or unreliable, however, internal administrative divisions are sometimes useful.

Where, as in the case of Turkey, a

certain province is known to be predominantly Kurdish in character, the entire unit must be treated as a part of Kurdistan.

In the absence of more sophisticated data, greater

precision is not possible. The ethnic approach to a definition of Kurdistan offers the positive advantage of avoiding, at an early stage of in­ vestigation, the controversy which surrounds the claims of the Kurdish nationalists and the denials of their opponents. This dispute has led some observers of the Kurdish scene to exercise extreme caution in their use of terminology: I have purposely avoided to refer to the country the Kurds inhabit, as Kurdistan. The term 'Kurd­ istan1, literally means the land where the Kurds live. But unfortunately it is now a symbol of separatist tendencies of th-; /sic^ Kurds in forming a separate state of their own.-lThis statement clearly suggests a danger that besets any effort to discuss the Kurdish question.

In an attempt to present an

accurate account of the background of this problem the writer is likely to be drawn prematurely into the vortex of controversy that clouds every aspect of the subject.

Failure to perceive

this danger and to take care to avoid it, can turn a seemingly unbiased discussion of the distinctive character of predominantly Kurdish territories into an argument for or against Kurdish


Sheikh A. Waheed, The Kurds and Their Country: A History of the Kurdish People (From Earliest''Times to the Present) (Lahore, Pakistan: University Book Agency, 1958), pp. 2-3.

30 independence.

This need not be the case, but the purely

semantic decision to avoid the use of the term "Kurdistan” because of the connotations it may have for some of the interested parties is no more a guarantee of objectivity than its

use in a descriptive sense is an indication of


It is, therefore, used in the remainder of this

study to

designate that area in Southwest Asia where the Kurds

dwell in

a large and compact mass and not to suggest a point

view on the ultimate question of Kurdish separatism.


It remains

to give concrete content to this designation. Obviously, Kurdistan cannot be defined equitably by an indiscriminate application of the ethnic standard.

Kurds, like

any other people, may be found far from their traditional home­ land.

It is only that area where they form a continuous and

compact mass possessing an enduring connection with the territory that may properly be called Kurdistan.

Those Kurds who fit 1

this definition occupy an extensive area in Southwestern Asia. Their territory is centered, with imperfect symmetry, on the point where the boundaries of the states of Turkey, Iran and Iraq converge.

From this focal point, it radiates, without

serious ..interruption, in all-directions.

The fact that the

Kurds are the dominant people in the region does not mean that the population is completely homogeneous.


William Futurei and the Foreign

As a result either

L. Westermann, Near Eastern Peoples Without a National The Kurds (^Studies of American Interests in the War Peace: Territorial Series," No. T - B 56; Council on Relations, December 1, 1942., p. 5.

3i of the natural migrations of history or of the conscious policies of resettlement implemented by the central governments to dilute Kurdish concentrations, significant communities of Turks, Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, and other ethnic and re­ ligious groups are scattered throughout Kurdistan.

In some

localities, such non-Kurdish elements are in the majority. William Westermann goes so far as to suggest that the Kurds do not constitute "more than a strong minority of the total population in any single portion of Kurdistan."'*’ He is not clear as to the exact meaning he attaches to this assertion, but it is apparent that the results obtained in any such com­ parison of the relative density of Kurdish and non-Kurdish populations will depend upon the size and location of the area chosen for a sample.


If the territory of the entire

state of Turkey is selected, the Kurds will be found to be only an important minority.

Likewise, by considering small

portions of Kurdistan where relatively heavy concentrations of non-Kurdish elements reside, a similar result can be achieved.

Nonetheless, in- the whole of Kurdistan - defined

by C. J. Edmonds as "the country inhabited by the Kurds as




Interview with Majid Khadduri, October 23, 1964.




♦ ,

C a sp ia n Sea

Tabriz Lake Urmia





B^ittSt • D am ascu s IRAQ



Baghdad «

M AP # 1 DISTRIBUTION OF KURDS IN THE MIDDLE EAST International frontiers Kurdish areat: tfffj/Jlli Areas of mixed population Based upon map in N. A. Kisliakov and A. I. Pershits (eds.), Narody Perednei Azii (Moscow: Akademiia Nauk SSSR, 1957)

33 a homogeneous community"-'- - the Kurds unquestionably con­ stitute a majority of the total population.

In very general

terms, this compact mass of Kurds roughly describes an arc in Southwestern Asia along the northern edge of the Fertile 2 Crescent.

3 Kurdistan in Turkey. In terms of land area, the largest portion of Kurdistan lies within the boundaries of the Republic of Turkey.


official policy of the Turkish government has been to deny that the Kurds constitute a people separate from the Turks.

As a

consequence, official information on the distribution of the Kurds there has not been released since the mid-1930,s.

In the

interval, governmental policy, including a program of resettle­ ment,4 has undoubtedly had some effect upon the pre-World War II


Edmonds, op.cit., p. 2. Nikitine (loc.cit) feels that, while the population of Kurdistan is not entirely homogeneous,the majority of persons there are of the same ethnic origin.


Richard J. M. Goold-Adams, Middle East Journey (London: John Murray, 1947), p. 94.


Estimates of the Kurdish population of Turkey vary consider­ ably but it is the largest segment of total Kurdish population and probably numbers 2,000,000 or more persons ("Kurds," Ency­ clopaedia Britannica, 1964 ed., Vol. XIII, p. 521.)


For details on the use of resettlement policies, see Safrastian, op.cit., p. 91; Westermanri, op.cit.. p. 4; and Derk Kinnane, The Kurds and Kurdistan. (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 31.

34 pattern.

The scale and significance of these deportations

is difficult to determine not only because of the lack of publicity given them at the time but also because some Kurds were apparently permitted to return to Kurdistan after 1945. While it is important to be aware of these developments and the limitations they imply, the area of Turkey which properly falls within Kurdistan may be calculated, allowing for a small margin of error, on the basis of available information. The Kurdish population of Turkey is most dense and free of non-Kurdish elements in the vicinity of the Turco-Iranian and Turco-Iraqi frontier.

Moving westward toward central

Anatolia, the population gradually becomes more mixed as Kurds mingle with Turks and other foreign groups.

In addition, large

segments of the Kurdish population also occupy the area near the common border of Turkey and the Soviet Union.^

The British

Foreign Office made an effort to describe the population pattern in what is now Turkey as a contribution to preparations for the peace settlement following World War I.

This study, it must be

noted, is not concerned exclusively with Kurdistan; it reflects the interest of the time in Armenia by considering that area in conjunction with Kurdistan.

Furthermore, the Kurds with

whom it deals are those who were located in the Ottoman Empire, out of which three states with a Kurdish population - Turkey, Iraq and Syria - were formed.


Waheed, op.cit., p. 9.

Since, however, it constitutes

35 one of the first modern efforts to define western and southern Kurdistan and is a convenient point of departure for further investigation of the situation in Turkey and elsewhere, this discussion is worth repeating at length. Concerning the geographic aspects of the Kurdish and Armenian problems, the Foreign Office stated: The terms Armenia and Kurdistan have never been strictly defined, but Armenia is now generally used to denote the six Turkish vilayets of Van, Bitlis, Erzerum, Diarbekr, Mamuret ul-Aziz (Kharput) and Sivas. For present purposes, however, it is taken as including certain adjoining regions which contain a considerable population - viz., the vilayets of Trebizond and Adana (Cilicia), which is sometimes called 'Little Armenia,' and certain portions of the Transcaucasian (Russian) governments of Kars, Erivan, and Elisavetopol, which is often spoken of as 'Russian Armenia1. Turning immediately to the question of Kurdistan, the official British statement continues: Kurdistan is generally taken to mean that area which contains the largest Kurd population - i.e., portions of the vilayets of Van, Diarbekr and Mosul - but there are Kurds throughout the whole length of the Taurus range, from Adana to the Turco-Persian border­ land west of Lake Urmia.1 The considerable overlapping of Kurdish and Armenian populations apparent during the First V/orld War no longer con­ stitutes a major problem for Kurdish nationalists.


The rather

Great Britain, Foreign Office, Historical Section, Armenia and Kurdistan: Handbook Prepared Under the Direction of the Historical Section of the Foreign Office. No. 62 (London: His Majesty's Stationary Office, 1920), p. 2.

'36 arbitrary division of the area into Armenia and Kurdistan by the British Foreign Office at that time was the result of the predominant conception of the post-war settlement held by many officials.

Two independent states - one Kurdish,

the other Armenian - were to be established in the region between the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and Persia.


the British conceded, it was in no way an indication that the Kurds and Armenians occupied entirely different lands. According to information submitted by the "Independent Armenian Republic" to Major-General James Harbord, chief of the American Military Mission, the Kurds made up at least 12.1% of the total population of Turkish Armenia in 1914.^ The same source reported the presence of large numbers of Kurds, both nomadic and "permanent", in the vilayets of o Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, Kharput, Diarbekr, and Sivas. Although it is difficult to assess the precise impact, the Armenian massacres and large-scale emigrations of the intervening period, have certainly had the effect of reducing the number of Armenian


James H. Tashjian, "American Military Mission to Armenia, Part IX," The Armenian Review, IV (Spring, 1951), p. 126. In view of the source of this information and the period in which it was tendered, it is quite likely that the percentage of Kurds in this territory was underestimated.


Ibid., pp. 130-132.

37 inhabitants and of enhancing the relative importance of the Kurds in these particular vilayets. The last Turkish census which provides information on the geographical distribution of "Kurdish-speaking" elements in that country was reported in the 1930’s.

All available

evidence indicates that the total number of these persons was underestimated in this document.^

The Turkish statistical

yearbook reveals that the Kurds, though located throughout the entire nation, are largely concentrated in the southeastern provinces.

In the seven provinces of Van, Mus, Siirt, Diarbekr,

Mardin, Agri, and Elaziz, they constituted well over one-half of the total population while in the adjoining provinces of Urfa, Malatya, Erzincan, Kars, Maras, Erzurum and Sivas, they formed a substantial minority, ranging from 12.8% to 42.1% of the provincial population.

The degree to which the Kurds are

concentrated in the eastern portion of Turkey can be gauged from the fact that these fourteen provinces contained, in the


Concerning Turkish methods of handling ethnic materials, Safrastian (op.cit., p. 90) writes that ". . .before 1914 the usual Turkish method of recording a census was to add 25% to the real number of Turks and subtract 25% from that of all other races of the Empire". There is no way of de­ termining conclusively whether or not a similar procedure was followed in the 1930's, but one may surmise that the reluctance of the Kurds to be counted for purposes of tax­ ation and conscription, combined with the Turkish tendency to minimize the Kurdish problem, make for some inaccuracy. For purposes of discussing geographic distribution, however, this information is much more useful.

mid-igSO’s, 88.5^ of all Kurds in Turkey.'*'

This general

disposition of Turkish Kurds has been borne out in more recent investigations of this problem.

R. K. Ramazani lists

the administrative divisions of contemporary Turkey which contain important Kurdish populations as Agri, Tuncelli, Bingol, Elazig, Mus, Bitlis, Van, Malatya, Diarbekr, Siirt, Hakkari, Adiyaman, Mardin, Urfa, and Gaziantep.


In addition,

a recent European study of the Kurdish problem describes the Kurds as forming compact masses in Diarbekr, Bitlis, Mus, Van, Yabaqchor, Dersim, Kars, and Mardin and as constituting between 95^ and 100J& of the population in the regions of Hakkari, Erzurum, Bingol, Siirt, Malatya, Erzincan, Maras, Sivas, Aintab, and 3 Bayazid. A comparison of these independent estimates reveals substantial agreement on the hard core of Kurdish population in Turkey.

The obvious contradictions which they demonstrate are,

for the most part, more apparent than real and may be attributed to several mitigating factors: a slight geographical shift in the Kurdish population over time; inconsistency in the choice of relevant political and administrative subdivisions and their


Based on ipaterial from Basvekalet istatistik Murdiirlugu Mo. 77, istatistik Yilliqi (Cilt 7, 1934-35 ^/Tnstanbul: Devlet Basimevi, 1936?/), pp. 160-61, cited in Donald E. Webster, The Turkey of Ataturk: Social Process in the Turkish Reform­ ation [Philadelphia: The American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1939), pp. 48-49.


Rouhollah K. Ramazani, unpublished MS., University of Virginia, 1964.


Joyce Blau, Le Probleme kurde: Essai sociologique et historjque (Brussels: Publications du Centre pour 1*Etude des Problfemes du Monde Musulman Contemporain, 1963), pp. 7-8.

nomenclature; and, most importantly, the current gaps in knowledge of conditions in this portion of the Turkish Re­ public.

Nonetheless, the information presented indicates

clearly the location of the Kurds in the eastern third of the state and provides a reasonably acceptable basis for determining the approximate limits of western Kurdistan.

Kurdistan In Iran.1 The Kurdish area in Iran is not nearly as extensive as that in Turkey and, although reliable statistical data is no more abundant, it can be defined with greater ease.


Kurds occupy a strip of territory along the western frontier of Iran adjacent to Turkey and Iraq.

From the Soviet border

in the north, they extend southward for approximately one-half o the length of this border. In the vicinity of Kermanshah, 3 the Kurds give way to similar, but distinct, peoples. In the absence of a well-defined, indisputable ethnic boundary, it is impossible to determine the eastern extremities of Kurdistan with any degree of exactitude.

From north to south,

the 'Kurds of Iran are concentrated in the districts of Maku,


The Kurdish population of Iran is estimated to be approximately 1,000,000 persons ("Kurds," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1964 ed., Vol. XIII, p. 521.)


William Eagleton, The Kurdish Republic of 1946 (London: Oxford University Press','1963), p. 17 ff.


Ibid., p. 23. Eagleton suggests that the main road between Iraq and the Iranian Plateau, running near Kermanshah, forms a convenient boundary in the south.

40 Rezaieh (Urmia), Mahabad, part of Khoi, Saqqiz, and Senneh.^ Ramazani indicates that Maku, Qotur, Shapur, Rezaieh, Mahabad, Saqqiz, Baneh, Sanandaj, and Kermanshah are the major urban centers located within the area of Kurdish predominance.


Urmia in northwestern Iran provides a useful point of reference in drawing a boundary which will enclose Iranian Kurdistan. An imaginary line through the center of this body of water in a north-south direction may be extended northward to indicate roughly the portion of the boundary above the lake.

South of

Lake Urmia, the line turns eastward sharply to a point northeast of Saqqiz and Sanandaj and,thereafter runs almost due south to Kermanshah.

Kurdistan in Iraq.


The final major portion of Kurdistan is located within the state of Iraq.

As the definition of the Kurdish areas

within the Ottoman Empire offered by the British Foreign Office suggested, the Kurds in present-day Iraq are concentrated in the province of Mosul.

Information concerning this part of

Kurdistan is more complete and reliable than that for any other because of the extensive investigation carried out by a League of Nations Commission established in 1924 to settle the dispute between Iraq and Turkey over the disposition of Mosul.



Edmonds, op.cit.t p.2.


Ramazani, op .cit.,


Conservative estimates of the Kurdish population in Iraq place it at about 900,000 (“Kurds,tt Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1964 ed., Vol. XIII, p. 521).

41 report of this Commission to the Council of the League pro­ vides definitive information concerning the geographic dis­ tribution of the Kurds in the old Mosul vilayet. The League Commission dismissed as inaccurate the materials submitted by Iraq and Turkey at the earlier Lausanne Conference and, pointing out the inadequacies of later Iraqi statistics and maps, declared that the Kurds constituted a majority of the population of Mosul.*

Only the Kurds, who

formed five-eighths of the population, and the Arabs were found to live in compact masses extending

over large areas.


Commission, therefore, concluded that: These are the only two elements of the population of whose distribution advantage could be taken for the purpose of fixing a line which would separate different races. This line would follow the Tigris down to its confluence with the Lesser Zab - cutting Mosul at its very gates from the fertile and densely populated country. Then, south of the Lesser Zab, it would follow the Kirkuk-Kifri highway.2 The geographic distribution of the Kurds in Iraq has not been altered substantially since the mid-1920’s.


development of the petroleum industry around Kirkuk has occasioned the influx of some non-Kurdish elements, but the Kurds are still in a majority there.

Writing some thirty

years after the submission of the League Commission’s report, C. J. Edmonds largely restated its findings.

He traces the


League of Nations, Council, Question of the Frontier Between Turkey and Iraq: Report Submitted to the Council by the Commission Instituted by the Council Resolution of September 30th 1924 (C. 400. M. 147. 1925. VII.J (Lausanne. 1925),p.57.



See also attached maps, Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

42 southern boundary of Kurdistan along a line running through the Syrian foothills to the Tigris, "then just east of the river downstream, then a little north of the Jabal Hamrin to a point on the Iraqi-Persian frontier near Mandali."^


comparison, several slight discrepancies between the two descriptions are evident.

This situation is due, in large

measure, to the fact that Edmonds is less inclined than were the members of the League Commission to adhere strictly to natural features of the terrain.

His line enters Iraq from

Syria slightly south of the Tigris and crosses that river near Mosul.

From there it runs north of the Commission’s

boundary until it reaches the Greater Zab, where it turns in a more southerly direction, paralleling the Kirkuk-Kifri road, to the Persian border near Mandali.

The two lines cross each

other at several points, but the margin of difference never exceeds approximately ten miles and these definitions are not substantially at variance.

Kurdistan in Syria.


The Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iran and Iraq, taken to­ gether, outline the western, eastern, and southernmost limits of Kurdistan but fail to circumscribe the entire border of that


Edmonds, op.cit., p. 2 and map on endpapers.


There are an estimated 250,000 Kurds in Syria ("Kurds," E n w cyclopaedia Britannica, 1964 ed., Vol. XIII, p. 521.

43 region.

In the southwest, Syrian territory interposes itself

between the southern end of the boundary in Turkey and the reference point on the Tigris where the Iraqi segment of the line begins.

In the view of Edmonds, the border of Kurdistan

makes a right angle in southern Turkey and runs due east along the foothills north of the Turco-Syrian frontier until it is approximately opposite the city of Mardin.^

Thus, the slice of

Syrian territory through which the limits of Kurdistan must be traced is reduced considerably. The Syrian government has acknowledged, both under the French Mandate and since independence, the presence of a rela­ tively small Kurdish population within its frontiers, although it has failed to release information regarding their numerical strength or the details of their exact location.

In spite of

this fact, however, there is not universal agreement that a part of Kurdistan actually lies within Syria.

The confusion

surrounding this question probably derives from the historical circumstances of inclusion in Syrian territory.

A recent study

of the Kurdish problem places a part of the “ancient Kurdish homeland" in the Jezireh, which was partitioned between Iraq and Syria following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.


On the other hand, Elphinston supports the contention that the creation of state frontiers after the First World War left


Edmonds, op.cit.. p. 2 and map on endpapers.


Kinnane, op.cit., p. 3.

44 traditionally Kurdish areas in Syria but maintains that the Kurds in Jezireh (Syria) "are the southern extremities of Kurdish tribes in Turkey which were lopped off by the frontier, agreed between the Turks and the French in 1921."*

The failure

of the negotiators charged with responsibility for the drawing of state boundaries to adhere strictly to ethnic conditions, however, does not explain the presence of all of the Kurds currently residing in Syria.

Many of the Kurds along with

members of other minorities in the Jezireh and other parts of Syria entered that country since the 1921 demarcation, seeking a refuge from "persecution and forced assimilation."

The major

portion of these Kurdish refugees settled among the original Kurdish inhabitants just across the Syrian border and thus did 3 not alter the traditional pattern of distribution. At the present time, the Kurds of Syria are still con­ centrated on the northern and northeastern borders of the pro­ vince of Jezireh where they form a compact and relatively homogeneous population separated from the Kurds of Turkey and Iracj" only by political boundaries.^

There is no way of determin­

ing the relative importance of the Kurdish elements in the entire


Elphinston, op.cit.. p. 47.


Hedley V. Cooke, Challenge and Response in the Middle East: The Quest for Prosperity (N.Y.; Harper, 1952). p. 164.


Kinnane, op .cit., p.43. A number of Kurds did not remain in : this area"but instead continued on to other parts of Syria. Some settled in cities, such as Damascus, where they carried on nationalist activity.


V/aheed, op.cit.. p. 10; Blau, op.cit., p. 8.

45 province but educated estimates, made in 1939, indicate that they provided just under 40^ of the settled inhabitants.'*' If the available evidence on the numerical significahce of the Kurds in Jezireh is considered in the light of their pattern of distribution, the conclusion is inescapable that a line drawn across the middle of this province, joining the terminal points of the boundaries of Kurdistan in Turkey and Iraq, would enclose the region in Syria which is contiguous to the main body of Kurdistan and is also predominantly Kurdish in character.

Kurdistan in the U.S.S.R.2 The northern boundary of Kurdistan, passing between Turkey and Iran, runs for a short distance through the southern tip of Soviet Transcaucasia.

Soviet authorities have consistent­

ly reported the presence of Kurdish communities there without providing information on their exact location.

The most recent

edition of the Bolshaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia places the Soviet Kurds in the Armenian, Georgian, and Azerbaijan Soviet Republics and refers to isolated Kurdish settlements in Central Asia.


The observations of non-Soviet specialists lend credence

to this general description of Kurdish distribution, but offer


Cooke, op.cit., p. 165. The Kurds constituted a smaller per­ centage, however, if the Arab nomads which spent only a part of each year in Jezireh were counted.


For a discussion of the Kurds in the Soviet Union, including their numerical significance, see Chapter IV infra.


"Kurdy," Bolshaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia, 2nd ed., Vol. XXIV, p. 917

46 little assistance in pinpointing the Kurds within this vast territory. ^ To be consistent with the standards followed elsewhere, only that area of Soviet territory which contains a relatively homogenous Kurdish population abutting the main body of Kurdio stan should be included. The northernmost extent of Kurdish expansion can be determined with more certainty than their present location.

Historically, the Kurds seem to have estab­

lished themselves in what is now Soviet Armenia.


Nikitine defines the limits of this advance as follows:


line crosses the Soviet frontier from Iran in western Nakhichevan and proceeds to Lake Sevan, northeast of Erivan; pivoting on the northern end of this lake, it turns sharply westward and passes just above the city of Kars to a point on the Black Sea slightly south of Batum.

Beneath this line, he argues, the


See, for example, Alexandre Bennigsen and Chantal Quelquejay, The Evolution of the Muslim Nationalities of the USSR and Their Linguistic Problems, translated from the French by Geoffrey Wheeler with acknowledgement to Cahier du Monde Russe et Sovietique, III (April-June, I960); issued by the Central Asian Research Centre in association with St. Antony’s College (Oxford) Soviet Affairs Study Group, 1960, pp.26 and 35. These authors point out the fact that Soviet administra­ tive divisions provide no assistance because the Kurds are not accorded a separate national territory.


Alma B. Kerr ("The Position of the Kurds in Our Modern World," ^unpublished Master’s thesis, The American University, 19587, p. 21), who spent a considerable amount of time in Kurdistan, maintains that the portion of this region in the Soviet Union is on the northern slopes of Mount Ararat.


This description is based upon the map (no.11) in Nikitine, op.cit., opposite p. 184.

47 Kurds constituted a "more or less homogeneous people."^ There is no way of deciding the degree to which the geographical disposition of the Kurds in the Soviet Union currently accords with his historical evaluation.

A number of developments in

that region, however, make it doubtful that the ethnic limits of Kurdistan still extend as far north as Nikitine's boundary would suggest.

The Kurds, for example, do not predominate

in the northern and western portions of the province of Kars (Turkey) if, in fact, they ever did.

There is no suggestion,

even in the extreme claims of Kurdish nationalists, that ethnic Kurdistan fronts on the Black Sea.

In addition, the

largely unreported changes taking place within Soviet Armenia have undoubtedly had an effect on Kurdish distribution there. The Armenian population has increased substantially since 1914 as a result both of natural growth and of the influx of Armenian refugees from Turkey and elsewhere.


Kurdish concentrations have been diluted and the area of their predominance reduced.

Besides this development, it is not wise

to discount entirely the numerous rumors that the Soviet govern­ ment has, from time to time, pursued a systematic policy of de­ portation, removing to the interior border peoples with attach­ ments that transcend the political frontier along which they



4'8 lived.^

The ultimate effect of natural trends and conscious

policies on the location of Soviet Kurds has not been establish­ ed definitively, and some observers would deny,in any case,that. O

Kurdistan does

extend north of the Soviet frontier.


best available information, however, leads to the conclusion that the approximate northern boundary of Kurdistan passes briefly through Soviet territory to a point slightly south of Erivan.^

Kurdish Nationalist Claims. Though the history of the Kurdish nationalist movement may be traced back to the nineteenth century, the nationalist


Frederick C. Barghoorn (Soviet Russian Nationalism ^ f.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1956/, p. 82) concludes that reports of Soviet deportations have been "sufficiently persistent and well grounded to merit credence, though difficult to confirm." The most recent accusation of this kind came in an article in the Yugoslav journal, Delo, where Dr. Mihajlo Mihajlov claimed, among other things, that some peoples in regions bordering on Turkey and Iran were deported to Siberia during the inter-war period (The Washington Post, February 7, 1965, p. A8).


Letter from Silvio E. van Rooy, Chairman, International Society Kurdistan, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, October 20, 1963. Mr. van Rooy, for example, calls the belief that a part of Kurdistan is in the Soviet Union "a commonplace misunderstanding."


See, for example, C. J. Edmonds, "The Place of the Kurds in the Middle Eastern Scene," Royal Central Asian Society Journal, XLV (April, 1958), p .”14T. This line would not, of course, encompass all of the Soviet Kurds.

definition of the geography of Kurdistan is of relatively recent vintage.

The political and psychological concept

of a Kurdish "homeland" has, of course, been an ingredient of all nationalist activity, but it was the need to present the Kurdish case to relatively disinterested foreign audiences that provided the stimulus for a critical examination of the geographic aspects of the question.^- By World War II this need had become compelling. In 1945, Eagleton reports, "an official, if tentative, nationalist definition of geographical Kurdistan was available."


This is probably the same map that was submitted to the San Francisco Conference by the Kurdish Delegation in that same year.

Copies of this early map are not readily available but

it is reproduced in Nikitine's study.

It conveys the definite

impression of being the result of a tentative effort at carto­ graphy.

The boundaries of Kurdistan are shown as straight or


As late as 1930, the descriptions of Kurdistan in nationalist publications were vague and nostalgic rather than specific and scientific. See, for example, Bletch Chirguh, La Question kurde, ses oriqines et ses causes (Publication de la Ligue Nationale Kurd/Hoyboun, No. 6; Cairo: Paul Barbay, 1930), p. 6.


Eagleton, op.cit., p. 36. When this map was first presented, there were rumors that it was based on an undisclosed British source. In reality, it was the product of the Kurdish Society in Beirut in which the Bedir-Khan family played a leading role.


Nikitine, op.cit.. p. 205. This is, in many ways, a curious map. The place names, for example, are mainly in English but some are in French (e.g., "U.R.S.S*" rather than "U.S.S.R.").

50 gracefully curved lines bearing only a general relationship to the ethnic or topographic nature of the terrain they transverse.

It seems, in short, to have been blocked off so

as to enclose the areas of Kurdish predominance without serious attention to objectively-determined points of reference. Sometime within the next three years, the San Francisco map was replaced.

The memorandum handed to the Secretary-

General of the United Nations in November, 1948, contains a more sophisticated description of Kurdish claims than could have been based on the 1945 version.

The approximate limits

of Kurdistan are described as: 1. A line running northward from Alexandretta (iskenderun) past Maras, Elbistan and as far as Hafik. From there, it turns toward the east and passes Bayburt, north of Erzerum, joining and following the Araxes valley to Karakose, where it assumes a northerly direction through Kars before resuming its easterly course. Crossing the TurcoSoviet frontier, it skirts Vagarchapat and Kervat to a point west of Nakhitichevan, whence it runs southward by Nasik and Khoi, rejoining the river west of Lake Urmia. After having followed the river west and south of the lake as far as Bourab, it swings eastward and passes Saraskand from which it'descends southward and, passing Khourwar, Assadabad and Fehliane, reaches the Persian Gulf south of Hissar. 2. In the south, a line from Alexandretta eastward encompassing Kurd Dagh, and then passing through Aintab, Arab-Pinar, Ras-el-Ain, Beled-Sindjar and Mosul. From this last point it takes a southerly course and, following the Tigris and the Jebal Hamrin, extends to Zourbatiyar via Kizil-Ribatt and Mandali. Then, curving gradually towards the east, the line proceeds to a point north of Bender Dilam on the Persian Gulf.^ I

Memorandum sur la Situation kurdes et leurs revendications. Paris, 1948. p. 6. This description does not appear in English version of this document.

Both the 1945 San Francisco map and the 1948 refine­ ment of Kurdish territorial claims greatly exaggerate the size of Kurdistan.

The drafters clearly sought to include

all areas supporting a compact and homogeneous Kurdish population and therefore their claims are based, to some extent, upon an accurate appraisal of the ethnic composition of Southwest Asia.

Ethnic factors alone, however, can account'

only for the "hard core" of nationalist claims.


considerations obviously played a part in the drafting. Indeed, when in 1943 the Kurdish nationalists chose to deal with ethnic factors alone, they presented a definition similar to that developed earlier in this chapter.

Because of the

contrast when compared with later claims, this statement bears repetition: To the West - A line starting from the Kurd-Dagh (Syria) running in a northerly direction through the regions of Killis, Marash, Albistan, and Divrik to the Kelkit river. South-West of this line, there are scattered Kurdish settlements as far as the gulf of Alexandrette. To the North - A line following the Kelkit river, running east through the towns of Baiburt and Olty to Kars. North of this line scattered Kurdish settle­ ments reach the Black S e a n e a r Trebizond. To the East - A line starting from Kars in a south­ easterly direction, then running along the western shore of Lake Urmia, Luristan, the Baichtiar country to Senneh and Kermanshah. To the South - From Southern Luristan a line running north-west through Khanakin and Kifri to the Jebel Hamrin; from there to the west, south of Mount Singer to the Euphrates near Jerablus.1 1

"Memorandum sur la Question kurde, pr^sente aux Gragdes Puissances, le 30 aout 1943,f Bulletin du Centre d ‘Etudes Kurdes. no. 6 (April, 1949), pp. 2-3. This is essentially the same definition as that^provided in Lucien Rambout, Les Kurdes et le Droit (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1947), pp.l!-T2. Rambout concurs in the omission of the extension to the Persian Gulf, but compromises by including that to the Mediterranean Sea.

An examination of the boundaries of nationalist "Kurdistan" shows that several peripheral localities of questionable ethnic composition have been included;**' For the most part, these minor deviations are attributable to an understandable desire to maximize the area of Kurdistan and do not represent a serious problem.

In the west and again in

the southeast, however, Kurdistan has been extended in a manner that is totally unwarranted by ethnic distribution.

The Kurdish

nationalists, it must be remembered, were not seeking to produce an ethnographic map of Southwest Asia; they were drawing up a political document.

They were primarily concerned about the

survival and viability of the Kurdish state which they were requesting.

By providing access to the Mediterranean Sea and

the Persian Gulf, they thought to avoid the possibility of complete encirclement by hostile states and, perhaps, to minimize their need to be dependent upon Soviet support ex­ clusively.

The fact remains, however, that:

Kurdistan does not extend much south of Kermanshah, unless the Lurs and Bakhtiaris can somehow be con­ vinced that they are Kurds. Likewise those few Kurdish villages northwest of Aleppo in Syria do not justify a corridor to the sea at that point.


In at least one instance (the eastern boundary north of Lake Urmia), the nationalist claim is not so extensive as the facts^appear to justify.


Eagleton, op.cit.. p. 38.

53 It is interesting to compare the treatment of the extension of Kurdistan to the Persian Gulf in the 1948 map with that in the earlier version.

The original map, as

presented by Nikitine, gives no indication that the whole of the area claimed is not inhabited by Kurds.

The later

map, on the other hand, notes clearly the inclusion of the Lurs and the Bakhtiaris and suggests, through the use of shading, some doubt about the legitimacy of the claims in the west and southeast. are well-founded.

These unacknowledged reservations

The Kurdish population in the west is not

sufficiently large, compact, or predominant to justify its inclusion in Kurdistan and thus provide access to the sea above Iskenderun.

Below Kermanshah, the Kurdish nationalist

claim to an outlet on the Persian Gulf is no more convincing. The Lure and other peoples which must be incorporated to permit this extension are not Kurds and have exhibited little visible inclination to consider themselves so.

According to

C. J. Edmonds: The earliest history of the Kurds, the Sharafnama (1596), certainly classes the Lurs as Kurds; politically minded Kurds maintain the claim today; the Lurs of Baghdad, for instance, are eligible for membership of the Kurdish club. But European scho­ lars will have none of this, chiefly on linguistic grounds.* 1

Edmonds, "The Place of the Kurds in the Middle East Scene," p. 153. See also Vladimir Minorsky, "Lurs," Encyclopaedia of Islam. III. A recent Soviet study (N.A. Kislxakov and A. I. Pershits Narody Perednei Azii M o s c o w : Akademiia Nauk S.S^S.R., 1 9 5 7 ^ , p. 261.) places Luristan south of Kurdistan and distinguishes the Lurs from the Kurds ethnically. See Map 1, supra.

54 Any effort to describe the geographic arena in which the drama of the Kurdish problem is played out raises as many questions as it answers.

The necessity for defining Kurdistan

in terms of the ethnic strain predominant among its inhabitants rather than legally recognized boundaries requires a simultaneous discussion of some of the social and political implications of its location.

More importantly, however, such an approach

involves the widely-accepted but, as yet, unexamined assumption that the Kurds are, in fact, a people apart from their Turkish, Persian and Arab neighbors.

Acknowledgement of this assumption

alone is not sufficient to validate the conclusions of this chapter which are based upon it.

For this reason, if for no

other, it is important to turn immediately to an investigation of the Kurdish people, their character, and the society in which they live.

Black Sea U.S.S.R Erivan *v



M ardin M o su l

IRAN Kirkuk

SYRIA erm anshah IRAQ

MAP# 2

APPROXIMATE LIMITS OF "ETHNIC" KURDISTAN — In tern ation al fro n tiers — Boundary of Kurdistan



57 Origin of the Kurds The origins of the Kurds are to be discovered, if at all, in the depths of antiquity.

The Kurds themselves offer

at least two mythological accounts of their genesis which C. J. Edmonds relates as follows: The first is based on the legendary history of Iran, which relates that the throne was for a time occupied by a usurper named Zahhak. This Zahhak had growing from his shoulders two snakes, each of which required a human brain for its daily meal. An ingenious minister conceived the idea of mixing each human brain with a calf's brain and in this way saved the life of one of the two youths or maidens due to be sacrificed every day. The survivors were smuggled away to the mountains, where they became the ancestors of the Kurds. The second story has to do with King Solomon. In old oriental folk-lore Solomon ruled over the supernatural world, those queer beings called Jinni, Ifrit, Div. Pari (fairy), and so on. One day, the Kurds relate, King Solomon called together 50G trusty Divs and ordered them to fly to Europe and bring back for his harem 500 of the fairest damsels they could find; on their return, however, they found that the Merry Monarch, their master, was dead, so they kept the damsels for themselves and by them became the ancestors of the Kurds. These tales must be accepted as the "myths" they are, but they are of interest for two reasons.

In the first place, they are

indicative of the Kurdish belief, supported by considerable evidence, that the Kurds are related to the Persians and there­ fore form a part of the Indo-European civilization.


1 Edmonds, Kurds. Turks and Arabs, p. 4. Jewish folklore contains a similar explanation for the origins of the Kurds. They are said to be the descendants of devils who ravished 400 virgins. See George L. Harris (ed.), Area Handbook for Turkey (Washington, D. C.: Special Operations Research Office, the American University, January, I960), p. T4/12.

these myths reflect, in large degree, the flamboyant spirit of the Kurdish people,^ The true origin of the Kurds is a subject of dispute among specialists.

The ancient Kurds themselves left no

written record of their

development and the narratives of

neighboring civilizations cannot always be relied upon for an objective discussion of the Kurds.

Even such historical

materials as have come to light thusfarr are useful in pro­ viding only a sketchy and discontinuous account of the origins and evolution of the present-day Kurdish people. As early as 2300 B.C. the region of Kurdistan was occupied by a hardy race of mountaineers.

The existing records of the

early kings of Sumer deal with the relations between the inhabi2 tants of the plains ahdr. those of this highland area. In the twenty-fourth century B.C. and for several hundred years there­ after, the Kingdom of Gutium predominated in the territory of modern Kurdistan.

The manner in which the Guti established

^ Clearly, a wide acceptance of such “myths" among the less sophisticated elements of the Kurdish population offers possi­ bilities for those who espouse the Kurdish nationalist cause. Not only do such tales provide a basis for the belief in the common origins and kinship of all Kurds, they also offer justi­ fication for claims that the Kurds are ethnically distinct from their non-Aryan neighbors. It is, unfortunately, impossible to determine how widely such views are held or to what extent the nationalist appeal is pitched on this level. 9

Safrastian, op.cit.. p. 17.

59 themselves there is obscured in the mists of prehistory.


has been suggested that they originally descended from Europe through Transcaucasia into northern Iraq, eventually migrating into the Zagros mountains and southeastern Turkey.^"

On the

other hand, many experts are convinced that the Guti, far from being an Indo-European people, were actually Turanians of undetermined origins.


Finally, a third school of thought, while

acknowledging the role of the Guti in Kurdish history, argues that: Migrations of entire peoples from continent to continent, a view which traditional historians still hold as fundamental dogma, seems to have no factual basis, at least so far as the genuine ethnic units of the ancient East are concerned. Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians and so forth are autochthonous races living in their 3 native habitats just as they did in prehistoric times.


Dana Adams Schmidt, Journey Among Brave Men (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964), p. 46. Schmidt identifies the Guti completely with the Medes of later centuries.


Great Britain, Foreign Office, Historical Section, op.cit., p. 5. Elphinston (op.cit.. p. 38) cites the Guti as one of the primary tribes, but is more cautious concerning their character, noting only that they "are said to have been Turanian.11


Safrastian, op.cit., p. 19. This theory holds that the Kurds developed from peoples inhabiting the area from the beginnings of time and that, at some unknown point in history, they re­ placed their traditional Asiatic language with an Iranian idiom. See Nikitine, op.cit., p. 15.

60 The several theories of Kurdish origins, as Nikitine suggests can be reconciled in part since they are not mutually incompatible in all particulars.

The ancient Guti are generally

accepted as providing a major element in the racial composition of the modern Kurds.

It seems further that the transformation

of the Guti was more complicated than a strict reading of the autochthonous interpretation would suggest.

In analyzing this

hypothesis, it is apparent that .the influence of at least one additional ethnic strain has been important in the development of the Kurdish people.1

Perhaps it would be unrealistic to

argue that the indigenous Guti were completely displaced by migrations of alien peoples, but the suggestion that such move­ ments had little or no effect upon their evolution seems equally untenable.

At some time during the second millenium B.C. a

ruling class with Indo-Aryan names established itself in Meso­ potamia where it soon came to dominate the original population. Thus, an alien aristocracy was imposed upon the indigenous social structure.


These early migrations were followed by mass movements

1 Marr, for example, in professing a belief in the autochthonous character of the Kurds, nevertheless suggests their kinship with the Medes. See Nikitine, op.cit.. pp. 15-16. 2 Edmonds, op.cit., ;>p. 5. The catalog of physical characteristics among the Kurds presented by Sir Mark Sykes lends credence to the theory that this people represents an amalgamation of several racial stocks. Furthermore, it does not appear that the ad­ mixture achieved is uniform throughout the entire population of Kurdistan. See The Caliph*s Last Heritage; A Short History of the Turkish Empire (London: Macmillan and Co., 1915), Appendix: "The Kurdish Tribes of the Ottoman Empire," p. 553 ff.

61 from the east of Iranian peoples - the Medes and Persians perhaps as early as 1200 B.C.'*'

Assyrian texts of the ninth

century verify the presence of the Medes in parts of Kurdistan by that time at least.

In any case, the Iranian intruders had

established their power in the Zagros by 650 B.C. and constituted the upper strata of a mixed population which included the original O

inhabitants of the region. Following the seventh century B.C., the non-Aryan elements of the population inhabiting modern Kurdistan were progressively submerged by further incursions.

The occupants of this region,

primarily the Guti and the Medes, apparently merged substantially after the fall of Nineveh and were subjected to a more or less 4 constant influx of additional Aryan tribes. The process of 1 Unfortunately, the Medes left no inscriptions or other records of this era. 2 Safrastian (op.cit.. pp. 101-102, note i) feels that the designation of these Iranian peoples as Medes and of their land as Media is the unfortunate result of an incorrect trans­ lation of the Sumerian word, Mada. He argues that the term originally meant land or country and that through continual misusage by later historians, including the Assyrians, it came to be applied to a specific people. He therefore denies the real existence of the Medes and, of course, their influence on the Kurds. ^ Edmonds (o p .cit., p. 5) observes that there is no evidence that these Iranian peoples superseded or exterminated the original population although, as they became predominant, they imposed their language and religious beliefs throughout the area. 4 Great Britain, Foreign Office, Historical Section, op.cit., p.5. The eradication of non-Aryan influences in the course of this process was not total as the persistence of alien elements in the traditional Kurdish social structure demonstrates. See Carleton S. Coon, Caravan; The Story of the Middle East, Rev. ed., (N.Y. : Henry Holt, 1958j), p. 75.

62 aryanization seems to have been largely completed during the reigns of Cyrus and Darius when the basic ethnic character of the modern Kurds was determined.1

Perhaps the best capsule

characterization of the ethnic development of the modern Kurds is offered by Elphinston who describes their racial strain as "the result of the impact of Iranian elements on indigenous racial stocks which occupied the mountainous mass east of the Euphrates."

By the time of the Arab conquest of the seventh

century A . D .jtfee ethnic designation, Kurd, reminiscent of the names traditionally associated with the people of this region, was in use to describe "the Western Iranians established astride the Zagros and ...the neighboring iranicized populations."3

Numerical Strength of the Kurds The Kurds, as the survey of the geographic extent of Kurdistan in Chapter I shows, are distributed over a large portion of the Middle East.

An accurate determination of their

numerical strength and relative importance is hampered by two major obstacles.

First, the Kurds themselves have been extremely

reluctant, for the most part, to permit the authorities of the governments under which they live to make an accurate census.

"Kurdistan," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1964 ed., Vol. XIII, ■p. 521. 2 3

Elphinston, "The Kurds and the Kurdish Question,"

p. 38.

Edmonds, Kurds, Turks and Arabs, pp. 6-7. For further dis­ cussion of the problem of ascertaining the origins of the Kurds, see Minorsky, op.cit., pp. 1132-34.

63 Through a process of historical conditioning, they have come to regard the census as little more than a means for levying taxes and filling military ranks.

In the second place, the

governmental authorities who supervise the censuses are keenly aware of the political implications of a large Kurdish population. Though they doubtlessly wish to obtain correct figures for the population of the state as a whole, they are not anxious to publicize the number of Kurds within their borders.

The extreme

case is, of course, Turkey where the very existence of Kurds is officially denied.

Though there is no way to check actual

practice, the other states of the area are also subject to the temptation to juggle the statistics and, consequently, all avail­ able figures must be used with caution.

A third, less significant,

technical difficulty is the absence of a uniform criterion for determining whether or not an individual should be classified as a Kurd.

The criteria employed vary from census to census with­

in a single state as well as from state to state.


factors, mother tongue, and solicited response are but three of the bases used for judging ethnic composition and most often reports of censuses fail to acknowledge which was employed.


view of the problems involved in establishing commonly-accepted criteria, it has been suggested that "in a modern sense it is sufficient to define a Kurd as a person who identifies himself as such."^ A poll taken on this criterion would clearly be more

^ Eagleton, op.cit..

p. 1.

64 suited to political analysis than to anthropological usage and might be the most desirable solution to this problem. The primary difficulty is that the individual must have an opportunity to identify himself freely and it cannot be assumed that this has always been possible. Efforts to establish the total Kurdish population have resulted in an inconclusive battle of assertions.^

The claims

of Kurdish nationalists have varied considerably over the years but have been consistently higher than those of most non-Kurdish observers.

In 1930, the population was estimated by a complex 2 formula to be 8,387,280. Current Kurdish estimates appear to 3 be even more inflated, approximating 13 million persons. Part

The total Kurdish population would include not only those Kurds who are settled in Kurdistan itself but also those out­ side of this region. With few exceptions, however, the major Kurdish enclaves outside of Kurdistan proper are located in the five states which surround Kurdistan and, thus, the figures for these nations would include the entire population for all practi­ cal purposes. There are important Kurdish communities in Beirut and in Europe, but their political influence far outstrips their numerical significance. ^ Chirguh, op.cit., op.8. Nationalist estimates remained more or less constant through World War II. In 1943 the figure of 8,200,000 was quoted to the Allied Governments as representing the total Kurdish population in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. {See "Memorandum sur la Question kurde," op:cit., op. 4) and 8,000,000 Kurds were claimed in these three states five years later (See Memorandum sur la Situation kurdes et leurs Revendications. op.cit., op. 7.) 3 Interview with Ismet Cheriff Vanly, Member and Envoy-at-large of the Command Council of the Kurdish Revolution in Iraq, Char­ lottesville, Virginia, May 17, 1965. In recent years a figure of from ten to twelve million seems to have been a more common nationalist estimate. The figure provided in the Kurdish note to the Cairo Conference in December, 1957 was 11 million. See Pierre Rendot, "La Nation Kurde en face des Mouvements Arabes," Orient, II (1958), p. 56.

65 of the distortion evident may be traced to the tendency to include the Lurs of the Zagros mountains.^Non-Kurdish estimates of total population, while re­ vealing a lack of real agreement among experts, are generally more conservative.

The League of Nations Commission which

fixed the Turco-Iraqi border in 1925 was of the opinion that o the Kurdish people numbered approximately 3,000,000. Most of the subsequent estimates have tended to support this general figure, allowing for natural increase and the possibility of miscalculation.

Western figures for the late 1940's and early

1950's hover between three and four million.

Soviet estimates

As noted in Chapter I, the Lurs are not technically Kurds and thusfar have shown little interest in the Kurdish national movement. See Kinnane, op.cit., p. 2. 2 League of Nations, Question of the Frontier Between Turkey and Iraq, p. 87. O

William L. Westermann ("Kurdish Independence and Russian Ex­ pansion," Foreign Affairs, XXIV /July, 19467, p. 682) cites a low figure of 2,419,000 but bases it upon the Turkish census of 1926, the Iraqi census of 1924, "general consensus of guesses" for Iran, and the Russian Transcaucasian census of 1911. Even if these statistics had been accurate when taken, they form a questionable basis for estimates at least twenty years later. Raymond Lacoate (La Russie sovietique et la Question d'Orient /Paris: Les Editions Internationales, 1946/, p. 202) uses the same figures, except for the estimates in Iran and Syria, and arrives at a total of 2,589,000. The Economist (CL /May 11, 19467, p. 754) cites a figure of 3,070,000 and two years later Elphinston ("The Kurds and the Kurdish Question," *p. 41) presented a total only slightly higher (3,170,000). An even higher total is given by Walter Kolarz (Russia and Her Colonies / N . Y . : Frederick A. Praeger, 1952/^ p. 250) who sets the number at 3,680,000.


for the same period, while in themselves not completely uniform, are generally higher.

An analysis by S. I. Bruk, made in 1952,

suggests that the total number of Kurds is around 5,000,000.^ Another Soviet writer, T. F. Aristova, concluded in 1954 that there were then approximately 7,000,000 Kurds2 and Kurdo Kurdoev, supposedly a Soviet Kurd himself, expressed the opinion that the Kurds numbered between 5,300,000 and 8,000,000 persons.^ A single Western expert of the time shared the views of Soviet specialists in believing that Western estimates fell short of reality.

In 1947, Lucien Rambout reached the conclusion that

the entire Kurdish population numbered about 8,910,000 persons, a figure slightly higher than the most ambitious Kurdish claims of the day.4 During the last decade, most Kurdish population estimates have been revised upward proportionately to allow for a normal growth rate.

In the same interval, however, the claims of Kurdish

nationalists have been inflated more than the natural rate of population growth would permit even if their figures for the late 1940's are accepted as a base for computation.

Insofar as

there is consensus among reliable specialists on the size of the I S . I. Bruk, "Etnicheskii sostav stran Perednei Azii," Sovetskaia Etnografiia (Moscow), No. 2 (1955), p. 69. 2 T. F. Aristova, "Kurdy Irana," Kratkie Soobshcheniia Instituta Etnoqrafii, XXI (1954), p. 100. 3 Blau, op.cit., p. 7. 4 Rambout, op.cit., p. 19.

Kurdish population, it would seem to be close to five million 1 persons. Soviet estimates for the more recent years are equally inconclusive although as a group they continue to be higher than Western figures.

Excluding the Kurds of the U.S.S.R.,

a 1958 study of ethnic groups in the Middle East placed the O number at about 5,300,000 substantially lower than most previous Soviet figures and more in line with non-Soviet evaluations.

In 1963, however, a Soviet author offered the

opinion that: ■ The capitalist countries with Kurdish populations always seek to underestimate their number and give it as between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000. Actually, there are more than 10,000,000 Kurds....A more correct esti­ mate has been given by the Association of Kurdish students in Europe in their Journal Kurdistan (No. 5 for 1959), which is published in Paris. Here are the figures: Turkey - 6,000,000 Iran - 3,500,000^ Iraq - 2,000,000-_ Syria 400,0003 Edmonds, Kurds, Turks and Arabs. pp. 3-4) sets the pace with his belief that there are between 4 and 4/£ million Kurds. Walter Laqueur (Communism and Nationalism in the Middle East ,/N.Y.: Frederick A. Praeger, 1956/, pp. 222)arrives at a total in the 3-4 million range. William Eagleton (op.cit., p. 38) calculates on the high side of the mean that there are some­ where between five and six million and Kinnane (op.cit., f>p.2) and Rondot (op.cit.. ‘;p. 56) agrees with this assessment. Schmidt's recent study (op.cit., ^ p .8) is at the upper end of the scale with an educated guess of 10,000,000. 2

Pershits et al., op.cit♦,

>p. 242

3 Arabe Shamilov, "The Kurds, Their Past and Present," New Times (October 9, 1963), p. 27. This acceptance of Kurdish nationalist figures reflects the shift in the Soviet line toward open but guarded support of the Kurds in Iraq and therefore an attempt to stress the importance of this people.

68 If no agreement is evident in a review of the various estimates of total Kurdish population, one clear fact does emerge from this exercise.

Even accepting a figure somewhere

between five and six million people, the Kurds constitute an important ethnic group.

This fact becomes even more pronounced

when a comparison is made with the total population of the states of the area.

The Kurds, as a body, are equal to about one-sixth

(1/6) of the Turkish population (UN estimate, 1962 - 29,418,000) and a little over one-quarter (1/4) of the Iranian (UN estimate, 1962-21,227,000).

They are slightly less numerous than the

entire population of Iraq (UN estimate, 1961 - 7,263,000), a large percentage of which is Kurdish, and approximately equal in size to the population of Syria (UN estimate, 1962 - 5,067, 000).

If they are compared with the Jewish peoples, as is

sometimes done with reference to their treatment and aspirations, they constitute a population more than twice as great as that of the state of Israel (Government estimate, 1963 - 2,338,300).

Characteristics The national development of the Kurds cannot be examined without reference to the history of the region in which they live and the neighboring peoples who have played a role in its evolu­ tion.

From the rudimentary beginnings of the Kurdish people in

the seventh century B.C. to the establishment of the mod.ern state system in the Middle East following World War I, the Kurds have been buffeted by the tides of change which swept in and around their land.

They suffered from the successive invasions of the

69 Selucid, Parthian, Sassanian, Armenian,Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Seljuk, Mongol, and Ottoman peoples. has been recorded elsewhere.

The course of these events

The process of cultural accretion

in the area which resulted from the ebb and flow of these alien influences has been less well understood and seldom studied. The degree to which the emerging Kurdish culture was affected by these intrusions is difficult to determine.

It is clear,

however, that the Kurds had numerous contacts with the peoples of the various empires.

Undoubtedly, some alien influences were

accepted by that portion of the Kurds which was closest to their sources and thus variations in outlook and behavior among the Kurds were stimulated.

Such influences do not appear to have

been significant enough to undermine or alter the national identity of their recipients.

It is important to emphasize that

such identity has not heretofore found expression in a single Kurdish national state.

Nevertheless, they have:

...for centuries, almost a millenium, been a homo­ geneous vigorous people in a specific part of the world within defined limits....They have been uni­ form in their way of life and in their national characteristics for all that time and made an im­ pact upon all who came their way.-*The discussion of the characteristics of any people must be approached with extreme caution. be avoided.

Simplification cannot

The danger is that, faced with diversity in fact

and divergence in report, the temptation to oversimplify will become irresistible.

Bedir-Khan, op.cit.,

The general state of knowledge concerning

p. 237, Introduction, by Longrigg.

the Kurds is wanting, primarily because access to indispensable data is limited.

Much of the available literature on the Kurds

is dated as it is the product of research conducted at least thirty to forty years ago.

National characteristics, insofar

as they are well-established, may be expected to remain more or less constant over extended periods, but they are certainly subject to alterations in times of great change and upheaval. Though the traditional Kurdish culture persists largely unchanged in some of the more remote parts of Kurdistan, the processes of modernization, discernible throughout the less-developed world, are making an impact on the Kurds in the more accessible fringe areas.

The final accomodation which the Kurdish people will

reach with the imperatives of existence in the modern world can­ not be predicted, but, barring unforeseen circumstances, the result will doubtlessly be a synthesis of old and new, bearing a distinctive Kurdish stamp. The occasional assertion that the Kurds constitute a separate "race" is certainly open to question.

In most cases,

this term is apparently used as a convenient synonym for the equally imprecise alternatives - people or nation.

Since "race"

does not possess a technical meaning when employed, confusion may be avoided by referring to the Kurds as a distinct nation. There are, of course, objections to using this vague and fre­ quently misapplied socio-cultural term, for it implies, for some, a greater degree of group consciousness among the entire Kurdish people than they have yet exhibited.

At another level, however,

71 a "nation" is a more objectively-determined phenomenon. "Nations," Minorsky states, "are complex phenomena that are formed from ethnic, geographic, moral and other factors."^ The relative importance of the several factors varies from case to case and, as regards the Kurds, the most important 2 considerations are their language and their way of life. Since technically a "race" may be defined as a group possessing common physical characteristics which set them off from non-members, the Kurds do not seem to form a race.


appears accurate to say that they do not as a group represent the same racial stock as any of the neighboring populations, although particular segments of the Kurds probably incorporated alien physical characteristics through intermarriage with other peoples over the years.

At the same time, there are substantial

variations of racial types among the Kurds themselves.

As a

rule, maintains one authority, "the Kurds are...a longheaded people with strongly marked features, dark brown hair and eyes, and often acquiline noses."

On the other hand, however, a large

^ V. Minorsky, "Les Origine; des Kurdes," in Actes de XXme Conqres International des Orientalistes. (Brussels, 1938), p. 145, cited Blau, op.cit., p. 8.



72 number of Kurds vary from this norm considerably.'*'


the Kurds have remained largely isolated from surrounding peoples throughout much of their history, it is hardly con­ ceivable that a significant mixture of Kurdish and non-Kurdish 2 blood has not occurred. Indeed, if the prevailing theory that the Aryan tribes moving into this region from the east formed the nucleus of the Kurdish people is accepted, it is clear that the present-day Kurds share racial characteristics with other Aryan peoples, including the Persians.

Further, it is highly

probably that racial mixing on an indeterminate scale took place in succeeding centuries.

It has been suggested, for example,

that during the sixteenth century A.D. there was substantial social intercourse between the western Kurds and their Turkish neighbors.

Meeting on more or less equal terms, frequent

inter-marriages between these two peoples occurred and a large number of Turkish words was introduced into the Kurdish vocabu3 lary of that region. In all probability, similar intermixtures 1 Safrastian, op.cit., p. 93. Consistent with his support for the autochthonous theory of Kurdish origins, Safrastian attri­ butes the wide range of physical types apparent among the Kurds to the prevalence of "this human type" in the Middle East from time immemorial. Sykes (op.cit.) also notes the diversity of characteristics among the Kurds but does not draw the same con­ clusion. Unfortunately, the point is moot because as Minorsky (op.cit., pp. 1150)observes, most of the anthropological work on the Kurds thusfar has been neither complete nor systematic. See also Ismet Cheriff Vanly, The Revolution of Irak: Kurdistan; Part I (from September 1961 to December 1963)(n.p.: Committee for the Defense of the Kurdish People’s Rights ^ u r d i s h Represent­ ation/, 1965), >p.5 and Robert C. Doty, New York Times, July 7, 1954, :p.6 for varying physical descriptions. ^ Coon (op.cit., .p. 159) found, in the course of his investigation, little evidence that intermarriage between the various parts of Kurdistan has ever occurred on a large scale. 3 Waheed, op.cit., p. 120.

73 in other eras and with other neighboring peoples also contri­ buted to the current variety of physical types among the Kurds. However, these contacts with non-Kurdish peoples generally have not resulted in the submergence or assimilation of the Kurdish strains involved, insofar as it is possible to ascertain. The Kurds are most clearly distinguished from their neighbors on the basis of language.

The Kurdish language is

"a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages."^

As such, it is more closely related to Persian

than to Turkish or Arabic and provides significant evidence of the Aryan influence in Kurdish development.

It is not, as is

sometimes alleged, merely a derivative of Persian and, as Minorsky o has shown, it may be clearly distinguished from it. Kurdish is commonly believed to have developed parallel to Persian but from different roots.

At the turn of the present century Kurdish was

characterized by a French scholar as "a special language, the 3 sister of Persian, and perhaps the more ancient of the two." In the course of time, two major dialects have evolved within the Kurdish language.

This process has been accelerated by the

lack of a common written language for all Kurds, the limited ^ Ernest N. McCarus, A Kurdish Grammar; Descriptive Analysis of the Kurdish of Sulaimaniya, Iraq (N.Y.; American Council of Learned Societies, 1958), p. 1. 2 Minorsky, op.cit.. pp. 1151-53. These two related languages differ significantly in terms of vocabulary, syntax, and phon­ ology and Kurdish probably has its roots in ancient Median. See also Edmonds, Kurdst Turks and Arabs, rp. 7. 3 Jacques de Morgan, cited in Blau, op.cit., :p. 14.

74 contact between the various segments of this people, and the impact of alien languages in fringe areas.

While each dialect

retains its relationship to the original language, they are almost completely unintelligible to one another.

In the north,

the predominant dialect is called Kirman.ji. but there is little consistency in the designation of its southern counterpart. Some writers refer to it as Kurdi. while others call it Sorani. It is impossible to discover how far these two designations overlap.^

Minor linguistic variations exist even within these

basic divisions, but a line drawn "from the city of Rezaieh southwest into the mountains near Ushnavieh" is generally suffi­ cient to separate the bulk of those speaking the northern dialect from those who use the southern.

Incidentally, such a line of

demarcation also would divide the Kurds who wear "slightly belled stove-pipe trousers" from those with "baggy trousers 2 pegged at the ankle." It thus represents something of a sub­ cultural watershed. Blau (op.cit., p. 14) gives the following breakdown on the use of these two dialects: Kirmanji is the variant of the Turkish Kurds (in Mardin, Bohtan, Hakkari, Van, Mus, and Erzurum); the Kurds in Iran (including those of Azerbaijan and Oushnou on the Soviet frontier); the Kurds of the U.S.S.R.; the Kurds of the region of Bahdinan in the province of Mosul; and the Kurds of Syria. Sorani is spoken by most of the Iraqi Kurds and the Kurds of Iran in the area of Goran near Kermanshah and the Kurds at the foot of the Zagros near Mahabad. Much of the confusion surrounding the classification of these dialects apparently results from a lack of uniformity in the use of Kurdish or some other language in their designation. See also Kinnane, op.cit., ”p. 3. 2 Eagleton, op.cit., p. 3. For a further discussion of the Kurdish language, see Shafiq Kazzaz, "The Kurdish Alphabet," Kurdish Journal (Washington), II (March, 1965), pp. 9-13.

Islam has been an important factor in the modern history of the Kurds.

Until the time of the Arab conquest and the

flowering of Islam in the seventh century A.D., the Kurds were either pagans or adherents of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of Persia.^"

Initially, they joined with the Persians

and other neighboring peoples to resist the advance of the Arabs and their new religious faith.

History does not reveal

the circumstances of the Kurdish conversion and even the Kurds themselves are unable to explain why, after such vigorous reo sistance, they eventually embraced Islam. One explanation, implicit in Safrastian’s study, is that the Kurds accepted this alien religion to escape the poll tax assessed against non-believ3 ers. Whatever their original motives, the Kurds, having become a part of the Muslim community, gave their new faith full support. 1 Minorsky, op.cit.. -p. 1151. ^ See Memorandum sur la situation kurdes et leurs revendications. op.cit.. :