|Broadly defined geographic region traditionally inhabited mainly by Kurds. It consists of an extensive plateau and mountain area, spread over large parts of what are now eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and western Iran and smaller parts of northern Syria and Armenia. Two of these countries officially recognize internal entities by this name: Iran’s northwestern province of Kordestān and Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.
The Kurdistan (“Land of the Kurds”) designation refers to an area of Kurdish settlement that roughly includes the mountain systems of the Zagros and the eastern extension of the Taurus. Since ancient times the area has been the home of the Kurds, a people whose ethnic origins are uncertain. For 600 years after the Arab conquest and their conversion to Islam, the Kurds played a recognizable and considerable part in the troubled history of western Asia—but as tribes, individuals, or turbulent groups rather than as a people.
Among the petty Kurdish dynasties that arose during this period the most important were the Shaddādids, ruling a predominantly Armenian population in the Ānī and Ganja districts of Transcaucasia (951–1174); the Marwānids of Diyarbakir (990–1096); and the Ḥasanwayhids of Dīnavar in the Kermānshāh region (959–1015). Less is written of the Kurds under the Mongols and Turkmen, but they again became prominent in the wars between the Ottoman Empire and the Ṣafavid dynasty. Several Kurdish principalities developed and survived into the first half of the 19th century, notably those of Bohtān, Hakari, Bahdinan, Soran, and Baban in Turkey and of Mukri and Ardelan in Persia. But Kurdistan, though it played a considerable part in the history of western Asia, never enjoyed political unity.
With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I (1914–18), and particularly with the encouragement of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson—one of whose Fourteen Points stipulated that the non-Turkish nationalities of the Ottoman Empire should be “assured of an absolute unmolested opportunity of autonomous development”—Kurdish nationalists looked to the eventual establishment of a Kurdistani state.
The Treaty of Sèvres, signed in 1920 by representatives of the Allies and of the Ottoman sultan, provided for the recognition of the three Arab states of Hejaz, Syria, and Iraq and of Armenia and, to the south of it, Kurdistan, which the Kurds of the Mosul vilāyet (province), then under British occupation, would have the right to join. Owing to the military revival of Turkey under Kemal Atatürk, this treaty was never ratified. It was superseded in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne, which confirmed the provision for the Arab states but omitted mention of Armenia and Kurdistan. Mosul was excluded from the settlement, and the question of its future was referred to the League of Nations, which in 1925 awarded it to Iraq. This decision was made effective by the Treaty of Ankara, signed in 1926 by Turkey, Iraq, and Great Britain.
Member of a people living mostly in the Taurus and Sagros mountains of eastern Turkey, western Iran, and northern Iraq in the region called Kurdistan. The Kurds have suffered repression in several countries, most brutally in Iraq, where in 1991 more than 1 million were forced to flee their homes. They speak an Indo-Iranian language and are predominantly Sunni Muslims, although there are some Shiites in Iran.
There are 12 million Kurds in Turkey, 5 million in Iran, 4 million in Iraq, 500,000 in Syria, and 500,000 in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. Several million live elsewhere in Europe. Although divided among several states, they have nationalist aspirations, and the growth of a pan-Kurdish movement has been helped by the recent move to towns (undertaken in search of work and to escape repression). About 1 million Kurds were made homeless and 25,000 killed as a result of chemical-weapon attacks by Iraq in 1984–89. A Kurdish parliament in exile was established in 1995 in The Hague, the Netherlands, by exiles from Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, where the Kurds suffer discriminatory legislation. The Kurdish communities of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia suffer few restrictions on the use of their language and culture.
References to what may have been the Kurds are found in Sumerian inscriptions dating from 2000 BC. The Greek historian Xenophon mentions Assyrian battles with the Kurds (c. 400 BC). The Kurds were ruled in succession by the Medes, the Persians, the Parthians, and the Arabs from the 7th century. After accepting the Islamic faith following persecution by the Arabs, they won a degree of autonomy which they retained for several hundred years. During the 13th century, Saladin (Salah-ad-Din), a Kurd, emerged as the foremost leader in the struggle against the Crusaders. There was an ill-fated attempt to set up an autonomous Kurdish state within the Ottoman Empire during the 1880s. The Treaty of Sèvres (1920) provided a draft scheme for Kurdish independence, but the treaty was not ratified by Turkey, and Britain and France instead divided Kurdish territory between their Middle Eastern client states. The Kurds found themselves fragmented, a minority in many countries. Despite this, the Kurds maintained a cultural unity, and nationalism has since been strong. A succession of revolts by the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran were all put down. In 1922–23 Sheikh Mahmud of Sulaimaniya proclaimed himself king of Kurdistan; in 1944–45 a Kurdish republic was created in Mahabad with Russian support. The Kurds were again in revolt in 1961–75 to obtain a fully autonomous Kurdish state. As a result, they were moved from north to south, a policy that led to further revolts in 1974–75 and 1977, suppressed with many civilian deaths and the destruction of whole villages.
The Kurdish language is a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family, and the Kurds are a non-Arab, non-Turkic ethnic group. They are predominantly shepherds and farmers, cultivating a wide range of crops and fruit. Seminomadism, for which land ownership was collective, is declining. Kurds traditionally have a strong sense of family honour; feuding between rival families is not uncommon. Larger groups are brought together under an aga, or lord; these are often landowners and marry outside the village to strengthen alliances with other leaders. Commoners prefer to marry the daughter of their father’s brother (a parallel cousin) in order to maintain resources and assets within the kin group. National dress is still worn in the more mountainous regions and there is a strong tradition of poetry and music. Kurdish professionals are found in many Middle Eastern cities.
Kurds of Turkey
Inhabit an area of Anatolia covering 230,000 sq km/88,780 sq mi (almost a third of the Turkish republic). Although the Treaty of Sèvres guaranteed minority rights, it was rejected by Atatürk, the ruler of the newly founded Turkish state. In 1925 a rebellion of Kurds, led by Sheikh Said, was savagely put down by the authorities in an attempt to eradicate Kurdish identity. Atatürk banned Kurdish from official use and from schools, and implemented a programme of ‘Turkization’ in an attempt to unify the new republic. Southeastern Turkey remained a military area, banned to foreigners, from 1925 until 1965. In 1983 Kurdish provinces were placed under martial law to combat the separatist activities of the recently formed Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK). Until 1991, speaking or writing Kurdish or even owning a recording of Kurdish music was an offence in Turkey, and 670,000 Kurds were arrested 1981–91. Unlike ethnic Turks, Kurds may by law be held incommunicado for 30 days. Speaking Kurdish was legalized 1991 but publishing or broadcasting in Kurdish remained prohibited. The concessions made to the Kurds during the presidency of Turgut Ozal (1989–93) were ignored by his successor Suleiman Demirel, who opposed any recognition of Kurdish rights and launched a military crackdown against the PKK from 1992. During 1993 Turkish diplomatic offices and businesses in leading Western European cities were attacked by the PKK. An estimated 11,000 people were killed in battles between Turkish forces and PKK fighters from 1984 until 1993. Turkish government troops launched a major offensive into northern Iraq in March 1995, aimed at eliminating several PKK strongholds in the region. In 1997 Turkey started a massive military onslaught against rebel Kurds in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Despite calls on Turkey to pull out by UN secretary general Kofi Annan and the EU, the Turkish foreign ministry said its troops would not leave until the rebels were ‘ rendered inefficient’. Late 1997 saw a wave of immigrant Kurds fleeing to Italy. Relations between Turkey and Italy, already strained because of the Kurdish question, became even more tense in December 1998 when Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, whom Turkey wanted extradited from Italy as a terrorist, requested political asylum and, after a month’s house arrest, was freed by an Italian court. Turkey imposed an embargo on imports from Italy. Ocalan was captured and put on trial in Turkey in May 1999; he received death sentence in June. This met with widespread protests amongst Kurds throughout Europe, and with the condemnation of several European governments. In February 2000 Turkey’s hopes for joining the European Union (EU) were jeopardized, and domestic peace troubled, when the leader of Turkey’s only legally recognized Kurdish party, the People’s Democracy Party (Hadep), and the mayors of three cities in Turkey’s Kurdish southeastern region (also members of Hadep), were charged with helping the outlawed PKK. Turan Demir, head of Hadep, was sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment. The president of the European parliament urged Turkey to free the mayors, and although her request was initially rejected, the mayors were set free at the end of February, pending the outcome of their trial.
Kurds of Iran
Inhabit an area covering 125,000 sq km/48,250 sq mi to the west and south of Lake Urmia and including the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Under the centralizing regime of the Persian commander Pahlavi (1925), Kurdish dress and language were banned and political movements repudiated. Rebellions, led by chieftains such as Simko (‘the Cannibal’), led to repression; Simko was himself assassinated during negotiations with the Persian government in 1930. The Kurds established the short-lived republic of Mahabad with Soviet backing in 1946, were repressed under the shah, and, when they revolted against the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, were savagely put down in 1979–80. However, concessions were granted in the form of limited self-rule and linguistic and cultural freedom. Guerrilla activity by the separatist Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP–I) continued. It was promised that the four provinces would be united in an autonomous unit; the Kurdish region, however, remains divided.
Kurds of Iraq
Live in the mountainous northeastern province of Kirkuk. When the British nominee for king, Faisal I, failed to establish a Kurdish state in the 1920s, the Kurds of Iraq rebelled. They were defeated with the help of the British RAF, which carried out bombing raids in support of the king, but rebellions continued during the 1920s and 1930s, although under the monarchy, the Kurds were recognized as a national minority, and their language was allowed in places for local administration, elementary education, and legal proceedings. The Ba’athist revolution of 1958 raised hopes of a greater measure of autonomy, but the Kurds were again in revolt in 1961–75 to obtain a fully autonomous Kurdish state. As a result, they were moved from north to south, a policy that led to further revolts in 1974–75 and 1977, suppressed with many civilian deaths and the destruction of whole villages. During the Iran–Iraq War in 1980–88, Kurds fought on both sides, although the separatist Kurdish Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (backed by Iran) carried out acts of sabotage in northern Iraq. In 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons to drive Kurds into Turkey; over 6,000 were killed in one attack on the village of Halabja. The attacks formed part of the Anfal campaign (instigated by Hassin al-Majid, cousin of Saddam Hussein), which lasted from February to September 1988 and left an estimated 50,000–100,000 killed and thousands of villages destroyed. In November 1989 the Iraqi army moved an estimated 100,000–500,000 people and again destroyed their villages to create an uninhabited ‘security zone’ on its borders with Iran and Turkey. In the wake of Iraq’s defeat by a US-led alliance in the Gulf War 1991, Iraqi Kurds revolted and briefly controlled many northern Iraqi cities. The Iraqi counterattack forced more than one million Kurds to flee to regions on both sides of Iraq’s borders with Turkey and Iran, where thousands died of hunger, exposure, and waterborne diseases. The USA and its allies subsequently stationed a military task force in Turkey to deter Iraqi attacks on the Kurds and, in May 1991, set up a ‘safe zone’ within which humanitarian aid for the refugees was provided for three months. Following the withdrawal of forces from the safe zone and the return of Kurdish and other Iraqi refugees to their homes, a multinational force, called Operation Poised Hammer, was retained in Turkey. The area protected covers only a third of Iraqi Kurdistan but Kurdish forces have extended it and established their own government. Iraq’s two largest Kurdish guerrilla factions signed a peace agreement in November 1994, ending eight months of fighting in which some 4,000 people had reportedly died.
Kurds of Syria
Form a small settlement along the Turkish border. Kurdish language and culture are proscribed and there have been attempts to ‘Arabize’ Kurdish areas. Despite its suppression of Kurdish identity at home, the Syrian government has backed the activities of the Kurdish PKK in neighbouring Turkey.
After two months of fighting, rival Kurdish parties signed a peace accord to bring an end to the latest phase of the civil war in Kurdistan in November 1996. The agreement was mediated by the USA, the UK, and Turkey at a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, and committed both sides to not seek support from outside powers. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal al-Talabani, had attacked first, allegedly with Iranian support, on 17 August 1996. Facing defeat, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Massoud Barzani allied itself with the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and drove the PUK out of most of Kurdistan, only to see the PUK, again with Iranian support, regain most of their losses in a counteroffensive. Despite declarations by the PUK and KDP that they will not rely on outside powers, this latest two-month phase of the civil war has increased the influence of Iraq and Iran in Iraqi Kurdistan. The USA lost a degree of credibility by failing to stop Saddam Hussein using tanks there. The civil war between rival Kurdish factions in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan erupted again in October 1997, breaking a year-old ceasefire. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), backed by Iran, launched an offensive aimed at driving the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) from the strategic town of Shaqlawa. Fierce fighting took place over control of the ‘Hamilton Road’, the strategic key to the Kurdish mountains. Talks between European police authorities and security officials were held January 1998 to agree a plan to deal with a wave of Kurdish immigrants who landed in Italy late 1997.
Iraqi Kurdistan or Kurdistan Region (Kurdish: Herêmî Kurdistanî, Arabic:إقليم كردستان العراق , Iqlĩm Kurdistãn) also referred to as Southern Kurdistan as part of Greater Kurdistan (Kurdish: باشووری کوردستان, Başûrî Kurdistan) is an autonomous, federally recognized region of Iraq. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. Its capital is the city of Arbil, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr.
The establishment of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dates back to the March 1970 autonomy agreement between the Kurdish opposition and the Iraqi government after years of heavy fighting. After the agreement, wars between Kurdistan and Iraq had taken away much of the sovereignty the Kurds were entitled to. The Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s and the Anfal genocide campaign of the Iraqi army devastated the population and nature of Kurdistan. Following the 1991 uprising of the Kurdish people against Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were forced to flee the country to become refugees in bordering regions of Iran and Turkey. After the creation of the northern no-fly zone following the First Gulf War in 1991 to facilitate the return of Kurdish refugees, Kurdistan has been de facto independent. The 2003 invasion of Iraq by joint coalition and Kurdish forces and the subsequent political changes in post-Saddam Iraq led to the ratification of the new Iraqi constitution in 2005. The new Iraqi constitution stipulates that Iraqi Kurdistan is a federal entity recognized by Iraq and the United Nations.
Kurdistan is a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly that consists of 111 seats.  The current president is Massoud Barzani who was elected during the Iraqi Kurdistan 2005 elections that are held every four years. The three governorates of Duhok, Arbil and Sulaymania accumulate a territory of around 40,000 square kilometers and a population between 4 and 6,5 million. Disputes remain between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish government about predominantly Kurdish territories outside the current borders of Iraqi Kurdistan.
As a major economic power in Iraq, Kurdistan has the lowest poverty rates and highest standard of living in Iraq. It is the most stable and secure region of Iraq where not a single coalition soldier or foreigner has been killed, wounded or kidnapped since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Maintaining its own foreign relations, Kurdistan hosts a number of consulates and representation offices of countries most notably those of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Israel and Russia. 
The name Kurdistan literally means Land of the Kurds. The term Kurd in turn is derived from the Latin word Cordueni, i.e. the of the ancient Kingdom of Corduene, which became a Roman province in 66 BC.
In the Iraqi Constitution, it is referred to as Kurdistan Region.. The regional government refers to it as Kurdistan-Iraq (or simply Kurdistan region) but avoids using Iraqi Kurdistan. The full name of the local government is “Kurdistan Regional Government” (abbrev: KRG.)
Kurds also refer to the region as Kurdistana Başûr (South Kurdistan) or Başûrî Kurdistan (Southern Kurdistan or South of Kurdistan) referring to its geographical location within the whole of the greater Kurdistan region.
During the Baath Party administration in the 1970s and 1980s, the region was called “Kurdish Autonomous Region”.
The area today known as Iraqi Kurdistan was formerly ruled by three principalities of Baban, Badinan and Soran. In 1831, the direct Ottoman rule was imposed and lasted until World War I; afterwards the British influence increased in the region.
During World War I the British and French divided Western Asia in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Treaty of Sèvres, which was ratified in the Treaty of Lausanne, led to the advent of modern Western Asia and Republic of Turkey. The League of Nations granted France mandates over Syria and Lebanon and granted the United Kingdom mandates over Iraq and Palestine (which then consisted of two autonomous regions: Palestine and Transjordan). Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became parts of what are today Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
On December 1, 1918, during a meeting in Sulaymaniyah with Colonel Arnold Wilson, the Acting Civil Commissioner for Mesopotamia, Kurdish leaders called for British support for a united and independent Kurdistan under British protection. Between 1919 and 1922, Shaikh Mahmud Barzanji, an influential Kurdish leader based in Sulaymaniyah, formed a Kurdish government and led two revolts against the British rule. It took the British authorities two years to put down his uprisings. The first revolt began on May 22, 1919 with the arrest of British officials in Sulaymaniyah and it quickly spread to Mosul and Arbil. The British employed aerial bombardments, artillery, ground combat, and on one occasion, chemical gas, in an attempt to quell the uprising. Then the British exiled Mahmoud to India. In July 1920, 62 tribal leaders of the region, called for the independence of Kurdistan under a British mandate. The objection of the British to Kurdish self-rule sprang from the fear that success of an independent Kurdish area would tempt the two Arab areas of Baghdad and Basra to follow suit, hence endangering the direct British control over all Mesopotamia. In 1922, Britain restored Shaikh Mahmoud to power, hoping that he would organize the Kurds to act as a buffer against the Turks, who had territorial claims over Mosul and Kirkuk. Shaikh Mahmoud declared a Kurdish Kingdom with himself as King, though later he agreed to limited autonomy within the new state of Iraq. In 1930, following the announcement of the admission of Iraq to the League of Nations, Shaikh Mahmoud started a third uprising which was suppressed with British air and ground forces.
By 1927, the Barzani clan had become vocal supporters of Kurdish rights in Iraq. In 1929, the Barzani demanded the formation of a Kurdish province in northern Iraq. Emboldened by these demands, in 1931 Kurdish notables petitioned the League of Nations to set up an independent Kurdish government. Under pressure from the Iraqi government and the British, the most influential leader of the clan, Mustafa Barzani was forced into exile in Iran in 1945. Later he moved to the Soviet Union after the collapse of the Republic of Mahabad in 1946.
Barzani Revolts 1960-1975 and their Aftermath
After the military coup by Abdul Karim Qasim in 1958, Barzani was invited by Qasim to return from exile, where he was greeted with a hero’s welcome. As part of the deal arranged between Qasim and Barzani, Qasim had promised to give the Kurds regional autonomy in return for Barzani’s support for his policies. Meanwhile, during 1959-1960, Barzani became the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which was granted legal status in 1960. By early 1960, it became apparent that Qasim would not follow through with his promise of regional autonomy. As a result, the KDP began to agitate for regional autonomy. In the face of growing Kurdish dissent, as well as Barzani’s personal power, Qasim began to incite the Barzanis historical enemies, the Baradost and Zebari tribes, which led to inter-tribal warfare throughout 1960 and early 1961. By February 1961, Barzani had successfully defeated the pro-government forces and consolidated his position as leader of the Kurds. At this point, Barzani ordered his forces to occupy and expel government officials from all Kurdish territory. This was not received well in Baghdad, and as a result, Qasim began to prepare for a military offensive against the north to return government control of the region. Meanwhile, in June 1961, the KDP issued a detailed ultimatum to Qasim outlining Kurdish grievances and demanded rectification. Qasim ignored the Kurdish demands and continued his planning for war. It was not until September 10, when an Iraqi army column was ambushed by a group of Kurds, that the Kurdish revolt truly began. In response to the attack, Qasim lashed out and ordered the Iraqi Air Force to indiscriminately bomb Kurdish villages, which ultimately served to rally the entire Kurdish population to Barzani’s standard. Due to Qasim’s profound distrust of the Iraqi Army, which he purposely failed to adequately arm (in fact, Qasim implemented a policy of ammunition rationing), Qasim’s government was not able to subdue the insurrection. This stalemate irritated powerful factions within the military and is said to be one of the main reasons behind the Baathist coup against Qasim in February 1963. In November 1963, after considerable infighting amongst the civilian and military wings of the Baathists, they were ousted by Abdul Salam Arif in a coup. Then, after another failed offensive, Arif declared a ceasefire in February 1964 which provoked a split among Kurdish urban radicals on one hand and traditional forces led by Barzani on the other. Barzani agreed to the ceasefire and fired the radicals from the party. Following the unexpected death of Arif, where upon he was replaced by his brother, [[Abdul Rahman Arif], the Iraqi government launched a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kurds. This campaign failed in May 1966, when Barzani forces thoroughly defeated the Iraqi Army at the Battle of Mount Handrin, near Rawanduz. At this battle, it was said that the Kurds slaughtered an entire brigade. Recognizing the futility of continuing this campaign, Rahamn Arif announced a 12-point peace program in June 1966, which was not implemented due to the overthrow of Rahman Arif in a 1968 coup by the Baath Party. The Baath government started a campaign to end the Kurdish insurrection, which stalled in 1969. This can be partly attributed to the internal power struggle in Baghdad and also tensions with Iran. Moreover, the Soviets pressured the Iraqis to come to terms with Barzani. A peace plan was announced in March 1970 and provided for broader Kurdish autonomy. The plan also gave Kurds representation in government bodies, to be implemented in four years. Despite this, the Iraqi government embarked on an Arabization program in the oil rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqin in the same period. In the following years, Baghdad government overcame its internal divisions and concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in April 1972 and ended its isolation within the Arab world. On the other hand, Kurds remained dependent on the Iranian military support and could do little to strengthen their forces.
The Algiers Agreement
In 1974, Iraqi government began a new offensive against the Kurds and pushed them close to the border with Iran. Iraq informed Tehran that it was willing to satisfy other Iranian demands in return for an end to its aid to the Kurds. With mediation by Algerian President Houari Boumédiènne, Iran and Iraq reached a comprehensive settlement in March 1975 known as the Algiers Pact. The agreement left the Kurds helpless and Tehran cut supplies to the Kurdish movement. Barzani fled to Iran with many of his supporters. Others surrendered en masse and the rebellion ended after a few days. As a result Iraqi government extended its control over the northern region after 15 years and in order to secure its influence, started an Arabization program by moving Arabs to the oil fields in Kurdistan, particularly the ones around Kirkuk. The repressive measures carried out by the government against the Kurds after the Algiers agreement led to renewed clashes between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish guerrillas in 1977. In 1978 and 1979, 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other parts of the country.
Iran–Iraq War and Anfal Campaign
During the Iran–Iraq War, the Iraqi government again implemented anti-Kurdish policies and a de facto civil war broke out. Iraq was widely-condemned by the international community, but was never seriously punished for oppressive measures, including the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, which resulted in thousands of deaths. (See Halabja poison gas attack.)
The Al-Anfal Campaign constituted a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people in Iraq. The first wave of the plan was carried out in 1982 when 8,000 Barzanis were arrested and their remains were returned back to Kurdistan in 2008. The second and more extensive and widespread wave began from March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, Iraqi army under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid carried out a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, characterized by the following human rights violations: The widespread use of chemical weapons, the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, and slaughter of around 50,000 rural Kurds, by the most conservative estimates. The large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed by the Iraqi army. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk, a program to drive Kurds out of the oil-rich city and replace them with Arab settlers from central and southern Iraq. Kurdish sources report the number of dead to be greater than 182,000.
After the Persian Gulf War
The Kurdistan Region was originally established in 1970 as the Kurdish Autonomous Region following the agreement of an Autonomy Accord between the government of Iraq and leaders of the Iraqi Kurdish community. A Legislative Assembly was established in the city of Arbil with theoretical authority over the Kurdish-populated governorates of Erbil, Dahuk and As Sulaymaniyah. In practice, however, the assembly created in 1970 was under the control of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein until the 1991 uprising against his rule following the end of the Persian Gulf War. Concern for safety of Kurdish refugees was reflected in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 which gave birth to a safe haven, in which U.S. and British air power protected a Kurdish zone inside Iraq. (see Operation Provide Comfort). While the no-fly zone covered Dahuk and Erbil, it left out Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk. Then following several bloody clashes between Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops, an uneasy and shaky balance of power was reached, and the Iraqi government withdrew its military and other personnel from the region in October 1991. At the same time, Iraq imposed an economic blockade over the region, reducing its oil and food supplies. The region thus gained de facto independence, being ruled by the two principal Kurdish parties – the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – outside the control of Baghdad. The region has its own flag and national anthem.
Elections held in June 1992 produced an inconclusive outcome, with the assembly divided almost equally between the two main parties and their allies. During this period, the Kurds were subjected to a double embargo: one imposed by the United Nations on Iraq and one imposed by Saddam Hussein on their region. The severe economic hardships caused by the embargoes, fueled tensions between the two dominant political parties: Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) over control of trade routes and resources. Relations between the PUK and the KDP started to become dangerously strained from September 1993 after rounds of amalgamations occurred between parties. This led to internecine and intra-Kurdish conflict and warfare between 1994 and 1996. After 1996, 13% of the Iraqi oil sales were allocated for Iraqi Kurdistan and this led to a relative prosperity in the region. Saddam had established an oil smuggling route through territory controlled by the KDP, with the active involvement of senior Barzani family members. The taxation of this trade at the crossing point between Saddam’s territory and Kurdish controlled territory and then into Turkey, along with associated service revenue, meant that who ever controlled Dohuk and Zakho had the potential to earn several million dollars a week. Direct United States mediation led the two parties to a formal ceasefire in Washington Agreement in September 1998. It is also argued that the Oil for Food Program from 1997 onward had an important effect on cessation of hostilities.
Since 2003 and Operation Iraqi Freedom
Iraqi Kurds have played an important role in the 2nd Gulf War, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” Kurdish parties joined forces against the Iraqi government in the Operation Iraqi Freedom in Spring 2003. The Kurdish military forces known as peshmerga played a key role in the overthrow of the former Iraqi government, however Kurds have been reluctant to send troops into Baghdad since, preferring not to be dragged into the sectarian struggle that so dominates much of Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds may be seen in two ways. The first and the most common way is to view the Kurds as victims, both of the central government in Iraq and of neighboring powers – particularly Turkey. The second opposing position is to see them as an agent provocateur, acting as proxy forces for states opposed to the incumbent Iraqi regime. This polarised notion of their status may be too simple, when one considers that there are opposing agendas within Iraqi Kurdistan with regard to issues such as the relationship with Turkey, nationalist aspirations and relations globally.
KDP and PUK have united to form an alliance with several smaller parties, and the Kurdish alliance has 53 deputies in the new Baghdad parliament, while the Kurdish Islamic Union has 5. PUK-leader Jalal Talabani has been elected President of the new Iraqi administration, while KDP leader Massoud Barzani is President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Since the downfall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the relations between the KRG and Turkey have one one hand been very tense but also close. Tensions marked a high stage in late February 2008 when Turkey unilaterally took military action against the PKK and violated the sovereignty of the Kurdistan Region. The incursion which lasted 8 days could have involved the armed forces of Kurdistan into a broader regional war. However, relations have been improved since then, and Turkey now has the largest share of foreign investment in Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan region’s economy is dominated by the oil industry, agriculture and tourism. Due to relative peace in the region it has a more developed economy in comparison to other parts of Iraq.
Prior to the removal of Saddam Hussein, the Kurdistan Regional Government received approximately 13% of the revenues from Iraq’s Oil-for-Food Program. By the time of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the program had disbursed $8.35 billion to the KRG. Iraqi Kurdistan’s food security allowed for substantially more of the funds to be spent on development projects than in the rest of Iraq. By the program’s end in 2003 $4 billion of the KRG’s oil-for-food funds remained unspent.
The Erbil International Hotel completed in 2004 marked the beginning of a construction boom in Arbil and the rest of Kurdistan
Following the removal of Saddam Hussein’s administration and the subsequent violence, the three provinces fully under the Kurdistan Regional Government’s control were the only three in Iraq to be ranked “secure” by the US military. The relative security and stability of the region has allowed the KRG to sign a number of investment contracts with foreign companies. In 2006, the first new oil well since the invasion of Iraq was drilled in the Kurdistan region by the Norwegian energy company DNO. Initial indications are that the oil field contains at least 100 million barrels (16,000,000 m3) of oil and will be pumping 5,000 bpd by early 2007. The KRG has signed exploration agreements with two other oil companies, Canada’s Western Oil Sands and the UK’s Sterling Energy.
The stability of the Kurdistan region has allowed it to achieve a higher level of development than other regions in Iraq. In 2004, the per capita income was 25% higher than in the rest of Iraq. The government continues to receive a portion of the revenue from Iraq’s oil exports, and the government will soon implement a unified foreign investment law. The KRG also has plans to build a media city in Arbil and free trade zones near the borders of Turkey and Iran.
The region still gets a cut from Iraqi-Turkish trade, plus subsidies from the United States and Israel.
Since 2003, the stronger economy of Kurdistan has attracted around 20,000 workers from other parts of Iraq. According to Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, since 2003 the number of millionaires in the Kurdish city of Silêmani has increased from 12 to 2000, reflecting the financial and economic growth of the region.
Infrastructure and Transport
Due to the devastation of the campaigns of the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi regimes, the Kurdistan Region’s infrastructure was never able to modernize. After the 1991 safe-haven was established, the Kurdistan Regional Government began with projects to reconstruct the Kurdistan Region. Since then, of all the 4,500 villages that were destroyed by Saddam Husseins’ regime, 65% has been reconstructed by the KRG.
Kurdistan can be reached by land and air. By land, Kurdistan can be reached most easily by Turkey through the Habur Border Gate which is the only border gate between Kurdistan and Turkey. This border gate can be reached by bus or taxi from airports in Turkey as close as the Mardin or Diyarbakir airports, as well as from Istanbul or Ankara. Kurdistan has two border gates with Iran, the Haji Omaran border gate and the Bashmeg border gate near the city of Sulaymaniyah. Kurdistan has also a border gate with Syria known as the Faysh Khabur border gate. From within Iraq, Kurdistan can be reached by land from multiple roads.
Kurdistan has opened its doors to the international world by opening two international airports. Erbil International Airport and Sulaimaniyah International Airport, which both operate flights to Middle Eastern and European destinations. There are at least 2 military airfields in Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Region is largely mountainous, with the highest point being a 3,611 m (11,847 ft) point known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). The mountains are part of the larger Zagros mountain range which is present in Iran as well. There are many rivers flowing and running through mountains of the region making it distinguished by its fertile lands, plentiful water, picturesque nature. The Zab rivers flow from the east to the west in the region. The Tigris river enters Iraq from the Kurdistan Region after flowing from Turkey.
The mountainous nature of Kurdistan, the difference of temperatures in its various parts, and its wealth of waters, make Kurdistan a land of agriculture and tourism. In addition to various minerals, oil in particular, which for a long time was being extracted via pipeline only in Kurdistan through Iraq. The largest lake in the region is Lake Dukan. In addition, there are several smaller lakes such as the Duhok Lake.
In the western and southern parts of the Kurdistan Region, the area is not as mountainious as the east. It is rolling hills and sometimes plains that make up the area. The area however is greener than the rest of Iraq.
The term “Northern Iraq” is a bit of a geographical ambiguity in usage. “North” typically refers to the Kurdistan Region. “Center” and “South” or “Center-South” when individually referring to the other areas of Iraq or the rest of the country that is not the Kurdistan Region. Most media sources continually refer to “North” and “Northern Iraq” as anywhere north of Baghdad.
Kurdistan is divided into three governorates (Parêzge in Kurdish) excluding other Iraqi governorates potentially becoming part of Kurdistan. The governorates of Duhok , Erbil and Sulaymaniya form the current Kurdistan Region. Each of these governorates is divided into districts with a total of 26 districts. Each district is divided into sub-districts. Governorates have a capital city, while districts and sub-districts have district centers.
Iraqi Kurdistan is divided among seven governorates of which currently three are under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. These governorates are called in Kurdish parêzge. Particularly in Iraqi government documents, the term governorate is preferred.
The governorates wholly under the Kurdistan Regional Government are:
1. As Sulaymaniyah (Slêmanî)
2. Erbil (Hewlêr)
3. Dahuk (Duhok)
Main article: Kirkuk status referendum, 2008
The governorates claimed totally or in part by the Kurdistan Regional Government are:
4. Kirkuk (Kerkûk) – (all)
5. Diyala – Kifri Khanaqin and Baladrooz districts
6. Ninawa – Akra, Shekhan, Al-Shikhan, Al-Hamdaniya, Tel Kaif, Tall Afar and Sinjar districts
7. Salah ad Din – Tooz district
8. Wasit – Badrah district
A referendum was scheduled to be held on 15 November 2007 to determine whether these governorates, or parts of them, will be included in the Kurdish Regional Government. The referendum is intended to cover all districts of Kirkuk Governorate, the Khanaquin and Kifri districts of Diyala Governorate, the Touz-Khur-Mati district of Salah ad Din Governorate, and the Akra and Shekan districts of Ninewa Governorate. This referendum has been postponed, first to 31 December 2007, and subsequently for up to a further six months. Kurds insist that the referendum be held as soon as possible.
The Kurdistan Region has an increasing urban population with still a significant rural population. The following list is an incomplete list of the largest cities within the three governorates which are currently de jure and de facto under control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The Kurdistan Region has an increasing urban population with still a significant rural population. The following list is an incomplete list of the largest cities within the three governorates which are currently de jure and de facto under control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The capital city of Arbil
- Population data from World Gazetteer 2009 estimates
- Population data not verifiable
Due to the absence of a proper population census, the exact population of Kurdistan as well as the rest of Iraq is unknown. However by 2009, Iraq had an estimated population of around 30 million as estimated by the IMF.Within the three governorates of Duhok, Arbil and Sulaymaniya the population is estimated to be as low as 4,000,000 and as high as 6,500,000. These numbers exclude the Kurds living in the disputed provinces such as Ninawa, Kirkuk and Diyala as well as Kurds living in Arab Iraq. Kurdistan has a young population with an estimated 40% of the population being under the age of 15. Most Kurds live in the large cities such as Arbil and Sulaymania.
The ethnic make-up of Kurdistan is diverse and includes Assyrian Christians, Iraqi Turkmens and Arabs next to the Kurdish majority. The Kurds make up around 95% of Kurdistan with the remaining 5% including the minority groups.
The official language of instruction and institutions is Kurdish. Arabic has still some uses because of its domination under former Iraqi regimes. Kurdish has now taken that position as the dominant language in schools, government institutions, ministries and television channels.
For the minority groups in Kurdistan, such as the Assyrian Christians and Iraqi Turkmens, their languages are official in the municipalities where they make up a majority. The constitution of Kurdistan recognizes these languages as official in the areas dominated by these minority groups.
Kurdistan has a diverse religious population. The dominating religion is Islam, adhered by 90% of its inhabitants. These include Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs being divided into the Sunni and Shia branch of Islam for all of these three ethnic groups. Christianity and Yezidism are after Islam the largest religions that include Kurdish Yezidis, Chaldean Christians and Assyrian Christians. A small group of Kurdish Jews live in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Main article: Kurdish music
Traditionally, there are three types of Kurdish classical performers – storytellers(çîrokbêj), minstrels (stranbêj) and bards (dengbêj). There was no specific music related to the Kurdish princely courts, and instead, music performed in night gatherings (şevbihêrk) is considered classical. Several musical forms are found in this genre. Many songs are epic in nature, such as the popular lawiks which are heroic ballads recounting the tales of Kurdish heroes of the past like Saladin. Heyrans are love ballads usually expressing the melancholy of separation and unfulfilled love. Lawje is a form of religious music and Payizoks are songs performed specifically in autumn. Love songs, dance music, wedding and other celebratory songs (dîlok/narînk), erotic poetry and work songs are also popular.
Main article: Peshmerga
Peshmerga is the term used by Kurds to refer to armed Kurdish fighters, they have been labelled by some as freedom fighters. Literally meaning “those who face death”(pêş front + merg death e is) the peshmerga forces of Kurdistan have been around since the advent of the Kurdish independence movement in the early 1920s, following the collapse of the Ottoman and Qajar empires which had jointly ruled over the area known today as Kurdistan.
The Peshmerga fought alongside the US Army and the coalition in the northern front during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the following years, the Peshmerga played a vital role in security for Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq. Not a single coalition soldier or foreigner has been killed, wounded or kidnapped in Kurdistan since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Peshmerga have also been deployed in Baghdad and al-Anbar governorate for anti-terror operations.
The Kurdistan Region is allowed to have its own army under the Iraqi constitution and the Iraqi army is not allowed to enter the Kurdistan Region by law.
Role in capturing Saddam Hussein
The Peshmerga is believed to have been the responsible force for capturing the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in December 2003. The Sunday Herald reported that the Kurdish intelligence service lead to the direct capture of Saddam Hussein with Kurdish special forces sealing off the area of the al-Dwar farmhouse before the arrival of US troops. 
An Israeli intelligence source who was in company of high-ranking Kurds at a meeting in Athens early on December 14 reported how one of the Kurdish representatives burst into the conference room in tears and demanded an immediate halt to the discussions. “Saddam Hussein has been captured,” he said, adding that he had received word from Kurdistan before any television reports.
During the rule of former Iraqi regimes prior to the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, education in Kurdistan was very limited. Institutions of education were largely denied. Very few primary and secondary schools were present and in some cases in remote areas, they were not even built. Kurds that wanted to attend higher education were often denied because of their identity.
Before the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government, primary and secondary education was almost entirely taught in Arabic. Higher education was always taught in Arabic. This however changed with the establishment of the Kurdistan autonomous region. The first international school, the International School of Choueifat opened its branch in Kurdistan in 2006. Kurdistan’s official universities are listed below, followed by their English acronym (if commonly used), internet domain, establishment date and latest data about the number of students.
Other parts of Kurdistan