Research studies

The identity crisis for Kurds


Researcher – Youssra Mohamed

Democratic Arab Center  


    The Kurdistan have never been a country with a political specific boundaries , as it mainly  distributed in three countries which are Iraq , Iran and Turkey with a little part in Syria , more     over there’re some Kurd live in other countries like Armenia , Azerbaijan , Pakistan , Baluchistan And Afghanistan .

Kurdistan, as a whole, constitutes the equivalent of modern Iraq and the number of Kurds between 25 to 40 million people, Between 10 and 12 million Kurds live in Turkey, where they comprise about 20 percent of the population. Between 5 and 6 million live in Iran, accounting for close to 10 percent of the population. Kurds in Iraq number more than 4 million, and comprise about 23 percent of the population ([1]), In addition Islam is the religion of     the overwhelming majority of Kurdistan.

In the modern era, the Kurdish nation, with its distinctive society and culture, has had to             confront in all of the “host” states centralizing, ethnically-based nationalist regimes – Turkish,     Arab and Persian – with little or no tolerance for expressions of national autonomy within their     borders.

4.1: The history of Kurds:

The word Kurdistan was first used by the Seljuks in the 12th century as a name for the province including the lands between Azerbaijan and Luristan as well as certain adjoining areas to the west of Zagros, But known by similar names Kurdistan has been the traditional homeland of the Kurds since the dawn of history. It is the country where the Kurdish people have been constituted ethnically as a homogeneous community, where they have developed their culture and shaped their destiny. ([2])

The Kurdish nationalism emerged as an ideology long before the formation of the Kurds as a nation in a largely agrarian society with a powerful tribal component. From the sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, much of Kurdistan was under the rule of independent and autonomous Kurdish principalities that produced a flourishing rural and urban life in the seventeenth century ([3]).

In Peace Conference (1919), the Kurds asked the international organization to unify the Kurds parts and give them autonomy according to the self determination which admitted by the American president Wilson, as a result the allied countries saw that the Kurds have their right to build their nation Kurdistan and unified their divided parts but Turkey refused that and did its best to stop that tries to unify and Kurds’ autonomy.

In London conference (1921), the allied countries tried again to solve the Kurdish issue but the Turkish government insisted that, this issue could be solved inside it and that the Kurds want to live with the Turkish, so the London conference failed too to help the Kurds , beside that in  Lausanne treaty (1942) ([4])

Since that the Kurds are divided into three countries which are Iraq, Iran and Turkey with a little part in Syria, more over there’re some Kurd live in other countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Baluchistan And Afghanistan, and there isn’t a specific country include the Kurds which make their national identity a changeable one according to their religion once and to their race and country in another time.

The Kurds in Turkey:

Half of the Kurds reside in Turkey, where they comprise over 20 percent of the Turkish population.  The modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk enacted a constitution 70 years ago which denied the existence of distinct cultural sub-groups in Turkey. As a result, any expression by the Kurds (as well as other minorities in Turkey) of unique ethnic identity has been harshly repressed. For example, until 1991, the use of the Kurdish language was illegal. To this day, any talk that hints of Kurdish nationalism is deemed separatism, and grounds for imprisonment.

In addition, The Turkish government has consistently thwarted attempts by the Kurds to organize politically. Kurdish political parties are shut down one after another, and party members are harassed and imprisoned for “crimes of opinion.” Most famously, in 1994 Leyla Zana who had been the first Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish parliament was sentenced to 15 years for “separatist speech.” ([5]), The Ankara government has systematically withheld resources from the Kurdish region. As a result, there are two distinct Turkeys: the northern and western regions are highly developed and cosmopolitan, part of the “first world,” while the south and east are truly of the “third world.”

The disparity and repression led to the formation of an armed separatist movement, the PKK, in 1984. While the majority of Turkey’s Kurds do not openly support separatism from the Turkish state, many do support the PKK, as the only force fighting for broader Kurdish cultural, economic and political rights. Further, the state immediately responded to this threat with increased force, deploying some 300,000 troops in the southeast. ([6])

In addition, the Turkish armed forces instituted a system of “village guards,” paying and arming Kurds to keep the PKK guerillas out of their villages, the war escalated dramatically in the early 1990s. Between 1984-91, an estimated 2,500 people had been killed. Over the next four years, that figure shot up to 20,000. Some 3,000 villages have been destroyed by the military in an effort to rout out PKK sympathizers, creating more than 2 million refugees. ([7])

Then, the leader of PKK was arrested in Nairobi and he was sentenced to death but commuted to life imprisonment, since that the Kurdish issue had a new turn even if it did not continue which is ([8] ):

  • The Kurds announced ceased fire in 1999, but that did not last.
  • Dissolution of PKK and establishingthe Kurdistan justice and Democracy Party in 2003 , then they changed its name to be KONGRA GEL , however , It has been included in the list of terrorist organizations which made by Europe and USA .

Moreover, there was the National Democratic Party of Kurds, which follow the peaceful ways for solving the Kurdish case.

In 2004, The Kurdish militants resumed the attack on the Turkish army and a new military organization, called Freedom Hawks, appearedand started killing the Turkish army from Iraq, which make the Turkish government threaten to Sweep of northern Iraqto eliminate the PKK rules. ([9])

In late 2012, the Turkish government renewed direct negotiations with jailed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) leader Abdullah Őcalan, aimed at ending the 30-year conflict and the Kurds demands Common grievances of Kurds in Turkey which depends on 🙁[10])

  • Full language rights for Kurds.
  • Non-discriminatory Constitution and laws:

Kurds want discriminatory elements, based on ethnicity, removed from the Constitution; amendments to legislation, such as the Anti-Terrorism Law and the Criminal Code, and a lifting of the ban on using Kurdish in courts.

  • Greater political and cultural autonomy:

Support for far-reaching options (federalism or independence) is low among the majority of Kurds. The Kurdish movement (including the PKK apparently) now aims for (not clearly defined) “democratic autonomy” within Turkey.

The ceasefire collapsed in July 2015, days after a suicide bombing blamed on IS killed 33 young activists in the mainly Kurdish town of Suruc, near the Syrian border. The PKK responded by attacking Turkish soldiers and police, and the Turkish government launched what it called a “synchronized war on terror” against the PKK and IS. Since then, hundreds of people have been killed in clashes in southeastern Turkey and in air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq. ([11])

Now, the situation on Turkey and Kurds is sorted as stable and In a press conference held in Ankara, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalan responded to a question on holding a referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region by saying: “We have already talked about this issue with the officials of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq in various forms, and we believe that this decision is wrong.”The current situation is where a fight is being fought, and we do not see it as sound in any way, and we hope that those concerned will deal with this situation with sensitivity”

Kurds in Iran:

The Kurds in Iran is 16% of the Kurds in whole the world which mean 6% of the total population in Iran and most of them live in western and northwestern of Iran ([12]).

During the early 20th century, there was a growing sentiment of Kurdish nationalism and political activism. While Kurdish leaders were unable to secure independence after World War I, a Kurdish state was created with support from the Soviet Union in the city of Mahabad after WWII. However, the so-called Kurdish Republic of Mahabad collapsed after the Soviets pulled out of Iran. ([13])

After the Islamic Republic of Iran in the winter of 1979, Kurdish areas in Iran were furious after Kurdish representatives were not allowed to participate in the drafting of the new Iranian constitution. Abdul Rahman Qasmalu (1930-1989) was one of the most prominent Kurdish figures of the time; some historians believe that Khomeini’s refusal to contribute to the writing of the constitution had a religious dimension in addition to the national dimension of the fact that the majority of Iran’s Kurds are Sunnis. ([14])

An armed conflict broke out between the Iranian government and the Kurds from 1979 to 1982. The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) led by Abdul Rahman Qasmalu and the Kurdish leftist party “ Komehlah “ were main parties in the conflict, but by 1983 the government had gained control of the bipartisan strongholds .([15])

During the first Gulf War, the members of the two Iranian Kurdish parties in Iraq were supported by Iraq. During the armed conflict between the Iranian Kurds and the Iranian government, approximately 271 Kurdish villages were destroyed. ([16])

On July 9, 2005, Kurdish activist ShwanQadri was killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Mahabad. According to some rumors, Qadriwas killed by dragging him in the streets. The killing of Qadri led to a wave of violence for 6 weeks in the Kurdish cities of Mahabad and Sindhaj Buchan, Saqqaz, Shannu, and Sardasht. ([17])

One of the Iraqi influences on the political performance of Iran’s Kurds is the announcement of the establishment of the united Kurdish front, which operates within the framework of Iranian law, and aims to collect the rights of the Kurds and defend their issues through political and peaceful means.

To this day, the relationship between the Kurds of western Iran and the Iranian government remains tense. As of 2015, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) is an active political and militant organization, based on the Iraq-Iran border, which is pushing for Kurdish autonomy in the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan. ([18])

The Iranian Kurds have experienced a renaissance of political and social thought helped along by the wider Iranian reform movement during the Khatami presidency. The Kurdish national movement became revitalized in the 1990s, spontaneously rising from the people, as artists, writers, political activists, intellectuals and linguists contributed to the articulation of Kurdish identity. Rather than being limited to a political movement, the Kurdish national movement in Iran is influenced by a growing civil society, which for the most part keeps a low profile, operating under the radar of the authorities despite increasing difficulties over the past year. ([19])

Kurds in Syria:

There’re about 6% of the Kurds in Syria of the total Kurds in the whole world, they make up between 7% and 10% of Syria’s population ([20]), Most of them live in the north-east of the country, especially in the city of Hasakah, Qamishli and Dirik, as well as in smaller numbers in other parts of Syria, such as the Afrin and Kubani (Ain Al Arab) districts of Aleppo.

In November 1962, the Syrian government announced that a million Kurds living in Syria were not Syrian citizens due to the lack of data on their ancestors in statistics and Ottoman records prior to 1920. ([21])

In November 1962, the Syrian government announced that a million Kurds living in Syria were not Syrian citizens due to the lack of data on their ancestors in statistics and Ottoman records prior to 1920. ([22](

In addition, the 1962 census of the Hasaka region was controversial. The government’s stated goal was “to identify illegal immigrants from Turkey to north-eastern Syria.” The person had to have documents showing that he had lived in Syria since 1945 at the very least, but the Kurds considered it an organized policy for what they called an attempt to localize the region. Some claim that the Syrian government began in the 1970s and at the hands of the late President Hafez al-Assad what they called the policy of Arabization. Examples of this policy are preventing the Kurds from naming newborns with Kurdish names and preventing the launching of Kurdish names on shops.

According to a report from Human Rights Watch, a special group was created because of the 1962 census. The Syrian official statistics show that there are 1 million Kurds born in Syria, but they are not considered Syrian citizens. This group can not travel to another country because they do not have a document or passport Travel. This group is provided with identity cards. This group can not own land or real estate, they can not work in government institutions, they can not enter medical and engineering schools, and they can not marry a Syrian citizen.

It should be noted that these laws are not generalized to all Kurds in Syria, but include Kurds or persons who according to the Syrian government do not possess documents confirming that they are from Syria before 1945, there are directors, ministers, members of the People’s Assembly and the heads of parties participating in the ruling National Front are Kurds on 12 March 2004 During a football match at the Al-Qamishli Stadium of Al-Hasakah, a clash broke out between Kurdish fans of Al-Qamishli and Arab supporters of the visitors from Deir Al-Zour, killing 13 people on that day. The violence spread to neighboring areas and even reached Aleppo to Damascus. A campaign of arrests was carried out in the area. According to Amnesty International, approximately 2,000 Kurdish people, including women and children aged 12, were arrested.

Many Kurdish students were expelled from universities in 2008, three children aged between 17 and 22 years old were killed by two people, setting them on fire in accordance with the tradition of celebrating a feast called Nowruz, where the armed police randomly shot and wounded them. Three innocent children.

Moreover, before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011 most lived in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, and in three, non-contiguous areas around Kobane, the northwestern town of Afrin, and the northeastern city of Qamishli.Syria’s Kurds have long been suppressed and denied basic rights. Some 300,000 have been denied citizenship since the 1960s, and Kurdish land has been confiscated and redistributed to Arabs in an attempt to “Arabize” Kurdish regions. ([23])

The state has also sought to limit Kurdish demands for greater autonomy by cracking down on protests and arresting political leaders. The Kurdish enclaves were relatively unscathed by the first two years of the Syrian conflict. The main Kurdish parties publicly avoided taking sides.

In the other hand, the function and importance of the KRG in the Kurdish-populated region in Syria is twofold ([24]):

  • The KRG has been organizing the Kurdish political scene and nurturing the formation of the political class of Syrian Kurds, embodied through the Kurdish National Council. In fact, the enduring Syrian situation opened up the opportunity for the Kurdistan Iraqi region to exert enhanced influence over the political situation in the area populated by Syrian Kurds. Till now, the political scene was extremely fragmented and the regime of Damascus did not tolerate the political organization of Syria’s Kurds. In addition, the Kurdish population already became an integral part of the Syrian society. Moreover, as stressed, any political actor aspiring to legitimately govern Syria in the future will necessarily need the support of Syria’s Kurds.
  • The KRG plays a significant role in terms of designing the solution to the Kurdish issue in the region. On the other hand there is a will, most notably visible in the demands of the Kurdish National Council to reproduce the Iraqi Kurdish model which has proven successful in Iraq’s Kurdish-populated areas to the situation of Syrian Kurds. This model, as emphasized, is a peaceful political solution, which aims at broader autonomy for the Kurdish-populated areas reaching from self-administration to federalism, and – most importantly – recognizing the Kurds as an ethnic group and as an independent nation.

However, the KRG’s proposed solution is confronted with competing suggestions for solving the Kurdish issue by the PKK (i.e. the Turkish Kurdistan Worker’s Party) on the one hand, and Ankara on the other one.

The PKK’s vision of a Kurdish region in Syria stands in utmost contrast to the Iraqi Kurdish model as it favors an armed struggle firmly rejecting a political solution. The PKK is currently trying to strengthen its position and expanding its power through the Kurdish-populated areas of Syria.

In mid-2012, government forces withdrew to concentrate on fighting the rebels elsewhere, after which Kurdish groups took control.

The Democratic Unity Party (PYD) quickly established itself as the dominant force, straining relations with smaller parties who formed the Kurdistan National Council (KNC). In January 2014, they united to declare the creation of a democratic autonomous government, with branches based in the three Kurdish enclaves. The parties stressed that they were not seeking independence from Syria but “local democratic administration” within a federal framework ([25]).

PYD leader Salih Muslim has insisted that any political settlement to end the conflict in Syria will have to include legal guarantees for Kurdish rights and recognition of Kurdish autonomy. Mr Muslim has also denied that his party is allied to the Syrian government, even though the YPG has fought against some rebel groups and avoided conflict with the army, stressing that President Assad cannot remain in power after any transitional period.

The Kurdish population in Syria has played a significant role in both the Syrian Civil War and the fight against the Islamic State, which began in 2012 and 2014, respectively. As of 2015, Syrian government troops have pulled out of Kurdish regions of Syria, and have left Kurdish forces in control. The future of the Kurdish region of Syria is in the hands of the KNC and the PYD, who are currently at odds over how to defeat the Islamic State and how to best govern the region. ([26]) 


As a result, we can find that some of the Kurds want to create their own Kurdistan, on the other side, most of the countries whole over the world refuse the establishment of the country of Kurdistan or the independence of Kurds.

The Kurdish population still has not shaken off the burden of the past and its history marked by persistent repression and the struggle for liberty. The historical legacy is still present in challenges and problems Kurds are facing. As emphasized, despite of shortcomings, the current democratic and economic situation and high levels of stability and security which have been achieved so far are not to be underestimated, especially given the fact that the region still finds itself in the transitional process.

On the other hand, most of the analyses concerning the so-called Arab Spring of 2011 did not pay attention to the fact that these civil uprisings made the Kurdish issue reappear on international agenda. Regarding the research on Kurdistan, as argued, a new approach to the Kurdish issue has become visible yet. Whereas in the past the study focused on Kurdistan’s struggle for independence and formal existence and the Kurdish people as national minorities spread over the region, fighting for their political and human rights, today a new perspective on the Kurdistan issue unfolds. Currently, as argued, the object of analysis is a Kurdistan as a not to be underestimated regional player, which is in the position to exert influence in states with Kurdish populated areas.

Summarizing, Kurdistan made remarkable progress during the past twenty years. Nevertheless, it is still to face numerous challenges and threats which will have to be successfully managed in the years to come. Questions concerning the future political and social development in Kurdish-populated areas in the region still remain unanswered. It is beyond doubt, however, that the future of Kurds depends to a large extent on the development in countries they are spread over, as well as the outcome of the power struggle between political actors trying to exert influence on the Kurdish issue. It thus remains to be seen how the situation will unfold in the following years and whether the Kurds’ struggle for a better future will prove successful.

 ([1]) نائل الدهشان,”القضيةالكردية “ ,إعداد معهد  فلسطين للدراسات الإستراتيجية التابع لمؤسسة إبداع للدراسات والأبحاث والتدريب ، العدد 54 ) فلسطين ، غزة : 2009( ، ص 5 .

([2] )Kemal Mirawdali , “KURDISTAN & KURDS ( TOWARD A CULTURAL DEFINITION ) “ , (Washington D.C : March 1993) , pp. 6

([3] )David McDowall , “ A modern history of the Kurds “( London , new York : I.B Tauris , 2004 ) , pp.18 .

([4] )  نائل الدهشان, “القضية الكردية” ، مصدر سابق ، ص ، ص 51 :52 .

([5] )Michael M. Gunter , “ the Kurds in turkey : A political Dilemma “, ( West view press , 1990 ) , pp. 76

([6])” the Kurds in turkey “, The federation of the American scientist,   ( ), accessed in 17 April at 1:00 am.

([7]) Ferhad Ibrahim and GulistanGurbey ,“ the Kurdish conflict in Turkey : obstacles and chances for peace and democracy “, (LIT Verlag Munster : 2000 ) , pp. 63 .

([8] ) Michael M. Gunter, “the Kurds in turkey: A political Dilemma “, pervious source, pp. 423.

[9]Mahir M. Aziz ,  “ the Kurds of Iraq : Nationalism and identity in Iraqi Kurdistan “ , ( I.B tauris : 2014 ) , pp. 163 .

([10]) Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig, “Progress on the situation of Kurds in Turkey? “, the Library of the European Parliament, 2013 ( ) .

([11] ) “ who are the Kurds ? , BBC News , 2016 ( ) , was entered 21 April 2017 at 9:40 pm

([12])  شفيق شقير ، “كرد إيران” ، الجزيرة. نت، تم الدخول 20 إبريل 2017-04-20 الساعة 10:23 م.

([13] ) Flicker Ninara,“Iran (Rojhelat or Eastern Kurdistan) “, the Kurdish project,), was entered in 20April 20, 2017 at 9:35 pm.

([14]  “الدولة الكردية” ، مركز الوطن لاستطلاع الرأي العام, ( تم الدخول الساعة 8:45 اليوم الموافق 20 إبريل.

([15] ) David McDowall, “A modern history of the Kurds “, pervious source, pp. 250.

([16]) Flicker Ninara, “Iran (Rojhelat or Eastern Kurdistan) “, pervious source, entered in 22 April 2017 at 5:34.

([17]) KerimYildiz and Tanyel B. Taysi , “ the Kurds in Iran : past , present and future “ , ( Pluto press , 2007 ) , pp. 63 .

([18]) Flicker Ninara,“Iran (Rojhelat or Eastern Kurdistan) “,pervious source, accessed in 21 April 2017 at 10:36 pm.

([19]) KerimYildiz and Tanyel B. Taysi, “the Kurds in Iran: past, present and future “, pervious source, pp. 108.

([20] )David McDowall, A modern history of the Kurds “, pervious source, pp. 466.

([21])  “الدولة الكردية” ، مركز الوطن لاستطلاع الرأي العام, مصدر سابق ، تم الدخول 21 إبريل 2017-04-22 الساعة 7:01 ص .

([22] “الدولة الكردية” ، مركز الوطن لاستطلاع الرأي العام, مصدر سابق ، تم الدخول 21-إبريل 2017-04-22 الساعة 7:01(

([23] ) who are the Kurds? “, BBC News, pervious resource, was entered 22 April 2017 at 7:52 am .

([24]) The pervious source.

([25]) “Syria (Rojava or Western Kurdistan) “, the Kurdish project, ( ), accessed in 22 April 2017 at 8:20am.

([26]) “Syria (Rojava or Western Kurdistan) “, pervious source , accessed in 22 April 2017 at 7:47 am .

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