Kurdistan is often overlooked when people discuss the Middle East. That’s probably because it’s not considered a sovereign state. It’s also home to one of the most mistreated and neglected people in world history. The Kurds have long been a population that has been marginalized and subjected to abhorrent violence by their Middle Eastern neighbors.
When one takes the time to examine Kurdistan, however, they find what is arguably one of the most fair and progressive societies in the Middle East. Here are 20 interesting facts about Kurdistan.
1. Kurdistan is an unindependent Country
Kurdistan is a region that the Kurdish people have inhabited for thousands of years that spans across the modern-day nations of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The vast majority of the people in the region are Kurds, so it is referred to as Kurdistan, or “Land of the Kurds.”
2. The People Of Kurdistan Are Of Indo-European Origin
The Kurds speak Kurdish, a language similar to Farsi. A majority of Kurds are bilingual or multilingual, however, as it is often necessary for them to speak the language of the nation in which they reside in addition to the traditional Kurdish.
3. Marriage Is a Sacred Rite For Kurds
Marriage is an important rite of passage in Kurdistan and is taken very seriously. Most Kurds marry young at around 17 or 18 years of age. The bride wears a new dress and is adorned in gold bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. Weddings are a community affair in small villages in mountainous regions and the whole village typically joins the festivities. The highlight of the ceremony is the public procession, beginning at the bride’s home and ending at the groom’s home
4. Kurdistan’s Climate Is Harsh
Kurdistan has a harsh climate with brutally hot summers and bitterly cold winters. In spite of the climate, the soil is still quite fertile and rich in natural resources. Petroleum is their main export, with petroleum revenues rivaling Pakistan.
5. Kurdistan is Officially Recognized in Iran
The cities of Sulaymaniya, Diyarbakir, and Sanandaj are considered de facto capitals of Kurdistan in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkish Kurdistan, and Iranian Kurdistan respectively. Iran is the only country where Kurdistan is officially recognized on a map, albeit as a province within Iran.
6. The Kurds form the Largest Stateless Nation In The World
The Kurds are the world’s largest stateless nation, with a population of approximately 50 million people. There are more people in Kurdistan than reside in Australia and just slightly less than live in Canada. Kurdistan’s population represents nearly 1 % of the world’s people yet they are not recognized as a nation.
7. Kurdistan Was Denied Statehood In 1923
The Treaty of Sevres granted Kurdistan national sovereignty in 1920, but that only lasted three years. In 1923, the Treat of Lausanne negated the previous treaty and divided Kurdistan between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, effectively nullifying its statehood.
8. What Is The Population of Kurdistan In Every Country?
Here is a breakdown of Kurdistan’s population within the borders of sovereign countries:
30 million in Turkey
12 million in Iran
6 million in Iraq
3 million in Syria
2 million throughout the rest of the world
9. How Big Are Kurdistan’s Territories In Every Country?
Kurdistan covers approximately 542,000 square kilometers. Here is a breakdown of how much land mass Kurdistan takes up in each country according to the Encyclopaedia of Islam.
Turkey: 240,000 square kilometers
Iran: 175,000 square kilometers
Iraq: 95,000 square kilometers
Syria: 32,000 square kilometers
10. Kurds Have Been Opressed And Persecuted For Decades
US soldiers rescue Kurdish Population
There is a long history of violence in Kurdistan. Most of this has been perpetrated against the Kurds by the leaders of the nation states in which they reside. One of the most abhorrent displays took place during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88).
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein believed that the Iraqi Kurds were aiding the Iranian war effort, so he began a brutal campaign of violence against them. Hussein’s army destroyed thousands of villages and murdered tens of thousands of Kurds using a variety of weapons, including nerve gas. The Kurds were then buried in mass graves. This caused many surviving Kurds to flee the area.
11. After the First Gulf War, Iraqi Kurdistan Was Dissolved Due To Political Infighting
The first autonomous Kurdistan was called “Iraqi Kurdistan” and was established with the help of the United States during the first Gulf War between 1990 and 1991. The U.S. established a no-fly zone over Kurdish territory to protect the Kurds from Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein. Iraqi Kurdistan suffered from political infighting however, and erupted in a civil war a few years later. The result was a loss of sovereignty for the newly created state.
12. Iraqi Kurdistan Was Re-formed After The Second Gulf War: Now It Is Called The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)
Iraqi Kurdistan was reformed after the second Gulf War, however, and is now located in Northern Iraq. The state has been sovereign since 2008 and is governed by the democratically-elected Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
13. Iraqi Kurdistan Has Freedom Of Religion
Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the only regions in the Middle East that teaches all religions of the world in public schools. Although 94 percent, of Iraqi Kurdistan is Muslim, they are known for their religious tolerance, and have often been a safe haven for persecuted Christians and Jews fleeing other areas of the Middle East. In 2012, the KRG made it mandatory that all public schools remain religiously neutral.
14. Iraqi Kurdistan Also Has Gender Equality
Kurdistan is also known for their fair treatment of women. As a result of the Syrian Civil War, the Kurds were able to set up a democratic government in Syrian Kurdistan called Rojava. This new democratic government requires that every municipality elect at least one female representative.
15. Female Representation in The KRG Congress
The Kurdistan Regional Government has put rules in place to make sure that women are represented in the government. The KRG requires a minimum of 30% of its parliament be women. By comparison, only 22% of the UK Parliament is female and just 19% of the U.S. Congress is comprised of women. It is the highest percentage in the Middle East.
16. Kurdistan Women Fight In The Armed Forces
Women play a prominent role in the Kurdistan armed forces. For example, the Peoples Protection Units in Syrian Kurdistan (YPG) are comprised of 35 percent female soldiers. This includes a 7,500 all-volunteer female group currently battling ISIS in Syria. By comparison, the United States Marine Corps has only 14,000 female soldiers.
17. The Kurdistan Army Is Open To All Ethnicities
The YPG is not only open to both genders serving in their units, but they are ethnically andreligiously diverse as well. Members of the YPG currently fighting ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan include not only Kurds, but Yazidis, Arabs, Christians, and Turkmen as well.
18. Kurdistan Has Been Accepting Refugees From Syria And Iraq Since 2011
Kurdistan is a world leader in accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq since 2011. They have offered refugee status to over 2,250,000 Iraqis and Syrians in that time period, which is nearly 200,000 more than Turkey, which is next on the list. Approximately one in four people in Kurdistan is a refugee or internally displaced person.
19. Kurds Want More Autonomy And National Sovereignty
There is currently a strong movement among many in Kurdistan to push for national sovereignty. This has been fiercely resisted by other nations in the Middle East, specifically Turkey and Iran – both are powers in the region and appear unwilling to give up any land or influence to establish a Kurdish state. Other Kurds simply ask for more autonomy within countries in which they currently live.
20. The Syrian Civil War Has Unified The Kurdish Population
Peace in Kurdistan
In the past, different groups of Kurds within Kurdistan have had a difficult time coming together to fight for national sovereignty. There have been reports that the Syrian Civil War has brought them closer together, however, and there is now talk of a Kurdistan national conference to outline goals and a path forward towards statehood.