The Kurds: A Concise History and Fact Book Paperback – 27 Oct 1992


Since before the dawn of recorded history the mountainous lands of the northern Middle East have been home to a distinct people whose cultural tradition is one of the most authentic and original in the world. Some vestiges of Kurdish life and culture can actually be traced back to burial rituals practiced over 50,000 years ago by people inhabiting the Shanidar Caves near Arbil in central Kurdistan.

Despite their antiquity and cultural vitality there are very few reference works on the Kurds today. A major reason for such a gap is that the Kurds have lacked the organized apparatus of a sovereign state, which allowed Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran to produce symbolic scholarly justifications of their “distinct” collective national identities in the eyes of outsiders. These works in turn engendered the binding glue of pride to help create “nations” from the disparate elements found within their boundaries when they were created.

In the same stroke, these very same nation-states have attempted to stop the growth of the Kurdish people as a distinct and separate national entity. Often they have tried to do away with them altogether.

They have glossed over the Kurdish past, denying the originality of this ancient culture, and preventing original research on any topic of national importance to ethnic Kurds. They have created and foisted false identities onto the Kurds—such as the labels “Mountain Turk” in Turkey, and “Umayyad Arab” in Syria and Iraq for the Yezidi Kurds. They have simply denied the Kurds separate ethnic existence in Iran, Soviet Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. In doing this these modern nation-states have done plenty to confuse even the Kurds themselves.

It is an astonishing fact, if not an outright embarrassment, that not a single archaeological object has ever been identified as “Kurdish” in any museum anywhere in the world—not even a broken arrowhead, a pottery shard, or a piece of mosaic. This omission is made more glaring by the fact that every other ethnographic grouping of people, including the stone-age cultures of pre-Columbian North America, Australia, the Pacific islands, and Africa, has had historical artifacts identified for it in museums.

Except for rugs, and (very recently) paintings, the same omissive treatment continues for modern specimens of Kurdish artistic creation as well. Despite the Kurdish origin of over three-quarters of the hand-made rugs and kilims produced in contemporary Turkey, no specimen is actually identified as Kurdish within the boundaries of that state.

In this work I have tried to identify and delineate the heritage of the Kurds, now thoroughly submerged in the accepted and standard models for subdividing Middle Eastern civilization, none of which is designed to accommodate the stateless Kurds.

As to who is a Kurd and who is not, this work respects the claim of anyone who calls himself a Kurd, regardless of the dialect he speaks, religion he practices, or state where he lives. As to who was a Kurd, I treat as Kurdish every community that has ever inhabited the territory of Kurdistan and has not acquired a separate identity to this day, or been unequivocally connected with another identifiable nation the bulk of which is or was living outside the territories of Kurdistan. This is consistent with what is accepted by consensus for the identification of ancient Egyptians or Greeks and the relationship they have to modern Egyptians and Greeks.

By the same certainty that we accept the inhabitants of pharaonic Egypt as the unquestionable forbearers of the modern Egyptians, despite the fact that they spoke a different language, practiced a different religion, and had different racial characteristics, the ancient inhabitants of Kurdistan ought to be equally treated as the forbearers of the modern ones. This topic is elucidated in the section on National Identity.

This book is meant to serve as a reference manual to provide a reasonably brief but documented insight into matters Kurdish, beginning always with their historical background and, if relevant, geographical setting. Only the main points and the major causes and effects are discussed here. As one might expect, no people can be described fairly in the space of a single volume. But even the most basic knowledge of the Kurds is scanty. Not even now, at the end of the second millennium and in the age of space travel, is anyone sure how many Kurds there are. It is hoped this book will be a useful contribution and basis for further research.

This work is targeted at the widest possible audience: the public, the press, teachers, students, scholars, and even travelers. It is a source to check one’s data quickly or simply provide oneself for the first time with an understanding of the people and land of Kurdistan.

A more complete reference/textbook, A Basic Study of the Land and People of Kurdistan, is under preparation by this author. It is hoped that it will provide readers with a far more detailed view of the Kurds, their land, history, and culture. A companion Atlas of the Kurds is also under preparation.

While the final editorial revisions of this work were underway, the Soviet Union, the last of the great European empires, joined history. Since it will be long before a stable alternative state takes hold in the former Soviet territories, the name “Soviet Union” and the adjective “Soviet” are used in this work for what they represented before the recent changes.

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