The Kurds in the Soviet Union era between 1917 and 1956

The Kurds in the Soviet Union era between 1917 and 1956


The video link  is for the talk given on 10th October 2018 at the American University of Iraq in the South Kurdistani city of Sulaimani (AUIS), of their Department of Social Sciences.
The talk was given by Dr Jonathan Otto Pohl, Assistant Professor.




The title of the talk is “The Kurds in the Soviet Union era between 1917 and 1956”
The talk/presentation by Dr Pohl begins at minute 1:50 and ends at 35 minutes into the video, later there is a question and answer session for the remaining 10 minutes of the total 46 minutes video.


“Soviet policy towards its Kurds fluctuated and remained fragmented, ambivalent, and inconsistent throughout the existence of the USSR. On one hand, the Soviet government provided for the material and cultural development of Kurds in Armenia and Azerbaijan during the 1920s and 1930s. On the other hand, in 1937 it deported a number of Kurds from Azerbaijan and in 1944 an even larger number from Georgia to Kazakhstan and Central Asia as special settlers. The Soviet government only freed Kurdish special settlers from the legal restrictions limiting their movement and other rights in April 1956. Former Kurdish special settlers, however, could not return to the Caucasus. The Kurds remained a diaspora group in the USSR without any national territory and only limited cultural institutions. Only in the late 1980s did this situation change.”


The talk focuses on the ethnic cleansing through isolation and forced resettlement of the Soviet policies towards national and ethnic minorities living within its border. This talk sheds light and detailed statistical data and population numbers on Kurds of the Transcaucasia or South Caucasus republics (modern day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), during the Tsarist Russian empire, after the establishment of the Soviet Socialist Republics, during and after the death of Joseph Stalin.


Points of the talk

1804 Russian-Persian War

1897 Russian empire has its only (first and last) census, there was about 100 thousand people who identified themselves as Kurds

1926 and 1939 Soviet census

Aggressive systematic state sponsored assimilation of Kurds within the Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan

1926 Soviet census divides Kurds into two groups, Kurds and Ezidis


With the linguistic assimilation policies of Azerbaijan, out of the 54 thousand Kurds who identified themselves as Kurds only 3 thousand of these people stated that their mother tongue was Kurdish


The Kurdish population in Socialist republic of Azerbaijan in the later census shrank from 41 thousand to 6 thousand.


First forced resettlement of Kurds from the border areas of Socialist Azerbaijan and Iran begins in 1937 and 1938, they are transported in cattle train carts and dumped mostly within Kazakhstan.


Second and bigger forced resettlement of Kurds living on the border regions of Socialist republic of Georgia and Turkey occurs in 1944, once again taken to central asian states.
The forcefully re-settled Kurds and other minorities brought to central asian states were put under very strict conditions and tight boundaries, usually a single village.
For them to go to the bazaar of another village only 3-4 kilometers away they needed a special internal visa valid for only 3 days.


12% of the re-settled population dies from diseases and malnutrition due to lack of food.


Those who attempt to escape would face 20 years in hard labour camps, and those locals attempting to help the re-settlers to escape would face 5 years imprisonment.


From 1944-1948 the mortality (death) rate is more than the birth rate for Kurds in exile in the central asian states.


After the death of Stalin, from April 1956 restrictions of movement within central asian states are lifted for Kurds, however they are not allowed to return to their home territories in the Caucasus, and are not allowed to apply for compensation for the confiscation of their property, homes, villages and lands.


Many Kurdish men served in the Red Army during the war against Natzi Germany, they were mostly snippers and within guerilla resistance groups in Ukraine, and for this many individuals were given military awards.


In contrast to Socialist Azerbaijan’s assimilation policies, the Socialist Armenian state up until 1939 supported a lot of Kurdish language institutions, then from 1939 until the death of Stalin in 1953 this was repressed, after Stalin’s death it was once again revived, and the Armenian state continued to support and encourage Kurdish language institutions.


Jonathan Pohl has BA degree from Grinnell College in Iowa of the USA, a MA and PhD both from the University of London in the UK.
Prior to this current post at AUIS, Dr. Pohl taught in the International and Comparative Politics Department at American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan from 2007-2010. He then taught in the History Department of the University of Ghana in Legon from 2011-2016. His research interests focus on race and ethnicity in the USSR.


Books by Dr Pohl:
Catherine’s Grandchildren: A Short History of the Russian-Germans under Soviet Rule (Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia: 2008).

Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999).

The Stalinist Penal System: A Statistical History of Soviet Repression and Terror, 1930-1953 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publisher, 1997).


Ilhan Genc 

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