One of the largest nations in the world without its own country are the Kurds. The Kurds inhabit a mountainous region known as Kurdistan (“Land of the Kurds”). It is located in the Middle East and spreads across parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. However, there are also small Kurdish populations in Armenia and Azerbaijan. In total, there are about 40 million Kurds with over 6 million in Iraq, 13 million in Turkey, 3 million in Syria and 7 million in Iran.
Kurdistan, which is a region comprised of several countries. (Image Source: Decolonial Atlas)
The Kurds are an ancient people who descended from the Medes and speak an Indo-European language known as Kurdish. The dominant religion practiced by the Kurds in 200 BC to the emergence of Christianity was Zoroastrianism; less common religions included Yezidism and others. During the sixth century, the expansion of the Arab conquest gave rise to Islam among the Kurds. Though Islam became, and still is, the dominant religion, there are many other religions practiced by Kurds today such as Yezidism, Judaism, Christianity, Sufi and Baha’i. Although they accepted Islam, the Kurds refused to assimilate into Arab culture.
Territory & Language
The territory the Kurds inhabit is closely linked to their identity. The region of Kurdistan is quite unique in terms of physical landscape because its boundaries end where the mountains end. The mountainous region covers 550,000 square kilometers and comprises the Zagros, Eastern Taurus and Inner Taurus mountains. The tallest mountain in Kurdistan, Mount Agirî, is 5,137 metres high.
Since the Kurds have inhabited the mountainous area for thousands of years, many Kurdish dialects exist. The mountain ranges separate Kurdish populations, therefore the Kurdish language varies from region to region. The main dialects are Kurmancî, which is spoken by about 80% of Kurds, and Soranî, which is spoken by 20% of Kurds. The Kurmancî dialect is spoken by Kurds who live in the northern part of Kurdistan (northern Iraq, eastern Syria, southeastern Turkey), and Soranî is spoken by the Kurds in the southern area (northeastern Iraq, western Iran).
Due to the existence of many dialects, it is often difficult to communicate with Kurds who speak a different dialect. Most times I find myself asking other Kurds, “How do you say this word in your dialect?” and often times they’ll respond by saying, “we call it the same thing.” It’s almost amusing that people from such a close geographical location, the same nationality and the same culture can have difficulties speaking the same language because of the perceived difference in dialect.
A Kurdish Festival in Mexico. (Image Source: Rudaw)
Now that you have a sense of the Kurdish homeland, it’s important to acknowledge one of the main reasons that brought them to Canada. Most Kurdish Canadians immigrated to Canada during the late 1980s and early 1990s due to the Kurdish genocide in 1988-1989. Despite living away from their homeland, many Kurds still feel a strong attachment and sense of loyalty to Kurdistan. Through weddings, and celebrations, such as the Kurdish New Year, Kurds around the world continue to stay connected. They also continue to preserve their identity by wearing their cultural clothing, cooking traditional foods, and speaking their language at home. Elders in the community continue to encourage the youth to never forget their roots.
To connect with my Kurdish ancestry, I helped form the McMaster Kurdish Students’ Association to raise awareness about Kurdish culture. It has provided us a platform to not only share our culture with others, but also celebrate it amongst ourselves. I hope that by reading this article, you learned something about the Kurds yourself!