Who are the Kurds?
With over 30 million people, the Kurds are the largest minority group in the Middle East without a homeland. The region was carved up by the victorious imperial powers following World War One and end of the Ottoman Empire.
Despite repeated promises of independence the Kurdish people were divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Today, Kurds in Northern Iraq have gained regional autonomy from Baghdad, while in Syria the free Kurdish cantons of Rojava form the frontline against ISIS.
Kurdish Forces and the Rescue of the Yazidis
The world’s media turned its attention to the Kurds in 2014 when ISIS attacked the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq, home to a religious minority known as the Yazidis. 50,000 Yazidis were forced to flee ethnic cleansing, taking shelter in the neighbouring mountains where they were besieged by ISIS fighters.
While western air forces dropped aid it was the YPG/YPJ and allied Kurdish fighters who broke the siege, saving thousands of lives. Along with the battle of Kobane, lifting the siege of Sinjar was the start of the fightback against ISIS.
Timeline to Kurdish Freedom
The Kurds are denied a national homeland as the Middle East is carved up after World War One.
The Turkish state launches armed conflict against the Kurdish liberation movement.
Kurdish Iraq achieves limited autonomy from Baghdad.
Abdullah Öcalan is kidnapped and imprisoned by Turkey.
The Rojava revolution begins in Northern Syria.
Raqqa falls to YPG and YPJ forces, ending the so-called ISIS caliphate.
Afrin canton of Rojava is invaded by Turkish forces.
Rojava invaded by Turkish forces.
Turkey & Syria
While Kurds live throughout the country, it is the southeastern regions which form part of the historic Kurdish homeland. This includes the major cities of Diyarbakir and Van, as well as the oilfields around the city of Batman. These cities have been targeted for persecution by Turkish President Erdogan since 2015.
In Syria, the Kurdish-controlled democratic society of Rojava is compromised of the three northern cantons of Afrin, Jazira and Euphrates.
Iraq and Iran
While the Kurdish society of Rojava achieved autonomy in 2012, a different form of autonomy has existed in Iraq since the early 1990s. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were targeted for massacre, culminating in the Halabja chemical attack which murdered at least 5,000 people in 1988.
Following the end of the Gulf War, a no-fly zone was established over Iraqi Kurdistan, leading to the formation of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), based in Erbil.
The KRG has political autonomy, with its own parliamentary elections and armed forces; however, it remains part of Iraq and has a very different political outlook on independence compared to the Kurdish movement in Rojava and Turkey.
In Iran, the mountainous areas of the North West form the most easterly part of the Kurdish regions. The Kurds are subject to brutal repression from the theocratic regime in Tehran.
Diaspora: UK, Germany & Sweden
Decades of repression since 1918 have resulted in Kurdish communities emigrating to make their home across Western Europe.
In Germany, home to the largest Kurdish population in Europe, the authorities have launched an undemocratic crackdown on any symbols of the freedom movement as the German government allies with Turkish President Erdogan.
In contrast, in Sweden, six MPs with Kurdish heritage were elected in the 2018 General Election. In the UK, Kurdish communities are a thriving part of London, Edinburgh and Portsmouth.
The international Kurdish movement is represented by the Kurdish National Congress.
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