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Kurdish-inhabited areas.
Language Kurdish
Location Western and Northwestern Iranian Plateau: Upper Mesopotamia, Zagros, Southeastern Anatolia, including parts of northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey[1]
Area (Est.) 190,000 km²–390,000 km²
74,000 sq.mi–151,000 sq.mi
Population 25 to 30 Million (Kurdish Population) (Est.)[2]

Kurdistan (Kurdish: كوردستان/Kurdistan, literally meaning "the land of Kurds",[3] formerly Curdia[4], Curdistan[5][6] Ancient Corduene[7]) is an extensive plateau and mountainous area in the Middle East, inhabited mainly by Kurds. It covers parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and smaller parts of northern Syria and Armenia.[8] It roughly encompasses the Zagros and the eastern Taurus mountain ranges.[9]

From a political standpoint, Iraqi Kurdistan is the only region which has gained official recognition internationally as an autonomous federal entity.[10]Although the Kurds in Iran are also officially recognized as a minority.



Ancient period

Ancient Kurdistan as Kard-uchi, during Alexander the Great's Empire, 4th century BC

Various groups, among them the Guti, Hurrian , Mannai (Mannaeans), Medes had lived in this region in antiquity[11] The original Mannaean homeland was situated east and south of the Lake Urmia, roughly centered around modern-day Mahabad.[12] The Medes came under Persian rule during the reign of Cyrus the Great and Darius.

Kingdom of Corduene which emerged from the declining Seleucid Empire, was located to the south and south-east of Lake Van between Persia and Mesopotamia and ruled northern Mesopotamia and southeastern Anatolia from 189 BC to AD 384. At its zenith, the Roman Empire ruled large Kurdish-inhabited areas, particularly the western and northern Kurdish areas in the Middle East. Corduene became a vassal state of the Roman Republic in 66 BC and remained allied with the Romans until AD 384. Corduene was situated to the east of Tigranocerta, i.e., to the east and south of present-day Diyarbakır in south-eastern Turkey.

Many historians have identified Corduene‎, with the modern names of Kurds and Kurdistan[13][14][15]. Although T. A. Sinclair has dismissed this identification as false, [16] however, Kurds are commonly identified with the ancient Corduene according to Columbia Encyclopedia. [17]

19th-century map showing the location of the Kingdom of Corduene in 60 B.C

Some of the ancient districts of Kurdistan and their corresponding modern names are listed below.[18]

  1. Corduene or Gordyene (Siirt, Bitlis and Şırnak)
  2. Sophene (Diyarbakır)
  3. Zabdicene or Bezabde (Gozarto d'Qardu or Jazirat Ibn or Cizre)
  4. Basenia (Bayazid)
  5. Moxoene (Muş)
  6. Nephercerta (Miyafarkin)
  7. Artemita (Van)

One of the earliest records of the phrase land of the Kurds is found in a Syriac Christian document of late antiquity describing the stories of Christian saints of Middle East such as the holy Abdisho. When the Sassanid Marzban asked Mar Abdisho about his place of origin, he replied that according to his parents, they were originally from Hazza, a village in Assyria. However they were later driven out of Hazza by pagans, and settled in Tamanon, which according to holy Abdisho was in the land of the Kurds. Tamanon lies just north of the modern Iraqi-Turkey border. Also Hazza is located 12 km southwest of modern Irbil. In another passage in the same document, the region of Khabur is also identified as land of the Kurds.[19]

Medieval period

Map by Mahmud al-Kashgari (1074), showing Arz ul Akrad Arabic for land of Kurds located between Arz ush Sham (Syria), and Arz ul Iraqeyn (Iraq Arabi and Iraq Ajami).

In the second half of the 10th century, Kurdistan was shared amongst five big Kurdish principalities. In the North the Shaddadid (951–1174) (in parts of Armenia and Arran) and the Rawadid (955–1221) (in Tabriz and Maragheh), in the East the Hasanwayhid (959–1015) and the Annazid (990–1116) (in Hulwan, Kermanshah and Khanaqin) and in the West the Marwanid (990–1096) of Diyarbakır.

Kurdistan in the Middle Ages was referred to a collection of semi-independent or in some cases independent states called "emirates". It was nominally under indirect political or religious influence of Khalifs or Shahs. A comprehensive history of these states and their relationship with their neighbors is given in the famous textbook of "Sharafnama" written by Prince Sharaf al-Din Bitlisi in 1597.[20][21] The best-known Kurdish Emirates included Baban, Soran, Badinan and Garmiyan in present-day Iraq; Bakran, Botan (or Bokhtan) and Badlis in Turkey, and Mukriyan and Ardalan in Iran.

Modern period

In the 16th century, the Kurdish-inhabited areas were split between Safavid Iran and the Ottoman Empire after prolonged wars. The first important division of Kurdistan occurred in the aftermath of the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. This division was formalized in the Treaty of Zuhab in 1639.[22] Before World War I, most Kurds lived within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire in the province of Kurdistan.[citation needed]. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Allies agreed and planned to create several countries within its former boundaries. Originally Kurdistan, along with Armenia, was to be one of them, according to the never-ratified Treaty of Sèvres. However, the reconquest of these areas by Kemal Atatürk and other pressing issues caused the Allies to accept the renegotiated Treaty of Lausanne, accepting the border of the modern Republic of Turkey and leaving the Kurds without a self-ruled region. Other Kurdish areas were assigned to the new British and French mandated states of Iraq and Syria under both treaties.

The Kurdish delegation made a proposal at the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1945, showing the geographical extent of Kurdistan as claimed by the Kurds. This proposal encompasses an area extending from the Mediterranean shores near Adana to the shores of the Persian Gulf near Bushehr, and it includes the Lur inhabited areas of southern Zagros.[23][24]

Since World War I, Kurdistan has been divided between several states, in each of which Kurds are minorities. At the end of the First Gulf War, the Allies established a safe haven in northern Iraq. Amid the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from three northern provinces, Iraqi Kurdistan emerged as an autonomous entity inside Iraq, with its own local government and parliament in 1992.


Culturally and historically Kurdistan has been part of what is known as Greater Iran[citation needed] (or historic Persia)[citation needed].Kurds who speak a Northwestern Iranian language known as Kurdish comprise the majority of the population of the region there are also communities of Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Azeri, Jewish, Ossetian, Persian, and Turkic people traditionally scattered throughout the region. Most of its inhabitants are Muslim, but there are also significant numbers of other religious sects such as Yazidi, Yarsan, Alevi, Christian,[citation needed] Jewish.[citation needed]


The Zagros Mountains from space, September 1992.

According to Encyclopædia Britannica, Kurdistan covers about 190,000 km², and its chief towns are Diyarbakır (Amed), Bitlis (Bedlîs) and Van (Wan) in Turkey, Mosul (Mûsil), Arbil (Hewlêr) and Kirkuk (Kerkûk) in Iraq, and Kermanshah (Kirmanşan), Sanandaj (Sine) and Mahabad (Mehabad) in Iran.[25] According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Kurdistan covers around 190,000 km² in Turkey, 125,000 km² in Iran, 65,000 km² in Iraq, and 12,000 km² in Syria and the total area of Kurdistan is estimated at approximately 392,000 km².[26] Others estimate as many as 40 million Kurds live in Kurdistan, which covers an area as big as France. The Kurdistan Province in Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan are both included in the usual definition of Kurdistan.

Historic map from 1721, showing borders of Curdistan provinces.

Iranian Kurdistan encompasses Kurdistan Province and greater parts of West Azarbaijan, Kermanshah, Īlām provinces. Iraqi Kurdistan is divided into six governorates, three of which—and parts of others—are under the control of Kurdistan Regional Government. Syrian Kurdistan is mostly located in present-day northeastern Syria. This region covers the greater part of the province of Al Hasakah. The main cities in this region are Al-Qamishli (Kurdish: Qamişlû) and Al Hasakah (Kurdish: Hesaka). Another region with a significant Kurdish population is in the northern part of Syria. The Kurdish-inhabited northern and northeastern parts of Syria in Kurdish is called Kurdistana Binxetê.[27] (See Demographics of Syria and Syria in the CIA World Factbook). A large area of south eastern Turkey is also home to estimated 15 to 20 million Kurds.[28]


Typical forest in Kurdistan.

Kurdistan is a mountainous region with a cold climate and it receives enough annual precipitation to sustain temperate forests and shrubs. Mountain chains are covered with pasture, and its valleys with forests. There are around 16 million hectares (160,000 km²) of forests in all parts of Kurdistan. Firs, other conifers, and oaks can be found in those forests. Deciduous Platanus, willow, and poplar trees are found near waters and river banks.[26] The cutting of trees for fuel has reduced the size of forests over time.

Splendid canyon, north eastern Kurdistan


Mountains, even to this day, have been important geographical and symbolic figures in Kurdish life, so that there is a saying that "Kurds have no friends but the mountains".[29] The Mount Judi is the most important mountain in Kurdish folklore and along with Mount Ararat, as one of them is thought to be the final resting place of Noah's Ark[30]. Other important mountains of Kurdistan are Zagros, Shingar, Qendil, Shaho, Gabar, Hamrin, Nisir etc.


Zab(Zê) river in Zebari region, Iraqi Kurdistan.

There are many rivers in Kurdistan that are at least as important, if not more important, than oil. The plateaus and mountains of Kurdistan, which are characterized by heavy rainfall and in winter a heavy coat of snow, are a water reservoir for the Near and Middle East. This is the source of the famous Tigris and Euphrates Rivers as well as numerous other smaller rivers like the Khabur, Tharthar, Ceyhan, Araxes, Kura, Sefidrud, Karkha, and Hezil, the major tributaries of which spring from the mountains of Kurdistan. Those rivers that are entirely or nearly entirely in Kurdistan are usually of historical importance to the Kurds. Among these are the Murat (Arasān) and Buhtān rivers in northern and western Kurdistan (in Turkey); the Peshkhābur, the Lesser and the Greater Zab, and the Sirwan/Diyala in central Kurdistan (in Iraq); and the Jaghatu (Zarrinarud), the Tātā'u (Siminarud), the Zohāb (Zahāb), and the Gāmāsiyāb in southern Kurdistan.

With their water, the Tigris and the Euphrates give life not only to the Mesopotamian plain and the whole of Kurdistan but also to Iraq and Syria. These rivers, which flow down from heights of three to four thousand meters above sea level, are also very significant for the production of energy. Iraq and Syria have built numerous dams across these rivers and their tributaries. The most important ones are a series of dams that were built by Turkey as part of the GAP project (Southeast Anatolia Project). The GAP project is still not complete, but it already supplies a significant proportion of Turkey's electrical-energy needs. Due to the extraordinary archæological richness of the land, almost any dam built in Kurdistan drowns a portion of Kurdish history.[31]


Kurdistan extends to Lake Urmia in Iran on the east and to semi-contiguous Kurdish-inhabited regions to the west on the Mediterranean shore. The region includes Lake Van, the largest body of water in Turkey; in the entire Middle East, the only larger lake is Lake Urmia—but Lake Urmia is not nearly as deep, so Lake Van contains a much larger volume of water. The Zarivar Lake west of Marivan, as well as Lake Dukan near the city of Sulaymaniyah, are significant tourist sites.[31]

Underground resources

There are many oil and mineral resources in Kurdistan. KRG-controlled parts of Iraqi Kurdistan only by itself is estimated to have around 45bn barrels of oil reserves making it sixth largest in the world, mostly recently discovered. Extraction of these reserves is said to begin within the first three months of 2007. These are excluding those of Kirkuk and Mosul, cities claimed by the KRG to be included in its territory, though in these two cities oil was extracted predominantly by Iraq's former Baath regime.

As of July 2007, the Kurdish government is inviting foreign companies to invest in 40 new oil sites, with the hope of increasing regional oil production over the next half decade by a factor of five, to about 1 million barrels per day (160,000 m³/d).[32] Gas and associated gas reserves are in excess of 100 TCF. Other underground resources that exist in significant quantities in the region include copper, iron, zinc and limestone which is used to produce cement. The world's largest deposit of rock sulphur is located just southwest of Erbil (Hewlêr). Other important underground resources include coal, gold, and marble.[33]

Subdivisions (Upper and Lower Kurdistan)

In A Dictionary of Scripture Geography (published 1846), John Miles describes Upper and Lower Kurdistan as following:

Modern Curdistan is of much greater extent than the ancient Assyria, and is composed of two parts the Upper and Lower. In the former is the province of Ardelan, the ancient Arropachatis, now nominally a part of Irak Ajami, and belonging to the north west division called Al Jobal. It contains five others namely, Betlis, the ancient Carduchia, lying to the south and south west of the lake Van. East and south east of Betlis is the principality of Julamerick, south west of it is the principality of Amadia. the fourth is Jeezera ul Omar, a city on an island in the Tigris, and corresponding to the ancient Bezabde. the fifth and largest is Kara Djiolan, with a capital of the same name. The pashalics of Kirkook and Solimania also comprise part of Upper Curdistan. Lower Curdistan comprises all the level tract to the east of the Tigris, and the minor ranges immediately bounding the plains and reaching thence to the foot of the great range, which may justly be denominated the Alps of western Asia. [34]

The northern, northwestern and northeastern parts of Kurdistan are called upper Kurdistan. It includes the areas from west of Amed to lake Urmia.

The lowlands of southern Kurdistan are called lower Kurdistan. the main cities in this area are Kirkuk and Arbil. The city of Kirkuk was often called the capital or the largest city of lower Kurdistan.

Conflict and controversy

The incorporation into Turkey of the Kurdish-inhabited regions of eastern Anatolia was opposed by many Kurds, and has resulted in a long-running separatist conflict in which thousands of lives have been lost. The region saw several major Kurdish rebellions including; the Koçkiri Rebellion of 1920, the Sheikh Said Rebellion in 1924, the Republic of Ararat in 1927, and the Dersim Rebellion in 1937. These were forcefully put down by the Turkish authorities and the region was declared a closed military area from which foreigners were banned between 1925 and 1965.[citation needed]

The city of Batman, eastern Turkey

In 1983, the Kurdish provinces were placed under martial law in response to the activities of the militant separarist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).[35] An extremely violent guerrilla war took place through the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, in which much of the countryside was evacuated, thousands of Kurdish-populated villages were destroyed and numerous extrajudicial summary executions were carried out by both sides.[36] More than 37,000 people were killed in the violence and hundreds of thousands more were forced to leave their homes.[37] The situation in the region has since eased following the capture of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999 and the introduction of a greater degree of official tolerance for Kurdish cultural activities, encouraged by the European Union. However, some political violence is still ongoing and the Turkish-Iraqi border region remains tense.[38]


The region has an extreme continental climate—hot in the summer, bitterly cold in the winter. Despite this, much of the region is fertile and has traditionally exported grain and livestock to the cities in the plains. The local economy is dominated by animal husbandry and small-scale agriculture, with cross-border trading (especially of petroleum) providing a major source of income in the border areas. Larger-scale agriculture and industrial activities dominate the economic life of the lower-lying region around Diyarbakır, the largest Kurdish-populated city in the region. Elsewhere, however, decades of conflict and high unemployment has led to extensive migration from the region to other parts of Turkey and abroad.[36]

There are many rivers flowing and running through mountains of Kurdistan making it distinguished by its fertile lands, plentiful water, and picturesque nature. The mountainous nature of Kurdistan, the difference of temperatures in its various parts, and its wealth of waters, make Kurdistan a land of agriculture and tourism. Because of its high altitude, the climate of Kurdistan is harsh. There is a lot of snowfall in the high mountains. Precipitation varies between 200 and 400 mm a year in the plains, and between 700 and 3,000 mm a year on the high plateaux between mountain chains.[26]


Education in Kurdistan has a long history from Tekiye to Universities throughout the region.

See also


  1. ^ "Kurdistan - Definitions from Dictionary.com". http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Kurdistan. Retrieved on 2007-10-21. 
  2. ^ "Kurdish Studies Program". Florida State University. http://www.xs4all.nl/~tank/kurdish/htdocs/announce/KSF.html. Retrieved on 2007-03-17. 
  3. ^ Kurdistan, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  4. ^ Sir Anthony Sherley and His Persian Adventure, Sir Anthony Sherley, Edward Denison Ross, Published 2004 Routledge (first published 1933), 293 pages, ISBN 0415344867, page: 269
  5. ^ The Edinburgh encyclopaedia, conducted by D. Brewster—Page 511, Original from Oxford University—published 1830
  6. ^ An Account of the State of Roman-Catholick Religion, Sir Richard Steele, Published 1715
  7. ^ A.D. Lee, The Role of Hostages in Roman Diplomacy with Sasanian Persia, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 40, No. 3 (1991), pp. 366-374 (see p.371)
  8. ^ The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2005.
  9. ^ Kurdistan, Britannica Concise.
  10. ^ Iraqi Constitution, Article 113.
  11. ^ http://kurdistanica.com/english/history/articles-his/his-articles-02.html
  12. ^ Mahabad - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  13. ^ Rawlinson, George, The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7, 1871. (copy at Project Gutenberg)
  14. ^ Revue des études arméniennes, vol.21, 1988-1989, p.281, By Société des études armeniennes, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Published by Imprimerie nationale, P. Geuthner, 1989.
  15. ^ A.D. Lee, The Role of Hostages in Roman Diplomacy with Sasanian Persia, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 40, No. 3 (1991), pp. 366-374 (see p.371)
  16. ^ T. A. Sinclair, "Eastern Turkey, an Architectural and Archaeological Survey", 1989, volume 3, page 360.
  17. ^ Kurds, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001.
  18. ^ J. Bell, A System of Geography. Popular and Scientific (A Physical, Political, and Statistical Account of the World and Its Various Divisions), pp.133–4, Vol. IV, Fullarton & Co., Glasgow, 1832.
  19. ^ J. T. Walker, The Legend of Mar Qardagh: Narrative and Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq (368 pages), University of California Press, ISBN 0520245784, 2006, pp. 26, 52.
  20. ^ Sharafnama: History of the Kurish Nation
  21. ^ For a list of these entities see Kurdistan and its native Provincial subdivisions
  22. ^ C. Dahlman, The Political Geography of Kurdistan, Eurasian Geography and Economics, Vol.43, No.4, pp.271–299, 2002.
  23. ^ C. Dahlman, The Political Geography of Kurdistan, Eurasian Geography and Economics, Vol.43, No.4, p. 274.
  24. ^ The map presented by the Kurdish League Delegation, March 1945
  25. ^ Kurdistan, Encyclopædia Britannica
  26. ^ a b c Kurdistan, Encyclopaedia of Islamcurrently offline
  27. ^ Geographic Distribution of Kurdish and other Iranic Languages
  28. ^ BBC NEWS | Middle East | Kurds show coded support for PKK
  29. ^ John Bulloch and Harvey Morris, No Friends but the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds, ISBN 0-195-08075-0
  30. ^ http://www.livius.org/ap-ark/ararat/ararat.html
  31. ^ a b Economy: Water, The Encyclopædia of Kurdistan
  32. ^ Iraqi Kurds open 40 new oil sites to foreign investors | Iraq Updates
  33. ^ Official statements on the oil and gas sector in the Kurdistan region, Kurdistan Development Corporation.
  34. ^ A Dictionary of Scripture Geography, p 57, by John Miles, 486 pages, Published 1846, Original from Harvard University
  35. ^ Kurd, The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia including Atlas, 2005
  36. ^ a b Martin van Bruinessen, "Kurdistan." The Oxford Companion to the Politics of the World, 2nd edition. Joel Krieger, ed. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  37. ^ "Kurdish rebels kill Turkey troops", BBC News, 8 May 2007
  38. ^ "Turkish soldiers killed in blast", BBC News, 24 May 2007

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Coordinates: 37°00′N 43°00′E / 37°N 43°E / 37; 43

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