Peoples of Iraq: the Kurds

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The Kurds, in addition to being the second most populous ethnic group in Iraq, are also among those who have most marked its history; So let’s discover its history up to the Treaty of Sevres, a decisive turning point for the whole Middle East

The dawn of Kurds

As already said in more detail in a previous article, there are no historical certainties regarding the origins of the Kurds, who also inhabited their mountains since time immemorial. The most accepted theory is that of a union between local populations and others settled there for centuries, however it will only be starting from the 10th century that they will make a real “appearance” on the Middle Eastern scenario, becoming protagonists for many centuries to come.

From that moment, in fact, the first Kurdish principalities will be formed which, placed on the current border between Iraq, Iran and Turkey, will give a hard time to any local power, so much so that the Seljuk sultan Ahmad Sanjar in 1150 will nominate for the first time that province “Kurdistan”. About 20 years earlier, in Tikrit, Saladin was born, the greatest Kurd of all time who soon founded the Ayubbid dynasty, destined to reign until 1260 over much of the Middle East.

The Persian-Ottoman Wars

With the subsequent disintegration of the Middle East caused by the Mongols, the political picture of the region was completely upset and, once the latter were defeated, most of the Kurdish lands became part of the Safavid dominion, giving rise to very hard times for this people. As the Ottomans did centuries later, the Safavids, terrified by the lack of loyalty of their frontier subjects, gave way to forced displacements that caused incredible discontent in the population.


This will lead the Kurds to face bloody wars against the Persians, finding an indispensable ally in the Sublime Porte. The government of Istanbul granted them greater freedoms than the previous rulers and this led many of the new principalities to support the Turkish cause. This conflict will go on more or less continuously from 1514 to 1823, inevitably marking the Kurdish people who, unfortunately, lived for centuries on what will long become the frontier of the conflict.

The birth of the idea of Kurdistan

However, things will change significantly for the first time after the Russo-Ottoman war of 1828-29, as a result of which Sultan Mahmud IImore centralized the power of the provinces, creating not a little discontent. The Kurds, in fact, although considering themselves an ethnic group in its own right, had never experienced a moment of real union in their history, which began precisely as a result of this provision. The sultan had in fact canceled much of the power of the local clan leaders, laying the foundations for a revolution that would begin in 1834 with Bedr Khan, the first to truly unite all the Kurdish peoples.

Bedr Khan

This revolt, however, was definitively repressed in 1843, but in 1880 another one will arise, this time led by Sheikh Ubeydullah, which will also be repressed only a year later by the Qajar, new dynasty at the head of Persia. With a new danger represented by the Russians in the North Caucasus, the Ottomans began to distrust more and more of the Armenians, their historical fellow citizens increasingly tempted by the promises of the tsars; this led Sultan Abdul Hamid II to form the Hamidiye, cavalry corps that saw the majority ethnic component in the Kurds.

The Ottoman fall

From the sultan’s point of view, it was better to put power in Kurdish hands rather than risk revolts by Armenians and Assyrians who, according to the Sublime Porte, would have found precious allies in London and Moscow to weaken the already sick Europe. Unfortunately, this led to indiscriminate massacres of civilians, culminating in the Genocide of the Armenians and Assyrians, without a shadow of a doubt the lowest moment in all of Ottoman history.


However, with the Treaty of Sevres, the Kurds were granted their own autonomous state located mostly in the extreme east of today’s Turkey; the latter, however, was soon extinguished by Atatürk and the Pahlavi who in the meantime had become the ruling dynasty of Iran. It must be said that, from some documents recently uncovered, it is clear that the Turkish leader was not so much against a Kurdish presence in the region, but absolutely against his split from Turkey. Also from the same documents, Ankara‘s support for the Simko Shikak revolts, which was the attempt at Kurdish independence in Iran, is also evident.

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