The Kurds - People Without a State


The Kurds are an ancient people of the Middle East. They live in a mountainous region called Kurdistan, which includes parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Kurds, who are Muslims and speak a language that is like Persian, have lived in this region for thousands of years, but they have never had a country of their own. Instead they have been oppressed a lot by other people.

There are about 30 million Kurds today. Almost half of them live in Turkey, where they make up 20% of that population. Other countries in the Middle East with a large Kurdish population are Iran, Iraq and Syria. Many Kurds have come to Europe where they live in Germany, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

Kurds often live in tribes in the countryside. They are farmers who grow cotton, tobacco and sugar beets. Some of them are nomads who raise sheep and goats. They bring their animals to mountain pastures in the summer and return to their home villages in the winter. Many Kurds have specialized on the production of textiles and handicrafts, especially carpets and rugs. In the past decades some have gone to larger cities outside Kurdistan, like Istanbul or Ankara.


After the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the beginning of the 20 th century new states like Iraq or Syria were created in the Middle East but not a separate Kurdistan. At first the Kurds were promised their own country but then the new Middle Eastern states did not want an independent Kurdistan. Since this period Kurds have always fought for their independence. This has led to conflicts in the countries in which they live.





The Kurds were treated very badly, especially by the Turkish government, who called them “Mountain Kurds”. They forbade them to speak their language and didn’t wear traditional Kurdish clothes in the cities.

In Iraq the Kurds have faced a similar repression. In the 1980s they helped Iran in the war against Iraq. Saddam Hussein punished the Kurds by attacking villages with chemical weapons. Thousands were killed, many fled to Iran. After the Gulf War, in which the Kurds once again started a rebellion against the Iraqi government, the United States created a safe zone for the Kurds in northern Iraq.


In 1978 Abdullah Öcalan founded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, considered to be a terrorist organization and which has been fighting against the Turkish army. In 1999 Turkish authorities captured Öcalan in Kenya. He was put on trial in Turkey and sentenced to death. But the sentence was later on turned into life in prison.

Some Turkish leaders have realized that more democracy and less repression may be the only way to improve the life of the Kurds in Turkey. Others think, however, that the success of the Iraqi Kurds may encourage their Turkish neighbors.



Where Kurds Live


Middle East


15 million


5 million


5 million


1.5 million



600 000


120 000


100 000

The Netherlands

70 000


60 000


50 000



200 000


100 000


Related Topics



  • ancient = old
  • authority = people who are in charge of certain things
  • capture = to catch a person and put them into prison
  • carpet = a material that you cover the floors with
  • chemical weapon = something poisonous ,like a gas, that you use in war
  • considered = thought to be
  • collapse = if something becomes weak or falls apart
  • conflict = argument between groups or people
  • cotton = a plant with white hairs on its seeds , used to make clothes
  • create = make
  • decade = ten years
  • empire = group of countries that is ruled by a king
  • encourage = to tell someone to do something because you think it is good
  • especially = more than usual
  • face = to deal with
  • flee-fled = to escape to
  • forbid - forbade = not allow
  • found-founded = to start something
  • government = the group of people who rule a country
  • handicraft = an activity in which you use your hands to make things
  • improve = to make better
  • include = part of something larger
  • independent = not controlled by another country
  • instead = in its place
  • life in prison = you must spend your whole life in prison
  • oppress = to treat a group of people very badly or unfairly
  • Ottoman Empire = a large empire that had its centre in Turkey and stretched to Eastern Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. It was most powerful in the 16th century and ended after World War I
  • pasture = land or field with grass that cows or sheep feed on
  • Persian = about Iran
  • population = the people who live in a country
  • promise =to tell someone that you will do something
  • punish = to make someone suffer because they have done something wrong
  • raise = to look after and feed animals so that you can sell them
  • realize = to start to understand something
  • repression = when you are not allowed to do or say what you want
  • rug = like a carpet, but smaller
  • safe zone = an area where people are safe from their enemies
  • sentence = to give someone punishment
  • separate = here: independent
  • similar = like something,the same as
  • Specialize =concentrate on, focus on
  • sugar beet = a vegetable that grows under the ground and from which you can make sugar
  • trial = in a court you decide if someone is guilty or not
  • tribe = a group of people who have the same language , religion and race and are ruled by a leader =
  • wear = to have clothes on your body