Kurdistan: N Iraq, N Syria, NW Iran and SE Turkey

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq (or simply KRI) is an autonomous region in the northern parts of Iraq comprising the four Kurdish-majority populated governorates of Dohuk, Erbil, Halabja and Sulaymaniyah and borders Iran, Syria and Turkey. The Kurdistan Region encompasses most of Iraqi Kurdistan but excludes Kurdish areas which Iraq has been preventing the Kurds from governing since Kurdish autonomy was realized in 1992 with the first Kurdish elections in the aftermath of the Gulf War. The Kurdistan Region Parliament is situated in Erbil, which is the largest Kurdish city in Iraq, but the Kurdish constitution declares the disputed city of Kirkuk to be the capital of Kurdistan. When the Iraqi Army withdrew from most parts of the disputed areas in mid-2014 because of the ISIL offensive in Northern Iraq, Kurdish Peshmerga entered the areas and held control there until October 2017.

The Kurds in Iraq oscillatingly fought for either autonomy or independence throughout the 20th century and experienced Arabization and genocide at the hands of Iraq. However, the American-led no fly zone from March 1991 on over most of Iraqi Kurdistan gave the Kurds a chance to experiment with self-governance and the autonomous region was de facto established. However, Iraq only recognized the autonomy of Kurdistan after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 with a new Iraqi constitution in 2005. A non-binding independence referendum was held in September 2017 which created mixed reactions internationally.

Before Iraq became an independent state in 1923, the Kurds had already begun their independence struggle from the British Mandate of Iraq with the Mahmud Barzanji revolts which were subsequently crushed by the United Kingdom after a bombing campaign against Kurdish civilians by the Royal Air Force. Nonetheless, the Kurdish struggle persisted and the Barzani tribe had by the early 1920s gained momentum for their nationalist beliefs and would become pivotal in the Kurdish-Iraqi wars throughout the 20th century. In 1943, the Barzani chief Mustafa Barzani began the Kurdish quest for autonomy by raiding Iraqi police stations in Kurdistan which triggered Iraq to deploy 30,000 troops to the region and the Kurdish leadership had to flee to Iran in 1945. In Iran, Mustafa Barzani founded the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Iran and the Soviet Union began assisting the Kurdish rebels with arms. Israel subsequently began assisting the Kurdish rebels by the early 1960s as well.

From 1961 to 1970, the Kurds fought Iraq in the First Iraqi–Kurdish War which resulted in the Iraqi–Kurdish Autonomy Agreement but simultaneously with the promise of Kurdish autonomy, the Iraqi government began ethnic cleansing Kurdish populated areas to reduce the possible size of the autonomous entity which a census would determine. This mistrust provoked the Second Iraqi–Kurdish War between 1974 and 1975 which ultimately resulted in a devastation for the Kurds and forced all rebels to flee to Iran.

The more left-leaning Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was founded in 1975 by Jalal Talabani and regenerated the Kurdish insurgency with guerrilla warfare tactics as the Kurdistan Democratic Party was slowly recovering from their defeat. However, the Kurdish insurgency became entangled in Iran–Iraq War from 1980 on. During the first years of the war in the early 1980s, the Iraqi government tried to accommodate the Kurds in order to focus on the war against Iran. In 1983, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan agreed to cooperate with Baghdad, but the Kurdistan Democratic Party remained opposed. In 1983, Saddam signed an autonomy agreement with Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), though Saddam later reneged on the agreement. By 1985, the PUK and KDP had joined forces, and Iraqi Kurdistan saw widespread guerrilla warfare up to the end of the war. On 15 March 1988, PUK forced captured the town of Halabja near the Iranian border and inflicted heavy loses among Iraqi soldiers. The Iraqis retaliated the following day by chemically bombing the town killing about 5,000 civilians. This led the Americans and the Europeans to implement the Iraqi no-fly zones in March 1991 to protect the Kurds, thereby facilitating Kurdish autonomy amid the vacuum and the first Kurdish elections were consequently held in May 1992, wherein the Kurdistan Democratic Party secured 45.3% of the vote and a majority of seats.

The Kurdistan Region became politically divided with two administrations (the 50:50 system) with KDP controlling the Erbil and Dohuk Governorates, while PUK took control of Sulaymaniyah Governorate to the east.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), often referred to as Rojava, is a de facto autonomous region in northeastern Syria. It consists of self-governing sub-regions in the areas of Afrin, Jazira, Euphrates, Raqqa, Tabqa, Manbij and Deir Ez-Zor. The region gained its de facto autonomy in 2012 in the context of the ongoing Rojava conflict and the wider Syrian Civil War, in which its official military force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has taken part. While entertaining some foreign relations, the region is not officially recognized as autonomous by the government of Syria or any international state or organization. Northeastern Syria is polyethnic and home to sizeable ethnic Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian populations, with smaller communities of ethnic Turkmen, Armenians and Circassians.

Northern Syria is part of the Fertile Crescent, and includes archaeological sites dating to the Neolithic, such as Tell Halaf. In antiquity, the area was part of the Mitanni kingdom, its centre being the Khabur river valley in modern-day Jazira Region. It was then part of Assyria, with the last surviving Assyrian imperial records, from between 604 BC and 599 BC, were found in and around the Assyrian city of Dūr-Katlimmu. Later it was ruled by different dynasties and empires – the Achaemenids of Iran, the Hellenes who succeeded Alexander the Great, the Artaxiads of Armenia, Rome, the Iranian Parthians and Sasanians, then by the Byzantines and successive Arab Islamic caliphates.

Kurdish settlement in Syria goes back to before the Crusades of the 11th century. A number of Kurdish military and feudal settlements from before this period have been found in Syria. Such settlements have been found in the Alawite and north Lebanese mountains and around Hama and its surroundings. The Crusade fortress of Krak des Chevaliers, which is known in Arabic as Hisn al-Akrad (Castle of the Kurds), was originally a Kurdish military settlement before it was enlarged by the French Crusaders. Similarly, the Kurd-Dagh (Kurdish Mount) has been inhabited by Kurds for more than a millennium.

During the Ottoman Empire (1516–1922), large Kurdish-speaking tribal groups both settled in and were deported to areas of northern Syria from Anatolia. The demographics of this area underwent a huge shift in the early part of the 20th century. Some Circassian, Kurdish and Chechen tribes cooperated with the Ottoman (Turkish) authorities in the massacres of Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Upper Mesopotamia, between 1914 and 1920, with further attacks on unarmed fleeing civilians conducted by local Arab militias. Many Assyrians fled to Syria during the genocide and settled mainly in the Jazira area. Starting in 1926, the region saw another immigration of Kurds following the failure of the Sheikh Said rebellion against the Turkish authorities. While many of the Kurds in Syria have been there for centuries, waves of Kurds fled their homes in Turkey and settled in Syria, where they were granted citizenship by the French Mandate authorities. In the 1930s and 1940s, the region saw several failed autonomy movements.

Turkish Kurdistan or Northern Kurdistan is the portion of Turkey, located in the Eastern Anatolia and Southeastern Anatolia regions, where Kurds form the predominant ethnic group.

The Kurdish Institute of Paris estimates that there are 20 million Kurds living in Turkey.

Kurds generally consider southeastern Turkey to be one of the four parts of a Greater Kurdistan, which also includes parts of northern Syria (Rojava, or Western Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan) and northwestern Iran (Eastern Kurdistan).

The term Turkish Kurdistan is often associated and used in the context of Kurdish nationalism, which makes it a controversial term in Turkey. Because of this, there is ambiguity, and the term has different meaning depending on context. The term has been used in scientific papers and news media to refer to areas in southeastern Turkey with a significant Kurdish population.

Iranian Kurdistan or Eastern Kurdistan, is an unofficial name for the parts of northwestern Iran inhabited by Kurds which borders Iraq and Turkey. It includes the West Azerbaijan Province, Kurdistan Province and Kermanshah Province

Kurds generally consider northwestern Iran to be one of the four parts of a Greater Kurdistan, which also includes parts of southeastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), northern Syria (Western Kurdistan) and northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan).

According to the last census conducted in 2006, the four Kurdish-inhabited provinces in Iran – West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah Province, Kurdistan Province and Ilam Province – have a total population of 6,730,000. Pockets of Lurs inhabit the southern areas of Ilam Province.

Iranian Kurds are about 7-10% of total population of Iran. One side of sources mention that majority of Iranian Kurds are Shia, while another side mentions that Iranian Kurds are predominantly Sunni. Shia Kurds are called Feyli. They inhabit Kermanshah and areas around Kheneghin, except for those parts inhabited by the Kurdish Jaff tribe, and Ilam Province as well as some parts of the Kurdistan and Hamadan provinces. The Kurds of Khorasan Province in northeastern Iran are also adherents of Shia Islam. During the Iranian Revolution, the major Kurdish political parties were unsuccessful in absorbing Shia Kurds, who at that period had no interest in autonomy. However, since the 1990s Kurdish nationalism has seeped into a small minority of the Shia Kurdish area, partly due to outrage against government’s violent suppression of Kurds farther north.

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