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The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a nation, numbering over 30 million people with a common language and culture. Kurdish history came to a virtual standstill after World War I, when the region known as Kurdistan was divided between five newly formed nations: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and the former Soviet Republic of Armenia. This partitioning by the League of Nations obliterated thousands of years of Kurdish claims to the region and set in motion decades of domination, culminating in the ruthless chemical warfare waged against them by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government in 1988.
For a brief moment after the Gulf War, the Kurdish story commanded world attention, but it has since been relegated to the back pages. In an age of disposable news, the Kurds are in danger of being quickly forgotten, even though their suffering continues with no end in sight. For the first time in modern history, the Kurds are semi-autonomous in Iraq. However, the genocidal campaign of the late 1980s, combined with insidious oppression in Turkey and Syria, perpetuates the Kurds’ futile struggles to secure a homeland.
The Kurdish people who, for more than two thousand years, have been living in the lands of Anatolia and Persia, have their own unique history. Their historic homeland extends from the Anatolian plateau and plains to the Zagros mountains. But the borders of this vast land have never been officially recognised by any state. The ancient language of Kurdish, with Indo-European roots, is related to Persian and quite distinct from Arabic and Turkish, and has developed, creating several dialects, despite harsh persecution of communities speaking the language. The civilisation passed down from the ancient Kurds has produced a thriving culture which, at different times, has been influenced by Persian, Arabic and Ottoman civilisations and has combined the religions of Zoroastrianism and Islam. But it has also always remained the culture of a repressed ethnic minority.
The history of the Kurds over the centuries, ranging from the great Ottoman and Persian empires to the birth of modern nations, has been a relentless series of human dramas and political deadlocks. In the 20th century in particular, when their region was weakened a number of times and saw its geopolitical map redrawn, the Kurds never managed to gain recognition of their land and rights. Almost a century after the promise made by the Allied powers in 1920 to establish a 'Great Kurdistan' in the Middle East, the Kurds are still struggling to achieve this goal. With the exception of Iraq with a Kurdish autonomous region in the north of the country since 1992, this is an ongoing struggle of an entire people, fighting for their rights – the right to their identity and the right to self-determination.