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Rebellion in the mountains.

The Kurds are people of Indo-European origin. They live mainly in the mountains and uplands where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran meet, in an area known as Kurdistan.

Although there are minor Kurdish communities in Lebanon, and Armenia, about half of the world's 25 million to 30 million Kurds live in Turkey, making up more than 20 percent of the country's population. Six million to seven million live in Iran (about 10 percent of the people), 3.5 million to four million live in Iraq (about 23 percent of the population), and 1.5 million live in Syria. Most Kurdish people are Sunni Muslim. Before World War I, they led a nomadic life of sheep and goat herding. The breakup of the Ottoman Empire after the war created a number of new nation-states, but not a separate Kurdistan. No longer free to roam, Kurds had to abandon their seasonal migrations, language, and traditional ways.

After World War I, the Kurds were promised an independent state by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But, it never happened and they found themselves divided among Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. None of these wanted to recognize the Kurdish state. The Kurdish minority was treated with suspicion everywhere, and pressured to conform to the ways of the majority.

Turkish forces put down Kurdish uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s, and continued to repress their culture and language for decades.

More than half a century later, in 1978, the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) was formed, advocating Kurdish independence. While many see the PKK as the only modern Kurdish movement, the party also works through violent guerrilla warfare. The PKK recruited thousands of young Kurds who fought Turkish forces (starting in 1984) for years. In 1992, the Turkish government again attacked its Kurdish minority, killing more than 20,000 and creating about two million refugees. In 1995, Turkey waged a military campaign against PKK base camps in northern Iraq, and in 1999 it captured the guerrillas' leader, and condemned him to death. According to one estimate, the 15-year conflict cost about 30,000 lives.

The Kurds had brief success in Iran: in 1946, they established the republic of Mahabad with the help of the Soviet Union. But, this flirtation with independence only lasted a few months; more than 30 years later, in 1979, the Kurds established an unofficial border area free of the Iranian government amidst Iran's revolution, but they didn't hold the area for long.

Similarly, revolts were crushed in Iraq. Although Baghdad granted the Kurds language rights and self rule in 1970, the deal ultimately broke down, partly over off revenues. New clashes broke out in 1974 and 130,000 Kurds were forced into Iran. However, they found themselves without Iranian support the following year. Iraqi attacks on the Kurds continued throughout the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), culminating in poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages to crush resistance. The capture and execution of male Kurds plus the gassing cost about 200,000 lives in 1988 alone.

In 1991, after the Persian Gulf War, northern Iraq's Kurdish area came under international protection. This came after another Kurdish uprising against Iraqi rule was crushed by Saddam Hussein's forces: 500,000 Kurds fled to the Iraq-Turkey border, and more than a million fled to Iran. In 1992, the Kurds established an "autonomous region" in northern Iraq and held a general election. But, the Kurds were split into two opposed groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which fought each other in a bloody war for power over northern Iraq.

With the aim of establishing a Kurdish area as part of a democratic Iraq, the two rival factions hammered out a peace deal in 1999.

Meanwhile, the Workers' Party (PKK) continued fighting in Turkey, and rejected the Iraqi Kurds' decision to seek local self-government within a federal Iraq: the PKK wants any independent state to include all Kurds.

The last few years have seen some improvements thanks partly to a ceasefire since 1999 between the Turkish army and the insurgents of the PKK (recently renamed the Kurdish Congress for Freedom and Democracy, or KADEK).

Reforms were passed in 2002 and 2003 to help Turkish entrance in the European Union. These included ending bans on private education in Kurdish and on giving children Kurdish names; as well, emergency rule in southeast Turkey was ended, allowing many rural Kurds to travel freely to and from their villages.

In August 2003, The Economist reported that a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party believed the Kurds "are in the strongest position yet in the history of modern Iraq." With five Kurds now in Iraq's new Governing Council, the report described the Kurds as "the most organized, and in many ways the most powerful, members of the council, (representing) a large and relatively coherent constituency of five million people ..."

The same month it was reported that Turkey's attempt, with an amnesty law, to lure back about 5,000 guerrillas of the PKK from their mountain strongholds in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, was a failure. That's because the amnesty doesn't include the PKK's leaders, and rebels who turn themselves in have to provide information on those who don't in order to receive reduced sentences. The guerrillas were holding out for a full amnesty.

At the same time, human rights advocates reported that police and prosecutors still harass and detain people deemed to stir up Kurdish sentiment, indicating that the new laws have not brought new attitudes. By August 2003, it was still illegal for a Kurd to register his child with a Kurdish name. And, while three out of four Kurds do not vote for Kurdish parties in Turkey, the sizeable minority who do say all they really want is cultural, linguistic, and general human fights for Kurds.

FACT FILE

Until very recently, the Turkish government refused to recognize the Kurds as a separate people, calling them Mountain Turks.

FACT FILE

The Kurdish independence fighters are called peshmerga (those who face death).

HELL IN HALABJA

Mustard gas is horrible stuff. It's actually made up of carbon, hydrogen, chlorine, and either sulphur or nitrogen. It contains no mustard but has a mustard-like smell, hence the name. When it comes into contact with human skin it causes huge, painful blisters. Inhaled it causes severe damage to the lungs and other internal organs. More than the slightest whiff of mustard gas is almost always fatal. As can be imagined from the effects described above, it is a hard death.

On 16 March 1988, Saddam Hussein's forces dropped mustard gas, nerve agents, and other chemical weapons on the mainly Kurdish town of Halabja. More than 5,000 people died in a single day in what was the worst ever chemical attack on a civilian population. In the justification for the attack on Iraq in 2003 much was made of the gassing of Halabja; it was cited as powerful evidence of the kind of monster Saddam Hussein was as Iraq's dictator.

FACT FILE

Kurdistan was once a busy trading center located along the Silk Road, the trade route linking Asia and Europe. After the 1500s, however, traders started using sea routes and the area fell into a long period of decline.

FACT FILE

Some scholars believe Kurds invented farming.

Websites

Kurdistan Democratic Party--http: //www.kdp. pp.se/

Kurdistan Links--http:// www.politicalresources. net/kurdistan.htm

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan--http://www.puk. org/
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Title Annotation:Stateless Peoples--Kurds
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:1233
Previous Article:A troublesome island.
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