For many people in the West, their first real knowledge of the Kurds occurred a decade ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf War. The Kurdish minority in Iraq, encouraged by Saddam Husseins defeat and American rhetoric calling for his removal, rose in revolt. This rebellion was soon brutally crushed by Saddam, as the American government stood by and allowed massacres to occur. Millions of Kurds fled to Turkey and Iran, each nation "reluctant hosts". As another writer points out: "It is a sad feature of the Kurdish question that the only times it is brought to our notice is at moments of conflict". But who are the Kurds, what is their culture, and where do they fit into the history of the Middle East?
Ethnic Minority of the Middle East
The Kurdish people form an ethnic minority in several major Middle Eastern states, including the following:
In 1992, there were approximately 15 million Kurds in Turkey, comprising 25.42% of the population. Although the region known as "Kurdistan" is located in eastern Turkey, there are 2.5 million Kurds living in Istanbul, making it the largest Kurdish city in the world. Critics have charged that the Turks wish to depopulate Kurdistan by the intermixing of Kurd and Turk, thus defusing the Kurdish question in that country. In Iran, it is estimated that 8 million Kurds comprise 14% of the population, but information is scarce from Iran. In Iraq, 5.2 million Kurds make up 30% of the population, including 500,000 residents of Baghdad.
There are also 1.5 million Kurds in concentrated communities in Syria, and 500,000 in regions of the former Soviet Union. There are also significant Kurdish communities in Afghanistan, Iranian Khorasan, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the United States. Altogether, there are 31 million Kurds worldwide, most of who still live in Kurdistan. The Kurds are the third most populous nation in Western Asia, behind Arabs and Turks, and two-thirds of the member nations of the UN have smaller populations than Kurdistan. Yet the Kurds have no nation of their own. The Syrian Kurds, for example, "have seldom occupied a place in the world press" since their numbers are so few. They are "hence less prone to uprisings against the government in demand of their rights." These Kurds live on the plains just south of the foothills of western Kurdistan in Turkey, a region not suitable to guerilla warfare and isolated from the outside world.