The Kurds—An Overview

Kurds in Iraq are making international headlines this week as they take steps toward national independence.

The Kurds are many things: predominantly Sunni Muslim, historically oppressed, separated between four countries. They’re also our friends—people with whom we’ve lived, worked, and whose children have received lifesaving heart surgery since our earliest days.

For the rest of this week, we are going to share more about the Kurds—who they are, what they’ve been through, and why they are significant, both for our organization and for the region.

Who are the Kurds?

The Kurds were originally a pastoral, nomadic tribe dwelling in the mountains between Persia and Asia Minor. Today, they’re one of the few non-Arab groups residing in the Middle East—and considered the largest ethnic group in the world without its own country.

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In the aftermath of WWI and subsequent re-drawing of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurdish people were left off the map. Instead, their region, generally dubbed “Kurdistan,” was parceled between Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Since then, the Kurds have pursued their independence, trying to maintain a distinct culture and language instead of fading into the customs of their respective countries.

For the next 80 years, the Kurds experienced oppression in various forms, including chemical warfare, genocide, and government mandates forbidding the use of their language.

Iraqi Kurds—the people among whom we live and work—have had more success in obtaining national rights than their brothers in Turkey, Syria, or Iran.

In 1991, US air support and an enforced no-fly zone gave Kurds the security they needed to control their own borders within Iraq. Today, the Iraqi Kurds have their own president and parliament, and comprise nearly 20 percent of Iraq’s population.

The Kurdish dream for an officially recognized nation, however, continues—so when ISIS began battling for territory in northern Iraq three weeks ago, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, saw an opportunity.

Last Thursday, he told parliament to start organizing a referendum for Kurdish independence. Read more about that here.

Check back here tomorrow to see photos of the most beautiful parts of Iraqi Kurdistan!