Peoples and nations today: Kurdistan

DOSSIER. With an estimated 30 to 40 million inhabitants, Kurdistan is undoubtedly one of the most populous stateless nations on the planet. The Kurds, straddling Europe and Asia and split between four different states, are linked by their ancient language and history. But despite their demographic and cultural importance, the Kurdish people still suffer discrimination and abuse at the hands of their respective states, perhaps with the single exception of Iraq.

Kurdistan today
Only in Iraq do the Kurds have any degree of autonomy, in the form of an autonomous region within a semi-federal system. The three other states between which Kurdistan is divided - Turkey, Syria and Iran - continue to ignore the collective rights of the Kurdish people.

In Turkey, the main Kurdish political party and the only one with representation in the Turkish Parliament is the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which currently risks being banned by the Chief Prosecutor for alleged links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK, a militant Kurdish nationalist organization). See the relevant Nationalia article.

Meanwhile, the Turkish army continues to make regular incursions into the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, close to the border with the Turkish state. The inhabitants of the region endure frequent bombardments supposedly intended to eliminate enclaves of the PKK.

Syria's Kurdish population are prevented from participating in political life. Activists, intellectuals, journalists and members of clandestine parties frequently fall victim to abuse at the hands of Syrian authorities. See relevant MónDivers article.

Iran is also known for failing to respect the human rights of its minorities, of which the Kurds are one of the main exponents. Amnesty International recently highlighted the case of 50 Kurdish prisoners who went on hunger strike to protest against "the torture and executions" to which the members of the Kurdish nation are subjected. Press release available here.

As already mentioned, Iraq is the only part of Kurdistan where political boundaries more or less coincide with national boundaries, which guarantees a degree of respect for the collective rights of the Kurdish people. But Kurds in the north of the Autonomous Region live with the threat of attacks by the Turkish army constantly hanging over them.

One of the major issues faced by the Iraqi Autonomous Region of Kurdistan is the status of the city of Kirkuk, which officially lies outside of the region's boundaries despite its large Kurdish population. The oil-rich city is disputed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. See RFE/RL article.