Nation profile


General information
30 to 40 million inhabitants
350,000 to 500,000 km²
Kurdistan Region (Iraq, officially recognized); Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Syria, non officially recogized)
Major cities
Mûsil (Mosul), Hewlêr (Arbil) and Kerkûk (Kirkuk), Amed (Diyarbakir), Bedlîs (Bitlis), Kirmaşan (Kermanshah), Sine (Sanandaj) Mehabad (Mahabad) and Qamişlo (Al Qamishli)
State administration
Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria
Territorial languages
Kurdish, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Turoyo, Arabic, Turkmen, Armenian, Chechen, Domari, others
Official languages
Turkish (Turkey); Kurdish and Arabic (Iraq); Persian (Iran); Arabic (Syria); Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian in the self-proclaimed cantons in Northern Syria
Major religion
Sunni Islam (majority); Christianity, Yazidism, Shi'a Islam, Shabakism, Zoroastrianism (minority)
National day
21st March (Newroz Day)


It is known as Kurdistan a region in the Middle East where Kurds make up the majority or a significant share of the population. No universally accepted and defined borders for that territory exist, even in places where Kurds have established their own systems of self-government.

Kurdistan spans an area straddling two major mountain ranges: the Taurus in eastern Anatolia and the Zagros, on the western limit of the Iranian plateau. According to some conceptions, the western border of Kurdistan reaches the Mediterranean Sea, while its eastern border touches the Persian Gulf. Other conceptions set the Kurdish borders tens or hundreds of kilometres away of those coasts.

In most designs, the territory of Kurdistan currently spans four sovereign countries, namely Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. This four-state division, which was consolidated at the end of the First World War, has given rise to the division that Kurdish nationalism itself uses to designate the different parts of its own territory, Bakur (the Kurdish-majority region of Turkey), Rojava (of Syria), Basûr (of Iraq) and Rojhelat (of Iran).

The Kurdish language is spoken by most of the Kurdistan population in any of its varieties. The two main ones are Kurmanji (mainly spoken in the Kurdish territories of Turkey, Syria and the west of Iraq) and Sorani (eastern Kurdish territories of Iraq, and Iran). Kurdish enjoys relatively good health wherever it is spoken, although processes of linguistic substitution towards Turkish must be pointed out in some cities in Northern Kurdistan.
Smaller communities are found throughout Kurdistan. Since the Middle Ages or before, languages such as Armenian, Turkmen, those spoken by the Assyrian people (Turoyo and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic) or by the Roma (Domari) have been continuously spoken there. Since the modern age, other languages are also being spoken, such as Chechen, as well as the standard languages of the nation-states into which Kurdistan is divided (Modern Arabic, Turkish, and Persian).

National identity

Modern Kurdish national identity began to emerge during the last decades of the 19th century, on a Kurdish ethnic consciousness that was very much alive already in the 16th century, as reflected in the works of Sharafkhan Bidlisi at that time. During the first decades of the 20th century, several Kurdish national organisations were founded, some of which advocated autonomy and others independence.

Where they are allowed, Kurdish political parties receive substantial or majority support in the elections (about 99% in Iraqi Kurdistan and 40-85% in the Kurdish-majority provinces of Turkey, 2010s).

The expression of the Kurdish national identity can be done more openly in Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava than in other Kurdish territories, given the political circumstances in each case. According to a survey among Kurdish youth in Iraqi Kurdistan (in Aziz, Mahir A., The Kurds of Iraq, 2011), 95% of respondents preferentially defined their national identity as “Kurdish” or “Kurdistani”. Another survey (in Allsop, H. and Van Wilgenburg, W., The Kurds of Northern Syria, 2019) showed that 91% of respondents in two Kurdish-majority regions of Rojava defined their identity as “Kurdish”, against 46% who defined it as “Syrian”. In Turkey, the priority identification of young Kurds as “Kurdish” was 46% in a 2020 survey carried out by the Yada Foundation, the Kurdish Studies Center, and the Rawest Research Company.

Government and administration

In the two states with the largest Kurdish population (Turkey and Iran), no system of self-government with legislative powers in which the Kurds are the majority has been put in place.

The only two Kurdish-majority territories that have its own institutions with legislative, executive and judicial powers —and some diplomacy in the international sphere— are the Region of Kurdistan (in Iraq) and the regions of Kobanê, Cizîrê, and Efrîn, integrated into the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.

The Kurdistan Region (name in official use) is a constitutionally recognized part of Iraq. It enjoys wide self-government, a government and a Parliament of its own, and its exclusive police and armed forces. Its territory is divided from the 1990s into two spheres of influence: the western region under the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the eastern under the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The borders of the Kurdistan Region have never been definitively established. The Kurdish and Iraqi governments continue to disagree on whether areas such as Kirkuk and Sinjar should join the Kurdistan Region or not. In September 2017, the Kurdish government held a referendum on independence without the agreement of the Iraqi government. 92.7% of voters supported separation. in October 2017 the Iraqi army invaded the Kurdistan Region and captured 40% of its territory. Independence has not been implemented.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (until September 2018 the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria) was unilaterally established by the PKK-linked Kurdish movement in Syria and its related organizations in 2016, building on the previous existence of three Kurdish-majority cantons 
—now officially known as regions—, which were also unilaterally proclaimed in 2014: Efrîn, Kobanê and Cizîrê. Besides those three regions, the Autonomous Administration also includes four Arab-majority ones, namely Manbij, Raqqa, Tabqa and Deir ez-Zor.

The Syrian government acknowledges the existence of neither the regions nor the Autonomous Administration, which self-styles as multiethnic and self-governing on the principles of democratic confederalism a kind of libertarian socialism devised by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. The exact borders of the Autonomous Administration at any given time depend on territorial changes within the Syrian Civil War (2012-), and de facto match the front lines.

Since March 2018, most of the Efrîn region is under Turkish military occupation
Since October 2019, the border strip between Girê Spî (Tell Abyad) and Serê Kaniyê (Ras Al-Ayn) is also occupied by Turkish troops and their allied Islamist militias.

(Last updated January 2021)