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Kurdistan Issues: Excluding Turkey

The exact number of Kurdish people living in the Middle East is unknown, due to both an absence of recent and extensive census analysis, and the reluctance of the various governments in Kurdish-inhabited regions to give accurate figures. The fact that some Kurds have mixed with other local ethnic groups has also contributed to the uncertainty as to who can be counted as a Kurd’. For example, many Kurds in Turkey have adopted Turkish, having moved to mainly Turkish regions of the country and assimilated to some extent, while most Kurds in Iraq have attempted to maintain their distinct identity. In addition, groups such as the Zaza and Dimli are often counted by some as Kurds, but are actually a closely- related Iranian people.

Nonetheless, if estimated figures are accurate, comprising between 25 and 27 million people, the Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a separate state in the world.


The majority of the Kurds are Sunni Muslims, belonging to the Shafi and Hanafi Schools of Islam. There is also a significant minority of Kurds that are Shia Muslims, and they primarily live in the Kermanshah and 11am provinces of Iran and Central Iraq (‘AlFayliah” Kurds). Another religious minority among the Kurds are the Alevi Shia Muslims, who are mainly found in Turkey. The remaining Kurds are either Christians, Kurdish Jews or Yezidis.

Before the spread of Islam in the 7th century CE, the majority of Kurds practiced Zoroastrianism, which is believed to be one of the oldest religions in the world.


The Kurdish language is part of the northwestern group of the Iranian section of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. Even though Kurdish is an Iranian language, Kurds have influenced greatly- languages around them, especially Arabic, as well as Turkish and Persian. In addition, the Northern Kurdish dialects such as Kurmanji are written using the Roman alphabet, while the southern dialects tend to be written in the Arabic alphabet.

The Kurdish languages form a dialect continuum, with comprehensibility diminishing as the distance from one’s native dialect increases The principal Kurdish languages are:

  • Northern Kurdish including Kurmanji
  • Central Kurdish or Sorani
  • The Southern Kurdish dialects
  • Hewrami or Auramani

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