Who are the Kurds? A look at one of the Middle East's top players

Published December 12th, 2016 - 12:33 GMT

Over the last few decades, the Kurds have had an increasingly influence over regional developments in the Middle East. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the region, with between 25 and 35 million Kurds inhabiting a mountainous region overlapping the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.

However, the Kurds have never obtained a permanent nation state of their own. As they fight for autonomy in Turkey, and play a major role in the resistance against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, the Kurds have established themselves as one of the region’s main players. Here, we examine who the Kurds are and the pivotal role they are playing in the Middle East.

 
View as a slider
View as a list
Kurds Sunni

The Kurds are one of the indigenous people originating from the Mesopotamian plains and the highlands.Today, they make up a distinctive community, united through race, culture and language. While the Kurds have no standard dialect and adhere to a number of different religions and creeds, the majority are Sunni Muslims.

Kurds OttomanEmpire

After WW1 and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the Western allies made provisions for a Kurdish state. However, Kurdish hopes were shattered when the new boundaries set up for modern Turkey did not includea Kurdish state. The Kurds were left with no state and a minority status in their respective countries.

Kurds Syria Daesh YPG

The Kurds are currently at the forefront in the fight against Daesh in Syria. From mid 2013-2014, Daesh repeatedly attacked Kurdish enclaves bordering Syria. Daesh was repelled by the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD).

Kurds Daesh Kobane Syria

In September 2014, Daesh launched an assault on the enclave around the northern town of Kobane, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee across the nearby Turkish border. In January 2015, after a battle that left at least 1,600 people dead, Kurdish forces regained control of Kobane.

Daesh Kurds Syria Raqqa

Since then, the Kurds have inflicted a series of defeats on Daesh in northern Syria, supported by US-coalition airpower. They have established control over a 400km stretch of territory along the Turkish border and advanced to within 50km of the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa.

Kurds Syria Daesh Manbij

The YPG, with US-alliance backing, has since been advancing and taking over strategic areas from various armed Islamist groups in Syria. Notably, the YPG scored a notable success in August when they drove Daesh out of the crossroads town of Manbij.

Kurds Iraq Peshmerga Yazidis

Iraq’s Kurds are also fighting Daesh. When Daesh launched an offensive in Iraq, the government of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region sent its Peshmerga forces to fight. In August 2014 Daesh launched an offensive and the Peshmerga withdrew, allowing several towns inhabited by religious minorities to fall (most notably the Yazidis).

Peshmerga Daesh Iraq YPG

The Peshmerga’s fight against Daesh in Iraq was supported by US-led coalition airstrikes in northern Iraq, and US military advisors were sent for further guidance. The Syrian YPG and the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) also came to their aid. Eventually, Daesh advancements on Kurdish territory in Iraq was halted.

Kurds Peshmerga Daesh Mosul

Currently the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi government, backed by a US-led coalition and joined by various militias, are fighting to drive Daesh out of Mosul's surrounding areas and open additional fronts to attack the main city, which has been held by the group since 2014.

Kurds Turkey PKK

There is deep hostility between the Turkish state and the country's Kurds, who constitute 15% to 20% of the population and are harshly treated by Turkish authorities. The PKK was formed in 1978 and called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later the group began an armed struggle and more than 40,000 people have been killed since.

Kurds Turkey PKK

In 2012, the government and PKK began peace talks and the following year a ceasefire was agreed. However, this collapsed in July 2015. Since then, hundreds have been killed in clashes in south-eastern Turkey and in air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq.

Kurds Sunni
Kurds OttomanEmpire
Kurds Syria Daesh YPG
Kurds Daesh Kobane Syria
Daesh Kurds Syria Raqqa
Kurds Syria Daesh Manbij
Kurds Iraq Peshmerga Yazidis
Peshmerga Daesh Iraq YPG
Kurds Peshmerga Daesh Mosul
Kurds Turkey PKK
Kurds Turkey PKK
Kurds Sunni
The Kurds are one of the indigenous people originating from the Mesopotamian plains and the highlands.Today, they make up a distinctive community, united through race, culture and language. While the Kurds have no standard dialect and adhere to a number of different religions and creeds, the majority are Sunni Muslims.
Kurds OttomanEmpire
After WW1 and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the Western allies made provisions for a Kurdish state. However, Kurdish hopes were shattered when the new boundaries set up for modern Turkey did not includea Kurdish state. The Kurds were left with no state and a minority status in their respective countries.
Kurds Syria Daesh YPG
The Kurds are currently at the forefront in the fight against Daesh in Syria. From mid 2013-2014, Daesh repeatedly attacked Kurdish enclaves bordering Syria. Daesh was repelled by the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD).
Kurds Daesh Kobane Syria
In September 2014, Daesh launched an assault on the enclave around the northern town of Kobane, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee across the nearby Turkish border. In January 2015, after a battle that left at least 1,600 people dead, Kurdish forces regained control of Kobane.
Daesh Kurds Syria Raqqa
Since then, the Kurds have inflicted a series of defeats on Daesh in northern Syria, supported by US-coalition airpower. They have established control over a 400km stretch of territory along the Turkish border and advanced to within 50km of the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa.
Kurds Syria Daesh Manbij
The YPG, with US-alliance backing, has since been advancing and taking over strategic areas from various armed Islamist groups in Syria. Notably, the YPG scored a notable success in August when they drove Daesh out of the crossroads town of Manbij.
Kurds Iraq Peshmerga Yazidis
Iraq’s Kurds are also fighting Daesh. When Daesh launched an offensive in Iraq, the government of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region sent its Peshmerga forces to fight. In August 2014 Daesh launched an offensive and the Peshmerga withdrew, allowing several towns inhabited by religious minorities to fall (most notably the Yazidis).
Peshmerga Daesh Iraq YPG
The Peshmerga’s fight against Daesh in Iraq was supported by US-led coalition airstrikes in northern Iraq, and US military advisors were sent for further guidance. The Syrian YPG and the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) also came to their aid. Eventually, Daesh advancements on Kurdish territory in Iraq was halted.
Kurds Peshmerga Daesh Mosul
Currently the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi government, backed by a US-led coalition and joined by various militias, are fighting to drive Daesh out of Mosul's surrounding areas and open additional fronts to attack the main city, which has been held by the group since 2014.
Kurds Turkey PKK
There is deep hostility between the Turkish state and the country's Kurds, who constitute 15% to 20% of the population and are harshly treated by Turkish authorities. The PKK was formed in 1978 and called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later the group began an armed struggle and more than 40,000 people have been killed since.
Kurds Turkey PKK
In 2012, the government and PKK began peace talks and the following year a ceasefire was agreed. However, this collapsed in July 2015. Since then, hundreds have been killed in clashes in south-eastern Turkey and in air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq.