History of the Kurds

With regard to the origin of the Kurds, it was formerly considered sufficient to describe them as the descendants of the Carduchi, who opposed the retreat of the Ten Thousand through the mountains in the 4th century BCE. But modern research traces them far beyond the period of the Greeks. In their own histories, they are proud to mention the Hurrian period in the mid third millennium BC as the earliest documented period. This was the time of Kurti, Gutis, Khadi, Hatti, Mards, Mushku, Manna, Mittanni, Urartu, and the Kassites. It should be mentioned that the Kurds are an Indo-European people, while none of the above were. However Kurds consider themselves as much Indo-European as they do any of these.
At the dawn of history the mountains overhanging Assyria were held by a people named Gutii, a title which signified "a warrior", and which was rendered in Assyrian by the synonym of Gardu or Kardu, the precise term quoted by Strabo to explain the name of the Cardaces. These Gutu were a tribe of such power as to be placed in the early Cuneiform records on an equality with the other nations of western Asia, that is, with the Syrians and Hittites, the Susians, Elamites, and Akkadians of Babylonia; and during the whole period of the Assyrian Empire they seem to have preserved a more-or-less independent political position.
After the fall of Nineveh the Gutu coalesced with the Medes, and, in common with all the nations inhabiting the high plateaus of Asia Minor, Armenia and Persia, became gradually Aryanised, owing to the immigration at this period of history of tribes in overwhelming numbers which, from whatever quarter they may have sprung, belonged certainly to the Aryan family.
The Gutii or Kurdu were reduced to subjection by Cyrus before he descended upon Babylon, and furnished a contingent of fighting men to his successors, being thus mentioned under the names of "Saspirians" and "Alarodians" in the muster roll of the army of Xerxes which Herodotus has preserved.
In later times they passed successively under the sway of the Macedonians, the Parthians, and Sassanians, being especially befriended, if we may judge from tradition as well as from the remains still existing in the country, by the Arsacian monarchs, who were probably of a cognate race. Gotarzes indeed, whose name may perhaps be translated "chief of the Gutii", was traditionally believed to be the founder of the Gurans, the principal tribe of southern Kurdistan, and his name and titles are still preserved in a Greek inscription at Behistun near the Kurdish capital of Kermanshah.
Under the caliphs of Baghdad the Kurds were always giving trouble in one quarter or another. In AD 838, and again in 905, formidable insurrections occurred in northern Kurdistan; the amir, Aqpd-addaula, was obliged to lead tne forces of the caliphate against the southern Kurds, capturing the famous fortress of Sermaj, of which the ruins are to be seen at the present day near Behistun, and reducing the province of Shahrizor with its capital city now marked by the great mound of Yassin Teppeh.
The most flourishing period of Kurdish power was probably during the 12th century, when the great Saladin, who belonged to the Rawendi branch of the Hadabani tribe, founded the Ayyubite dynasty of Syria, and Kurdish chieftainhips were established, not only to the east and west of the Kurdistan mountains, but as far as Khorasan upon one side and Egypt and Yemen on the other.
During the Mongol and Tatar domination of western Asia the Kurds in the mountains remained for the most part passive, yielding a reluctant obedience to the provincial governors of the plains. When Sultan Selim I, after defeating Shah Ismail I in 1514, annexed Armenia and Kurdistan, he entrusted the organisation of the conquered territories to Idris, the historian, who was a Kurd of Bitlis. Idris found Kurdistan bristling with castles, held by hereditary tribal chiefs of Kurd, Arab, and Armenian descent, who were practically independent, and passed their time in tribal warfare or in raiding the agricultural population. He divided the territory into sanjaks or districts, and, making no attempt to interfere with the principle of heredity, installed the local chiefs as governors. He also resettled the rich pastoral country between Erzerum and Erivan, which had lain waste since the passage of Timur, with Kurds from the Hakkiari and Bohtan districts.
The system of administration introduced by Idris remained unchanged until the close of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29. But the Kurds, owing to the remoteness of their country from the capital and the decline of Turkey, had greatly increased in influence and power, and had spread westwards over the country as far as Angora.
After the war the Kurds attempted to free themselves from Turkish control, and in 1834 it became necessary to reduce them to subjection. This was done by Reshid Pasha. The principal towns were strongly garrisoned, and many of the Kurd beys were replaced by Turkish governors. A rising under Bedr Khan Bey in 1843 was firmly repressed, and after the Crimean War the Turks strengthened their hold on the country. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 was followed by the attempt of Sheikh Obaidullah in 1880 - 1881 to found an independent Kurd principality under the protection of Turkey. The attempt, at first encouraged by the Porte, as a reply to the projected creation of an Armenian state under the suzerainty of Russia, collapsed after Obaidullah's raid into Persia, when various circumstances led the central government to reassert its supreme authority. Until the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29 there had been little hostile feeling between the Kurds and the Armenians, and as late as 1877 - 1878 the mountaineers of both races had co-existed fairly well together. Both suffered from Turkey, both dreaded Russia. But the national movement amongst the Armenians, and its encouragement by Russia after the latest war, gradually aroused race hatred and fanaticism.
In 1891 the activity of the Armenian Committees induced the Porte to strengthen the position of the Kurds by raising a body of Kurdish irregular cavalry, which was well-armed and called Hamidieh after the Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid II. The opportunities thus offered for plunder and the gratification of race hatred brought out the worst qualities of the Kurds. Minor disturbances constantly occurred, and were soon followed by the massacre of Armenians at Sasun and other places, 1894 - 1896, in which the Kurds took an active part.
Many Kurds died at Turkish hands between 1915 and the end of World War I, but despite the trend to self-determination and the championing in the Treaty of Sèvres of Kurdish autonomy in the aftermath of World War I, Turkish resurgence under Kemal Atatürk prevented the achievement of Kurdish national independence. Turkey suppressed Kurdish revolts in 1925, 1930, and 1937 - 1938; while Iran did the same in the 1920s. A short-lived Soviet-sponsored Kurdish republic did not long outlast World War II.
When Ba'athist administrators thwarted Kurdish nationalist ambitions in Iraq, war broke out in the 1960s. In 1970 the Kurds rejected limited teritorial self-rule within Iraq, demanding larger areas including the oil-rich Kirkuk region. Iran fought the Kurds from 1979 on.

For more recent Kurdish history see Kurds.

This article uses text from 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica

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