Explainer: Who are the Kurdish people?


Some of the 3000 Syrian Kurds, supporters of outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Syrian town of Qamishli.


Ramzi Haidar

Native to West Asia, Kurds number at least 30 million in an area known as Kurdistan — which includes parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria — and have traditionally played a significant role in regional politics and conflicts.

Currently, they are emerging as a wild card in the ongoing Syrian conflict.

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Turkey's support for the anti-Assad rebellion has been complicated by a recent move by Syrian Kurds to establish their own autonomy and win the power enjoyed by their ethnic kin in northern Iraq, where they live semi-autonomously from Baghdad, Time magazine reported.

Their numbers make Kurds the world's largest group of stateless people, according to Time. Before World War I, they led a largely nomadic life. But during the early 20th century, Kurds began to consider the concept of nationalism and have fought against repression in Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere ever since, the Washington Post reported.

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Kurds first appeared as an ethnic group in the Middle Ages. Currently, they comprise anywhere from 18 to 25 percent of the population in Turkey, 15 to 20 percent in Iraq, 9 percent in Syria, 7 percent in Iran and 1.3 percent in Armenia.

The majority of Kurds are Sunni muslim, belonging to the Shafi school of Islam, although mystical practices and participation in Sufi orders are also widespread. A minority of Kurdish people are also Shia muslims and Alevis.