►ABOUT KURDISTAN

GENERAL INFORMATION

Introduction

The name Kurdistan literally means Land of the Kurds. In the Iraqi Constitution, it is referred to as the Kurdistan Region. The full name of the government is the Kurdistan Regional Government (often abbreviated as the KRG).

The KRG is also referred to as Kurdistana Bashur or Bashuri Kurdistan (South Kurdistan) referring to its geographical location within the whole of the greater Kurdistan region.

Iraqi Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Region is an autonomous region of Iraq. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south.

The regional capital is Erbil, also known as Hawler. The region is officially governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. 


HISTORY
Some key events since the early 20th century.

1918: Sheikh Mahmoud Barzinji becomes governor of Sulaimaniya under British rule. He and other Kurdish leaders who want Kurdistan to be ruled independently of Baghdad rebel against the British. He is defeated a year later. [1]

1923: The Treaty of Lausanne between Turkey and the allied powers invalidates the Treaty of Sevres, which stated the creation of a independent Kurdish state. [2]

1925: After sending a fact-finding committee to the province of Mosul, the League of Nations decides that Mosul will be part of Iraq, on condition that the United Kingdom holds the mandate for Iraq for another 25 years to assure the autonomy of the Kurdish population. The following year Turkey and Britain signed a treaty in line with the League of Nation’s decision. [3]

1961: The Iraqi government of Abdul Karim Qasim refuses Mulla Mustafa Barzani’s request for Kurdish autonomy. On September 11th, Mustafa Barzani issued a proclamation to all Kurds to take up arms against the forces of the Iraqi government and with that the Kurdish revolution started. [4]

1970: The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), lead by Mulla Mustafa Barzani, reaches an agreement with Baghdad on autonomy for Kurdistan and political representation in the Baghdad government. By 1974 key parts of the agreement are not fulfilled, leading to disputes. [5]

1971-1980: The Iraqi government expels more than 200.000 Fayli Kurds (Shia’s) from Iraq. [6]

1975: The Iraqi government signs the Algiers Agreement with Iran, in which they settle land disputes in exchange for Iran ending its support of the KDP and other concessions. [7]

1983: The Iraqi government kidnaps 8.000 boys and men from the Barzani tribe. In 2005, 500 of them are found in mass graves near Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia, hundreds of kilometers from the Kurdistan Region. [8]

1987-1989: The Iraqi government carries out the genocidal Anfal campaign against Kurdish civilians. The Anfal campaign consists of mass executions and disappearances, widespread use of chemical weapons, destruction of some 2.000 villages and of the rural economy and infrastructure. An estimated of 180.000 are killed during this campaign. [9]

1988: On the 16th and 17th of March 1988, airplanes of the Iraqi government drop chemical weapons on the town of Halabja and surroundings. Approximately 5.000 civilians, mostly women and children are killed. [10]

1991: The people in Kurdistan rise up against the Iraqi government days after the Gulf War ceasefire. Within weeks the Iraqi military and helicopters suppress the uprising. Tens of thousands of people flee to the mountains, causing a humanitarian crisis. The US, Britain and France declare a no-fly zone at the 36th parallel and refugees return. Months later, Saddam Hussein withdraws the Iraqi Army and his administration, and imposes an internal blockade on Kurdistan.

1992: The Iraqi Kurdistan Front, an alliance of political parties, holds parliamentary and presidential elections and establishes the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

1994: Power-sharing arrangements between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) fall apart, leading to civil war and two separate administrations, in Erbil and Sulaimaniya respectively.

1998: The PUK and KDP sign the Washington Agreement, ending the civil war.

2003: The Peshmerga, Kurdistan’s official armed forces, fight alongside the coalition to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s rule.

2005: In a national referendum, Iraqis vote in favor of a new constitution. The new constitution, which is approved by 78 percent of voters, recognizes the Kurdistan Region's institutions including the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistan Parliament.

2006: At the start of the year, the PUK and KDP agree to unify the two administrations. On the 7th May, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announces a new unified cabinet.

[1] Gareth Stansfield, ‘The Kurdish Question in Iraq, 1914-1974’, The Middle East Online Series 2: Iraq 1914-1974, Thomson Learning EMEA Ltd, Reading, 2006.

[2] Library of Congress Country Study: Iraq.

[3] Northedge, F. S. . The League of Nations: Its Life and Times, 1920-1946 Holmes & Meier. 1986

[4] Gareth Stansfield, ‘The Kurdish Question in Iraq, 1914-1974’, The Middle East Online Series 2: Iraq 1914-1974, Thomson Learning EMEA Ltd, Reading, 2006.

[5] No Friends but the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds. John Bulloch and Harvey Morris.

[6] Human Rights Watch report, Whatever happened to the Kurds? 11 March 1991.

[7] David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds.

[8] Saddam’s Road to Hell: Documentary film by Gwynne Roberts.

[9] Kurdistan Regional Government estimate. Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign against the Kurds. Middle East Watch Report, Human Rights Watch, 1993.


[10] Human Rights Watch report, Whatever happened to the Kurds? 11 March 1991.


GEOGRAPHY & GEOLOGY
The Kurdistan Region comprises parts of the three governorates of Erbil, Slemani and Duhok. It borders Syria to the West (Rojava), Iran to the East (Rojhalat), and Turkey (Bakur) lying to the North where fertile plains meet the Zagros Mountains. It is traversed by the Sirwan river, the Tigris and its tributaries, and the Great Zab and Little Zab.
Area: 40,643 km² [1]
Population: 3,757,058 [2]

Capital city: Erbil (also known as Hewler)

The mountains of the Kurdistan Region have an average height of about 2.400 meters, rising to 3.000–3.300 meters in places. The highest peak, Halgurd, is near the border with Iran and measures 3.660 meters. The highest mountain ridges contain the only forestland in the Region. [3]

Annual rainfall is 375-724mm. [4]

 [1] KRG-administered territory only. Compiled by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) from various national and regional sources: International Boundaries from National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) Digital Chart of the World (DCW). The primary source for the DCW database is the Operational Navigation Chart series co-produced by the military mapping authorities of Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States.

[2] According to Oil-for-Food Distribution Plan, approved by the UN, December 2002.

[3] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): http://sea.unep-wcmc.org/latenews/Iraq_2003/facts.htm.

[4] Derived from the Global Agro-Ecological Zones Study, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Land and Water Development Division (AGL), with the collaboration of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), 2000. Data averaged over a period of 37 years. Raster data-set has been exported as ASCII raster file type.
[5] US Air Force Combat Climatology Center.
[6] US Air Force Combat Climatology Center.
[7] US Air Force Combat Climatology Center.
[8] US Air Force Combat Climatology Center.


ENERGY & ECONOMY

The Kurdistan Region (KRG) is an emerging market. With a young and increasingly prosperous population of 5.2 million, the KRG covers about 40.000 square kilometers, around the same size as the Netherlands or Switzerland.

The KRG provides s stable security situation - not a single coalition soldier has lost their life nor a single foreigner has been kidnapped in the area administered by the KRG.

There is an abundance of oil and gas resources in the region. The KRG develops these through production sharing contracts with many international companies.

The KRG has two new international airports in Erbil and Sulaimaniya with over 80 direct flights per week from Vienna, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Amman, Istanbul and other destinations.

A new international airport is under construction in Duhok.

The liberal investment law, ratified in July 2006, offers foreign investors incentives including customs relief, tax holidays and the freedom to repatriate profits. A regulated banking & finance sector providing basic banking services.

There are eleven public universities and some ten private universities, several of which teach in English, and a returning diaspora provide a skilled workforce with English as a second language.


The KRG offers attractive investment opportunities in agriculture, banking, communication, construction, education & training, energy, healthcare, professional services, oil & gas and tourism.

CLIMATE

The climate of the Kurdistan Region is semi-arid continental: very hot and dry in summer, and cold and wet in winter.

Spring is the most beautiful season in Kurdistan. On the first day of Spring Kurds celebrate ‘Newroz’, the Kurdish New Year. The temperatures range from 13-18 degrees in March to 27-32 degrees in May.

The summer months from June to September are very hot and dry. The warmest months are July and August. Degrees can get up to 39-43 Celsius and it often reaches nearly 50 degrees.

Autumn is dry and mild, and like spring it is the ideal time of the year to travel to Kurdistan. Average temperatures are 24-29 degrees in October, cooling slightly in November.

Winters are mild, except in the high mountains. Temperatures range from 7-13 degrees in lower areas and 2-7 degrees in higher areas.


LAND & ENVIRONMENT

Visiting Kurdistan for the first time you will notice that its most prominent geophysical feature is mountains. There is a saying among Kurds: ‘no friends but the mountains’ referring to oppressing states/neighbors and dictators surrounding the region.

The mountains are very important to Kurds. They have not only shaped the history, people, tradition and culture; they have also been used more practically as hide outs for Kurdish Peshmerga’s and guerrillas fighting oppressing regimes.

The area is composed primarily of the central and northern Zagros, the eastern two-thirds of the Taurus and Pontus, and the northern half of the Amanus Mountains. The two large, detached Kurdish enclaves are in the Rivand heights of the eastern section of the Alburz Mountains of northeastern Iran, in the province of Khurasân, and in the central Pontian mountains in central and north-central Anatolia. [1]

Kurdish domains end abruptly where the plains begin. Northern Kurdistan has the highest average elevation. Central Kurdistan, on the other hand, has the lowest average elevation, with the warmest, often balmy, climate in all of Kurdistan. The other sections of the land range between these two extremes. The Kurdish mountains form a rampart to the Iranian and Anatolian Plateaus to the east and west, respectively, separating them from the flat plains of Arabia to the south and southwest, and the Black Sea basin to the north. The central massif runs the entire length of Kurdistan from one end to the other like a mighty spinal column. [1]

 [1] Land & Environment – Terrain by Prof. M.R. Izady

THE KURDISTAN REGION IN BRIEF

Get to know Kurdistan!

With a population of 5.2 million and increasing, the three governorates of Erbil, Slemani, and Duhok cover approximately 40.000 square kilometers - larger than the Netherlands and four times the area of Lebanon. This includes the governorates administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government but does not include the disputed areas of Kurdistan outside of KRG administration, such as Kirkuk.

• The Region is geographically diverse, from hot and dry plains to cooler mountainous areas with natural springs and snowfall in the winter.

• Foreign visitors are warmly welcomed. Among the growing number of visitors are international media and business people as well as those returning from the Kurdish diaspora.

• Not a single coalition soldier died in Kurdistan during the Iraq war, nor has a single foreigner been kidnapped in the areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). With the cooperation of citizens, the Kurdistan Region’s security forces have kept the area safe and stable. Security responsibility was formally transferred from the Multinational Forces to the KRG in May 2007.

• The capital and the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government is Erbil, a city known in Kurdish as Hawler. The Citadel in Erbil is considered the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. The next largest cities are Slemani and Duhok. Please note that Slemani is the KRG’s official English spelling, but it can also be found with other spellings such as Sulaimani, Suleimani, Sulaimaniyah, and Suleimaniah.

• The Kurdistan Regional Government exercises executive power according to the Kurdistan Region’s laws as enacted by the democratically elected Kurdistan Parliament. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani leads the current government.

• Iraq’s Constitution recognizes the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistan Parliament as the region’s formal institutions and the Peshmerga forces as the Region’s legitimate security guard.

• The current coalition government consists of several political parties that reflect the diversity of the Region’s population, which includes Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Arabs and Kurds living together in harmony.

• More than 65% of destroyed villages have been rebuilt since being razed during the Anfal campaign perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s.

• The Kurdish language is of Indo-European origin and is among the family of Iranian languages, such as Persian and Pashto, and is distinct from Arabic. The two main dialects are Sorani and Kurmanji.

• The Kurdistan Region has eleven public universities and several licensed private universities. Some of them use English as the main language of teaching and examination, most notably the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH) and the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani (AUIS).

• A new, liberal foreign investment law was ratified in June 2006, providing incentives for foreign investors such as the possibility of owning land, up to ten-year tax holidays, and easy repatriation of profits.

• To rapidly benefit from its oil and gas resources, the KRG has signed dozens of production sharing contracts with companies from several countries.

• The Kurdistan Region has international airports in Erbil and Slemani, with direct flights to and from Europe and the Middle East. A new international airport is under construction in Duhok.

LANGUAGE

The Kurdistan Region's official languages for government purposes are Kurdish and Arabic. Kurdish is in the Indo-European family of languages. The two most widely spoken dialect of Kurdish are Sorani and Kurmanji. Other dialects spoken by smaller numbers are Hawrami (also known as Gorani) and Zaza. 

The Sorani dialect uses Arabic script while the Kurmanji dialect is written in Latin script. Sorani is spoken in Erbil and Slemani governorates, while Kurmanji is spoken in Duhok governorate and some parts of Erbil governorate. As the Region’s Kurdish-language media has developed and the population has moved, today nearly all people in the Kurdistan Region can speak or understand both of the major dialects. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s policy is to promote the two main dialects in the education system and the media.

Arabic is also an official language and is widely spoken or understood. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turkmanish are also spoken by their respective communities.

The Kurdistan Regional Government promotes linguistic diversity and rights, and schools have been established that teach mainly in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Turkmen and Arabic.

TRADITIONS AND HERITAGE

Kurdish heritage is rooted in one of the world's oldest cultures. The earliest known evidence of a unified and distinct culture (and, possibly, ethnicity) of the inhabitants of the Kurdish mountains dates back to the Halaf culture of 5400 - 6000 B.C. This was followed which was a foreign introduction from Mesopotamia.

Kurds consider themselves Indo-European descendants of the Guti, Hattians, Kassites, Mitanni, Mannai, Urartu, and Mushku groups. All of these peoples shared a common identity and spoke one language or closely related languages or dialects. According to the Encyclopedia Kurdistanica, Kurds are the descendants of all those who settled in Kurdistan historically, not of any one particular group. Those ancestors include the Guti (Kurti), Mede, Mard, Carduchi (Gordyaei), Adiabene, Zila and Khaldi.

This heritage has been subject to injustices, neglect and repression, or has been eclipsed by other cultures. Important components of the Kurds' original cultural heritage have disappeard or have been destroyed. There are numerous examples of how valuable or irreplaceable Kurdish physical heritage has been endangered or destroyed, such as the threat posed by the Illusi Dam in Turkey, where the ancient Kurdish city of Hasankeyf could soon be covered by water.

 Key dates:

21st March: Nawroz, Kurdish New Year celebrated on the Spring equinox.
5th March 1991: Uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime, which began in the town of Rania.
14th March 1903: Birthday of Mustafa Barzani, leader of Kurdistan's national democratic movement.
16th March 1988: Halabja Day, commemoration of the chemical weapons bombardment on the city Halabja.
14th April: Commemoration of the Anfal genocide campaign against the Kurds.
National holidays:

Weekends: (Friday or Saturday)
1st January: New Year's Day
6th January: Army day
24th January: Mouloud (Prophet Mohammad's Birthday)
5th March: Uprising Day (liberation of Ranya City)
11th March: Liberation of Erbil City 
14th March: Mustafa Barzani's Birthday
21st March: Nawroz Kurdish New Year (Spring equinox)
9th April: Baghdad Liberation Day
1st May: Labour Day
14th July: Republic Day
7th - 9th August: Eid-al-Fits Feast (End of Ramadan. Estimated; according to lunar calendar)*
14th - 17th October: Eid al-Qurban Feast*
4th November: Muharram (Islamic New Year)*
13th November: Ashura*
25th December: Christmas Day
(*) The dates of these religious holidays may change every year.

MUSIC AND TRADITIONAL CLOTHING

Kurdish music 

It is performed in Kurdish Language. Traditionally, there are three types of Kurdish Classical performers -storytellers (çîrokbêj), minstrels (stranbêj) and bards (dengbêj). There was no specific music related to the Kurdish princely courts, and instead, music performed in night gatherings (şevbihêrk) is considered classical. Several musical forms are found in this genre. Many songs are epic in nature, such as the popular Lawiks which are heroic ballads recounting the tales of Kurdish heroes such as Saladin. Heyrans are love ballads usually expressing the melancholy of separation and unfulfilled love. Lawje is a form of religious music and Payizoks are songs performed specifically in autumn. Love songs, dance music, wedding and other celebratory songs (dîlok/narînk and bend), erotic poetry andwork songs are also popular.

Another style of singing that originated as practice to recite hymns in both Zoroastrian and Islamic Sufi faiths is Siya Cheman. This style is practiced mostly in the mountainous subregion of Hewraman in the Hewrami dialect. However, some modern artists, have adopted the style and blended it with other Kurdish music. Siya Cheman can also be classified as çîrokbêj because it is often used to for storytelling.

Musical instruments include the tembûr (tembûr, saz), biziq (bozuk), qernête (Duduk) and bilûr (Kaval) in northern and western Kurdistan, şimşal (long flute), cûzele, kemençe and def (frame drum) in the south and east. Zirne(wooden shawm) and dahol (drum) are found in all parts of Kurdistan.

The most frequently used song form has two verses with ten syllable lines. Kurdish songs (stran or goranî) are characterized by their simple melodies, with a range of only four or five notes.

 Kurdish traditional clothing

Most Kurdish women and men have a large collection of Kurdish dresses and are always on the lookout for new designs and fabric. They usually buy the fabrics of their choice and then have it tailors as such there are tailors who specialize in making Kurdish clothes. Recently these respected tailors have turned into designers that have created different designs for the conventional structure of the dress. In villages most of the time women tailor for their entire family after everyone making their own fabric choice.

The traditional Kurdish dresses are for everyday wear and are not reserved only for holidays. The Kurdish costume was worn every day in the past. Currently some women still wear them on a daily basis especially by the older generation of women. The dresses worn on a daily basis tend to be modest in colour and have little or no accessories or embroideries. In the present day the Kurdish dress is more commonly worn on special occasions.

Traditional Kurdish women’s outfit includes either a vest or long-sleeved jacket or long overcoat worn over a gown. An under dress and puffy pants is worn beneath the gown. A belt over the gown is also needed. Traditionally women wore Kurdish hats ornamented with valued coloured stones, beads and gold pieces. Overtime this has become less common. Now it is more popular among women to only accessorise with gold Jewellery. Usually younger women and young girls wear brightly coloured dresses adorned with many beads and sequences and the older women wear darker colours. However older women tend to wear more gold jewellery because traditionally when women married they would receive a dowry of gold jewellery pieces from their groom, the tradition implied that the amount of gold pieces a woman wore signified the status amongst other women in their society. This still applies today to a lesser extent.

ARCHITECTURE

Kurdistan has large number of historical sites that have witnessed human settlement and developed different types of architectural heritages. Among these are Erbil, Mashad, Diyarbakir and Urfa. 

In the present the Kurds are one of the major ethnical cultural groups of North Iraq or Kurdistan Region. During the whole 20th century, this region hadn’t experienced any effort to develop studies about the local Kurdish 

traditional architecture and how to develop modern local architecture. The schools of architecture and official development plans were all influenced by or based on the Iraqi architectural style, which was developed by the new young architects in Baghdad. As a consequence Kurdistan has lost the opportunity to develop the required knowledge about the local Kurdish architectural heritage and how to bring this heritage into the development projects in Kurdistan.

Kurdish traditional architecture can be classified into three basic categories according to their location, towns (shar), village (gund), and nomadic. Citadel of Erbil (Arbil) is a good example of this old and unique architectural heritage in Kurdistan. Erbil (ancient Arbela) is located in southern Kurdistan, about 360 kilometres north of Baghdad. It is one of the oldest urban sites in the world continuously settled for some 7000 years and has been witness to the rise and fall of major ancient and Islamic cultures.

An important stage of Erbil’s’ history was in the 12th century when it became part of the Ayyubids Empire which was a Kurdish empire that dominated the Middle East and Egypt for two centuries. Old descriptions of the city done by Yaqut al-Hamawi describes the city during the 12th century as a strong and large city built on the top of a hill and containing houses, markets, and mosques. 

Another settlement was built down in the valley beside the hill. The settlement on the hill was divided into three residential areas, Saray at the east, Top Khanah at the south, and Takiyyah at the north. The rich people settled around the edge of the city forming a ring. This position was popular because it provided views towards the surrounding valley and better ventilation possibilities. The middle and poor social class quarters were located in the interior of this settlement. The streets were narrow, about 0.7-3 meters and irregular. The main streets were branched out from one major gate at the south. These streets again branched out to smaller streets and dead-end streets forming a tree form. Today the city forms a vast complex of buildings and narrow streets enclosed by town walls. All houses are in 1 or two floors. The houses can be classified into small, medium and few large houses of rich families. 

The old commercial area (bazaar) located outside the residential Citadel area. It contains a covered area like arcades, called qaysari. The qaysari was introduced to the city by the Ottomans from Turkey and composes 2-3 meters wide, irregular, and straight streets. Along the streets, small shops are built on the ground floor with storage on the upper floor. The streets are covered by arcades to prevent rain in winter, hinder sun light and reduce the temperature in summer. The shops are small, often 2 meters wide and 2 to 3 meters deep. The ground level of the shops was 0.5 meter higher than the streets and extended 0.5 meter into the street space forming a bench called setchu. The shopkeepers sat on this bench along the street. Most of these benches have been gradually removed in the last decades but the space street space is still used for sitting and displaying goods. 

RELIGION

Kurds are tolerant in general and known for their respect for other cultures and religions.

The majority of the people in the Kurdistan Region are Sunni Muslims. There are also a large number of Christians of different churches, such as Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Armenian and Catholic Chaldean. Thousands of Christian families have fled violence and threats in other parts of Iraq and found refuge in the Kurdistan Region. They are welcomed here with open arms.

A religion that is practiced only in Kurdistan is Yazidism, which has tens of thousands of adherents. Followers of this believe go on pilgrimage to Lalish, a holy place situated in the Shekhan district in the Nineveh province. The Kakai faith is also practiced in the region. Kakai are Shia Kurds and just like Yezidi’s they also believe in reincarnation.

The Kurdistan Regional Government protects people’s freedom to practice their religion and promotes inter-faith tolerance.

KURDISH ART AND CRAFTS

Kurdish people have upheld the tradition of carpet weaving for centuries. The most popular patterns include florals, medallions, Mina Khani motifs, and geometric patterns. Some ruge weavers also use symbols to depict their dreams, wishes, and hopes. They beauty of Kurdish designs is enriched by colors, which include deep blues, greens, saffrons, terracotta, and burnt orange hues.

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