IntroductionKurds (kûrds, kŏrds) [key], a non-Arab Middle Eastern minority population that inhabits the region known as Kurdistan, an extensive plateau and mountain area, c.74,000 sq mi (191,660 sq km), in SW Asia, including parts of E Turkey, NE Iraq, and NW Iran and smaller sections of NE Syria and Armenia. The region lies astride the Zagros Mts. (Iran) and the eastern extension of the Taurus Mts. (Turkey) and extends in the south across the Mesopotamian plain and includes the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
As of the late 1990s, there were estimated to be more than 20 million Kurds, about half of them in Turkey, where, making up more than 20% of the population, they dwell mainly near the Iranian frontier around Lake Van and in the vicinity of Diyarbakir and Erzurum. The Kurds in Iran, who constitute some 10% of its people, live principally in Azerbaijan and Khorasan, with some in Fars. The Iraqi Kurds, about 23% of its population, live mostly in the vicinity of Dahuk (Dohuk), Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, and Sulaimaniyah.
Ethnically close to the Iranians, the Kurds were traditionally nomadic herders but are now mostly seminomadic or sedentary. The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims. Kurdish dialects belong to the northwestern branch of the Iranian languages. The Kurds have traditionally resisted subjugation by other nations. Despite their lack of political unity throughout history, the Kurds, as individuals and in small groups, have had a lasting impact on developments in SW Asia. Saladin, who gained fame during the Crusades, is perhaps the most famous of all Kurds.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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