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Kurd Culture, Research Paper Example

Pages: 11

Words: 2981

Research Paper

Introduction

This paper examines the cultural history and traditions of the Kurdish people. They are a race of ancient peoples and have a culture similar to the Iranian people.  The Kurdish population live in a broad swathe of land that occupies parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran (see map to the right). The people are largely of the Sunni Muslim religion  and have their own distinct language and culture.  This mountainous region was once known as Kurdistan.  The division of land was caused by the break up of the Ottoman Empire that left Kurdistan broken up into land within different nation states. Early Kurdish life was that of a nomadic people that evolved around sheep and goat herding within the Mesopotamian plains.  It was the British in 1920 who put forward the notion of a Kurdish State but this was never implemented because of disputes between the neighboring countries which the Kurdish people occupied. (Washington Post, 2012)

It is reported that there are between 15-20 million people who are considered to be Kurds living in the mountainous regions of the plains of Mesopotamia.  The people are not Arabic but more akin to the ancient Persians and belong to the tribal Sunni Muslim faith.

Kurdish culture

Subsistance

The Kurds dwell within a high rugged mountainous area at the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. They have dwelled in this area for over two thousand years.  The history dates back to the ‘Medes’ people of 612 BC.  They have retained the same modes of subsistence for thousands of years based upon Agriculture and Pastoralism.  The Kurds conceive their land as belonging to Kurdistan but in reality they are a people spread between several other countries.  Some Kurds have also spilled over into countries of the former Soviet Union.  This lack of statehood has resulted in many regional disputes and in some cases persecution of the Kurdish people. Many of the nomadic people live in harsh conditions and find themselves cut off for several months of the year in the high mountainous regions.

Social Organization

The social way of Kurdish life was based upon that of tribalism. They were headed by a Sheikh or an Aga who provided a firm rule of law over his people.  The Sheikh’s authority was respected throughout the tribal area and this often spilled over into larger urban areas.  This way of life eventually changed as the people became less nomadic and turned towards a more urbanised way of life and assimilated into several nations of people. Ancient traditions saw Kurdish society marriages with males marrying at 20 and Girls at age 12.  The concept of polygamy is forbidden by Islamic law although it was practiced.  (Izady, M.R. 1992)

Political Organization

The current political organization of the Kurds is extremely fragmented and based upon a number of different ideologies and perspectives.  Broadly speaking this consists of the following political parties:

  • Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] – This group became founded in 1975 as a result of the failed rebellion with Iraq. The party has a simple aim of creating a modern democratic Kurdistan.
  • Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP] – This group wish to raise the profile of the cause or plight of Kurdistan and create a modern democratic state and strengthen the Kurdistan National Assembly. They wish to reunite the fractured factions within the Kurdistan society.
  • Kurdistan Workers Party [ KWP] – This is based around their leader Abdullah Ocalan and have achieved a form of notoriety as being help up to be a terrorist group. It is this group that has been cited as responsible for most of the clashes with Turkey. They have gathered a wide degree of support but the Turkish Administration has officially branded them as a Terrorist group.
  • Other Groups – There are a number of other parties of less political significance that include: The National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (ENRK), Komaleh Revolutionary Organization of the toilers of Kurdistan, mainly an Iranian terrorist style organization. The Islamic Kurdish League (IKL) and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDK).

Sex gender and marriage

The people are mainly of the Sunni Muslim faith and respect Islamic law. There have been some departures however, particularly amongst the nomadic people, who practice polygamy.  It is relevant to point out that the Kurdish people have been following different religious practices since the 7th Century AD.  This has included Yazdanism, Yazidism and Yarsan mostly steming from the area of Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria.  Ancient traditions saw Kurdish society marriages with males marrying at 20 and Girls at age 12.  The concept of polygamy is forbidden by Islamic law although it was practiced.

Religion and belief systems

It was also in the 7th Century that the Arabs conquered this region and converted most of the people to Islam.  In today’s society most of the people belong to the Shafi school of Sunni Islam.  In general terms Kurds practice modest tendencies towards the Islamic faith as opposed to the harsher more fundamental practices of neighboring Iran. There are also a minority number of Kurds that are Shia Muslims. These tribal groups have been in conflict with one another and this was instrumental in many of the issues in the displacement of Sadaam Hussein and the war in Iraq. This spilled over into the Kurdish area at the time of the war with Sadaam’s Iraqi army trying to eradicate the Kurds in Iraq.

Many of the indigenous religions of the Kurds are also still practiced today. Most of these are within the Iraqi area of Kurdistan around the areas of Mosul and Sinjar.  This is based upon the holy book of Mishefa. There are also various other religious minorities mainly found around the Syrian and Turkish areas of the region.

Music and Dance

History reveals three different types of Kurdish performers.  These are classified as (i) The story teller (ii) The Minstrels and (iii) The bards.  There have been no pomp and ceremony style ritualistic music associated with the Kurds.  It has much more been associated with evening campfire gatherings founded in their nomadic way of life.  Many of the songs are ballads and tell stories of great epics and tell of great past heroes like that of Saladin.  They have a genre of music called ‘heyrans’ which are love ballads and show the melancholy of lost and unfulfilled love. More vibrant music is called “Payizoks’ and is used for weddings, festive events and specifically performed in the autumn period.

The Kurds have a rich folklore based upon popular songs that involve costume and their national dress. Women are often seen to wear bright colorful dresses and the shape and color is often distinctive of a specific regional area or province.

The men often wear boots with baggy trousers and shirts that are separated by a large piece of cloth. This is accompanied by head ware that shows a claw on their heads. The music to accompany the dances is often based upon flute and drum and is exceedingly vibrant. The Kurdish people love to dance and demonstrate their folklore music.  A lot of this singing represents oral history of the Kurds that has been handed down over the generations.

Much of the dance routines have been derived from Iraqi tradition although they have similarities to dance carried out in Lebanon and the Balkan countries.  These being hand holding dances performed in circles with single or figure dancers performing within the inner circle.  Many of these dances are considered to be distinctive factors that provide differentiation from the neighboring Islamic countries.

Trade and Produce

The Kurds have gained a reputation for producing fine hand woven carpets and rugs. These often use medallion and floral patterns.  The high quality wool has been used to create rugs that are rich with many different splendid colours.  These include blues, greens, and saffron, rustic brown and orange ember colours.  The rugs are often highly symbolic and embrace depiction of the dreams and hopes of the rug makers. This can be an interesting way of studying the Kurdish people by engaging in conversation with the carpet makers. (Mangiaratti, G. 2012)

The area of Kurdistan is still not recognized as an official country and this leaves it in a very precarious position with regard to its neighbours and trade.  Each of the other countries making claims and demands upon it.  In the Iraq area the trade volume is reported to be worth around $1.4 billion with the total regional trade estimated to be in the $9.6 billion range. This has produced a vibrant import and export trade in the region.  The lack of integrated consolidated Government leaves the region somewhat  fragmented in terms of putting in place such items as regulatory standards, policies and procedures to govern trade.  Exploration of Oil has indicated that there are significant quantities of oil to be discovered in the Kurdistan region. Oil Companies having already expressed an interest in the region for future development. (Kurdistan Board of Investment, 2012).

The struggle for national identity

Kurdistan is somewhat similar to Palestine in that it is a virtual state. This often causes the people to self-identify with the neighboring country.  Hence a Kurdisah person living in Northern Iraq might describe himself as a Kurd from Iraq, in reality they subscribe to the belief that they are living in South Kurdistan. Because the region of Kurdistan does not officially exist it is found as a series of overlapping regions into other countries like Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Armenia and Syria.

In difference to the Palestinians the Kurdish people are now the largest ethnic group on the planet without their own country.  The governments of the other countries have been attempting to assimilate the Kurds into their own country but this has not been without significant issues and resistance from the Kurdish people.  This is difficult because the Kurds differentiate themselves from the surrounding countries by having a different language and culture.  This further amplifies their requirements to form a separate country and manage their own affairs.  A view that was endorsed by the British in 1920.  (Izady, M.R. 1992)

The cultural dissemination of the area was really at the hands of the British and the closing down of the Ottoman empire. It was Winston Churchill who in 1921 was the architect of the creation of Iraq. This being from the former country of Mesopotamia.  Iraq was split into three parts namely that of Baghdad (Shia and Sunni Muslim), Basra (Shiite Muslim) and Mosul (Kurdish).  Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Government and went about the persecution of both Shiite and the Kurds.

This resulted in the brutal poison gassing of the Kurdish population around March 1988 when he killed over 5,000 people and severely injured more than 10,000 more people. This taking place around the Kurdish city of Halabja.  The Turks have equally been repressive to the Kurdish people but perhaps have stopped short from the acts of genocide from the Saddam Hussein regime. The Turks have refused recognition of the Kurds and do not recognize the Kurds calling them Mountain Turks.  This has given rise to many human rights groups paying attention to the relationship between the Turkish Administration and the Kurds.

The subjugation of the Kurds has resulted in many fractured political parties but there does seem a common theme in that they want increased democratization of their land, they wish for an independent state of Kurdistan to be created and recognized by the international community and they wish to end the repression of their people.  Iraq has indicated that the concept of an independent Kurdistan looks like being on the agenda for 2016.  Perhaps this might have accelerated if it had not been for the unsettling wars and conflicts in the region that have involved Iraq, Syria and Turkey.  Equally Iran is at odds with the west for making repeated threats against Israel and continuing with a nuclear weapons program. (C.Houston, 2008)

It is widely held that the new Iraqi government will strengthen ties with the Kurdish people particularly Ayad Allawi. The previous Minister in Iraq N.Al-Malike further alienated the Kurds as he had a number of disagreements over oil rights and issues.

Cultural Heritage

The Kurdish people have one of the world’s oldest cultural heritages. Although never having a country of their own the people have resided in these mountainous areas for thousands of years. For most of this period the people have belonged to either the Persian or Ottoman empires; which we now know as Iran and Turkey respectively.  This has seen the people wedged between five different countries and as such the people have struggled in order to gain a free Kurdistan.

Archeological finds in the area have shown the Kurds to be pastoral people raising sheep and goats in a semi-nomadic lifestyle. There have recovered examples of their skills in pottery making, weaving and glazing.  Evidence of early metal work and urbanization can be traced back to over 12,000 years ago.  Other cultural roots have been traced back as far as 8,000 years ago to the Halaf culture and Ubaiden Culture. The later dominance of the Hurrian culture replaced these and this lasted from around 6300-2600 years ago.  The Hurrians were considered to be similar to the modern day people of Chechen and Lezgian. The injection of different external cultures and influences probably accounts for the spread of the Kurds over such a large region. About 3000 years ago the area was invaded by a flood of Indo Europeans of mainly Hittite origin.  It is these people that have had the most pronounced impact on the people and influences there culture today. One of the greatest legacies comes from the Ayyubids of Egypt who were responsible for removing the Crusaders from the Holy Lands.  Their empire also covered most of the Kurdish land in addition to the Holy Cities of Jerusalem, Medina and Jerusalem. (M.M.Gunter, 2011)

Relationships with Europe and the West

Non-western countries, for definition those out of the Christendom block, have tended to alienate themselves against western values.  This is attributed to prior domination by the west, lack of progressive modernization and identity crisis.  The more recent global revival of religion, particularly in Islamic countries has been used as an excuse to promote anti-western sentiments. This is a consequence of the west’s modernization and a lack of these non-western societies ton keep pace with progression.  Hence religion has been used to describe western democracies as primarily Christian and therefore subversive.  This leads to secularization and aspects of degeneration.  This becomes more complex when people move from non-western societies into Western societies and will not conform to the constitution of the newly adopted country

The challenge of modernisation to the Islamic world will test the resolve of the western world.  Turkey may become pivotal in terms of helping to bridge the cultural divide between Islamic and Western cultures.  The success for this may well be the final acceptance as a Member state of the European Union.  Failure to meet this challenge may further deepen the chasm between the two and give credence for increased fundamentalist Islamic terrorism against the Western democracies.

The Kurdish people are likely to get mixed up in international disputes with its neighbors. In particular that of Iran.  Other countries that are frustrated with Iran may see a new prize in the formation of a Kurdistan with potential huge new oil reserves. The world is now inextricably linked by world trade agreements.  Raw materials, like the production of oil and related by-products are extracted in the Middle East and shipped to refineries throughout the world.  If trade were to cease between the Middle Eastern oil producers, i.e. the suppliers and that of the nations which consumes the products i.e., the demand.  We would create a situation where there was insufficient fuel in order to drive the economies of the Western world, and others reliant upon petroleum products for energy and domestic consumption.

Governments are responsible for both promotion and restriction of international trade.  In the latter, this is often where disputes occur between countries.  Remedies often involve sanctions and the prevention of exported goods to the offender.  A current example of this being the position of Iran and its uncontrolled nuclear program outside the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Authority.  (Kerim Yildiz, 2004)

Conclusions

Like the Palestinians it is unclear to see how Kurdistan will become an official country and gain political freedom.  Perhaps even more complex than the Palestinians who were ousted from their homeland; here the situation is of a people wedged between different countries who are politically at odds with one another.  Hence this becomes a difficult position of dealing with an unwanted people who have no real identity to any of the countries they have spilled into.  The Turks are most unlikely ever to recognize a separate Kurdistan on their borders and they have a huge military might in order to back this up.  Syria is currently being ravaged by Civil war and it is difficult to predict how this will end up.  Iraq is recovering from an embittered civil war after deposing the brutal regime of Sadaam Hussein. Although this country has become more tolerant to the Kurds it is fractured between Sunni and Shiite and still very politically unstable.  Iran is at confrontation with the West and faces potential hostile action from countries like Israel and the USA. The neighboring states of Azerbaijan are still volatile in relationships with Russia and the former Soviet Union.  The Russians are unlikely to want any influences that might create another Chechnya problem for them.

References

C.Houston. (2008). Kurdistan: Crafting of National Selves. New York : Berg.

Izady, M. R. (1992). The Kurds: A Concise History and Fact Book. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Kerim Yildiz, G. F. (2004). The Kurds: Culture and Language rights. London : Kurdish Human Rights Project.

Kurdistan Board of Investment. (2012, 11 19). Trade and Industry. Retrieved from Kurdistan Board of Investment: http://www.kurdistaninvestment.org/trade_industry.html

M.M.Gunter. (2011). Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. Plymouth UK: Scarecrow Press.

Mangiaratti, G. (2012, 11 19). Kurdistan the missing country. Retrieved from Buzzsaw: http://www.buzzsawmag.org/2010/04/05/kurdistan-the-missing-country/

Washington Post. (2012, 11 20). Who are the Kurds. The Washington Post, pp. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/daily/feb99/kurdprofile.htm.

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