The Kurds are an ancient people that occupy a lofty station amongst the peoples of the Islamic world and has played a prominent role during the more difficult periods of Islamic history particularly during the crusades. Indeed, the Kurds participated in the heroic Islamic confrontation of the four colonial kingdoms that the crusaders established in Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, and Edessa. Many significant combatants emerged from amongst them like Asad ad-Dīn Shirkuh and his nephew Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf al-Ayyūbī the liberator of Jerusalem.
Kurds reside in a vast geographical area extending from the Caucasus in the north to the outskirts of Baghdad in the south and Kermanshah, Iran in the east and to Qamishli, Syria in the west and their numbers are estimated to range between 35 and 40 million and are distributed as follows:
1- In Turkey, their number ranges between 18-20 million and they constitute the majority in the southern regions of eastern Anatolia. And from the most important cities in Turkey: Diyarbakir, Erzurum and Van.
2- In Iran, their number ranges between 8-10 million people and constitute the majority in the far western and northwestern regions. From the most important cities are: Kermanshah, Mahabad, and Sanandaj.
3- In Iraq, their number has reached approximately 5 million people. They inhabit the northern and northeastern regions of the country. The most important cities are: Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, and Dohuk.
4- In Syria, their number reaches about 2 million people. They make up the densely populated areas in northeastern Syria. The most important cities are: Qamishli and Hasaka.
5- There are nearly a million Kurds living in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and other countries.
As for the matter of their beliefs, then the overwhelming majority of Kurds are upon the methodology of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-jamāʿah and follow the Shāfiʿī school of thought. However, there also exists a minority of them that are Shiites ascribing to groups like the twelvers, the Faylīs, the Nuṣayriyyah, and the Yazīdiyyah and other than them. Kurds did not experience any problems regarding tribalism and racism during the days of the Ottoman Empire. Rather, some of them reached the highest political and military positions under the shade of this Islamic state.
But when this large nation collapsed due to internal and external factors, the turmoil continued and accusations of racism emerged. The Kurds –like the Arabs and the Turks- became the targets of accusations of favoritism which invaded the homes of the Muslims at the expense of unity in matters of belief and Islamic brotherhood. In this way, Kurdistān became a hotbed for the banners of Kurdish nationalism and Marxism.
The source of the Kurdish problem today lies in two main factors: The existence of nationalistic aspirations held by a majority of the Kurds in the four main countries in which they live: (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria). And their sense of social and political oppression which was imposed upon them by the governments of these countries. And of course, this (second) factor used to be a major reason for the strengthening of the first factor (nationalistic tendencies).
Certainly, the current state of affairs which were founded incrementally amongst the people of the region after the demise of the Islamic Caliphate and it is these affairs that have exerted great strength in opposition to Islam and have also worked towards the spreading and strengthening secularist principles which are accompanied by left-wing ideas of socialism and Marxism. As a result of this, the condition that became customary amongst the Kurdish people involved nationalistic aspirations that were perpetuated by opportunistic individuals and left-wing principles that take advantage of every manifestation of oppression that affects the Kurdish people.
In Turkey, the rule of Kemalism was practiced. Repulsive nationalistic political policies were practiced that manifested itself in its fundamental rejection of the very existence of Kurdish nationalism to the extent that official Turkish media outlets refused to use the term Kurds which they replaced with the term “Mountain Turks” which they used to describe them.
This led to strong reactions from the Kurds that was represented by their adoption of Kurdish nationalism and several of their youth embracing principles of Marxism. And from the most distinct examples of that is the popularity of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
As for Iran, then the situation there was not much worse, since the Shah used to practice a dictatorship which caused the general masses of Iranian people to suffer; particularly the Sunni Muslims. Indeed, the Kurds attempted to benefit from the turbulent atmosphere that followed the Second World War by establishing an independent state especially for them. So they announced in 1946 the establishment of (the republic of Mahabad) in the northwestern region [taking the city] (Mahabad) as the capital for their new country. This new country continued for a number of months before it was taken by the armies of the Shah. And to this day, the Kurds continue to suffer from the problem of discrimination against them by the government (Wilāyah al-Faqīh) which follows a policy which is a combination of racism, nationalism, and sectarian fanaticism.
As for Syria, then the Kurds there continue to suffer from the criminal policies of the Baʿth party. This is the same Baʿath Party that hides its severely zealous sectarian fanaticism towards (Nuṣayriyyah) behind the guise of Arabism while Arabism is far removed from it.
As for the condition of the Kurds in Iraq, then there they suffer as all of the Iraqis do, from the oppression and persecution which occurred during the days of the horrific Baʿthist rule whose oppression reached its peak in the tragedy of Ḥalabjah in march of 1988 when five thousand Kurdish people were killed as a result of the use of chemical weapons. Likewise the genocide otherwise known as the (Anfāl campaign) which occurred in August of the same year in which tens of thousands of Kurds and thousands of villages were removed from existence.
Then the events of the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 CE and the downfall of the Baʿathist regime gave the Kurds a good opportunity to demand separation and the establishment of an independent entity in Iraqi Kurdistan or at the very least their own autonomy. In order to achieve this, they entered into a fragile alliance with the Shiite sectarian forces in the south which was sponsored by America and encouraged by Iran completely forgetting the Sunni Arabs who were thrust into a difficult situation because of this disgraceful alliance.
There are a number of different parties, inclinations, and goals which are active in Iraqi Kurdistan exemplified by the following:
1- The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) under the leadership of Masʿūd al-Bārāzānī (who is the current President of the Kurdish region) is an old secular and nationalist political party.
2- The Democratic National Union of Kurdistan (YNDK) under the leadership of Jalāl aṭ-Ṭālabānī (who is the current President of the Republic of Iraq) is a secular and nationalist political party that broke away from the first group.
3- The Kurdistan Communist Party which is the largest faction of the parties and organizations that represent the left-wing ideology.
4- The Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (or the Kurdistan Islamic Movement) is an old Islamic movement founded by Shaykh ʿUthmān ʿAbdul-ʿAzīz (P) that is currently led by his brother ʿAlī ibn ʿAbdul-ʿAzīz.
5- The Islamic Group of Iraqi Kurdistan which is led by Shaykh ʿAlī Bābayr.
6- The Kurdistan Islamic Union is the faction that promotes the ideas of the Muslim brotherhood in Iraqi Kurdistan which was announced in February of 1994 CE. This faction is led by Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Muḥammad Bahāʾ ad-Dīn.
The painful reality of Iraq today requires the following from the Kurdish Islamic movements:
1- To work towards the unity of Kurdish Muslims in opposition to great influence of the secular parties, nationalism, tribalism, and communism.
2- The Kurdish people’s awareness of the importance of the unity of Iraq since working towards the establishment of an independent Kurdish entity will likely ignite the entire region.
3- Coordination between the parties and the Sunni Arab powers; particularly the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) with the goal of confronting colonial projects, sectarianism, and denominationalism that target not only Iraq but rather Islam in the long term.
Certainly the real challenge today which confronts the offspring of the heroic Kurdish people who are the descendants of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn the liberator of Jerusalem and the descendants of Shaykh Saʿīd Pirān who rebelled against Ataturk in order to prevent the diversion of our fellow Kurds who represent a fuse in the hand of the internal and external enemies that could ignite a fire in the region that would be devastating. Indeed the real challenge which confronts the Kurdish Islamists particularly is whether they can temper the excessiveness of nationalistic emotions amongst the offspring of Kurdish Muslims and will they prevent themselves from becoming a ticking bomb that will destroy the conditions that are not just involved with the four nations; but rather all of the Middle East. Just look at the preliminary indications of this that we see today in Lebanon, Darfur, and Somalia.