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The Kurds are a scattered, tribal people who live in the plateaus and mountains where Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey overlap. They make up a significant minority of the population of these Middle Eastern states. They are mainly Sunni Muslim, but have a language and culture of their own, quite different from the Arabs, Persians, and Turks.
In the early 20th century, a Kurdish nationalist movement came into being and gained major concessions in a treaty made in the early 1920’s which included provisions for the creation of a Kurdish state. However, shortly following this treaty was the end of the Turkish monarchy, and the new government of Turkey agreed with Iraq and Iran not to recognize an independent Kurdish state. Denied a state of their own, Kurds have remained a persecuted minority in the Middle East because of the agreement between the three countries and the lack of many nations to recognize them as a distinct ethnicity. They are continually denied religious and cultural rights.
Human rights groups have criticized the Turkish government for its treatment of the Kurdish people that live within its borders. Also, Kurds have been the targets for oppressive regimes, mainly in Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, Kurds have been at war since 1974, and in 1988, Iraqi soldiers killed thousands of Kurds in a poison-gas attack on a populated village. In Iran, Kurdish people supported the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, only to be faced with more persecution under the Shi-ite Muslim rule that came into power.
Many factors are involved with the reason why the Kurdish people do not have a state. Because their original territory spreads over four countries, these nations do not wish to give up their land for an ethnic group they do not even recognize. Also, valuable oil and water sources (headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates) are found in Kurdistan, giving Turkey and Iraq good reason to hold on to the precious land.
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