The Iraqi people have a long history of political groups that still have influence on modern time Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds are one of such groups. In light of the recent circumstances, there is ample information available. This group of people are very unique in their lifestyle, family structure, and political roles. This paper will discuss all of these different areas.
The land inhabited by the Iraqi Kurds consists of mountain ranges, hillsides with scattered oak forests, and river valleys that can support orchards and vineyards (Bulloch 1993). The climate there is very severe. In the Northern parts the temperatures can fall to -20F in the winter and can rise above 100F in the summer (Bulloch 1993). In the lower lands, the climate is milder. The temperatures are consistently high, they are more predictable, and transportation is easier along the Tigris River Valley (Chaliand 1993). The Kurdish area includes a good portion of the vast Iraqi oil fields, especially in the province of Mosul. This is the area where international politics have swirled since before World War I (Kurdish Life 2003). The largest city in northern Iraq is the oil town of Kirkuk, which used to be about half-and-half Kurdish and Turkmen before the Iraqi government systematically reduced the Kurdish and increased the Arab population in the 1970s (Bulloch 1992). The town of Arbil and Sulemaniye are almost entirely Kurdish (Chaliand 1993).
The total Kurdish population of northern Iraq is estimated at three million (Bulloch 1992). They are the dominant ethnic group living there, although they have shared the area with Arabs, with Assyrian Christians who have lived there for centuries, and with Turkmen’s who have lived in the area around Kirkuk since they were moved there by the Ottoman Turks (Kurdish Life 2003). Kurds have very black hair, dark brown eyes and olive complexions, but there are many Kurds with light brown or blond hair, and sometimes blue eyes (Kurdish Life 2003). They tend to be shorter and lighter than the average American. Traditional clothes for men consist of loose trousers with a shirt and jacket, cummerbund, and a skullcap over which is worn a turban folded from a large square of material (The Kurds 2003). Colors of clothing are frequently symbolic of the tribe, alliance, or political party its wearer belongs to. Yellow is the color of the PUK (The Kurds 2003). Green is the color of the KDP (The Kurds 2003). Women’s clothing typically consists of loose trousers, a long loose overdress, a vest, and a headscarf covering the hair (The Kurds 2003). Some of the women’s dresses and men’s shirts have long, pointed sleeve extensions that are tied in the back or wrapped around the arms when working (The Kurds 2003).
The family is very important to the Kurdish people. A household typically consists of a husband, a wife, and their children (Bulloch 1992). A girl marries into her husband’s family and is very much under the thumb of her mother-in-law, who wields power considerably understated by her public behavior (Bulloch 1992). Most Kurdish marriages are arranged, and these marriages are usually endogamous.
Kurdish society is traditionally tribal. Kurdish tribes are united more by geographical area than by relationship to a common ancestor. Traditionally, a Kurdish tribe or local political group at any given time had an acknowledged leader to who absolute loyalty was expected (Kurdish Life 2003). The leader’s position was in some cases hereditary and in other cases elective and his power was frequently perceived in terms of the wealth at his command (Kurdish Life 2003). The leader made all decisions and could be counted on to keep foremost in mind the benefit to the tribe members and consequently to his own power as leader (The Kurds 2003). The inaccessibility of the area has caused the Kurdish society has remained basically tribal or local, despite the fact that the area has been nominally controlled by larger political entities for centuries (Chaliand 1993). A traditional Kurd does not think of him or herself as one of millions of Kurds, but rather as a member of a tribe, a locality, or a political party (Chaliand 1993). Even the Kurds that live in the cities identify themselves with a local group or party, rather than as members of a larger ethnic or national group.
The Iraqi Kurds are predominantly peasants. They grow wheat and barley. They also raise chickens, sheep, and goats for wool and meat. When oil was discovered in the Kurdish area, many Kurds moved towards the oil industry and relocated in the towns and cities close to the oil fields (The Kurds 2003). Kurds from the uneducated labor force in many towns and cities in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, have become skilled bricklayers, butchers, cattle deals, and small traders (Kurdish Life 2003). Many Kurdish men are career soldiers. In Iraq, they serve in the Iraqi army, their loyalty to it depending on whether they were conscripted, and whether their local leaders are allied with the army (Bulloch 1992). The Kurds have proven that they are very good at guerrilla warfare. This can be seen even today in light of the war in Iraq.
Kurds are generally Muslim, usually the more liberal Muslims (The Kurds 2003). Kurdish women have never covered their faces and have never worn the garments that completely cover the bodies worn by some of the Arab and Iranian women (The Kurds 2003). Many aspects of daily Kurdish life, for example their bathing requirements, are determined by essentially Muslim customs and strictures (The Kurds 2003). Although the Kurds observe the Muslim holidays and most of the Muslim customs, they do not, however let themselves be controlled by their religion.
As stated earlier, the Kurds are tribal people which causes their political situation to be egalitarian (Haviland 2002). This form of government causes one man to be in charge. The conflict resolutions in tribes are typically informal, which carries over into the Kurdish way of life (Haviland 2002).
The Kurds are an interesting group of people that have existed in Iraq and the surrounding areas from as early as 3,000 B.C. These people are a tribal people that are peasants, religious, and military. They work hard and fight for what their tribal leader tell them. The Kurds are involved in this war going on with Iraq, and have become an important asset to the Coalition Forces.
Bulloch, John and Harvey Morris (1992). No Friends But the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds. New York: Oxford University Press.
Chaliand, Gerard (1993). A people Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan. Michael Pallis, translator. New York: Olive Branch Press.
Haviland, William A (2002). Cultural Anthropology, Tenth Edition. Jefferson City: Von Hoffman Press.
“Kurdish Life.” Retrieved on April 26, 2003 from http://neon.memss.cmu.edu/ozturk/kurd.html.
“The Kurds.” Retrieved on April 26, 2003 from http://www.xsrall.nl%7Etank/kurdish/htdocs/.