Table of Contents in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia

Kurds in Asia

History of KŪRDISTĀN

In its wider sense, it is the “country of the Kūrds” (Koords), including that part of Mount Taurus which buttresses the Armenian table-land (see Armenia), and is intersected by the Batman Su, the Bohtan Su, and other tributaries of the Tigris; and the wild mountain district, watered by the Great and Little Zab, which marks the western termination of the great Iranian plateau. (…)

With regard to the origin of the Kūrds, it was formerly considered sufficient to describe them as the descendants of the Carduchi, who opposed the retreat of the Ten Thousand through the mountains, but modern research traces them far beyond the period of the Greeks. At the dawn of history the mountains overhanging Assyria were held by a people named Gūtū, a title which signified “a warrior,” and which was rendered in Assyrian by the synonym of Gardu or Kardu, the precise term quoted by Strabo to explain the name of the Cardaces (Κάρδακες). These Gūtū were a Turanian tribe of such power as to be placed in the early cuneiform records on an equality with the other nations of western Asia, that is, with the Syrians and Hittites, the Susians, Elamites, and Akkadians of Babylonia; and during the whole period of the Assyrian empire they seem to have preserved a more or less independent political position. After the fall of Nineveh they coalesced with the Medes, and, in common with all the nations inhabiting the high plateaus of Asia Minor, Armenia and Persia, became gradually Aryanized, owing to the immigration at this period of history of tribes in overwhelming numbers which, from whatever quarter they may have sprung, belonged certainly to the Aryan family.

The Gūtū or Kūrdu were reduced to subjection by Cyrus before he descended upon Babylon, and furnished a contingent of fighting men to his successors, being thus mentioned under the names of Saspirians and Alarodians in the muster roll of the army of Xerxes which was preserved by Herodotus.

In later times they passed successively under the sway of the Macedonians, the Parthians, and Sassanians, being especially befriended, if we may judge from tradition as well as from the remains still existing in the country, by the Arsacian monarchs, who were probably of a cognate race. Gotarzes indeed, whose name may perhaps be translated “chief of the Gūtū,” was traditionally believed to be the founder of the Gurāns, the principal tribe of southern Kūrdistān, and his name and titles are still preserved in a Greek inscription at 951 Behistun near the Kūrdish capital of Kermānshāh. “The Kalhūr tribe are traditionally descended from Gudarz-ibn-Gīo, whose son Roham was sent by Bahman Keiāni to destroy Jerusalem and bring the Jews into captivity. This Roham is the individual usually called Bokht-i-nasser (Nebuchadrezzar) and he ultimately succeeded to the throne. The neighbouring country has ever since remained in the hands of his descendants, who are called Gurāns” (Sheref-Nama, Persian MS.). The same popular tradition still exists in the country, and ΓΩΤΑΡΖΗΟ ΓΕΟΠΟΘΡΟΣ is found on the rock at Behistun, showing that Gudarz-ibn-Gīo was really an historic personage. See Journ. Roy. Geog. Soc. ix. 114.

Under the caliphs of Bagdad the Kūrds were always giving trouble in one quarter or another. In a.d. 838, and again in 905, there were formidable insurrections in northern Kūrdistān; the amir, Adod-addaula, was obliged to lead the forces of the caliphate against the southern Kūrds, capturing the famous fortress of Sermāj, of which the ruins are to be seen at the present day near Behistun, and reducing the province of Shahrizor with its capital city now marked by the great mound of Yassin Teppeh. The most flourishing period of Kūrdish power was probably during the 12th century of our era, when the great Saladin, who belonged to the Rawendi branch of the Hadabāni tribe, founded the Ayyubite dynasty of Syria, and Kūrdish chiefships were established, not only to the east and west of the Kūrdistān mountains, but as far as Khorāsān upon one side and Egypt and Yemen on the other. During the Mongol and Tatar domination of western Asia the Kūrds in the mountains remained for the most part passive, yielding a reluctant obedience to the provincial governors of the plains.

When Sultan Selim I., after defeating Shah Ismail, 1514, annexed Armenia and Kūrdistān, he entrusted the organization of the conquered territories to Idris, the historian, who was a Kūrd of Bitlis. Idris found Kūrdistān bristling with castles, held by hereditary tribal chiefs of Kūrd, Arab, and Armenian descent, who were practically independent, and passed their time in tribal warfare or in raiding the agricultural population. He divided the territory into sanjaks or districts, and, making no attempt to interfere with the principle of heredity, installed the local chiefs as governors. He also resettled the rich pastoral country between Erzerūm and Erivan, which had lain waste since the passage of Timūr, with Kūrds from the Hakkiari and Bohtan districts. The system of administration introduced by Idris remained unchanged until the close of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29. But the Kūrds, owing to the remoteness of their country from the capital and the decline of Turkey, had greatly increased in influence and power, and had spread westwards over the country as far as Angora.

After the war the Kūrds attempted to free themselves from Turkish control, and in 1834 it became necessary to reduce them to subjection. This was done by Reshid Pasha. The principal towns were strongly garrisoned, and many of the Kūrd beys were replaced by Turkish governors. A rising under Bedr Khān Bey in 1843 was firmly repressed, and after the Crimean War the Turks strengthened their hold on the country. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 was followed by the attempt of Sheikh Obaidullah, 1880-81, to found an independent Kūrd principality under the protection of Turkey. The attempt, at first encouraged by the Porte, as a reply to the projected creation of an Armenian state under the suzerainty of Russia (see Armenia), collapsed after Obaidullah’s raid into Persia, when various circumstances led the central government to reassert its supreme authority.

Until the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29 there had been little hostile feeling between the Kūrds and the Armenians, and as late as 1877-1878 the mountaineers of both races had got on fairly well together. Both suffered from Turkey, both dreaded Russia. But the national movement amongst the Armenians, and its encouragement by Russia after the last war, gradually aroused race hatred and fanaticism. In 1891 the activity of the Armenian Committees induced the Porte to strengthen the position of the Kūrds by raising a body of Kūrdish irregular cavalry, which was well armed and called Hamidieh after the Sultan. The opportunities thus offered for plunder and the gratification of race hatred brought out the worst qualities of the Kūrds. Minor disturbances constantly occurred, and were soon followed by the massacre of Armenians at Sasūn and other places, 1894-96, in which the Kūrds took an active part.



Notes and References

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition)

See Also

Further Reading

Rich, Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan (1836); Wagner, Reise nach Persien und dem Lande der Kurden (Leipzig, 1852); Consul Taylor in R. G. S. Journal (1865); Millingen, Wild Life among the Koords (1870); Von Luschan, “Die Wandervolker Kleinasiens,” in Vn. d. G. für Anthropologie (Berlin, 1886); Clayton, “The Mountains of Kūrdistān,” in Alpine Journal (1887); Binder, Au Kūrdistan (Paris, 1887); Naumann, Vom Goldnen Horn zu den Quellen des Euphrat (Munich, 1893); Murray, Handbook to Asia Minor, &c. (1895); Lerch, Forschungen über die Kurden (St Petersburg, 1857-58); Jaba, Dict. Kurde-Français (St Petersburg, 1879); Justi, Kurdische Grammatik (1880); Prym and Socin, Kurdische Sammlungen (1890); Makas, Kurdische Studien (1901); Earl Percy, Highlands of Asiatic Turkey (1901); Lynch, Armenia (1901); A. V. Williams Jackson, Persia, Past and Present (1906).

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