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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The Kurdish people live in a region to the south of the Caucasus Mountains, covering an estimated area of at least 100,000 square miles, including a large part of southern Turkey and northern Iraq as well as smaller parts of western Iran and north-east Syria. About 25-30 million Kurds live in the area.

Sumerian records from the 3rd millennium BCE mention a land to the south of Lake Van called Karda or Qarda, home of a mountain dwelling group called the Qurtie. Another possible mention of the Kurds is in Assyrian documents from about 1100 BCE which describe the Kurti or Kurkhi people who lived in the Hizan and Mount Judi regions. They fought against the Assyrians, led by their king Tiglath-Pilseser I, who burnt 25 of their villages.

Many Kurds consider themselves descendants of the Medes, an Iranian people who defeated the Assyrians in 612 BCE. A 15th century Armenian manuscript, probably copied from an older document, includes a Christian prayer in a Median language using a northern Kurdish dialect called Kurmanji. Some scholars believe the Kurdish language as a whole can be traced back to the Medes. Around 200 BCE, the Cyrtii, a people who lived in the mountains of western Persia and spoke a Median language, are possible ancestors of the Kurds.

The Cambridge History of Iran states that the Kardouchi or Carduchi of Mesopotamia in the 4th century BCE are likely Kurdish ancestors. The Carduchi came into contact with the Macedonians, Parthians, Sassanids and Arsacids. Parthian king Gotarzes is thought to have founded the Gurans, the main tribe in the southern part of Kurdistan. The Seleucids resettled many Kurds into western Anatolia in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE. In 190 BCE, Roman historian Livy mentions thousands of Kurdish soldiers fighting for Antiochus III against the Romans.

The state of Corduene or Gorduene was a Kurdish or proto-Kurdish state that became a Roman Empire province in 66 BCE. It remained under Roman control until 384 CE. In 530 CE, the Kurds lost their flocks and orchards in four years of cold weather, while at the same time they were fending off attacks from Syrian and Byzantine forces. In the 5th century, Kurds living in the mountains of northern Mesopotamia were known to worship the sun. Their sun worshipping rituals, and the sacrifice of an ox, were recorded in the 7th century. They lived a sedentary life raising cattle and sheep. During the Muslim conquests, Arab commander Utba overran Kurdish forts in Adiabene in 641. Kurds took part in the Khariji revolt in 696.

By the 9th and 10th centuries, the Kurds were regarded as a nuisance by Baghdad leaders. In southern Kurdistan, Baghdad caliphs captured the fortress of Sermaj. In 833, southern Kurdish forces led by Babak Khorramdin and Christian convert Nasr were defeated by Islamic Abbasid Caliphate from Baghdad, killing 60,000 Kurds. Nasr escaped to Byzantine and formed the Kurdish group of Theophilus, attacking the caliphate in 838. In that year and 905, Kurdish disturbances were quelled in the northern areas.

The subsequent weakening of the Muslim caliphate enabled the Kurds to establish independent states or dynasties in the Medieval period. By the late 10th century, there were five large Kurdish principalities across Kurdistan. All five states were annexed by the Seljuk Turks in the 12th century. The region was devastated by Mongol attacks in the following century and by the Timur in the 14th century. The Akkoyunlu disposed of many of the ruling Kurds in the 15th century, replacing them with their own people. The Kurds fared no better during the Ottoman era (1299-1922), fighting and losing many battles against the superior forces of the Turks.

The Kurds continue to face widespread discrimination in the various countries they live in. Some of the restrictions on Kurdish culture and language are gradually being relaxed but there is still a long way to go. Only in Iraq have they been given autonomy.

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