Saturday, August 05, 2006


Boundaries & Political Geography

By: Prof. Mehrdad R. Izady

The vast Kurdish homeland consists of about 200,000 square miles of territory. Its area is roughly equal to that of France, or of the states of California and New York combined.

Kurdistan straddles the mountainous northern boundaries of the Middle East, separating the region from the former Soviet Union. It resembles an inverted letter V, with the joint pointing in the direction of the Caucasus and the arms toward the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

In the absence of an independent state, Kurdistan is defined as the areas in which Kurds constitute an ethnic majority today. Kurdish ethnic domains border strategically on the territories of the three other major ethnic groups of the Middle East: the Arabs to the south, the Persians to the east, and the Turks to the west. In addition to these primary ethnic neighbors, there are many smaller ethnic groups whose territories border those of the Kurds, such as the Georgians (including the Lâz) and the Armenians to the north, the Azeris to the northeast, the Lurs to the southeast, and the Turcomans to the southwest.

Historically, the range of lands in which Kurdish populations have predominated has fluctuated. Kurdish ethnic territorial domains have contracted as much as they have expanded, depending on the demographic, historical, and economic circumstances of given regions of Kurdistan. A detailed analysis of migrations, deportations, and integration and assimilation is provided under Human Geography.

In the north of Kurdistan, Kurds now occupy almost half of what was traditionally the Armenian homeland, that is, the areas northeast of Lake Vân in modern Turkey. On the other hand, from the 9th to the 16th centuries, the western Kurdish lands of Pontus, Cappadocia, Commagene, and eastern Cilicia were gradually forfeited to the Byzantine Greeks, Syrian Aramaeans, and later the Turcomans and Turks. This last trend, however, has begun to reverse itself in the present century.

Vast areas of Kurdistan in the southern Zagros, stretching from the Kirmânshâh region to the Straits of Hormuz and beyond, have been gradually and permanently lost to the combination of the heavy northwestward emigration of Kurds and the ethnic metamorphosis of many Kurds into Lurs and others since the beginning of the 9th century AD. The assimilation process continues today and can, for example, be observed among the Laks, who, although they still speak a Kurdish dialect, have been more strongly associated with the neighboring Lurs than with other Kurds. The distinction between the Kurds and their ethnic neighbors remains most blurred in southeastern Kurdistan in the area where they neighbor the Lurs, that is, on the Hamadân-Kirmânshâh-Ilâm axis.

Since the 16th century, contiguous Kurdistan has been augmented by two large, detached exclaves of (mainly deported) Kurds. The central Anatolian exclave includes the area around the towns of Yunak, Haymâna, and Cihanbeyli/Jihânbeyli, south of the Turkish capital of Ankara (the site of ancient Phrygia Magna). It extends into the mountainous districts of north-central Anatolia (the site of ancient Pontus), where it is bounded by the towns of Tokat, Yozgat, Çorum, and Amasya in the Yisilirmâq river basin. The fast-expanding north-central Anatolian segment of the exclave now has more Kurds than the older segment in central Anatolia. It is doubtful that, except for some very small Dimili-speaking pockets, this colony harbors any of the ancient Pontian Kurds who lived here until the Byzantine deportations of the 9th century.

The north Khurâsân exclave in eastern Iran is centered on the towns of Quchân and Bujnurd and came into existence primarily as a result of deportations and resettlements conducted from the 16th to the 18th centuries in Persia.

Following World War I, Kurds found themselves and their homeland divided among five sovereign states, with the largest portions of Kurdish territory in Turkey (43%), followed by Iran (31%), Iraq (18%), Syria (6%), and the former Soviet Union (2%). Since 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, fragments of Kurdish land are now also in the newly independent republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkmenistan. These states have at various stages subdivided Kurdistan into a myriad of administrative units and provinces. Only in western Iran has the Kurdish historical name, even though corrupted, been preserved, in the province of "Kordestan," with its capital at Sanandaj.

A rather peculiar and confusing by-product of the division of Kurdistan among contending states and geopolitical power blocs is its four time zones (five if Kurdish regions of Turkmenistan are also counted). The continental United States, 15 times larger than Kurdistan, also has four time zones, while China in its colossal entirety keeps but a single time zone. Geographically, Kurdistan fits perfectly into one time zone, 3 hours ahead of Greenwich, England. The standard -3-hour time zone is defined as the area between 35 and 50 degrees east of Greenwich. With its western and eastern borders at, respectively, 36 and 49 degrees east, Kurdistan would almost perfectly fall into this single time zone.

Kurdish Worldwide Resources Copyright © 1997-99 , All rights reserved for Prof. M. R. Izady

No comments: