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The Kurds are an ethnic group comprising (according to some sources) about 25 million people, primarily in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. For over a century, many Kurds have been campaigning for the right to their own state, which they would call Kurdistan -- by some accounts the Kurds are the largest ethnic group without their own state. However, despite promises of the creation of such a state made in the early 20th century, all the region's governments are opposed to it.

The Kurds constitute the only sizable minority in Turkey. The exact number of Kurdish people living in Middle East is unknown due to both absence of a recent study on this issue and the fact that some of Kurdish people have mixed with other local ethnic groups. The estimated numbers for the percentage of Kurdish people living in Turkey vary from 3% (Encyclopedia Americana [1] (http://go.grolier.com)) to 20% (CIA Factbook [2] (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/)). They are concentrated in the east and southeast regions of Turkey.

Kurdish guerillas launched attacks on Turkish targets in 1984, and since then they have fought against the Turkish government for independence and the right to be educated in Kurdish schools, with little success. In 1999, the Turkish government had a major victory when it abducted Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), one of the groups fighting for Kurdish rights and independence. Turkey then placed him on trial for treason and sentenced him to life imprisonment. After that the Kurdish rebel movement in Turkey declared that it would end its military attacks to create a Kurdish homeland but continue its activites on political platform.

The Kurdish guerillas have been and continue to be persecuted by both Iraq and Turkey. Turkey bans the use of the Kurdish language, and refuses to recognize them as an ethnic group but Kurds may take their place in any part of Turkish life including the National Assembly. Iraq has launched poison gas attacks against Kurdish towns or villages.

Some improvements in Kurdish rights have however been made under pressure from the European Union. The European Union has made membership for Turkey conditional on, among other things, better treatment of its Kurdish minority. In August 2002, Turkey accepted the EU's conditions, and amended certain of its restrictions on the Kurds.

See also History of the Kurds and Timeline of the Kurds

Kurdish organisations

larger version
Map of Kurdistan courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

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