© Michelle May
The Kurdish people are a heterogeneous ethnic group whose ethnic background comes from many regions including Iraqi Kurdistan, and parts of Iran, Turkey, and Syria. The Kurdish ethnic group includes many ancient ethnicities that have been absorbed into modern cultures including Iranian, Azerbaijani, Turkic and Arabic cultures. In this sense, the Kurdish culture shares commonalities with many other regional cultures, and celebrates a unique level of cultural equality and tolerance.
The Struggle for Kurdish Cultural Survival
In addition to political repression, the Kurds have also experienced cultural repression. In Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, there were extensive campaigns at forced assimilation. Kurds were forbidden to speak Kurdish in public, they had to change their names to local ethnic names if they wanted a job or to enroll their children in school. Their books, music and clothing were considered contraband and they had to hide them in their homes. If authorities searched their homes and found anything Kurdish, they could be imprisoned, and many were. In recent years, both Iran and Turkey have relaxed their systemic cultural repression, while Iraqi Kurds have achieved autonomy.
Kurdish Poetry and Song
Kurdish culture has a rich oral tradition. Most popular are epic poems called lawj, and they often tell of adventure in love or battle.
Kurdish literature first appeared in the seventh century AD. In 1596, Sharaf Khan, Emir of Bitlis, composed a history of the Kurds in Persian called the Sharafnama. Almost one hundred years later, in 1695, a great national epic called the Memozin was written in Kurdish by Ahmed Khani.
Dengbej refers to a musician who performs traditional Kurdish folk songs. The word ‘deng’ means voice and ‘bej’ means ‘to sing.’ Dengbej are best known for their “stran,” or song of mourning.
Traditional Kurdish instruments include the flute, drums, and the ut-ut (similar to a guitar). The music of Sivan Perwar, a Kurdish pop music performer, was banned in Turkey and Iraq in the 1980s, so he left the region to live and work in Sweden.
Carpet-weaving is by far the most significant Kurdish folk art. Kurdish rugs and carpets use medallion patterns; however, far more popular are the all-over floral, Mina Khani motifs and the “jaff” geometric patterns. The beauty of Kurdish designs are enriched by high-chroma blues, greens, saffrons as well as terracotta and burnt orange hues made richer still by the lustrous wool used.
The traditional Kurdish rug uses Kurdish symbols. It is possible to read the dreams, wishes and hopes of the rug maker from the sequence of symbols used. It is this signification and communication both individually and grouped into Kurdish rug making Kurdish people study how meaning is constructed and understood by talking with the rug maker.
Other crafts are embroidery, leather-working, and metal ornamentation. Kurds are especially known for copper-working.
Popular sports include soccer, wrestling, hunting and shooting, and cirit, a traditional sport that involves throwing a javelin while mounted on horseback. Camel-and horse-racing are popular in rural areas.
Numbering over 22 million, the Kurds are one of the largest non-state nations in the world. Their homeland, Kurdistan, has been forcibly divided and lies mostly within the present-day borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, with smaller parts in Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The greatest number of Kurds today still live in Kurdistan, though a large Kurdish diaspora has developed in this century, especially in the main cities of Turkey and Iran and more recently in Europe as well. Between 10 and 12 million Kurds live in Turkey, where they comprise about 20 percent of the population. Between 5 and 6 million live in Iran, accounting for close to 10 percent of the population. Kurds in Iraq number more than 4 million, and comprise about 23 percent of the population.
In the modern era, the Kurdish nation, with its distinctive society and culture, has had to confront in all of the “host” states centralizing, ethnically-based nationalist regimes -- Turkish, Arab and Persian -- with little or no tolerance for expressions of national autonomy within their borders. While the modes and scale of oppression have varied in time and by place, the conditions of Kurds share some important features. First, the Kurdish areas overlap nation-state borders: They thus acquire significance for “national security” and are vulnerable to interference and manipulation by regional and international powers. Second, the Kurdish regions of these countries are usually the poorest, least developed areas, systematically marginalized by the centers of economic power. Third, the dynamics of assimilation, repression and Kurdish resistance in each country have affected the direction and outcome of the Kurdish struggles in the neighboring countries. A fourth shared feature, and the focus of this essay, is that these Kurdish societies are themselves internally complex, and fraught with differences of politics and ideology, social class, dialect and, still in a few places, clan.
In spite of a long history of struggle, Kurdish nationalism has not succeeded in achieving its goal of independence or even enduring autonomy. Do recent events require us to change this assessment? In 1992, a Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan was established, but it is economically besieged and functions very much at the sufferance of a Western military umbrella. In Turkey, a ten-year-old armed struggle has effectively defied the unrestrained efforts of the Turkish state to impose a military solution, but a political solution acceptable to the Kurds does not appear imminent. The Kurdish movement, in contrast to many other national liberation movements, has experienced a persistent contradiction between its traditional leadership and the relatively developed society it seeks to liberate. Only to the extent that this may be changing does the future hold some promise for Kurdish aspirations. Today, about half the population lives in urban centers, and feudal relations of production in rural areas have almost disappeared. Yet the politics and ideology of much of the leadership can hardly be distinguished from the worldview of landed notables of the past.
One reason for this may be that Kurdish nationalism emerged as an ideology long before the formation of the Kurds as a nation, not in a middle-class milieu but in a largely agrarian society with a powerful tribal component. From the sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, much of Kurdistan was under the rule of independent and autonomous Kurdish principalities that produced a flourishing rural and urban life in the seventeenth century. 
Kurdish destinies changed radically around this time, when the Ottoman and Persian empires divided Kurdistan into spheres of influence, agreeing on a border in 1639. In order to protect their sovereignty, the principalities supported one or the other power, and for most of the next three centuries a prevailing war economy destroyed the agrarian system, devastated villages and towns, precipitated massacres and led to forcible migrations of Kurds and the settlement of Turkish tribes in parts of Kurdistan. All of this inhibited further growth of urban areas and settled agrarian production relations, reinforcing tribal ways of life.
Although the war economy retarded the consolidation of the Kurds as a nation, the destruction and suffering stimulated apolitical consciousness that was unprecedented in the region. This emerged first in the realms of language and literature when, in the sixteenth century, Kurdish ulama broke the monopoly of Arabic and Persian languages over literary production. In 1597, Sharaf Khan, prince of the powerful Bidlis principality, compiled the first history of Kurdistan, Sharafnameh. Although written in Persian, this text presents historical data on the degree of independence enjoyed by different Kurdish states. Thus, the first chapter is about the dynasties that enjoyed the privilege of royalty; the second deals with rulers who did not claim royalty but sometimes struck coin and had khutba (Friday prayer sermons) recited in their names, and so forth. 
The most important literary manifestation of political awareness was Ahmad-e Khani (1651-1706), who in 1694-1695 rewrote the Kurdish popular ballad “Mem u Zin” in the form of a poetic narrative romance. “Why have the Kurds been deprived, why have they all been subjugated?” he asked. He rejected the view that it was because they were “ignorant” or “without perfection.” They were subordinated, rather, because they were “orphans,” i.e., without a king who would unite the discordant principalities and form an independent kingdom. Although they excelled in qualities of munificence and bravery, the princes refused to unite under the suzerainty of a Kurdish king. Khani is explicitly modern in his conceptualization of the Kurds as a nation. He referred to Kurds, Arabs, Persians and Turks as milal (plural of milla) not in the then-prevailing meaning of “religious community” but rather in an ethnic sense. 
The second apostle of Kurdish nationalism, Haji Qadiri Koyi (1817?-1897), was also a mullah and poet, but even more secular. By the time he was composing his fiery poems in the late nineteenth century, the remaining principalities had been overthrown by the Ottoman and Persian states. Koyi attacked the sheikhs and mullahs who did not care for the Kurdish language and the notables who ignored the destinies of their people. Living his last years in cosmopolitan Istanbul, he was familiar with the nationalist struggles and the material advancement of modern nations. He constantly advocated use of the Kurdish language. Although his own medium was poetry, he urged the Kurds to publish magazines and newspapers.
Khani and Koyi’s propositions amount to a political manifesto: The Kurds are a distinct people with a distinct language, homeland and way of life. The road to emancipation is the formation of an independent and unified Kurdish state. Ideologically, however, Khani spoke for the ruling princes and sought liberation in unification under a powerful king. By contrast, Koyi’s ideas reflected budding modern social forces within Kurdish society.  He advocated both national liberation and transformation of Kurdish society.
Although these modernist ideas were constantly repeated in poetry and journalism, social forces capable of translating them into political parties and platforms did not enter the scene until the 1940s.  How can we account for this lag? For one thing, the fall of the principalities had not been due to the rise of new social forces, and did not by any means put an end to feudal relations and tribalism. Rather, the system of Kurdish principalities was overthrown and replaced by two centralizing although loosely integrated imperial regimes in Istanbul and Tehran. The vacant leadership of the princes was filled by the sheikhs, notables and remnants of princely families who retained property and influence.
These are the elements that continued to shape the nationalist struggle until the mid-twentieth century. In spite of the diversity of revolts in the first part of the century, their struggle was for a purely nationalist agenda aiming to replace foreign rule by a native rule that would keep traditional structures intact. Democratic rule, the demands of the peasantry for land and water, the hopes of urban masses for a decent life and the freedom of women were ignored. Militarily, the village and the mountains were the main sites of armed resistance, and the leadership tended to rely on outside powers rather than on a strategy of social transformation of their own societies. When opportunistic outside support withdrew, they gave up the struggle.
The first organizational break with feudal and tribal politics occurred in 1942, with the formation of the Society for the Revival of Kurdistan (known as Komalay J. K. or Komala, the Kurdish word for society or league) in Mahabad, Iran.  Its leadership and membership were largely drawn from the urban bourgeoisie, large and small, educated youth, and nationalist-minded members of the clergy and landed aristocracy.
Komala became the Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1945 in order to establish an autonomous republic in part of the area then in the Soviet sphere of influence. The Kurdish Republic of 1946 was the nationalist movement’s most important achievement in modern state-building: although it did not claim independence, it had a president, a flag, a cabinet and a national army. Kurdish was the official language. It was ruled by a party whose leaders were drawn mostly from the ranks of the urban petty bourgeoisie, and which showed respect for the rights of minorities and certain rights of women.  Although formed within the borders of the Iranian state, hundreds of Iraqi Kurds took an active part in the military and civil administration, including Mustafa Barzani, who became a prominent military leader. The national anthem was a poem composed by a Kurd from Iraq.
The US and Britain viewed the Kurdish and Azerbaijan republics as extensions of Soviet influence, and supported the Shah’s military campaign against them. Soviet troops withdrew from Iran in May 1946, and seven months later Iranian forces forcibly suppressed both autonomous republics. Kurds throughout the world still celebrate duy rebendan (January 22), the foundation date of the republic; its anthem has been adopted as the national anthem; portraits of Qazi Mohammad, the head of the republic, today decorate public and private spaces in areas controlled by the Regional Government of Kurdistan in Iraq.
Following the fall of the Kurdish republic, Kurdish Democratic Parties formed in Iraq and later in Syria and Turkey. The majority of leaders and activists were from the modern intelligentsia, but included anyone who was committed to nationalist aspirations. Each party aimed at achieving autonomy for its respective part of Kurdistan and democracy for the country of which they were part. This was due both to political expediency and to the influence of communist parties in the opposition movements of Iran, Iraq and Syria.
The 1950s were years of major political upheaval in the Middle East. In Kurdistan, feudal relations of production suffered major setbacks, largely due to peasant uprisings and later to land reforms initiated by the central governments.  A visible change in Kurdish society in this period was the rise of the urban population due to the land reforms and the wars in the countryside. Newly freed peasants moved into Kurdish cities, where the lack of industrial enterprises seriously hindered their transformation into wage laborers. While some rural migrants engaged in seasonal or temporary construction work (contractual or wage labor), others ended up in street vending activities. Some migrants maintained their village ties by working in towns while continuing to farm for family consumption. 
The differentiation and specialization in urban economies introduced new social strata. A small Kurdish working class formed in the oil industry, construction and a few factories. Small workshops required auto mechanics, electricians, printers, mechanics, plumbers and painters, while services and transport employed many others. A modern bourgeoisie emerged, comprising mainly professionals rather than entrepreneurs -- doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, bank managers, lawyers and journalists. Migrant labor -- male and female -- traveled as far as Ankara, Baghdad, Istanbul, Tehran, Isfahan and Europe. The traditional intelligentsia, mainly ulama and educated landed notables, was displaced by a growing modern intelligentsia. Another feature of changing social relations was the increasing access of urban women to education, and their participation in social, economic, political and cultural life outside their homes.
These transformations left their impact on the nationalist movement, expanding its social bases and increasing political, ideological and organizational tension. The urban intelligentsia eventually made their presence felt in the countryside, the traditional domain of the landed aristocracy -- this time not as nationalists who sought protection but rather as political and military leaders. This marked the beginning of a bitter struggle within the autonomist movement.
Conflict between old and new broke out in early 1964 in the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq. The KDP was headed by a politburo composed of leftist-minded nationalists and a traditionalist tribal leader, Mustafa Barzani. He had a reputation for courageous struggle against the Iraqi state, had been a military leader in the 1946 Kurdish Republic, and spent 11 years of exile in the Soviet Union. Factions of the landed notables, threatened by Baghdad’s land reform and other radical measures, supported the autonomist movement, but were apprehensive about the radical politics of the politburo. They supported Barzani, who cared little for party organization or peasants’ unions.
The conflict erupted when Barzani, without the knowledge of the politburo, signed what members considered to be a humiliating deal with a weak Iraqi government. The conflict was not over tactics only, but rather over the question of democracy, the role of party organization, and the social component of the movement. But while modernists maneuvered to contest Barzani’s abuse of power, he quickly mobilized peshmerga (guerrilla) forces and replaced the modernists with a loyal politburo. Unprepared for what they called a coup d’etat, the modernists lost the initiative and took refuge in Iran. 
Between 1964 and 1975, the reformists failed to achieve hegemony in the movement, in spite of considerable support especially in urban areas. In 1966, they entered an alliance with Baghdad against Barzani. Following the 1968 Baath takeover, Baghdad and Barzani agreed in 1970 on an autonomy plan to be implemented within four years. The modernists again joined the Barzani camp, although a group who described themselves as Marxist-Leninist came together with urban intelligentsia to form an underground organization that later took the name of the Kurdistan Toilers’ League (KTL, or Komala).
Baghdad stalled on implementing autonomy, making Barzani increasingly receptive to US, Israeli and Iranian offers of support should the KDP take up arms again. In 1974, Baghdad unilaterally decreed a Kurdish autonomous region on its terms and launched a military offensive. When Tehran and Washington abruptly terminated support for the KDP in March 1975, following an agreement between Baghdad and Tehran, Barzani announced the collapse of the armed struggle. In the absence of any plans for retreat, thousands of peshmerga surrendered to Iraqi forces, while 100,000 to 200,000 peshmerga and their families and supporters fled, mostly into Iran.
The KTL and other leftists had long maintained that the KDP, with its traditional structure and social base and autocratic leadership, could not successfully lead a campaign for Kurdish self-determination. Together with Jalal Talabani, a leading Barzani critic within the KDP politburo, they formed the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in June 1975 and resumed armed struggle inside Iraqi Kurdistan. Their success motivated Iran and Turkey to encourage the remnants of the Barzani leadership to resume guerrilla activities in Iraq as well.  The KDP had its main strength in the Dohuk governorate (Badinan region), while the PUK had the upper hand in the governorates of Erbil, Kirkuk and Suleimaniya, which covers more than 75 percent of the Iraqi Kurdish population. (Kurds in this latter region speak a dialect called Sorani, which is also spoken by most Kurds in Iran; Kurds in Badinan speak Kurmanji, which is also spoken by most Kurds in Turkey.)
The period after 1975 was one of heavy repression. Iraqi forces destroyed hundreds of villages in order to create a “security belt” along the borders with Iran, Turkey and Syria, and resettled the inhabitants in camps in southern and less mountainous areas. Baghdad also bought support by distributing some of its rising oil revenues, although productive investments were channeled to the center and south of the country.
With the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war in September 1980, both regimes tried to use the Kurds against each other. Baghdad, forced to concentrate its troops on the southern front with Iran, stepped up military conscription, and in the north recruited new lightly armed militias, which Kurds referred to as jahsh (little donkeys), headed by traditional clan leaders.
Differences of ideology and political practice as well as tactics produced periods of heavy clashes between the PUK and the KDP. The two came together, at Tehran’s urging, as the Kurdistan Front in July 1987, just prior to Baghdad’s genocidal Anfal offensive.
By 1987, as Iraq began to gain militarily in its long war with Iran, it moved to impose a “final solution” in the Kurdish region. ‘Ali Hasan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, took over as head of the Baath Party’s Northern Bureau, with full authority over state and party resources in that region. Baghdad progressively transferred infantry and armored units from the southern front to the north where, together with tens of thousands of jahsh militiamen, they carried out the Anfal campaign in eight stages from February to September 1988.
In early March 1991, following Iraq’s defeat by the US-led coalition, popular uprisings erupted first in the south of Iraq and then in the Kurdish cities, towns and complexes. The PUK and KDP quickly moved to take control. They declared a general amnesty, inviting the jahsh commanders to join, and in less than three weeks took over virtually all of Kurdistan. In the weeks that followed, though, Iraqi forces retook much of this territory. After millions of Kurds fled to the mountains bordering Turkey and Iran, Western forces intervened to set up a small “safe haven” zone around Dohuk and Zakho, in the Badinan region dominated by the KDP, and, subsequently, a “no-fly zone” above the thirty-sixth parallel.
The KTL, despite its formative role in the PUK, was overshadowed by the personality and influence of Talabani. After the fall of the Soviet Union, and then the formation of the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992, the KTL dissolved itself into the PUK. Today the KDP and PUK run the government jointly, with small radical and communist groups and newer Islamist groups on the margins. 
The Movement in Iran
The 1961-1975 struggle in Iraq overshadowed the Kurdish movements in Iran and Turkey. Although the armed resistance in Iraq initially contributed to the revival of the KDP in Iran (KDPI), Barzani argued that Kurds in Iran should delay their struggle until the KDP had achieved meaningful autonomy in Iraq. In exchange for limited support by Tehran, he ordered those Kurdish activists from Iran who had escaped into Iraqi Kurdistan to stop anti-Iranian activism. One faction followed Barzani, but a group of activists split to form the KDPI/Revolutionary Committee. The Iranian army was able to crush their resistance, helped when Barzani closed the borders. The rest of the KDPI leadership remained in Baghdad and Europe until the Pahlavi monarchy was on the verge of collapse in late 1978.
During their absence, Kurdish society and politics had changed. In 1969, a group of radical intellectuals came together as the Revolutionary Organization of Toilers of Kurdistan, better known as Komala, similar to and helped by the KTL in Iraq. Komala, opposing both pro-Soviet tendencies and the urban guerrilla emphasis of some Iranian revolutionary groups, worked to form peasant unions after the Islamist revolution and acquired much popular support among Kurdish peasants and youth.
As in Iraq, organizational conflict reflected the emergence of new social forces and radical perspectives in the nationalist movement. The KDPI denounced Komala’s activities to organize the peasantry and recruit women, arguing that issues of class struggle should await the achievement of autonomy. The KDPI began armed assaults on the leftist groups as early as 1980, and in 1984 launched a confrontation against Komala that continued for several years and took a heavy toll on both sides. The KDPI has since split, weakened by the assassination of two general secretaries.
Unlike Iraq, where the KTL eventually dissolved into the modernist front, Komala has maintained itself as an alternative to KDPI with its call for a socialist Iran in which Kurdish rights to self-determination will be honored. However, much like KTL, Komala has not been able to liberate itself from the burden of traditionalism, or to turn the nationalist movement into a social revolution or a people’s war. Since 1984, the leadership and much of the organization of both parties has been based in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Although both Komala and KDPI formally demand autonomy within Iran, an increasing number of Kurds in Iran and Iraq are arguing more openly in favor of independence, pointing to the failure of negotiations, and numerous deals between the Kurds and various central governments, government associations of Kurdish leaders, and changing international relations. 
The Movement in Turkey
Turkey’s Kemalist regime was intent on building a Western-type secular nation-state based on Turkish national, linguistic and cultural identity. The Kurdish response was a series of revolts throughout the 1920s and 1930s led by a combination of landlords, tribal chiefs, sheikhs and urban-based intellectuals. By 1939, the last of these was brutally repressed, leading many to believe that the Kurdish “problem” had been solved. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were forcibly deported to western Turkey.
By the early 1960s, however, nationalist struggle resumed, encouraged by the upsurge of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq and led by younger Kurdish intelligentsia both in Kurdistan and in Istanbul, Ankara and other Turkish cities, which by then had sizable Kurdish, populations. The political spectrum and agendas, while diverse, were influenced, as in Iraq and Iran, by leftist and communist formations.
The period between the military coups of 1960 and 1980 is characterized by recurrent crises within the Turkish state, cycles of repression, and continuing proliferation of Kurdish political and cultural groups in Kurdistan, in Turkish cities, and among Kurdish workers in Germany. Unlike Iraqi Kurdistan, in Turkey most Kurdish organizations in the 1970s espoused socialism. The military regime following the 1980 coup was able to suppress most of these organizations.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, better known by its Kurdish initials, PKK, survived the repression following the 1980 coup, and launched its first attacks against Turkish military targets in 1984. The PKK is distinguished from other Kurdish political parties by its social base, which includes a sizable portion of workers and peasants. It advocates both socialism and independence for greater Kurdistan, and puts a priority on armed struggle. In the past, it has avoided cooperation with other Kurdish political organizations. The PKK has been open to women’s participation, and now claims to have thousands of women in its ranks. Although it has benefited from some Syrian aid, it has effectively relied on the organized support of the Kurds in Kurdistan and in the diaspora in Turkey and abroad. While the PKK is not the only Kurdish political organization in Turkey, its ability to sustain a campaign of armed struggle against the well-armed Turkish army has won it a leading position and popular support in both urban and rural Kurdish areas, as well as in the Kurdish diaspora.
It is difficult to reach a firm assessment concerning the prospects for the Kurdish movement. The present circumstances -- the survival of the PKK-led movement in Turkey against extraordinary Turkish state repression, and the existence in Iraq of a Western-protected Regional Government -- are unprecedented. Yet the obstacles confronting a political resolution of the “Kurdish problem” are no less daunting than before. In Turkey, the state has launched the most recent of its “final offensives” designed to crush the PKK. The scale of repression and devastation has been awesome. Turkish human rights organizations report that many hundreds of villages -- some estimates go as high as 900 or so -- have been “depopulated” and many razed to the ground since the beginning of 1993. Scores of journalists and human rights activists have been abducted and tortured, killed or “disappeared.” The ability of the PKK to survive to this point, and to sustain itself largely on the support of Turkey’s Kurds rather than outside powers, indicates that its claim to represent a new kind of leadership may be well-founded.
Unlike in Iran and Iraq, where the movement is led by rival parties, the independence movement in Turkey is led by a single organization, one that can boast leading the longest uninterrupted armed resistance in modern Kurdish history. Also, while the Kurdish parties of Iran and Iraq have not been able to undermine the oil-based financial and economic power of those states, the PKK has been able to strike at Turkey’s economy, particularly the vulnerable tourist industry. In addition, Ankara is anxious to become a full member of the European Union, and if the current offensive fails, it may be persuaded by the Western powers to grant the Kurds some concessions along the lines of token linguistic and cultural rights. But any policy that falls short of genuine autonomous rule is likely to fail. Although the PKK has indicated it is willing to negotiate on the basis of autonomy, Ankara remains determined to crush it.
In Iraq, many Kurds view the Regional Government of Kurdistan, with its elected parliament and authority over law enforcement units, as an edifice of genuine autonomy. The experience of the Regional Government is important; elections and the relative freedom of political expression and association have been politically invigorating. Many Kurds insist that they prefer the excruciating economic deprivations they must endure now to any return to rule under Saddam Hussein.
This state-building experiment, though, is threatened not only by external foes -- including Tehran, Ankara, Baghdad and Damascus -- but also by internal conflict. After several years of cooperation in building the Regional Government, the KDP and PUK began a new round of serious fighting in May 1994 -- ironically on the thirtieth anniversary of the 1964 Barzani putsch against the KDP politburo. As of the end of May, interventions by Kurdish government officials and by the Iraqi National Congress (the Iraqi opposition front of which the two Kurdish parties are the largest and militarily most significant part) had been unable to halt the killing. Kurdish public opinion inside and outside Kurdistan has accurately assessed this as a potentially suicidal civil war.
It must be emphasized, as this essay has tried to do, that this conflict, much like that in South Africa between the African National Congress and Inkatha, is rooted in the persistence of traditional regionally based power in the face of a rapidly changing sociopolitical map. In Kurdistan, while the Regional Government confronts economic blockade and political boycott by neighboring states, the two major parties have themselves weakened it by dividing government offices into their respective spheres of influence. Popular outrage has escalated in Kurdish cities as the two sides have continued to fight. In late May, women marched from Suleimaniya to Erbil, the seat of the Regional Government, demanding that the killing stop. Like other, earlier mass actions including the uprising of March 1991 in Iraq, this illustrates the growing readiness of urban masses to challenge traditional authoritarian leaderships and to demand accountability from the self-centered political parties.
In Iran, the regime has won the military contest against the autonomist movement, although Komala and the two KDPI factions continue guerrilla operations even in the cities. The Islamist groups organized by Tehran are seen by most Kurds as collaborators. While there are no prospects for autonomous rule under the Islamic Republic, any serious crack in the state structure in Tehran will bring Kurdistan under the control of the Kurdish parties once again.
Kurdish demands for self-rule constitute a democratic pursuit that is incompatible with the despotism and ethnic-based nationalism of the Middle Eastern states. As for many of the democratic and revolutionary movements in the region, Kurdish rights to self-determination continue to be their blind spot. In circumstances of uneven political and economic development, Kurdistan has offered valuable opportunities as a base for liberation that goes beyond Kurdistan. That these opportunities have not been seized demonstrates the weaknesses of these movements as well as the problems of Kurdish nationalism.
 Towns and cities have been a permanent feature of Kurdish life. In the mid-seventeenth century, Bidlis had a population of about 26,000 with some 1,200 shops and workshops, five madrasas and 70 maktabs, and a sizable group of ulama. Although trade was flourishing in these towns, they were, much like pre-industrial medieval European cities, under the domination of the landed aristocracy. Ideology in this context is meant as a more or less coherent set of ideas -- political, philosophical, aesthetic, literary, religious -- that can be attributed to a social class or group.
 Although sources ignore the role of lower classes in history, we know, from the earliest recordings of popular ballads in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that the peasantry was conscious of the question of state power. See Amir Hassanpour, Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan, 1918-1985 (San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1992), p. 56.
 See articles “Milla” and “Millet” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 7 (1990), pp. 61-64.
 For references to the works of Khani and Koyi, see Hassanpour, pp. 66-99.
 “Modernist” refers here to a political agenda calling for an end to feudalist and tribal relations, modern education, economic development and political freedoms. This trend, first recorded in Koyi’s poetry in the late nineteenth century, was radicalized in the 1940s and 1950s under the influence of the Communist movement.
 Later formations in Iran and Iraq also had the word for “league” in their names and also became known as Komala. They have no organizational link with the Komalay J. K.
 Britain and the Soviet Union entered a tripartite agreement in 1941 with Iran by which their forces occupied the southern and northern parts of Iran respectively for the duration of World War II. The primary objective of Soviet support for the Kurdish and Azerbaijan republics of 1946 was the security of its southern borders, and Moscow chose to accommodate Tehran rather than encourage Kurdish autonomy or independence. For a brief survey of the Kurdish Republic, see Amir Hassanpour, “The Nationalist Movements in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, 1941-46,” in John Foran, ed., A Century of Revolution: Perspectives on Social Movements in Iran (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming).
 According to Hanna Batatu, the 1948 revolt in ‘Arbat village was “the first uprising of its kind in the Iraqi countryside -- an uprising against the landed sheikh instead of under his leadership -- and in this sense set the tone for the fervid, if intermittent, agrarian unrest of the 1950s. The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements in Iraq (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982), p. 614.
 The scope of capitalist development in Kurdistan has been debated among communist organizations in Iran and Turkey but, interestingly, not in Iraq.
 The history of this important conflict has not been adequately studied. According to a contemporary account, Barzani represented “historically and objectively the last traces of tribal and patriarchal mentality in the very bosom of the Kurdish nationalist movement.” Serge Gantner, “Le mouvement national kurde,” Orient 32/33 (1964/1965), p. 101. The same issue includes the KDP politburo’s critique of the deal.
 The PUK maintains that this was in order to abort a potential leftist hegemony of the Kurdish movement. See the KTL organ Komele 6 (Fall 1979), pp. 21-22.
 At the KDP’s Eleventh Congress in 1993, some groups and individuals who had split after its collapse in 1975 rejoined the party, which renamed itself KDP United.
 A Party for Independence of Kurdistan (Parti Serbexoyi Kurdistan) was formed in 1990 in the diaspora.