The Geography Of Kurdistan


Kurdistan is a homeland for many peoples – Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Chaldeans, etc. The Kurdish homeland is located in the Asian continent, where all three continents of the old world come together. That is, it is located in the most geostrategic and geopolitical location in the Middle East. Historically, Kurdistan has been host to many important events, social developments, civilizations, and countries. In terms of natural resources it is very rich. In terms of mineral resources, livestock, produce, and also in terms of water, arable land, mountains and forests, it is a very productive land. The name “Kurdistan” means “land of the Kurds”. The word “Kurd” is a Houri or Kurti Sumerian word that means “high country”. In the Hewrami and Dimilki dialects of Kurdish, the words “ko” or “kou” are still used to mean “mountain”. Thus, it is said that some words, in terms of Alexander of Macedonia, when he wanted to go to India by way of Kurdistan, he crossed the Zagros Mountains. Because of the things he saw, the word “Kurdiyen” in Greek means “people without fear” or “brave people”. The word “istan” comes from Kurdish and the languages of the Aryan region. Meaning: place, homeland, location, etc. We can give some examples: Gurgistan (Georgia), moristan (anthill, mori = ant), gulistan (garden, flower = gul), daristan (forest, dar = tree), karistan (workshop, work = kar), çolistan (desert, çol = desert), etc.

The word “Kurdistan” as well, was first used by the Seljuq emperor Ahmed Sanjar. He took the name from the geography on which the Kurds usually lived. The place that took on this name has more or less the same borders as Kurdistan does today. Thus, in many Ottoman, Seljuq, Persian, Safavid, and Islamic maps, letters and writings, many places were named Kurdistan.

The land called Kurdistan falls among Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan). Kurdistan was divided among the four neighboring countries of Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The largest part of Kurdistan, called North Kurdistan, is the part under the control of Turkey. The part in the hands of Iran is called East Kurdistan, the part in the hands of Iraq is known as South Kurdistan, and West Kurdistan, the smallest of the four parts, falls within Syria. All four parts of Kurdistan are known by their cardinal directions, like how the part under the authority of Turkey is called North Kurdistan.


Technical Characteristics of Kurdistan

Kurdistan has been divided into four parts by its neighbors and the inhabitants of this land have been subject to must change, but most geographers estimate the area of Kurdistan to be 550,000 km2. In spite of the fact that there has been no special census to determine the size of the population of Kurdistan, when one sees regional data from Kurdish areas and compiles it, the result is about 50-60 million. Because of the political assimilation of the occupiers of Kurdistan, millions of Kurds have migrated from their lands and millions of other peoples have been settled in their place. This is the reason that millions of Kurds are forced to migrate to places like Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Caucasia, Europe, Russia, East Asia, the Americas, and Arab countries.

Number Part Center Authority        Land Area (km2)     Population (in millions)
1  North Kurdistan (Bakur) Amed Turkey 250.000 20-30
2 East Kurdistan (Rojhilat) Sine Iran 175.000 10-15
3 South Kurdistan (Başür) Hewlêr Iraq 98.000 7-8
4 West Kurdistan (Rojava) Qamişlo Syria 28.000 3-4

Kurdistan falls between the 30th and 40th parallels in the North and 36-51 meridians in the east. At Iskenderun it reaches the Mediterranean Sea – this place is like Kurdistan’s gate to the sea. Kurdistan, from Sewas in the North to Xoremebad in the south, is about 2,000 km long.

Kurdistan borders Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Nakhchivan (a semi-autonomous region tied to Azerbaijan) in the North. In the West it borders Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea. Its eastern neighbor is Iran, and in the south it borders Iraq and Syria.

The elevation of Kurdistan is not very high, nor is it very low. The highest point in Kurdistan is Agiri Mountain (or Mount Ararat). But in terms of elevation, the Serhed region is very high – its elevation is around 2000 meters. The highest cities in Kurdistan are Erzurum and Erdekhan. This is why the Serhad region faces very harsh and snowy winters. In the southern regions as well, the elevations range from 100 to 700 meters. The elevations of the central regions are in the 1000s of meters.

Mount Agiri (also called Ararat or Glidax) has an elevation of 5,165 meters. The mountains of Kurdistan are always topped with snow. Kurds have always seen the mountains as their refuge and support, and have always resisted there. Today, the Toros and Zagros mountains are still a haven and sanctuary for the Kurds. The Kurdish people fought against the threat of annihilation and assimilation in the Toros and the Zagros. They fight for their very existence there. The names of some mountains in Kurdistan: Sipan, Jilo (Cîlo), Judi (Cûdî), Herekol, Mûnzûr, Helgurd, Qendîl, Shaho (Şaho), Tendûrek, Paltokan, Merjan (Mercan), Nûrhaq, Kosedax, Qerezhdakh (Qerejdax), Gabar, Heftanîn, Shakeef (Şekîf), Nemrûd, Chirav (Çirav), Kherzan (Xerzan), Kato, Kêla Memê, Shengal (Şengal), Karachokh (Qereçox), Wushinrankew (Wuşinrankêw), and Abduleziz (Kezwan).

The mountains of Kurdistan are important for both the Kurds and other peoples. Mountains in Kurdistan like Agiri is talked about in the Torah. In the story of the flood of Noah, the Torah mentions Mount Agiri four times – in section 8:4, 19:37, 37:38, and 51:27. Also, Mount Judi is talked about in the story of the biblical flood in the Quran (Sura Hud, 11-44).

The rivers of Kurdistan were a flourishing source of civilization. Rivers in Kurdistan like the Tigris, Euphrates, and Aras are some of the most important rivers. The region located between the Tigris and Euphrates is known as Mesopotamia. The word Mesopotamia is a Greek word – in Kurdish, in place of this word, we use “Mezrabotan”. There are dozens of streams and rivers in Kurdistan. As we know, these rivers have great historical importance. The earliest cities like Ur, Nineveh and Babylon were built around these rivers. People other than Kurds made even more use of these rivers, such as those in the cities of Aleppo, Baghdad, Karbala, Babylon, Nakhchivan, Deir ez-Zorr, Raqqa, etc. In Kurdistan, some of the most important and strategic cities were also built along these rivers, like Amed, Jazira Botan (Cizire Botan), Dersim, Mosul (Mûsil), and Hasankeyf (Heskîf). These rivers are a source of drinking water – in many countries now, drinking water is hard to find.

Most of the rivers of Kurdistan – large rivers, streams and springs – feed into the larger Tigris, Euphrates, and Aras rivers. All of the rivers in Kurdistan end up in three places: one, the Persian Gulf (or the Basra Gulf); two, the Caspian Sea (or the Khazar Sea); and three, the Mediterranean Sea.

In Kurdistan, the largest lakes are Lake Urmiye, Lake Wan, and Lake Khazar. The fresh water lakes are pure and drinkable, and salt is obtained from the saltwater lakes.

Because Kurdistan falls along the greater Alp-Himalaya range, it is a level two earthquake risk. Because the Toros-Zagros mountains are a continuation of the Alp-Himalaya range, many large and destructive earthquakes hit Kurdistan, such as those that have occured in Erzingan, Lice, Wan, etc.


People and minorities in Kurdistan

Religion: The nations of Kurdistan have a rich religious tradition. In Kurdistan, there is every kind of religion, and some faiths are unique to the Kurdistan region. There are as many religions as there are ethnicities in Kurdistan. Besides Islam, there is Yazidism, Shabakism, Alevism, Christianity, Judaism, and many other religions. The religious beliefs of Kurdistan are as follows:

Islam: Most Kurds are Muslim, though there are non-Muslim Kurds. Kurds that speak the Hewremani, Kurmanji, and Sorani accents are mostly Sunni and belong to the Shafi sect. In South Kurdistan, there are Shi’ite Kurds in the Kirmanshah, Loristan and Hemedan regions that speak Kelhori and Feyli dialects of Kurdish.

Alevism: There are 4-5 million Alevi Kurds in North Kurdistan; they live in the regions of Dersim, Marash (Mereş), Meleti, Erzingan, Sewas, etc.

Yarsanism: Yarsani Kurds mostly come from the Leki and Hewrami speaking regions, like Goran, Lekistan, Behdinan, and Germiyan.

Shabakism: The Kurdish Shabak religion is very close to Alevism. Shabakis live in the Behdinan region.

Yezidism: Yezidi Kurds usually live in South Kurdistan, in the Shengal (Şengal), Sheikhan (Şêxan), and Mosul (Mûsil) regions. In North Kurdistan, East Kurdistan, and West Kurdistan as well, there are small numbers of Yezidi Kurds. There are also small numbers living in Armenia, Georgia, and Russia.

Christianity: There are very few Christians among the Kurds, though there are many Armenians and Assyrian Christians that live in Kurdistan.

Baha’i: Some Baha’i live around Lake Urmiye.

Judaism: Jewish Kurds live in Behdinan, Hamedan, Loristan, and Kirmanshah (Kirmaşanê), however, after the establishment of the Israeli state most of them moved to Israel and continue to live there.


A - North Kurdistan

North Kurdistan is the largest part of Kurdistan in terms of area. Today, North Kurdistan is under the authority of Turkey. Its area is around 250,000 km2. Its population is between 20 and 30 million. This part of Kurdistan is divided into two parts by the Toros mountain range. The fields of the North are higher in elevation than the mountains of the South. It is a very rich region. The people of the region support themselves with agriculture and herding. In mountain areas, there are many animals that are not found anywhere else. In the valleys of the Munzur region – which has been made a protected area -  there are many types of plants that do not grow anywhere else. The sources of the two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, are joined by dozens of other rivers in North Kurdistan. There are in total 25 cities, 222 towns, and thousands of villages in the region. North Kurdistan is split into two parts by the Toros Mountains and has two different climates. The wind and cold air from the northern side of the Toros does not pass to the south, and likewise the hot air from the south side of the Toros does not pass to the north. The summers in the Serhed region are short, but the winters of the regions south of the Toros, particularly in the Merdin, Riha, and Dilok regions, are mild. The mountain peaks of Kurdistan are very mild and beautiful in the summer. For this reason, the people of the Serhed region go to the plains in the summer and return to their villages in the winter.

The cities of North Kurdistan are: Amed, Agirî, Bêdlîs, Jolemerg (Colemêrg), Chewlig (Çewlik), Dêrsim, Dîlok, Erdekhan (Erdexan), Erzirûm, Erzingan, Êlih, Îdir, Kilîs, Meletî, Meresh (Mereş), Mêrdîn, Mush (Mûş), Qers, Riha, Semsûr, Sêwas, Sêrt, Shirnakh (Şirnex), Kharpet (Xarpêt) and Wan.


B – East Kurdistan

Today, East Kurdistan is under the authority of the occupier state of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is divided into two parts by the Zagros mountain range. East Kurdistan is very rich in terms of language. The oldest traces of Kurdish culture are found here. East Kurdistan is also very rich in terms of religion. Many sects not found anywhere else in the world are found in this part of Kurdistan. The Kurmanji, Sorani, Hewremani, Lori, Leki, and Kelhori dialects of Kurdish are found here. Because everything that is found in the other parts is also found here, it is seen as a kind of mini-Kurdistan. Today the population is between 10 and 15 million, and its land area is about 175,000 km2. According to the Iranian system, there are no cities, but rather states or provinces; there are six Kurdish provinces according to this system. There are two million Kurds living outside the Kurdish provinces in Khoresan (Xoresanê), and there are also a lot of Kurdish people living in the capital Tehran. There are also Kurds living in many other regions of Iran outside of the Kurdish provinces. East Kurdistan is divided into two parts by the Zagros mountains that come from the north. The provinces of East Kurdistan are the North Region (Shikaki), Mukriyan, Erdelan, Kirmanshah (Kirmaşanê), Îlam, Lekistan, Goran and Khoresan (Xoresanê). East Kurdistan has always defended its culture and beliefs against the fascist Iranian system. East Kurdistan has played a role in many uprisings and movements; the movements of Ghazi Muhammad (Qazî Mihemed), Simko Shikaki (Simkoyê Şikakî), Qasimlo, Sherefkendi (Şerefkendî) and Abu Muslim Khoresan (Ebû Muslimê Xoresanî) originated in East Kurdistan. The cities of East Kurdistan are Urmiye, Sine, Hemedan, Kermanshah (Kirmaşanê), Ilam and Khoremebad (Xoremebad).


C- South Kurdistan

South Kurdistan is under the authority of the Arab Republic of Iraq. There are a total of five Kurdish cities in this part. There are some Kurdish towns that have been tied to the Arab cities. The cities of South Kurdistan are Erbil (Hewlêr), Dihok, Sulaymaniyah (Silemani), Kirkuk (Kerkûk), and Mosul (Mûsil). There are some other cities that are counted as Arab cities. For example, Bedre is tied to Wasit in Iraq. Khanaqin (Xaneqîn), Mandali (Mendelî‎), and Kiftri are tied to the city of Diyala in Iraq. Tuz Khurmatu is also tied to the city of Salahaddin or Tikrit. The fascist occupier state has settled Sunni Arabs in regions like Kirkuk (Kerkûk), Mosul (Mûsil), Khanaqin (Xaneqîn), Shengal (Şengal), Mandali (Mendelî‎) and Bedre in order to change the demographics of these areas. By changing the demographics of Kurdistan, they wanted to define these regions and cities as Arabic – for example, they changed the name of Kirkuk (Kerkûk) to “Al-Tamim”, and changed many other place names. The population is between 7 and 8 million with a land area of about 97,800 km2. Its cities are Erbil (Hewlêr), Kirkuk (Kerkûk), Mosul (Mûsil), Sulaymaniyah (Silêmanî), Khanaqin (Xaneqîn), and Halabja (Helebce).


D - West Kurdistan.

The smallest part of Kurdistan, which today falls under the authority of the fascist occupiers of the Syrian state, is West Kurdistan. It lies in North Syria. West Kurdistan, unlike the other three parts, is not unified; it is separated into three areas, with Arab cities between each area.

Today, West Kurdistan has enough riches to support all of Syria. In terms of agriculture and livestock, and mineral and oil resources, it is very rich. West Kurdistan could be viewed as a continuation of North Kurdistan – for example, Afrin can be considered like a district of Dilok. Kobane and Serekaniye (Serêkanî) can be thought of as districts of Riha. Kobane and Pirsus are one part.

Ceylanpinar of North Kurdistan and Serekaniye (Serêkanî) of West Kurdistan are one part and are only separated by the border. Darbasiyah (Dirbêsiyê), Amude, Qamishli (Qamişlo) and Tirbespiye are tied to Merdin. Dirbesiye is a part of Qoser. Actually, there is a Northern Dirbesiye, but it is like a village. Amude is located below Merdin. Qamishli (Qamişlo) and Nusaybin (Nisêbîn) are together. Tibespiye, Chilakha (Çilaxa), Rmelan (Rimêlan), Girke Lege and Derik are a bit far from the border. Afrin center is also far from the border. Tirbespiye is a district of Nisebin’s Gire Mira. Girke Lege as well, is a district of Hezexe. Derik is an extension of Jazira Botan (Cizire Botan). Chilakha (Çilaxa), Rmelan (Rimêlan), Girke Lege and Derik are also like neighborhoods of Jazira (Cizire), or seen as part of Shirnakh (Şirnex).

Likewise, Endiwar (Eyndîwarê) village is like a neighborhood of Jazira (Cizire), but the Tigris passes through it. The border between North and South Kurdistan is according to the railroad line between Berlin and Baghdad. The chauvinist Syrian regime, in order to separate the Kurds of North Kurdistan and West Kurdistan from each other, created the “Dam of Revolution” in Raqqa on the Euphrates river in 1974. The result was that hundreds of thousands of Arabs were left homeless. In order to not lose the support of these Arabs, the regime settled them in the border regions between North and West Kurdistan – this event is called the “Arab Stone” or “Arab Belt”. Arabs were brought and settled in Kurdish areas. Kurds of this region also migrated to Arab cities. In Jazira (Cizire) there are around 300,000 Kurds left without identification. They are not recognized as Syrian citizens. They cannot seek any services or assistance from the state. Kurds cannot do anything there. Kurds of Western Kurdistan are heavily discriminated against by the Syrian state. In terms of climate, Western Kurdistan can be divided into two parts. First, the Afrin region, second, the Jazira (Cizire) region. The Afrin region’s climate is partially like a Mediterranean climate, and partially like a mountain climate. Because of this, it is not too cold and not too hot, it is humid. The Jazira (Cizire) region is flat and without mountains, except for Mount Abdulaziz (Kezwan) outside of the city of Hasakah (Hesîçe). Warm air, occasional rain, and very rarely snow is seen. Even in the coldest months, the temperature does not fall below zero.

The people of West Kurdistan usually gather in three cities; that is, the Kurdish regions are tied to three cities:

1 – Hasakah (Jazira region)

2 – Aleppo

3 – Raqqa

Because the Kurdish population in the regions of Tell Abyad (Girê Spî), Jarabulus (Cerablus), Azaz, Bab, and Manbij (Minbic) are very small, it is not like Kurdistan. The Arab population is greater in these regions. For this reason, we say that West Kurdistan is divided into three parts:

- Afrin Region

- Kobane Region

- Jazira (Cizire) Region

Today there are 3.5 - 4 million Kurds in West Kurdistan. The area of the Kurdish regions is around 29,000km2. Outside of the Kurdish regions, there are populations of Kurds living in Damascus (Şam), Latakia (Lediqye), and other cities. Today, Kurds in West Kurdistan have organized themselves into three regions that make up the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.