Population: 5,2 million
The majority of people living in the Kurdistan Region are Kurds, a distinct, non-Arab ethnic group, mostly Sunni Muslims, with their own language, customs, dress, and ways of life. Other ethnicities living in the Region are Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Arabs and Turkmen. Kurds are considered the fourth main ethnic group in the Middle East after the Arabs, Turks and Persians.
Kurdistan is rich with the resonance of its glorious history and its different ethnicities and faiths which live peacefully together.
Music, poetry and dance are integral to Kurdish culture. Many villages have their own dances, and romance and heroism are usually the main themes of dances or folk songs.
The Kurdish culture has survived even though they have never had a country to call their own. Traditional Kurdish dance is a form of communal line dancing, similar to that of Greeks, Irish and Armenians. Kurds sing and dance during all of their festivities, birthdays and marriage ceremonies, music and songs of sorrow are also played during funerals.
This is a video of traditional Kurdish folk music and dance.
Kurdistan is famous for their rugs. The rugs are stout and solid in structure and the traditional Kurdish Rugs use Kurdish symbols. It is possible to read the dreams, wishes and hopes of the Kurdish rug maker from the sequence of symbols they use.
The Kurdistan Region has a young and growing population, with 36% aged 0-14 years, and only 4% aged over 63. The median age in Kurdistan is just over 20, meaning more than 50% are less than 20.
Traditionally, the majority of people in the Kurdistan Region lived in villages and survived on farming and animal husbandry of mainly sheep and goats thanks to the Region’s fertile terrain. The Region was known as the breadbasket of Iraq. Today this has reversed, with the majority living and working in the three cities of Erbil, Sulaimani and Duhok, working mostly within the government or the construction and general trade industries.
One major reason for the population shift from rural to urban areas was the forced migration policies of the previous Iraqi regime. The Ba’athist regime, under the command of Saddam Hussein, began to forcibly expel Kurds and Turkmen in the 1970s and continued with these policies up until the 2003 liberation of Iraq. By 2001, at least 600,000 people were internally displaced. This included more than 100,000 people forcibly expelled from Kirkuk in November 1991 alone. According to a UNDP survey, 66% of people living in Duhok province have been forced to change their residence due to war at any point in their lives, while the figures in Sulaimani and Erbil are 31% and 7%, respectively.
In the 1980s Saddam Hussein’s regime destroyed over 4,000 villages and forcibly moved their residents to collective towns. Many of these villages have now been rebuilt. The Kurdistan Regional Government, with the support of UN agencies and NGOs, after 1991, rebuilt 2,620 of some 4,000 destroyed villages.
Kurdish is the most widely spoken language in the Kurdistan Region and is in the Indo-European family of languages.
The Kurdistan Region’s official languages for administrative purposes are Kurdish and Arabic.
The two most widely spoken dialects of Kurdish are Sorani and Kurmanji. Other dialects spoken by smaller numbers are Hawrami (also known as Gorani), Kalhori, and Zaza.
The Sorani Kurdish dialect uses a modified Arabic script while the Kurmanji Kurdish dialect is written in Latin script. Sorani is spoken in the cities of Erbil and Sulaimani , while Kurmanji is spoken in Duhok. As the Region’s Kurdish-language media has developed and the population has moved, today nearly all people in the Kurdistan Region can speak or understand both of the major dialects. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s policy is to promote the two main dialects in the education system and the media.
Arabic is also an official language and is widely spoken or understood. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic and Turkmani are also spoken by their respective communities.
The Kurdistan Regional Government promotes linguistic diversity and rights, and schools have been established that teach mainly in Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Turkmen and Arabic.
The majority of people in the Kurdistan Region are Sunni Muslims, mainly of the Shafi‘i school. A sizeable portion of Kurds in Iraq also follow the Shiite sect of Islam, and are known as Fayli Kurds. There are also a large numbers of Christians of different churches, such as Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Armenian, and Catholic Chaldean.
All the different faiths live peacefully together in the Kurdistan region. They also celebrate each other’s cultural and religious occasions together, such as Muslim Kurds celebrating Christmas with Christians, and Assyrians and Armenians celebrating the Kurdish new year Nawroz.
Two religions that are indigenous to Kurdistan are Yazidism and Yarsanism, both of which have tens of thousands of adherents; the adherents of the former are solely Kurds.
Traditionally, most Muslim Kurds had been followers of the different mystic Sufi orders that are based in the Region, such as Naqshbandi and Qadiri. Even today, many Kurds still follow these Sufi orders. Sufi Islam is considered the most liberal sect of Islam.
This BBC video demonstrates the religious attitude that prevails in the Kurdistan Region.
Fresh herbs are the essence of Kurdish cuisine. People also like to cook with an abundance of vegetables. Lamb and chicken are the primary meats.
A typical Kurdish breakfast is flat or raised bread with honey, sheep or buffalo yoghurt and a glass of black tea.
Savory dishes are usually served with rice or flat bread. Lamb and vegetables are simmered in a tomato sauce to make a stew that is usually served with rice. In the spring and summer, salads and fresh herbs are often on the dinner table. Kurds also make many types of kofta and kubba, dumplings filled with meat.
During Nawroz, the Spring Equinox New Year, Kurds celebrate by dressing in their finest clothes and setting off to the countryside for picnics, often taking a large pot of yaprakh. Also known throughout the Mediterranean as dolma, yaprakh is a dish of freshly picked vine leaves stuffed with rice, meat, herbs and garlic, and then simmered in a large pot.
Black, sweetened tea is Kurdistan’s favorite drink.
The Kurdistan Region has fertile soil and a hot summer climate ideal for growing grapes and orchards such as pomegranate, fig, and walnut. The Region’s honey has a clear light taste and is often sold with the honeycomb. Kurdistan also produces excellent sheep, goat and buffalo dairy products.