The Yazidis are an offshoot of the Kurds, Kurdish speakers who still practice a version of the pre-Islamic Persian religion, sharing a common origin with Zoroastrianism. Most Kurds, however, are followers of Sunni Islam.
- Northern Kurdistan or Turkish Kurdistan — parts of Southeastern Anatolia and Eastern Anatolia in Turkey. The Kurdish population also spills across the border into a small part of Armenia, but the Kurdish-majority part of Armenia is not usually considered a part of Kurdistan.
- Western Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan or Rojava — as of 2017, the area is de facto autonomous from the other contestant forces in Syria. Rojava consists of two disjoint areas along the Turkish border in the northern Syrian Desert and Northwestern Syria, but its borders are very much in flux due to the ongoing war in Syria.
- Southern Kurdistan or Iraqi Kurdistan — an autonomous part of Iraq. In a referendum held in 2017, an overwhelming majority of the voters opted for the independence of the region, but this has not led to any moves so far. Some of the traditionally Kurdish areas, such as the area around Kirkuk and Mosul, are not part of the autonomous region. Under an informal power sharing agreement that has been in place since Saddam Hussein was ousted, the presidency of Iraq has been reserved for a Kurd.
- Eastern Kurdistan or Iranian Kurdistan — parts of Iranian Azerbaijan and Western Iran (Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Ilam Provinces)
There have been various Kurdish states from the 8th to the 20th century, but never for long a recognised independent nation of Kurdistan. During the Crusades many Kurds were mercenary soldiers (janissaries) for the Seljuk Turks; Richard the Lionheart's most famous opponent, Saladin, was a Kurd.
With current borders, there are predominantly Kurdish regions in four countries; in all four the Kurds have sometimes complained of persecution and the national governments have sometimes complained of Kurdish subversion and secessionism. As of the early 2020s, there are Kurdish regions with partial autonomy in both Iraq and Syria, and those are (by Middle Eastern standards) quite stable.
Kurdish militias were prominent in the fight against Da'esh, the so-called Islamic State. Da'esh was particularly vicious toward the non-Muslim Yazidis and took many Yazidi women as sex slaves.
There is considerable tension between Kurds and the Turkish government, though there has not been open warfare since a Turkish offensive in 2019. Many Kurds feel that they were betrayed by the US (in particular, the Trump administration) which accepted them as allies against Da'esh then stood aside as the Turks attacked them.
The region's best-known products are Kurdish carpets.
Kurdish is an Indo-European language closely related to Persian. It has three major dialects: Kurmanji or Northern Kurdish, spoken mostly in Turkey, Syria and Armenia, Sorani or Central Kurdish, spoken in most of Iraqi Kurdistan and parts of Iranian Kurdistan, and Pehlewani or Southern Kurdish spoken mostly in Iran. These dialects are not immediately mutually intelligible with each other. The script of choice for written Kurdish also differs according to the country — the Roman alphabet is in use in Turkey, Syria and Armenia while the Kurds of Iraq and Iran use the Arabic script.
Zaza or Zazaki is a related language spoken in parts of Eastern Anatolia in Turkey. While from a linguistic standpoint, Kurdish and Zaza are distinct languages, many native Zaza speakers identify with the Kurds.
Most of the locals are bilingual in the national language of the country they live in: Turkish, Arabic, or Persian. The main exception is in Iraqi Kurdistan, where most people are monolingual in Kurdish. The Kurds of Armenia are often trilingual in Kurdish, Armenian and Russian. There are also minorities with different native languages in the region, such as the Syriac.
Much of the region is prone to ethnic strife, political conflict or is a war zone: do your research well before attempting any visit.