By Prof. M. R. Izady
Like many other aspects of their national existence and identity, the extent of the areas in which Kurds constitute the majority is the subject of dispute. While neighboring ethnic groups, in particular those in a ruling position, have consistently underestimated the extent of areas with a Kurdish majority, the Kurds have often tended to exaggerate them. This problem has naturally affected the works of non-local scholars as well.
Surprisingly, it is not difficult to plot the extent of Kurdish lands. There are plenty of old and new primary and reliable data available for such an attempt.
In the last century and the first half of the present, many trustworthy scholars and institutions have provided detailed lists of Kurdish tribes, their locations, distributions, and populations in various corners of Kurdistan. There were also attempts to plot these statistics and lists on maps: one of the best results was a large, multicolored British Royal Geographical Society ethnic map of this area, entitled Map of Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria, and Western Persia (Ethnographical)(1906), which serendipitously is centered on Kurdistan. Few changes need be made today to this extremely valuable map, except of course to account for the obliteration of the Armenian ethnic element from around Lake Vân and other corners of eastern Anatolia as a result of World War I.
In the course of the 1960s, the Turkish government embarked on a project entitled Kdy Envanter Etiidleri, or “village inventory studies,” which was later aborted and suppressed after 1967. Still, the “inventory” provided a great deal of information on the ethnic composition of Turkey down to the village level. In a data-packed work, Nestmann (in Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey, P. Andrews, ed., 1989) provides a convincing ethnic map of Kurdistan in Turkey (excluding the central Anatolian enclave), utilizing the very same village inventory. The data in the inventory closely support the depictions of Anatolia in the 1906 British Royal Geographical Society map mentioned above. The only difference, and a surprising one, is that the inventory depicts the Kurdish ethnic domain as being even larger than on the British map. This may be an inadvertent reflection of the large-scale deportations and resettlements of Kurds within Turkey in 1929-38, and the relatively recent Kurdish demographic revolution.
The Iranian Armed Forces Geographical Bureau carried out a similar project in the 1940s, and the results appeared in the ten-volume Geographical Dictionary of Iran (A. Razmara, ed., 1949-1951). This was later supplemented by the Village Gazetteer of Iran (Iranian Statistical Center, 1968-present). The British colonial government of the Mandate of Iraq and the French in Syria (which included the Antioch district before its transfer to Turkey in 1938) provided sufficient data on the ethnic breakdown of those areas to refine the boundaries and extent of Kurdistan.
Russian maps created in the 1960s, utilizing just such primary data, also demarcate Kurdish regions, and have served ever since as models for others, including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s published ethnic maps of the region. The best such Soviet material is found in the works of Bruk, Narody Peredney Azii (1 960), with an accompanying sheet map at 1:5,000,000 scale, and Bruk and Apenchenko, Atlas Narodov Mira (1964). Both of these works also provide population figures for various segments of Kurdistan.
Sources: The Kurds, A Concise Handbook, By Dr. Mehrdad R. Izady, Dep. of Near Easter Languages and Civilazation Harvard University, USA, 1992
Some very good sources on the land and nature of Kurdistan in general are the British Naval Intelligence Division’s Geographical Handbook series on Iran, Iraq, Turkey (2 vols.), and Syria (1940-43). The sheet maps and the accompanying text books of the Tiibinger Atlas des Voerderen Orients (TAVO) (Wiesbaden, Ludwig Reichert Verlag, ongoing) are valuable resources for this and many other topics discussed in this work. Also see Ali Tanoglu, Sirri Erine and Erol Tiimertekin, Tiirkiye Atlasi (Istanbul: Milli Egilim Basimevi, 1961); Sirri Erine, Dogu Anadolu Cografyasi (“Geography of Eastern Anatolia”) (Istanbul: Istanbul University Press, 1953).