Marco Polo writes of the Kurds of the area between Mus, Mardin, and Mosul, and reports they produced cotton “in great abundance, of which they prepare the cloths called boccasini, and many other fabrics. The inhabitants are manufacturers and traders” (Travels, I.vi). The exportable manufactured goods of Kurdistan are limited to handicrafts, which can only serve as souvenirs and speciality items. There is no mass production of textiles for export anywhere in Kurdistan. In fact, textiles are net imports. This is despite the local wealth of natural wool and cotton. Very little traditional cloth weaving has remained in Kurdistan, despite the past luster of this industry. Only the fabrics used for floor coverings, pile rugs, kelims, and felt rugs, are still produced in relatively large quantities. Their export potential is very good, particularly for the rustic, village types. Their “wild” designs and “natural” looks are considered virtues in the Western rug market, catering to those who find the sophistication of Persian and other similar rugs with a machine-made quality too perfect for their tastes. The future for the Kurdish hand-made rug exports is promising, but they cannot possibly be expected to perform better than, say, Persian rugs, which were worth $7.2 billion in 1990 iii export markets. The maximum annual export income that could be expected from this industry would fall in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars, a disappointing figure for the most important manufactured item in Kurdistan.
Other traditional fabrics, used for making the nomadic tents, and the saddle blankets and trinkets long associated with horse riding, are all but gone. There is very little use left for these fabrics, and the export market for them is even more limited (see Rugs & Fabrics).
Petroleum refinement is easily the most valuable and developed modern industry in Kurdistan, with mining being the second. Nearly half of the 2.1 million barrels per day exported by Iraq in 1990 came from the major Kurdish fields. This and production from other smaller fields in Kurdistan could translate into $7-10 billion per annum in foreign currency income. The refined oil productions and petrochemicals can potentially raise this figure considerably. The income from other mineral exports, particularly from western Kurdistan in Turkey, was less than $1 billion in the same period.
Both these industries, however, have been developed to benefit the larger economy of Iraq and Turkey. Only in Iran has the Kurdish oil industry been directly geared to benefit the local people, and this is because of the limited oil resources of the region. The extensive, modern refineries at Kirkuk and Khanagin in Iraq, and Batman in Turkey are maintained and operated with little relevance to Kurdistan per se, except to provide employment for unskilled laborers. Even at this level the work force is ethnically thoroughly mixed, as the higher, secure wages of the oil industries attract workers from many far away places.
The mining of other important minerals such as copper, iron, and chromium in Turkey also follows the pattern of the oil industry there, i.e., the mines are operated and maintained only insofar as their yields can be shipped out of Kurdistan, with litte effect on the local economy beyond providing employment for unskilled local laborers.
The lighter industries, such as construction materials, sugar, and textiles, on the other hand have much more relevance to the local Kurdish economy. The textile mills in Bisitun, in southern Kurdistan in Iran, satisfy a substantial portion of the local Kurdish market for cloth. Similarly, the sugar mills, tapping the fast-expanding sugar beet production, and the cement factories of central Kurdistan have far more relevance to the current Kurdish economy than the oil industry has, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
Beyond these light industries, Kurdistan has a long way to go to satisfy its needs for modern industrial commodities and manufactured goods locally. However, except for Turkey, the industrial sectors of the states of the Middle East, in particular Iraq and Iran, also fall well short of satisfying their local needs, and much industrial development will have to take place to wean these economies from their current massive imports of modern manufactured goods from the industrial countries. Kurdistan, being among the least developed and least industrialized sections of these states, has to import only marginally more manufactured goods than the state economies of which it is a part.
Further Readings and Bibliography: Glenn M. Fleming, “The Ecology and Economy of Kurdish Villages,” Kurdish Times IV 1-2 (1991); F. Barth, Principles of Social Organization in Southern Kurdistan (Oslo: Vorgensen, 1953); Ziba Mir-Hosseini, “Some Aspects of Changing Economy in Rural Iran: The Case of Kalardasht, A District in the Caspian Provinces,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19 (1987); H.L. Rabino, “A Journey in Mazandaran (from Resht to Sari),” Geographical Journal 42 (1913); J.B. Noel, “A Reconnaissance in the Caspian Provinces of Persia,” Geographical Journal 57 (1921); Marcel Bazin and Christian Bromberger et al., Gildn et Azerbdyjdn Oriental: Caries et Documents Ethnographic (Paris: editions Recherche sur les civilisations, 1982); Ziba Mir-Hosseini, “Impact of Wage Labour on Household Fission in Rural Iran,” Comparative Journal of Family Studies 18.3 (1987); X. de Planhol, “Le boeuf porteur dans le Proche-Orient et 1’Afrique du Nord,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient XII.3 (1969); Z. Mir Hosseini, “Changing Aspects of Economic and Family Structures in Kalardasht, A District in Northern Iran,” unpublished doctoral dissertation (Cambridge: Dept. of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 1980); E. R. Leach. Social and Economic Organization of the Rowanduz Kurds. (London: London School of Economics and Political Science, 1940); Marco Polo, Travels, John Masefield, ed. (London: Dent, 1975); E.J. Keall, “Political, Economic, and Social Factors on the Parthian Landscape of Mesopotamia and Western Iran: Evidence from Two Case Studies,” in L.D. Levine and T.C. Young, eds., Mountains and Lowlands: Essays in the Archaeology of Greater Mesopotamia (Malibu, California: Bibliotheca Mesopotamica, vol. 7, 1977).
Sources: The Kurds, A Concise Handbook, By Dr. Mehrdad R. Izady, Dep. of Near Easter Languages and Civilazation Harvard University, USA, 1992