A Long Struggle for Autonomy
The geographic region of Kurdistan spreads across portions of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan and covers an area as large as France. The Kurds who live there have long struggled for autonomy, much of the time against the Safavid and Ottoman empires, which ruled the area for almost seven centuries. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, and for Kurds, this brought the prospect of their own, independent country. President Woodrow Wilson, in his famous Fourteen Points speech made to Congress shortly after the war ended in 1918, said that the non-Turkish nationalities of the Ottoman Empire should be "assured of an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development."
By 1920, the Allies and the Ottoman government had signed the Treaty of Sevres, which recognized three Arab states: Hejaz, which is part of modern-day Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, as well as an independent Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan. But under the powerful nationalist leadership of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey refused to recognize "Turkish Kurdistan," preventing the treaty from being ratified. In 1923, the terms were renegotiated under the Treaty of Lausanne, which confirmed the creation of the three states but did not recognize either Armenia or Kurdistan.
An Era of Revolt
Over the next 40 years, the legendary Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani led an almost-continuous fight for independence in both Iraq and Iran. Revolts flared and fizzled, particularly during the chaotic years of World War II, and culminated in a series of mild victories and spectacular defeats for the Kurdish people. But in 1970, after Barzani's rebel groups inflicted their most serious defeat of the Iraqi military, the two sides reached a peace accord, which included a considerable measure of self-rule for the Kurds. The proposed "Kurdistan Autonomous Region" did not, however, include the oil-rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqin, and so Barzani refused to accept the plan. With the backing of Iran, he launched his final revolt in 1974 only to see it disintegrate a year later, when the Iranians reached a border agreement with Iraq and ended their support for the Kurds. Barzani's followers were quickly defeated and he sought asylum in the United States, where he died four years later.
The New Enemy
After Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, Kurds found a new enemy in Ayatollah Khomeini. Originally supported by the Kurds in the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Khomeini declared holy war against them soon after coming to power, calling the concept of an ethnic minority contrary to Islamic doctrines. Entire villages and towns were destroyed and tens of thousands of Kurds were killed by Khomeini's military might. The infamous "hanging judge" of Iran, Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali sentenced thousands more to death -- up to 60 Kurds a day.
During the 1980s, violence continued throughout the war between Iraq and Iran, with Iraqi Kurds siding primarily with Iran. When a group of Kurds following Mustafa Barzani's son, Masoud, fought alongside Iranian troops in the town of Hajj Umran, Iraqi troops took revenge by killing 8,000 Kurdish men and boys in the Barzani clan's ancestral region of Barzan. Perhaps emboldened by the lack of international outcry, Saddam Hussein launched the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988 as the Iraq-Iran War began to draw down. In what amounted to a genocidal campaign, Hussein ordered attacks on Kurdish villages and towns using chemical and traditional weapons and killed an estimated 200,000 Kurds in less than a year. At least 1 million of Iraq's 3.5 million Kurds were also forced to relocate under his widespread policy of "Arabization," which resettled Iraqi Arabs in northern Iraq, with Arabs taking the homes and jobs of Kurds.
Following the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Iraqi Kurds revolted again. They were quickly quashed by Saddam's forces, and 1.5 million Kurds fled to the Iraq-Turkey border and to Iran. The United Nations called on Iraq to stop the attacks, and under mounting international pressure, the Iraqi government pulled its military out of the region. In 1992, the Kurds officially established an autonomous region and held general elections, in which two opposing groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), gained equal power in the new government.
Kurdish forces aided the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in the country's first elections in 2005, gained significant political power by winning a quarter of the seats in the National Assembly. In March 2005, the leader of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, became the first Kurd to serve as president of an Arab-majority country, when the National Assembly named him to the position. The leader of KDP, Masoud Barzani was named president of Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2005.
Iran is the only other Middle Eastern country to recognize a Kurdistan province, though the designated area only encompasses one-eighth of the mostly Kurdish-inhabited land in Iran. And in Turkey, where more than half of the world's estimated 25 to 30 million Kurds live, there is no officially recognized Kurdish region.
Saddam's Road to Hell
In this January 2006 FRONTLINE/World broadcast, veteran filmmaker Gwynne Roberts and a team of investigators set off on a dangerous journey across Iraq to find out what exactly happened to 8,000 Kurdish men and boys who went missing in the early years of Saddam's rule.
A harrowing 2004 report from inside Iran, where FRONTLINE/World reporter Jane Kokan risked her life to secretly film evidence of the torture and murder of students and journalists opposed to the regime. Kokan, in disguise, escaped the constant surveillance of Iranian authorities to interview underground and jailed activists.
Valentine's Day in Iran
Iranian-American filmmaker Shaghayegh Azimi looks at the giddy atmosphere surrounding Valentine's Day in Iran, a holiday not approved by the country's Islamic government, but which has caught on among the young generation.
Iran: Behind Closed Doors
Jessie Graham writes about a new generation of artistic, literary, highly educated young people in Tehran, engaged in what Graham describes as "a quiet battle for the soul" of Iran.
The Road to Kirkuk
In February 2003, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sam Kiley went to Iraq to cover a war that everyone knew was coming. He was reporting from the northern front, an area controlled by the Kurds since the first Gulf War. During the weeks Kiley spent in Kurdistan, he would discover a land and a people haunted by Saddam Hussein.
Return to Kirkuk
This is Karzan Sherabayani's original story for FRONTLINE/World. At 19, Sherabayani escaped from Iraq, where he had been imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein's secret police. In this report, filmed in January 2005, he returns to his hometown, Kirkuk, to vote in the first national elections since the overthrow of Saddam's regime.
The Fight Over Kirkuk's Oil
In his second Rough Cut report for FRONTLINE/World, Kurdish exile Karzan Sherabayani returns to his hometown of Kirkuk to investigate Iraq's growing oil crisis.
Law and Disorder
In this report, Karzan Sherabayani goes on patrol with the police chief of Kirkuk to show what residents and the police must face in an increasingly violent city.
FRONTLINE: Beyond Baghdad
In this 2003 report, FRONTLINE producers Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria journey across Iraq -- from the Kurdish north, through the Sunni Triangle, into the Shiite south -- to take a hard look at the prospects for democracy.
NPR: "Photographer Steps Forward to Claim Pulitzer Prize"
In 1979, an anonymous journalist captured the image of a firing squad executing nine Kurds in Iran, a photograph that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. Wall Street Journal reporter Joshua Prager spent two years tracking down the photographer, who finally stepped forward in late 2006 to accept his award. Included here is a link to a video of Prager discussing his quest.
BBC Special Report: Inside Iran
The BBC explores the tangled relationship between Iran and the United States since 9/11, as well as offering an in-depth look at the politics and culture of the little-understood country.
BBC: Postcards from Iran -- Tehran Party
In the run-up to parliamentary elections in Iran in 2004, Poonah Ghoddosi submitted a series of postcards about life in the Islamic Republic. In "Tehran Party," she reveals how smuggled alcohol has become a regular part of the scene for the young and moneyed in Iran's capital.
-- Matthew Vree