The world's estimated 20 million to 30 million Kurds live mostly in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, but a relatively small number live in Syria and the Soviet Union. They claim to be descended from the ancient Medes, and their language is of Indo-European lineage, related to Farsi, or Persian. The Kurds converted to Islam in the 600s and are Sunni Muslims. Kurds in various lands have waged unsuccessful struggles for independence during most of this century. Following World War I, Allied forces and a defeated Turkey drew up the Treaty of S`evres which recognized the right of the Kurds to create their own state.
But this treaty was never ratified. It was superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne, which was signed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, and the Allies. This treaty did not acknowledge the Kurds, and carved up the territory claimed by them, with the largest portion going to Turkey.
Immediately after World War II, Iranian Kurds set up a ``Republic of Mahabad'' with Soviet support, but it lasted only one year. In Iraq, Kurdish peshmergas (freedom fighters) have battled the Iraqi Army for decades in an attempt to win autonomy. Two years ago, President Saddam Hussein's Army attacked Iraqi Kurdish civilians with chemical weapons, killing thousands and sending over 100,000 fleeing across the Turkish border. About 30,000 are still in refugee camps in Turkey.
Peshmerga leaders in Turkey say reports they receive from both Iraq and Iran - where some of the refugees have since gone - indicate that the situation of the Kurds in both countries to be one of continuing repression.
``Thirty million people have no land, no language, and if the Kurdish problem is not solved this area will never see peace,'' says Ekrem Mayi, a peshmerga leader who has spent the past two years in the Diyarbakir refugee camp in Turkey. ``But the governments of the world have closed their eyes.
``Now, with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait people understand what we suffered in Iraq,'' Mr. Mayi says. ``What we want is for people of the world to make pressure on the governments of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran to find a solution for the Kurdish people and the Kurdish problem.''