Kurdish Americans

Kurdish Americans
Total population

from 15,000[1] to 20,000[2]

0.0125% of the US population
Regions with significant populations
Nashville, California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, Los Angeles, Washington Dc
Kurdish; American English, (some knowledge of Turkish, Arabic and Persian)
Mostly Islam with minorities of Atheism, Zoroastrianism & Agnosticism
Related ethnic groups
Iranian people

Kurds in the United States may refer to people born in or residing in the United States of Kurdish origin.

The majority of Kurdish Americans are recent migrants from Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Kurdish emigration to the United States began in twentieth century and has increased in recent years.

In recent years, the Internet has played a large role in mobilizing the Kurdish movement, uniting diasporic communities of Kurds around the Middle East, European Union, Canada, the US, and Australia.[3]


Kurdish immigration to the US began in the 20th century. Kurdish immigration started after World War I, with several waves of migration to the United States from the area considered "Kurdistan". Following the war, the Iraqi Revolution increased the emigration of Kurds to the United States (as well as Iran). After the war, the Kurds had been promised an autonomous region, Kurdistan in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.The ideology of the time was heavily influenced by Woodrow Wilson's doctrine of the right to self-determination[4]

After the Turkish War of Independence, however, the treaty was annulled and replaced with the Treaty of Lausanne, which denied any Kurdish claim to an autonomous region. After the reversal of Kurdish land claims and ensuing persecution, Kurdish emigration from the Middle East began. Many diaspora communities were established in Europe and other Kurds emigrated to the US.[5]

Following the wave of migrants that left in the aftermath of the World Wars, a second wave of Kurds in 1979 came from the north of Iraq and Iran.[4] Many of the Kurds who emigrated at this time did so because they rejected the theocratic system agar the Iranian Revolution. There were also large groups of Kurds that left because of the socio-political turmoil, a byproduct of the revolution and general political instability. Many of the immigrants who made the journey in 1979 had hopwd to overthrow the Shah or at least opposed him. The opposition to the shah, many immigrants from Iran were granted asylum with little trouble and received assisted travel to the US.[6] Other byproducts of the revolution were border disputes between Iran and Iraq, which culminated in the Iran–Iraq War, from 1980 to 1988.

The third distinguished wave of Kurdish migrants arrived between 1991 and 1992 and is considered to be the largest of the four waves.[4] The migration was partly due to Kurdish support for Iran in the Iran–Iraq War because Saddam Hussein had retaliated by attacking multiple Kurdish regions with chemical weapons.The most horrific and infamous of these attacks occurred at Halabja in 1988. Although different groups of Kurds have alternate interpretations of the attack, Kurds usually regard the event as evidence of genocide against the Kurdish people and have used that claim for political gains.[7] Although there was widespread support for Iran from Iraqi Kurds, the war caused severe internal divisions within the Kurdish population.[8] Thousands of Kurds then moved to the US[9]

The last major wave of Kurdish migration to the United States or at least to Nashville, which has the largest concentration of Kurdish communities in the country, was in 1996 and 1997, following a major civil war between Iraqi Kurdistan's two major political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The Iraqi army began targeting hundreds of individuals accused of working against Saddam's regime. The International Organization for Migration initiated an evacuation. Kurdish refugees crossed the Turkish border, after which they were evacuated to Guam, a US territory, and later resettled in the US.[10]

The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003 led to a massive influx of Kurds returning to lands they were displaced from during the Ba'athist policies. Several groups of Kurds emigrated to the United States by the instability caused by land disputes between returning Kurds and Arabs whose land they had occupied[9]

After 2008, several more groups of Kurds emigrated to the US. Many of the migrants had worked in some capacity either with United States military or humanitarian efforts, international humanitarian organizations, and other NGOs.

The Kurdish Pride Gang or KPG is a street gang that formed in 2000 in Nashville that consists mainly of Kurdish members. The gang was involved with drug dealing, home burglaries (including two involving rapes), assault and attempted murder. Two members are serving long prison sentences for the attempted murder of a police officer. [11] [12][13][14]


The total Kurdish population in the United States according to the 2000 census was 9,423.[15] More recent accounts estimate the total Kurdish population in the US at around 15,361.[16] Other sources claim that the number of ethnic Kurds in the United States is between 15,000 and 20,000 people.[17]

The city of Nashville has the US's largest population of Kurdish people. Based on the 2000 census, the Kurdish population in Tennessee is 2,405, and in Nashville, the Kurdish population is 1,770, based on the 2000 census.[18] Nashville, known as 'Little Kurdistan' by many of its Kurdish residents, estimates that more than 10,000 Kurds are living in Nashville.[19] Census numbers of Kurds, however, may underestimate the Kurdish population, as it does not explicitly recognize Kurdish ethnicity. There have been recent efforts by Kurdish organizations and other groups to change that.


Main article: Kurdish culture

Kurds make up the second largest ethnic group in the Middle East only outnumbered by Arabs.[6] Despite the size of the Kurdish population, the Kurds have always been a minority in their respective nation states since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. They currently are minorities in the adjacent areas of Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. The only area in which Kurds compromise the majority of the population are portions of Northern Iraq; the location of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).[9] Recently, Kurds have been the subject of increasing media coverage as well as academic interest bt their pivotal Geo-political role in the Middle East combating militant Islamic groups such as thevIslamic State of Iraq and the Levant.[20]

Kurdish culture is problematic to define in absolute terms because the Kurdish population has been heavily influenced by tribal affiliations, contrasting nationalist projects, as well as international support from different ideological factions at different times (most notably the US and Soviet Union). The confluence of these influences has transformed Kurdish culture creating significant differences between Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, and Turkish Kurds[6]

Iraqi Kurds

Main article: Kurds in Iraq

Iraqi Kurds are the most autonomous within their respective lands. Iraqi Kurds compromise the largest proportion of Kurds living in the US and the group with the most established relationship with various groups (political, religious, humanitarian) within Kurdistan. The effects of tribal affiliation and power structure effect Iraqi Kurds more than other groups. Tribalism has remained important to Iraqi Kurds largely because of their history of relative autonomy and the strategic geographic position in Northern Iraq, and the effects are still felt by many Iraqi American Kurdish. Northern Iraq is the home to the Kurdistan Regional Government, the center of Kurdish political and military power.

Kurds in Iraq have been the subject of aggressive Arabization processes following the Al-ANFAL Campaign campaign of the early 1990s. The Arabization process took place in conjunction with massive displacement of Kurdish families from Kurdish regions, leading to an influx in Kurdish immigrants during the early 1990s.[6] Iraqi Kurdish populations in America have open channels of communication with the KRG mediated through various groups such as cultural centers, mosques, and other humanitarian organizations. Due to this communication network, Kurdish organizations in the US have provided a significant amount of aid and humanitarian relief to the Iraqi Kurdish population on several occasions, oftentimes going through the KRG to implement relief efforts.[21]

Iranian Kurds

Main article: Kurds in Iran

Iranian Kurds, unlike their Iraqi neighbors were subjected to aggressive Persianization (rather than Arabization) policies of the former Pahlavi Shahs of Iran in an attempt to promote national unity. The most aggressive of these policies was a hostile language policy by Reza Khah that attempted to ban the Kurdish language, in favor of Farsi.[22] Despite oppressive policies such as the banning of the language, Iranian Kurds achieved semi-autonomy for a brief moment in time when the Mahabad Republic rose to power in 1945, with the tacit support of the Soviet Union.[23] After the fall of the Mahabad Republic, Kurds became an even more feared and persecuted group in Iran. The Iranian Revolution that took place in 1979 had multiple effects on Iranian Kurdish emigration because of the economic and political instability that it caused within Iran and the accompanying Kurdish persecution. The international support and attention dissenters of the shah received helped Iranian refugees receive asylum in the US, which led to a large wave of migrants following the Revolution. Kurds occupy an unclear socio-political position in Iran. Although the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran granted equal rights to all ethnic minorities, distribution of vital resources such as healthcare, education, housing, and employment indicate that Kurds in Iran have remained an oppressed group in practice.[24]

Turkish Kurds

Main article: Kurds in Turkey

Turkish Kurds have been influenced the most by nationalist projects and associated assimilation policies and this has contributed to the relatively small amount of Turkish Kurds living in the US. It is also the case that Turkish Kurds are underrepresented in the US because they choose not to identify as Kurdish, most likely a result of the discrimination and persecution that Kurds experienced in Turkey. The "Kurdish Question" has been present in Turkish politics since the country's inception l, and the issue has remained contentious. The Turkish government has tried multiple assimilation strategies, including language policies that suppressed the Kurdish language, discriminative economic and employment practices towards Kurdish people and attempting to wholly ignore the ethnic identity of Kurds by referring to them instead as "Mountain Turks".[25] There are far fewer American Kurds from Turkey than Iran and Iraq. One reason for the scarce amount of Turkish Kurds emigrating to the US is that many emigrating Turkish Kurds will travel to one of the closer Kurdish diaspora communities within the European Union like Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland, all of which are all home to varying sized Kurdish communities.[26][27]

Syrian Kurds

Main article: Kurds in Syria

Syrian Kurds have experienced especially damaging discriminative practices so much so that most Syrian Kurds cannot obtain the necessary documents to travel and/or emigrate. There are few if any properly documented Kurdish migrants from Syria. Recently there have been many efforts by Syrian Kurds to fight for political freedoms enjoyed by other Syrians, beginning with an estimated 250,000–300,000 Syrian Kurds that were denied citizenship under the Ba'thist regime demanding citizenship status.[24] The current role Syrian Kurds have had in stopping the Islamic State have brought the Kurdish question in Syria back to center stage. The military success the Kurds have experienced against the Islamic State has led to the creation of a semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Syria. Although similar in some ways to the KRG, the vision put forth by the Syrian Kurdistan is quite different from the position of the KRG. Syrian Kurds fighting for sovereignty in parts of Northern Syria that correspond to the Syrian Kurdistan have stated their ambition to establish a radical democracy with an emphasis on gender equality, sustainable ecological practices, and an overarching goal to undermine hierarchical power relations.

The combination of military success against ISIS with a radical political philosophy has made the Syrian Kurds, particularly those involved with the creation of independent Kurdistan within the Syrian Kurdistan project a focal point of international Kurdish mobilization.

Kurdish language

Kurdish immigrants do not share a common language. The Kurds have never standardized the Kurdish language, but texts with Kurdish writing exist as far back as the 12th century.[28] It has been deliberately outlawed from assimilation practices in Turkey and Iran.[29] The language is officially recognized in the Iraqi constitution, alongside Arabic. Kurdi, or Sorani, emerged as the literary expression of Kurdish language and is recognized in Iraq as the official written form of Kurdish.[30] Within the Kurdish language there are four dialect groups; Northern Kurdish (the largest group), Central Kurdish (Sorani), Kurmanji, Laki (Southern Kurdish). The existing linguistic divisions within the Kurdish language make it difficult to generalize about what languages are being spoken by Kurds in the United States. English is spoken much more frequently by younger generation Kurds than older. Although an emerging phenomenon in the US, other diasporic Kurdish communities in the European Union have demonstrated that the immigration experience oftentimes leads to a dissolution of previous existing linguistic barriers, allowing for a more cohesive Kurdish community in the diaspora than was possible in Kurdistan.[31]

Notable persons

See also


  1. "2006–2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables". FactFinder2.Census.gov. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  2. The Kurdish Diaspora
  3. Yeğen, Mesut. "Review: The Kurdish Nationalist Movement: Opportunity, Mobilization and Identity." International Journal of Middle East Studies 40.3 (2008): 518-20. JSTOR. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Ryan, David, and Patrick Kiely. America and Iraq: Policy-making, Intervention and Regional Politics. London: Routledge, 2009.
  5. Baser, Dr Bahar. Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Mansfield, Peter, and Nicolas Pelham. A History of the Middle East. London: Penguin, 2013.
  7. Watts, Nicole F. "The Role of Symbolic Capital in Protest: State-Society Relations and the Destruction of the Halabja Martyrs Monument in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq." Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 32, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 70–85. doi:10.1215/1089201X-1545327.
  8. Yildiz, Kerim, and Tanyel B. Tayşi. "Iranian State Policy and the Kurds: Politics and Human Rights." The Kurds in Iran: The Past, Present and Future. London: Pluto, 2007. N. pag. Ebsco Host. Web.
  9. 1 2 3 Yildiz, Kerim. The Kurds in Iraq: The Past, Present and Future. London: Pluto, 2007.
  10. UC Davis. "Kurds and Refugees – Migration News | Migration Dialogue." Migration News. University of California Davis, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
  11. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/world/americas/15iht-kurd.1.6660650.html?_r=0
  12. http://www.vocativ.com/underworld/crime/rise-fall-kurdish-gangs-nashville/
  13. https://www.jihadwatch.org/2012/06/nashville-muslim-gang-terrorizes-community-with-murder-beatings-shootings-drug-dealing-and-vandalism
  14. http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/kurdish-pride-gang-members-stay-behind-bars
  15. US Census Bureau. "The Arab Population: 2000" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-11-14.
  16. "2006–2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables". Government of the United States of America. Government of the United States of America. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  17. The Kurdish Diaspora
  18. Patricia, De La Cruz G., and Angela Brittingham. The Arab Population, 2000. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2003.
  19. "Salahadeen Center Of Nashville." SCN History. Salahadeen Center Of Nashville, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
  20. McClam, Erin, and Seán Federico-O'Murchú. "'The Kurds Deserve Help': American Says He Was Wounded Helping Fight ISIS." NBC News. National Broadcasting Corporation, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
  21. Nashville, Tony Gonzalez The Tennessean. "Nashville Kurds Rally to Aid Families in Conflict." USA Today. Gannett, 01 Sept. 2014. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.
  22. Sheyholislami, Jaffer. "Kurdish in Iran: a case of restricted and controlled tolerance." International Journal of the Sociology of Language 217 (2012): 19+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.
  23. Roosevelt, Jr. Archie. "The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad." Middle East Journal 1.3 (1947): 247–69. JSTOR. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
  24. 1 2 Gunter, Michael M. Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2014.
  25. Zeydanlioglu, Welat. "Turkey's Kurdish language policy." International Journal of the Sociology of Language 217 (2012): 99+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
  26. Wahlbeck, Östen. "The Kurdish Refugee Diaspora in Finland." Diaspora Studies 5, no. 1 (2012): 44–57.
  27. Baser, Bahar. Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2015.
  28. Hennerbichler, Ferdinand. "The Origin of Kurds." Advances in Anthropology 02.02 (2012): 64–79. Academia.edu. Web.
  29. Hardach, Sophie. "'Professor, You're Dividing My Nation'; In Iraqi Kurdistan, tongues are tied by politics." The Chronicle of Higher Education 59.41 (2013). Academic OneFile. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
  30. Haddadian-Moghaddam, Esmaeil, and Reine Meylaerts. "What about Translation? Beyond 'Persianization' as the Language Policy in Iran." Iranian Studies (2014): 1–20. Web.
  31. Schmidinger, Thomas. "The Kurdish Diaspora in Austria and Its Imagined Kurdistan." The Kurdish Diaspora in Austria and Its Imagined Kurdistan (n.d.): n. pag. Kurdipedia. Web.
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