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The Kurds Culture: An Ethnographic Study Essay

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2020


Through cultural investigation, Anthropologists are in a position to appreciate a society’s way of life. Cultural studies utilize ethnographic techniques in exploring various societies’ ways of life. This paper seeks to carry out an ethnographic study on the Kurd’s culture. The Kurds consist of communities that inhabit parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey in a region known as Kurdistan. They form an ethnolinguistic cluster found in the mountainous regions of northern Syria, Kermanshah in Iran, and Turkey.

The Kurdish are believed to have played an important role in the development of early agriculture, animal domestication, weaving, metallurgy, record keeping, and pottery in Mesopotamia. Kurd’s culture is very fascinating and is one of the oldest cultures in the world. The Kurdish language is a class of languages spoken in Iran referred to as Indo-European language. It is neither Arabic nor Turkish origin. This language has the Kurmanji and Dimili-Gurani as the major dialects. The most popular of the two dialects is the Kurmanji, it is the language of communication for most of the Kurds today.


Kurds have been struggling with life for so many years to reach where they currently are. Kurds have never been in a position to enjoy a good position in the socio-political arena (Hitchens, 1992). In research and analysis conducted by Hitchens (1992) to establish by what extend the Kurds appreciate their culture. Most of them were unwilling to relate to their culture and in fact, most of them associated with a different culture in order to avoid oppression by their local governments.

The Kurds that migrate to the United States end up neglecting their culture and adopting the American culture in order to avoid social discrimination. Acculturation has been observed among the Kurds living in the United States; they have learned English and the life experiences of other communities in the United States. It is noted amongst most youths who are quickly adopting American culture. The injustices against the Kurds are exposed in this article.

The treaty of Sevre (1921) promised the Kurds their own country but this was never fulfilled. This happened because through the treaty of Lausanne (1923) Kurdistan was divided between Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. This has resulted in the Kurd’s problems in the present day because they did not belong to any of the governments they were placed in and this has resulted in their regions underdevelopment.

According to the research conducted by Rankin and Aytaç (2006) on the Kurd’s educational system, the education system serves to different individuals based on a social class and gender. There is a high prevalence of discrimination in education. Rankin and Aytaç (2006) conducted a cross-sectional study to establish the rate at which Kurds participated in schooling. In the culture, gender influences the education of an individual. The article reveals the knowledge base of Kurds.

Meho in a journal entitled “The International Journal of Kurdish Studies” (2003) evaluated the position of Kurds in the international system. The researcher found out that Kurds are associated with extreme behavior such as terrorism. Most of them occupy the present-day Iraq that is believed to be the habitat of the terrorist groups. This has caused them to be neglected by international humanitarian bodies. The article gives a clear picture of Kurds’ global history.

The Kurds have two primary modes of subsistence they are pastoralists and farmers (Meho, 2003). Pastoralism is the major mode of subsistence; this is because the geographical area inhabited by Kurds is infertile meaning that they cannot practice effective agriculture. Kurds living in Iraq, Iran, and Syria keep animals, such as goats, sheep, cattle, horses, and camel. This is because most of these regions are arid and semi-arid. Goat and sheep are very important to the Kurds as they get wool, hair, and milk from them.

Cattle are also kept and used for plowing agricultural farms. There are very few horses domesticated by the Kurds, they are owned by the wealthy in the community. The Kurds that are found in fertile areas such as Turkey are known to specialize in agriculture. The most common food crops cultivated by the Kurds are barley and wheat; others include rice, lentils, peas, and vegetables. The main crop is rice. Several varieties of foods are found in the diet of the Kurds. White rice served plain or with vegetables or meat is a common meal amongst the Kurds. The lamb is also a common meal amongst the Kurds, where the stew is prepared with fruit salads; vegetable and meat pies are also common.

They also use a variety of salads, drinks, and pastries. These are the reasons that make them practice both animal and crop farming. Amongst most Kurds that inhabit Kurdistan their farming practices are still crude, they use simple machinery such as the ox-drown plow for farm preparation. Most of them are nomadic pastoralists.

Political organization amongst most of the Kurds is still traditional (Meho, 2003). It is characterized by tribal-based organizations that have a segmented pedigree system. The Aspire is their political confederation and is headed by the Beg, a paramount leader. The top leadership is divided into several units; each unit is called the Tira. The Tira is the primary political wing amongst the Kurds and each Tira owns its own land.

Each Tira is supposed to supply the Ashiret with animals for slaughter, food stocks, armed men, and servants who reside in the Beg, this is how taxation is effected among the Kurds (Meho, 2003). This is made possible due to the type of subsistence practiced by the Kurds. The Tira is headed by the Raiz and this spot is hereditary. The Tiras meet in a council of the Tiras during a crisis to deliberate on the way forward. If the size of a Tira becomes too big it is split into two to allow for effective leadership and management. Because most of the Kurds are pastoralists, they prefer to coexist in small groups that can easily move from place to place.

The Tira is divided into small camps, the Khel; a Khel has a group of persons with related commercial practices and has kinship links. An elder selected based on prestige, capabilities, power, and wealth heads the Khel. At the village level, which is the lowest level of their political organization there is a Mukhtar, the headman. In the modern world, the Mukhtar is appointed by the national government to create a link between the national government and the local people by creating a balance of power.

With modernization and the establishment of a well-structured system of governance, Kurds view themselves as people who are discriminated against. They, therefore, form political parties that are communal in nature since they insist on mutual assistance (Meho, 2003). Within the Kurd culture, the family is the institution of political organization. Family set-up among the Kurds has men and women being treated equally, sharing all family responsibilities evenly.

The family and the extended family is a very important element in a community among the Kurdish people as they like grouping themselves together. The Kurd culture believes in the great importance of extended family including uncles, cousins, grandfathers, aunts, grandmothers, and many other close relatives. Family connections have patrilineal descendants, where the man in the marriage is the head of the family with total authority. This has caused most women not to involve in politics.

Most cultural beliefs and values held by Kurds were borrowed from Arabs. Arab rulers dominated the region for centuries, which affected the original Kurds culture. For example, Islam is the main religion, Most of the Kurds are Muslims of Sunni origin; they observe the five pillars of the Islamic faith; these pillars are testimony of faith, fasting, prayer, pilgrimage to Mecca and almsgiving. The fasting among the Muslims takes place during the month of Ramadan, lasting for a whole month. The fasting takes twelve hours every day with special exceptions for the sick, the elderly, children, and pregnant women who are allowed to eat during the month of Ramadan.

The Muslim faith does not allow pork consumption, so most of the Kurds do not consume pork. This explains why they do not practice pig keeping. Not all Kurds are Muslims some of them are Christians or Jewish and others observe the traditional Kurdish religion commonly known as the “cult of angels.” The Alevi is one of the traditional religions practiced among the Kurds; it is not a very common religion.

The Kurds who practice this religion are found in eastern Sivas, Tunceli, Erzincan, and southern Malatya. The beliefs in this religion embrace consecutive lives. The religion observes four qualities rectitude, self-abnegation, purity, and self-effacement. Most of the Kurds have fussed the two religions where they still practice some of their traditional customs such as the offering of sacrifices and monogamy and observe the month of Ramadan for the Muslims.


Among the Kurds, women have no clear role in society. In politics, women are not allowed to participate in voting since it is considered leadership is a men’s affair. In fact, each woman, regardless of age, must seek permission from a man in order to seek employment (Hitchens, 1992).

Very few women are employed in positions of influence. This is because their traditional customs keep the man as the head of the family with absolute control over what all the other members of the family do. Most of their traditional leaders were men and therefore, they do not believe that women can lead them. The place of a woman in the Kurd’s culture is “home” where she has to take care of the children with other minor chores like farming. This gender discrimination has also affected education. Literacy levels among the Kurds are very low, this is because most women are not educated (Rankin and Aytaç, 2006).

The girl child among the Kurds is not given an equal opportunity as the boy child in pursuing education. Most of these happenings exist because of the neglect of the Kurds by the local governments of the regions they are found. The local governments have not put in place mechanisms that will ensure this discrimination does not exist (Hitchens, 1992).


Hitchens, C. (1992). Struggle of the Kurds. National Geographic.

Meho, L. (2003). The International Journal of Kurdish Studies: a cumulative index. International Journal of Kurdish Studies.

Rankin, B. and Aytaç, I. (2006). Gender Inequality in Schooling: The Case of Turkey. Sociology of Education.

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