The Kurds and their homeland, Kurdistan, remain a mystery for many ­ people in the West despite their strong media presence and deep cultural ties through dias- pora groups. Instead, a myriad of misconceptions, ste­reo­types, and ignorance dom- inate the common knowledge and debate about this group. Perhaps this is related to the fact that Kurdistan is part of the greater ­ Middle East, and in ­ these current times of conflicts, civil wars, revolutions, and terrorism, many lost track and con- fidence in understanding the origins of the conflict and the original stakeholders. Instead, we tend to generalize the region by describing its ­ people as “radical Arab Muslims” who suppress their ­women, hate the West and the Jews, and are irratio- nal conservative fundamentalists. ­These images, added with the occasional depic- tion of suffering refugees, prevail in our news headlines and influence the public opinion and arguably the opinion of our decision makers as well. Kurdistan and the Kurds The Kurds are dif­fer­ent, however. They do not fit this blatantly scary and mislead- ing picture. On the contrary, the con­temporary Kurds in their vari­ous living areas often represent a pluralistic society that shares many values and norms with West- ern countries. While our focus and po­liti­cal alliances keeps us closer to the domi- nant ethnic groups and their nation-­states, such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia, we overlook this potential friendly ally and partner. As a minority group, they lack a strong, unified voice and message to the rest of the world as well as a lobby group that could further strengthen their cause among the international community. The split of their living area among several nation-­states remains a major obstacle in the way of developing a stronger relationship with other international actors and organ­izations, which in turn are also often restricted in their ability to communi- cate with nonstate actors. In order to describe who the Kurds are, it is best to start explaining who they are not. Ethnically, the Kurds are not related to the Arabs or Turks, but they are indeed an Indo-­European ­ people speaking the Kurdish language, which is linguistically linked to the larger Ira­nian language ­ family. Although the majority of Kurds adheres to Sunni Islam, we must recognize the religious diversity within the Kurdish lands that includes Christian and Jewish groups as well as the Yezidis, an ethnoreligious minority with pre-­Islamic roots and a syncretistic belief system and other smaller religious groups like the Shabak or Kakai. Also among the Alevis, an Islamic Sufi organ­ization, one can find many Kurds. The two Sufi brotherhoods of the Qadiriya and Naqshbandiya also remain extremely popu­lar, and their leaders or sheikhs Introduction
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