August 31, 2012 / 1:00 PM / 7 years ago

Factbox: Syria's Kurds part of wider ethnic group

(Reuters) - Here is a look at the Kurds, a mainly Sunni Muslim people with its own language and culture, who live mostly in the mountainous region where the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria converge. Despite their long history, the Kurds have never achieved a permanent nation state.

* SYRIA

Kurds make up about 8 percent of the population. Damascus has deprived thousands of Kurds of citizenship, banned the teaching of their language and clamped down on Kurdish political activities. However in April 2011, President Bashar al-Assad vowed to grant citizenship to Kurds in an attempt to cool resentment. In June 2012, Abdulbaset Sieda, a Kurd, was chosen to head the opposition Syrian National Council, but Kurds have taken little part in the anti-Assad uprising. More than 12,000 Syrian Kurds have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.

* TURKEY

Kurds form about 20 percent of the population. Turkey has threatened military intervention in Syria if Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants set up camps there. The PKK has fought an armed struggle in southeast Turkey for the past 28 years. An estimated 40,000 people have been killed, most of them Kurds. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is the first Turkish leader to acknowledge the state’s “mistakes” in its handling of the Kurds and his party has held secret talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but the conflict sputters on. Turkey often strikes PKK bases in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region and Erdogan has made any PKK bases in Syria could also be hit.

* IRAQ

Kurds constitute 15-20 percent of the population. Iraqi Kurdistan, autonomous since 1991, has its own government and armed forces, but still relies on the Baghdad central government for its budget. Since U.S. troops left in 2011, friction has grown between Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over territory, oil deals and now Syria. Barzani has helped Syrian Kurdish groups. Maliki, along with his Shi’ite Muslim allies in Iran, is more sympathetic to Assad. Kurds, a majority in the three provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan, lay claim to the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

* IRAN

Kurds form about 7 percent of the population. In 2011 Iran pledged to step up military action against PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan), a PKK offshoot which has sought greater autonomy for Kurdish areas of Iran. Kurds, along with other religious and ethnic minorities, have faced increasing discrimination since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. Iran executed several Kurdish activists in 2009-2010.

Sources: Reuters www.britannica.com/ www.minorityrights.org/ www.religiousfreedom.com/www.jamestown.org/www.foreignpolicy.com

Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Alistair Lyon

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