Who are the Feyli Kurds?
Let’s start with the broader question: Who are the Kurds?
The Kurds are an ethnic group of some 30-40 million people mainly found in the mountainous region comprising southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, Northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran. There are many maps with differing borders on the concept of “Kurdistan,” ranging from reasonable to absurd ones like this one:
However, this seems to be the most commonly used map, apparently produced by the CIA.
It is claimed that they are the largest group without a state, but this is a dubious claim at best considering India alone is a multi ethnic state comprising many nations larger than the Kurdish one (Tamils, Maharathis, Gujaratis, etc.) without their own state. However these groups aren’t necessarily oppressed.
Regardless of semantics the Kurds are quite a large nation to not have a state largely due to historical disunity and largely due to European colonialism and arbitrarily drawn borders after WWI. The closest they have been allowed to get to a real modern state is the current Iraqi Kurdistan region (comprised of most of the Kurdish inhabited areas of Iraq).
The four aforementioned countries where most Kurds live are dominated by Turks, Arabs, and Persians. The Kurds are predominantly Muslims like their Turkish, Arab, and Persian neighbors. However there are many things that differentiate them.
The Kurdish language is related to Persian so there is some sense of togetherness felt between Kurds and Persians on the basis of language along with cultural similarities such as the celebration of Nowruz, or the Persian New Year. However, Kurdish is in a completely different language family than Arabic and Turkish and the cultures are more distinctly different.
Even with the Persian majority in Iran there is religious division. A majority Kurds in Iran are Sunni as contrasted to the Shiite majority of Iran and the Shiite clerical regime there. Suppression of Sunni Islam in Iran has put Sunni Kurds at loggerheads with the Iranian government.
Interestingly enough this is not an issue with the Shiite Kurdish minority in Iran who are much better integrated into Iranian society. This brings us the the Feyli Kurds. The Feyli Kurds are a group of Kurds in Iraq and Iran who follow the Shia brand of Islam, unlike the majority of Sunni Kurds. Feylis speak southern dialects of Kurdish such as Sorani (one of the two main dialects of Kurdish) and Gorani.
According to the above map of where the Kurds live (or historically such as in the case of that part of Azerbaijan bordering Armenia) the Feyli Kurds are found roughly in southern Iranian Kurdistan and in neighboring areas of Iraq bordered by a thick red line.
The details of this map should be taken with a grain of salt considering that none of the four countries where most Kurds are found ask for ethnicity on their censuses. The map appears to show the maximum area inhabited by Kurds rather than just the areas where they are a majority.
The thick red border that is supposed to represent the range of Feyli habitation is itself just an educated guess from a forum poster here. I chose this as it’s almost impossible to find a map showing where the Feyli Kurds are in Iran and this provides a reasonable guess based on the literature.
To the Feyli Kurds Iran would not be a particularly oppressive state. Iran, unlike Turkey, Syria, and Iraq is not a state built exclusively on ethnic nationalism that excludes ethnic minorities. It is a state built on Shia Islam so while the Iranian regime is oppressive to all its ethnic groups to varying degrees it is not particularly oppressive to the Shiite Feylis.
The Feylis of Iraq, on the other hand, have faced a great deal of oppression which I will detail in my next post.