Kurdish Tribes and the State of Iran:

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Sat Aug 19 00:54:40 MDT 2000

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Kurdish Tribes and the State of Iran:
The Case of Simko’s Revolt

By Martin van Bruinessen

Their pretext is independence and their war cry is
‘Ashirat’, the Kurdish equivalent for Bolsheviki..."
[An American eye-witness on Simko’s Kurds]


Kurdish tribes (ashiret) have on several occasions played important
roles in Iran’sn politics, both internal and foreign. The Kurds
constitute one of Iran’s major ethnic groups, even though only a
minority of all Kurds (some 3.5 millions out of an estimated 14
millions) live within the borders of Iran. During the past centuries the
state of Iran has dealt directly and overtly with only a small fraction
of the important Kurdish tribes. Covert contact with Kurdish tribes
across the political border has, however, always been an ingredient of
Iran’s foreign politics. The most recent and probably best-known
instance of this was Iran’s massive support to the Kurdish insurgents in
Iraq in the late 1960s and early 1970s which ended so dramatically in

Iran was, however, not the only state, nor the most important one, to
have an impact on the Kurdish tribes and on the political process in
Kurdistan. Since the early sixteenth century most of Kurdistan had been
incorporated in the Ottoman Empire, while during the past century and a
half the impact of the great Powers can hardly be overestimated. The
social and political organisation of Kurdistan, the very nature of the
Kurdish tribes, underwent great changes as a result of contacts with all
these states. The impact of the Kurdish tribes on these states was less
dramatic: the Kurds themselves have always been quite marginal to
their interests. The main threat that the Kurds posed to the states in
which they lived was that of secession and/or collaboration with rival
powers. (The term ‘bolsheviki’ in the quotation at the beginning of this
chapter, though nonsensical, appealed to ever-present apprehensions). It
was especially in connection with

Kurdish nationalism and aspirations for independence that Kurdish tribes
affected the state in more than one sense: the centralising and
authoritarian tendencies of Kemalist Turkey and Pahlavi Iran were
strengthened in reaction to Kurdish separatism. This chapter consists of
two parts. In the first some general observations are made on the
evolution of the social and political organisation of

Kurdistan since 1800 under the impact of the states mentioned. These
general remarks are then illustrated by a more detailed study of a case
where Kurdish tribes challenged the Iranian state: the rebellion led by
Simko in the 1920s.


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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