Kurdistan, Or Koordistan, (" The Country of the Kurds"), an extensive region of western Asia, comprised chiefly within the basin of the Tigris, between lat. 34° and 39° N, and lon. 39° and 47° E., and belonging partly to Turkey, partly to Persia; area, about 40,000 sq. m.; pop. estimated by Ritter at 800,000, by others as high as 3,000,000. Its limits are not well defined. Persian Kurdistan is comprised chiefly in the province of Irak-Ajemi, and the Turkish in the vilayet of Diarbekr. Mountain ranges from 3,000 to 13,000 ft. in height, of which many peaks are covered with snow during six months in the year, occupy the north, breaking the surface into deep, narrow valleys, and rugged table lands, of which the most extensive are on the confines of Armenia. With the exception of three ranges of hills of no great altitude, the southern portion of the territory is low and level. The principal rivers are the Tigris, the Great Zab (the Zabatus or Lycus of ancient Assyria), the Little Zab (the ancient Caprus), the Diyalah, and the Adhem. There are several lakes, of which the most considerable are Van and Urumiah. The soil is very fertile.
The climate ranges from extreme heat to extreme cold; the winters in the north are very severe, and the summers in the south are attended by an equally intense heat. The country has but little mineral wealth, but alum, sulphur, and iron are found, and there are a number of salt springs. Forests of oak, pine, and plane trees clothe the mountains; grains of all kinds, rice, tobacco, flax, and hemp, excellent wines, and the usual fruits of temperate climates, thrive on the hills and plains. Mulberry trees, for silkworms, are cultivated. Cotton is found to succeed in certain localities. A remarkable vegetable production is found here, answering in most respects to the manna which fed the children of Israel in the wilderness; it is collected from leaves of trees and occasionally from the ground, and is dried, pounded, and eaten as a sweetmeat. The gigantic rose is a floral production peculiar to the country. Vegetables of all kinds, especially melons and cucumbers, grow to extraordinary size. Honey is produced largely. Medicinal plants, especially gall nuts of superior quality, are largely exported, by way of Alexandretta and Smyrna. Agriculture employs little attention or skill. Flocks and herds constitute the wealth of the inhabitants.
The horses are small, but capable of great endurance, and are much in demand for the Turkish and Persian cavalry. They are worked under the saddle only, oxen being the beasts of draught. Camels are little used, owing to the broken nature of the ground. The live stock chiefly consists of long-tailed sheep, with wool of the most delicate fibre. The principal wild animals are the panther, bear, lynx, jackal, hyaena, and fox. Many varieties of game abound. - The Kurds are supposed to be descendants of the ancient Carduchi. (See Carduchi.) Their complexion is light, and their physiognomy animated. Sharp but delicate features, an ample and open forehead, deep-set, dark, and intelligent eyes, a finely cut mouth shaded by a moustache, good teeth, small and handsomely shaped hands and feet, and a well proportioned frame, give to them a remarkable elegance of person; while their active habits impart a strength of body which renders them physically one of the finest people of Asia. They are good horsemen, expert in the use of arms, adventurous and daring, inclined somewhat to brigandage, but hospitable. The young women are very beautiful, but the shrivelled look of age comes upon them very early.
The national costume resembles that of the Turks. The men wear a cloak of black goats' hair, and a red cap around which is wound a silk shawl falling down upon the shoulders. Only the aged wear beards. The women, except a few of the highest rank, do not veil; they are treated with more respect than in most eastern countries. The Kurds lead partly a stationary and partly a nomadic life. They occupy stone dwellings, of which those of the wealthy are crowned with a tower. The beys or chiefs retire in time of danger with their tribes into a kind of fortifications constructed in the crevices of steep mountains. The chiefs have a despotic control over their tribes, and are almost constantly at war with each other. The recently perfected political division of the countries of Asiatic Turkey have resulted in a more complete recognition of the authority of the sultan, though the chieftainships of the emirs, khans, beys, and aghas still continue among them. The Persian tribes are considered the wildest of all, and maintain their independence with better success than those in the territory of Turkey. They are divided into three totally distinct classes or castes: warriors (sipahs), cultivators (rayahs), and villagers (koilu). - The language of the Kurds belongs to the Iranian section of the Indo-European family.
It is closely related to the Neo-Persian, and may be considered a dialect of it. But though the grammatical structure is Iranic, the vocabulary is strongly mixed with Turkish, especially in the eastern Kurd dialects, and is also full of Arabic words, owing in a measure to their adoption of the Mohammedan religion. It is written with the Persian-Arabic alphabet, but as few Kurds learn to write, it has no literature except songs. As the Kurds appear to be one of the earliest Indo-European tribes which migrated to S. W. Asia, the language is particularly deserving of study. The numerals from 1 to 10 are: yek, du, seh, tchar, bensh, shesh, heft, hasht, nah, dah. Some of the pronouns are: me, meh; they, tah; my, men; our, mah. These pronouns are added to the words by means of connecting vowels, as bahb, father; bahbehmen, my father; bahbehtah, thy father; bahbehmah, our father. The literature of the Kurds is as well represented as it can be by a rich collection of manuscripts at Erzerum.
Sheikh Ahmedi is a celebrated poet of the 16th century, and his best production seems to be a love story entitled Nem-u-Zine. The names of Mollah Hezir, also called Neali Effendi, and of Ahmed Effendi, are those of the most learned Kurds of modern times. A grammar and vocabulary of the Kurdish language was prepared by Garzoni (Rome, 1787). Rodiger and Pott have written Kurdische Studien, in vols. iii. and iv. of the Zeitschrift des Morgenlandes; the structure of the language has been described by Dorn and Schafy, Beitrage zur Kenntniss der iranischen Sprachen (St. Petersburg, 1866). - In religion the majority of the people profess to be Mohammedans of the sect of Omar, but their creed is tinctured with remnants of the old Manichaean and Magian systems, and they have many superstitious practices not sanctioned by the Koran. About 100,000 are Nestorian Christians, locally known as Kaldani. (See Nesto-rians.) These Christians inhabit the valley of the Tigris and the mountains which skirt it on the east.