The Kurds have lived in a mountainous, roughly 74,000-square-mile region known as Kurdistan for the past two millennia. Throughout their history they have remained under the thumb of various conquerors and nations. Since the early 20th century, the region has been divided between Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, all of which have repressed, often brutally, their Kurdish minority. The Kurds, who number 20–25 million, are the largest ethnic group in the world without their own nation.
The Kurds are conquered by the Arabs, beginning centuries of living under the rule of others. Their land is later occupied by the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, the Safavid dynasty, and, beginning in the late 13th century, the Ottoman Empire.
At the conclusion of World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapses. The Treaty of Sèvres proposes a division of the Ottoman Empire and its territory that includes an autonomous homeland for the Kurds. The treaty, however, is ultimately rejected.
Turkey is recognized as an independent nation, and the Treaty of Lausanne is signed, replacing the Treaty of Sèvres. Under its terms, Turkey is no longer obligated to grant Kurdish autonomy. The treaty divides the Kurdish region among Turkey, Iraq, and Syria.
A Kurdish uprising against the new Turkish Republic is suppressed.
Iranian Kurds set up the short-lived Mahabad Republic with Soviet backing. It is swiftly crushed by Iran. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is founded by Iraqi Kurd Mustafa Barzani, and is dedicated to the creation of an independent Kurdistan.
The Kurds of northern Iraq, led by Mustafa Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, revolt against the government of Abdul Karim Kassem. Iraq puts down the Kurdish revolt, and fighting between the Iraqi government and the Kurds continues for decades.
A peace agreement is signed between the Iraqi government and the Kurds of northern Iraq, granting them some self-rule.
The KDP attacks Iraqi troops after the government refuses to give them control of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which was traditionally Kurdish territory. The government suppresses the crushes the revolt.
Jalal Talabani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), leaves to found the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The two groups begin decades of conflict.
In Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan helps to create the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, to seek Kurdish independence. He assumes leadership of the leftist organization.
Iran's Islamic revolution sparks a Kurdish revolt in Iran that is then quickly suppressed by Iran.
On August 15, under Ocalan's direction, the PKK turns to armed struggle. Thousands of Kurds in southeast Turkey join the cause, fuelled by nationalism and dissatisfaction with living conditions.
Iraq retaliates against the Kurds for supporting Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, and through the "al-Anfal" ("spoils of war") campaign, slaughters thousands of civilians and uproots 1.5 million from their homes. Thousands flee to Turkey.
After the Persian Gulf War, Iraq's Kurds rise up against Saddam Hussein, encouraged by the United States. Iraq quashes the rebellions, killing thousands. The U.N. coalition forces do not come to the aid of the Kurds, but eventually establish a no-fly zone in the north for their protection. Iraqi Kurds now control a 15,000-square-mile autonomous region in Northern Iraq populated by 3 million Kurds.
Turkey lifts ban set by former military government on the use of Kurdish language in unofficial settings. Kurdish remains illegal in schools, political settings, and broadcasts.
A large-scale Turkish military operation attacks PKK bases in Iraq, where Kurdish safe havens had been allowed to develop by international forces after the Persian Gulf War.
The Turkish government grants limited autonomy to the Kurds, though Kurdish political parties continue to be banned. Martial law is imposed to quell uprisings. Tens of thousands of security forces are sent to southeastern Turkey as the struggle intensifies.
The two main political groups of the Iraqi Kurds, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), led by Masoud Barzani (his father and grandfather were legendary Kurdish freedom fighters), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Jalal Talabani, begin fighting each other for control of the Kurdish autonomous region.
In a military operation similar to the one in 1992, about 35,000 Turkish troops invade PKK bases in Iraq.
The PUK's Talabani and the KDP's Barzani sign a peace agreement, ending the four-year war between rival Iraqi Kurd factions.
Abdullah Ocalan is captured, convicted of treason and separatism, and sentenced to death. It immediately spurs a rash of bombings and other terrorist attacks both in Turkey and abroad. Ocalan urges Kurdish rebels to pursue political rather than violent means.
The Turkish government announces that Ocalan's sentence would be suspended until the case is reviewed by a European court.
The Iraqi Kurdish regional parliament meets for the first time in six years, indicating a real sign of unity between Iraqi Kurdish factions since the 1994–1998 war.
Four Kurds are appointed by the U.S. to the Iraqi Governing Council, including Barzani and Talabani.
In March 2004, Syrian Kurds rioted and clashed with police for several days after a brawl at a soccer game. It was Syria's worst unrest in decades.
A double suicide bombing in Erbil (northern Iraq/Kurdistan) leaves 56 people dead and more than 200 injured.
Massoud Barzani orders the Kurdish flag be flown in government buildings, but Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has this to say: "The Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq."
Iran and Turkey both initiate offensives against Iraqi Kurdistan; Iran shells Kurdish rebel bases, while Turkey launches air strikes and ground attacks against the Kurdish PKK.
Massoud Barzani is reelected president of Kurdish autonomous region. The parliamentary election results confirm the two-party coalition, with a new opposition party, Change Movement (Gorran), winning 25 of 111 seats.
Turkey again launches air and ground attacks against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkish attacks continue.
Influx of Syrian refugees into Iraqi Kurdistan begins.
Oil exports are contested, with Kurdistanis hoping to open a new pipeline to Turkey in 2013.
Dozens are killed and hundreds wounded in explosions throughout the region.
Increased numbers of Syrian refugees cause Iraqi Kurdistan to shut its borders.
Change Movement continues to gain ground in Kurdistan, winning 24 seats in the parliamentary elections. It is now the second-most powerful political party after the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has 38 seats (and is the party of President Massoud Barzani). The party of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is now in third place.
In March, the PKK releases eight Turkish soldiers and civil servants. The captives were kidnapped in 2011 and 2012 and held by the Kurdish militants in the mountains of northern Iraq.
Abdullah Ocalan in March declares a cease-fire and orders Kurdish fighters to withdraw from Turkey and retreat to Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. "We have reached the point where weapons should be silent and ideas and politics should speak," he says in a statement. The announcement is considered a historic breakthrough. The cease-fire falls apart in September. The PKK claims that the Turkish government had not followed through on promises to negotiate with the Kurds.
Abdullah Ocalan calls on party members to hold a congress and declare an end to its protracted insurgency against the Turkish government. "This struggle of our 40-year-old movement, which has been filled with pain, has not gone to waste but at the same time has become unsustainable," he said in a statement in March.