In This Review

A Modern History of the Kurds
A Modern History of the Kurds
By David McDowall
I. B. Tauris, 1996, 472 pp.

Kurds in the Middle East now number some 25 million and represent major political and security challenges to the governments of Turkey and Iraq. Yet little has been written about them, their history, emergent nationalism, or enduring tribal rivalries. McDowall therefore fills a large gap with this straightforward history, providing a wealth of information about the Kurdish populations in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. He is reasonable in his assessment, blaming neither the neighboring countries nor the Kurds themselves for their inability to achieve national unity and statehood. Along the way he provides insight into the formation of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the movement that has been at war with Turkey's government for much of the past decade. One learns, for example, that the PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, began his political career in leftist Turkish politics and, like many urban Kurds, grew up speaking Turkish. In the mid-1970s Ocalan broke with the Turkish left and decided to form a Kurdish liberation movement based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Since the mid-1980s he has led a determined, disciplined, and bloody campaign against the Turkish state. For those who want to understand the background to the Kurdish situation in the Middle East, this is the best available introduction.