Trans Eurasia travel

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The Kurds are descendants of the Indo-European tribes that arrived in Iran in the I millennium ВС, and they regard themselves as the descendants of the Medes. Today, the Kurds are to be found mainly in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Almost 9 per cent of the population of Iran is Kurdish, more than seven million, living mostly in Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Ilam and Kurdistan provinces. The Kurds speak Kurdish, a west Iranian language, divided between two major groups, Kormanji (northwestern) and Sorani (southwestern). Kurds are for the most part Sunni Muslims.

Just as many Westerners have the misguided impression that Iran is somehow 'dangerous', so Iranians are similarly misinformed about Kurdish areas of their own country. In fact Kurdish hospitality often trumps even that of mainstream Persians.

Kurds comprise nearly 10% of Iran's population. But there are several different Kurdish sub-groups speaking languages that are almost mutually unintelligible. Kurds around Howraman and Paveh are the most traditional and speak poetic Hurami. Those in Sanandaj usually speak Sorani. Both groups are typically Sunni. However, some Kurds around Kermanshah are Shiite. Kermanji, the language of most Kurds in Turkey, isn't widely spoken, though Kermanji satellite TV stations, some openly glorifying PKK leader Abdulla Ocalan, are starting to change this. Curiously there are pockets of native Kermanji speakers around Kalat in northeastern Iran. They were originally sent there by the Safavids to defend Iran's XVII century borders, and never left.

There are variations between tribes, but a common element in traditional dress for most Iranian Kurdish men is the slightly tasselled headscarf (mezare) and the distinctive kawa pantol suit with heavily pleated baggy trousers. These are typically belted by a wide cummerbund (biben) which, when dancing, men pull off and whirl above their heads. Women wear colourful long dresses over baggy trousers and rarely resort to chador. At celebrations the real finery comes out, notably caps covered in gold coins over cascading stitched tulle scarves.