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Refugees from a Holiday Destination?

The Kurds are an ethnic group of people originally from a West Asian territory called Kurdistan which is made up of parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Particularly due to Turkey being somewhere common for British people to go on holiday, some question whether Kurds are genuine refugees. RefuNet wants to support its Kurdish students by clarifying the authenticity of their asylum claims in this blog post.

The Kurds have experienced displacement as a result of ongoing attempts by the Turkish military to remove the threat of the Kurdistan Workers' Party. This began shortly after the Kurdistan Workers’ Party began a revolution in 1984. Although many countries see this Party as a terrorist organisation, actions taken against it have unfortunately resulted in thousands of deaths and millions of Kurdish civilians being displaced. (Ibrahim & Gürbey, pp. 54 & 172)

Kurdish displacement due to conflict with Iraq began with the 1968 revolution in which the Ba'ath Party came to rule Iraq. These Arab nationalists oversaw the displacement of millions of Kurds through ethnic cleansing, and later even genocide of tens of thousands in an attempt to completely wipe them out. In 1991, the Kurds participated in an uprising against the Ba'ath Party which was brutally suppressed after short-lived initial success, resulting in even more deaths and displacements. However, unlike the ongoing Kurdish–Turkish conflict, the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict officially ended almost two decades ago. (Rogg & Rimscha, pp. 827-830 & 837)

Moving on to Iranian Kurdistan, its Kurdistan Free Life Party can be seen as Iran’s counterpart to Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (though the latter was founded over two decades earlier) - both are left-wing militant groups that oppose the official regime in their respective countries. Kurdish civilians have been displaced due to this conflict between the Iranian government and the Kurdistan Free Life Party, as well as due to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s which began with Iraq’s invasion of Iran. (Partlow) Towards the end of this war was the Halabja massacre, a chemical attack carried out by the Iraqi Army against over 10,000 Kurdish civilians. (BBC)

Finally, on to Kurds who have become refugees due to the Syrian Civil War. On one side of this ongoing conflict is the Syrian government, which, like Iraq, became Ba'athist in the 1960s. (Collelo, p. 34) The government has a variety of supporters, including Iran (Lake) and Russia (Loveluck & Oliphant). There are also many different forces on the other side, many of which are also fighting each other at the same time. For example, the United States and ISIS are both opposing the Syrian government whilst also being in deadly opposition to each other. (Al Jazeera) With so many involved in a complex war that has gone on for over a decade, hundreds of thousands of civilians have died (The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights) and millions have been made refugees (UNHCR).

We hope that this article has demonstrated the plight of the Kurds, mistreated in all four of the countries that they are historically spread over. And whilst Brits may enjoy holidays to western Turkey, the eastern Kurdish part of Turkey, and neighbouring Iraq, Iran and Syria, are clearly places that Kurds have been forced to leave.


Ibrahim & Gürbey, The Kurdish Conflict in Turkey (New York, 2000)

Rogg & Rimscha, The Kurds as parties to and victims of conflicts in Iraq (Cambridge, 2007)

Partlow, ‘Shelling Near Iranian Border Is Forcing Iraqi Kurds to Flee’, Washington Post Foreign Service, (2007)

BBC, ‘1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack’, BBC,

Collelo, Syria (Washington, D.C., 1988)

Loveluck & Oliphant, ‘Russia transporting militia groups fighting Islamic State to frontlines in Syria’, The Telegraph, (2015)

Al Jazeera, ‘Syrian rebels: US sends more arms against Iran threat’, Al Jazeera, (2017)

The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, ‘Syrian Revolution 11 years on’, The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, (2022)

UNHCR, ‘Syria emergency’, UNHCR,

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