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BACKGROUND REPORT - March 26, 2003: Kurds - 2003-03-26

This is a VOA Special English Background Report.

American troops are now in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. The United States has a military commander for northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. He says the command has been established to work with military and humanitarian aid organizations within both areas. The United States military would not say if the American troops will use their positions to attack Iraqi forces from the north.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan says his country wants to send troops to provide security in northern Iraq. But President Bush says American officials have made it clear they expect Turkish troops not to enter the area. Mister Bush says the United States is working with the Kurds. He says the goal is to make sure no incident happens that would give Turkey, in his words, "an excuse to go into northern Iraq." Both Turkish and Kurdish officials denied reports that Turkey has already sent special forces.

About twenty percent of the people in Turkey and Iraq are Kurdish. Their desire for a homeland has created a long and violent history with governments in both countries.

Kurds are mountain people. They live in Iran and Armenia in addition to Iraq and Turkey. Some also live in Syria. Kurds are mainly Sunni Muslims. After World War One, Turkey signed a treaty with the victorious Allies that led to the end of the Ottoman Empire. This treaty in nineteen-twenty called for an independent Kurdish state. But another treaty three years later said nothing about Kurdish independence. That treaty led to modern Turkey.

Over the years, Turkey, Iraq and Iran have all suppressed attempts by Kurds to govern themselves. Thousands of Kurds have been killed, and many more left as refugees.

In nineteen-eighty-four, Kurds in southeastern Turkey established the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the P-K-K. This group and others carried out attacks in southeastern Turkey and elsewhere. In nineteen-ninety-five, Turkey attacked P-K-K camps in northern Iraq. Then, in nineteen-ninety-nine, Turkey captured the group's leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya. He was tried and sentenced to death. Later Turkey reduced the sentence to life in prison.

In February of two-thousand, after fifteen years of war, the P-K-K announced an end to its campaign of violence. Last April the group changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress. But Turkey and the United States still call it a terrorist organization.