The Kurds: History and Politics

Module titleThe Kurds: History and Politics
Module codeARA3140
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Christine Robins (Convenor)

Dr Clemence Scalbert Yucel (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description


In this module you will focus on the socio-political history of Kurds and Kurdistan since the nineteenth century from the present day. You will examine the major events of Kurdish history, covering the late Ottoman Empire, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey and discussing the present volatile situation, focusing on the development of Kurdish nationalism and political movement(s), but also the relationships of the Kurds with their home governments, neighbouring populations, and international actors. You will also examine the transformation of the Kurdish society since the end of the 19th century looking in particular at issues such as social organisation, gender, religion, migration, urbanisation, and diaspora, economic change, and neoliberalism.

The module is seminar-based, consisting of short lectures followed by in-depth class discussions and student presentations. No prior knowledge of the subject is required; the module is suitable for interdisciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will introduce you to the social and political history of the Kurds, the largest stateless nation and the largest group in the Middle East after Arabs, Persians and Turks. They have begun to play a prominent role in the complex politics and social transformation of the Middle East, which are difficult to understand without a grasp of the Kurds’ long and complicated history. The module aims to give you an understanding of the social and political history of the Kurds in relation to the global context, and to help you analyse their political organisation and the evolution of the society from a range of perspectives. The module will encourage you to critically examine the social and political history of the Kurds, considering issues of social organisation, nationalism, political party formation, identity and religion, migration, diaspora, and mobility, gender, political economy, regional and international relations.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the political historical developments of the different parts in Kurdistan in a global context.
  • 2. Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the social and economical transformation of Kurdistan and Kurdish society since the late 19th century
  • 3. Demonstrate objective analysis of the Kurds’ interaction with the dominant states of the region.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Discuss and analyze historical material.
  • 5. Apply a multi-disciplinary approach in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of a particular ethno-national group.
  • 6. Distinguish between a range of methodological approaches as well as variety of genres, i.e. historical, political or anthropological and sociological texts, (auto)biographical writings and fiction.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 8. Analyze and assess literature and various resources critically
  • 9. Engage in independent study in group or individually

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:


The Historiography of the Kurds and Kurdistan

The Kurds between two empires (the Ottomans and the Safavids)

Kurds and Kurdistan in the first World War

Kurdish nationalism and the question of identity

Religious identities and politics in Kurdistan

The Kurdish national movement and the states (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria)

Kurds, actors of Middle-Eastern Regional politics

The Diasporisation of the Kurdish People

The Kurdish political movement and transformation of gender roles

Kurdistan, war, and the global economy

War and the transformation of society in Kurdistan


Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity22Classroom hours (11 x 2 hours seminars)
Guided Independent study55Weekly Reading and class preparation 5 hours x 11
Guided Independent study20Reading and writing up of book review
Guided Independent study25Project (15 hours researching/coordinating; 10 hours writing/preparing presentation)
Guided Independent study28Essay (18 hours reading, 10 hours writing)


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Class discussion and group or individual presentationWeekly1-3Oral feedback
Project Proposal800-1000 words1-3; 7Oral and Written Feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Academic Book Review201000 words1-3; 6-9Written (and verbal by appointment with student)
Essay502500 words1-9Written (and verbal by appointment with student)
Project3015 minutes class presentation; materials for submission (images/films/slides; or short essay – TBD on individual basis with module convenor)1-9Written and verbal


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ProjectProject, including short 1000-word reflective essay (to replace class presentation)1-9August/September reassessment period
Academic Book ReviewAcademic book review (1000 words)1-3; 6-9August/September reassessment period
EssayEssay (2500 words)1-9August/September reassessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

van Bruinessen, Martin (1992), Agha, Sheikh and State: The Social and Political Structures of Kurdistan, Zed Books: London & New Jersey.

McDowall, David (1996), A Modern History of the Kurds, London: I.B. Tauris.

Mojab, Shahrzad (2001), Women of a Non-State Nation: The Kurds, Costa Mesa: Mazda.

Stansfield, Gareth and Shareef Mohammed (2017) The Kurdish Question Revisited, London: Hurst.

Olson, Robert (1989), The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion, 1880-1925, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Vali, Abbas (ed.) (2003), Essays on the Origins of Kurdish Nationalism, Costa Mesa: Mazda.  

Watts, Nicole (2010) Activists in office. Kurdish politics and protest in Turkey, Seattle, University of Washington Press.

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Kurdish history politics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date