The Kurdish population

Thursday, 12 January, 2017 , 16:51

There are no official and reliable statistics on the numerical importance of the Kurds in the Near East states where they live.

Current estimates are based on population statistics for each department or governorate in the Kurdish majority settlement area. To this figure is added an estimate of the Kurdish population living in other parts of the country - outside Kurdistan.

Also in Turkey the Kurdish settlement area comprises the 23 vilayets (departments) of eastern and south-eastern Anatolia and the Kurdish districts of Sivas and Marash covering an area of about 230,000 square kilometers. The territory, which the Kurds call Northern Kurdistan (Kurdistana Bakur), has 14.2 million inhabitants in 2016. According to several surveys, 86% of them are Kurds, the remainder being Arab minorities (Urfa , Mardin, Siirt) and Turkish (mainly military, police and civil servants), as well as Syriacs and Armenians. So in 2016 there are about 12.2 million Kurds still living in Kurdistan in Turkey.

We know that there are also strong Kurdish communities in the big Turkish metropolises like Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Adana and Mersin. The numerical importance of this "diaspora" is estimated according to sources at 7 to 10 million, of which more than 3 million in Istanbul, which is the largest Kurdish city in the world and where in the June 2015 elections the pro-Kurdish HDP party won 11 seats of deputies.
Assuming an average estimate of 8 million Kurds in the Turkish part of Turkey, thus arrives at the figure of 20 million Kurds in Turkey, about 25% of the total population of this country.

It should be noted that in 2014, the European Commission assessed the Kurdish population of Turkey in a range of 14 to 18 million. Some Turkish demographers predict that if the current high Kurdish birth rate should continue, the Kurds could by 2050 constitute the majority of the population of Turkey? Hence the policies of forced displacement towards the west of the country in order to assimilate (turquize) the largest possible number of Kurds in order to avert this "peril".

With the same methodology, Iranian Kurdistan reaches a population of about 10 million, or 12.5% of the population of Iran (80 million) in Iranian Kurdistan (Kordestan, Kermanshahan, Ilam and Western Azerbaidjan provinces) . In addition, the Kurdish communities of Khorassan (1.5 million) and Tehran (0.5 million) account for a total of about 12 million Kurds in Iran (15% of the total population).

For Iraqi Kurdistan more precise figures are available. By 2016 there were 5.4 million Kurds in the three governorates (Erbil, Duhok, Suleimanieh) in the Federated Kurdistan Region and about 3 million Kurds in the adjoining Kurdish territories not officially located in the Kurdistan region. The Kurdish population in Iraq thus amounts to 8.4 million, or 26.5% of the total population of Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan also contains Christian minorities (about 100,000) and Turkmen (500,000), as well as 1.8 million refugees and displaced persons.

In Syria, the civil war completely disrupted the demographic balance in the three Kurdish cantons (Djezirah, Kobane and Afrin) with an estimated population of 2.5 million. Added to this are the Kurdish communities of Aleppo and Damascus with more than one million people. In all, the Syrian Kurdish population can be estimated at 3 to 3.5 million, or nearly 15% of the population of Syria.

Finally, the Kurdish diaspora in Western Europe is estimated at 1.5 million people (see our section "Kurdish Diaspora")
Thus the total in 2016, there are approximately 36 to 45 million Kurds as follows:

PaysMinimum EstimateCurrent Estimate% minimum of total population% current of total population
1Turkey15 million20 million19,00%25,00%
2Iran10 million12 million13,00%17,50%
3Iraq8 million8,5 million25,00%27,00%
4Syria3 million3,6 million12,50%15,00%
5Kurdish diaspora in Europe1,2 million1,5 million  
6Kurdish Diaspora of the former USSR0,4 million0,5 million  
XTOTAL36,4 million45,6 million  


Largely rural until the late 1960s, the Kurdish population is now more than 75% urbanized. The destruction of 90% of Kurdish villages in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime and the destruction of 3,428 Kurdish villages and hamlets in Turkey in the 1990s accentuated the rural exodus.

The biggest cities of Kurdistan are in the North: Diyarbakir (1.5 million inhabitants), Antep and Urfa; In the East: Kermanchah (850,000 inhabitants) and Sinneh (432,000 inhabitants); In the south: Erbil (the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, 1,431,000), Suleimaniah (1,613,000), Kirkuk (750,000) and Duhok (912,500) in Syrian Kurdistan: Afrin, Qamishli, Kobane are the main urban centers.