This set of documents traces early insurgencies of the Kurdish people directed against regional and metropolitan powers, their inter-relations with neighbouring tribes and other ethnic groups, while also depicting the extent of territories pertaining to the Kurdish homeland. The period witnessed the origins of Kurdish nationalist sentiments through a series of disparate revolts in the 19th century, through to a larger, more cohesive and discernible movement launched in the aftermath of World War One.
This collection of documentary sources, totalling 8000 pages, provides an extensive and highly structured collection of records for use by scholars, academics and intellectuals to create the historiographical context to support the study of Kurdish history for the period under review. The documents relate the early insurgencies by the Kurdish people directed against both regional
and metropolitan powers, Kurdish inter-relations with neighbouring tribes and other ethnic groups at historical flash-points, and concomitantly depict the extent of territories pertaining to the Kurdish homeland, from the origins of nationalist sentiments through a series of disparate revolts in the nineteenth century and then on to a larger, more cohesive and discernible movement
launched in the aftermath of World War I.
Although the principal and sustained debate about the future of “Kurdistan” per se may be said to date from c. 1919-20 as an issue of broader international concern and contention, significant material from the early nineteenth century can nevertheless be found within British official archives and thus a case based on long historical standing is traced. The observations around aspects
of Kurdish nationalism and territoriality are made within the context of British interests in the region, reflecting both contemporary biases and those of individual writers. They focus chiefly on the overarching perspective of the British Government’s broader diplomatic relations with Persia, Russia and Turkey, firstly through the monitoring of international boundary disputes and
frontier issues; secondly via assessments of strategic defence issues against any possible incursion towards the British Indian Empire, and thirdly on a commercial level, with a view to establishing channels for local trade. Great Britain was not directly seeking to establish its own regional hegemony and it could therefore be argued that these documents reveal Kurdish history with
a degree of neutrality, without a bias on the outcome beyond British imperial interests; with individual officials at times revealing a degree of sympathy for the Kurdish position.
The use of the term “Kurdistan” generally refers to an agreed concept of a geographical area, not to a legal or political entity. Kurdish populations constitute part of Iran to its east, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the south and west, Syria to the northwest. Kurdish-populated territory evolved over the nineteenth and twentieth century, with some regions becoming entrenched,
while others were subject to constant flux. All relevant documents which could be traced from the surviving records of the Government of India at the British Library, and the records of the Foreign Office, War Office, India Office, Colonial Office and Cabinet at the National Archives, pertaining to Kurds or to Kurdistan as a regional construct for the period, have been traced and
included with the exception of duplicates and draft documents.
While the earlier period from 1806–1829 witnessed Kurdish uprisings such as the Baban Revolt in 1806 and a wave of insurrection in 1815, with an additionally significant revolt during 1828–1829, reference to these was not located in official records, perhaps because British representatives were not yet in situ observing events first-hand. Private papers outside the main two British Government archives, where perhaps further coverage might be found, have not been drawn on at this time.
I have not included some of the earliest nineteenth century documents in which the ink has faded and which are illegible even in the original format. Additionally, because copies of routine letters or drafts of war-time documents were typed on recycled paper or poor quality rough paper, the text often appears feint – also the case with military messages and copied correspondence in violet coloured ink.
The documents are arranged in approximate chronological order, with due regard to geographical sectors, and described in detail in a separate contents list. However, surviving post-war materials tend to be arranged by the originating Whitehall department or overseas post in subject files, and where this occurs it is respected, and documents are placed within an annual chronological order
only. While papers may relate mainly to Iraq or originate from Baghdad or Kirkuk, they frequently concern Persian Kurds, or the nationalist movement in general, therefore contents divisions are not rigid but a narrative develops over time.
A. L. P. Burdett