Kurds and Arabs belong to two distinct ethnic groups that date their animosity to the seventh century. Their members predominantly share a belief in Islam, but speak different languages, trace their origins to different geographic locations and have different customs and traditions.
The Kurds are related ethnically to Iranians and their language is akin to the Indo-Iranian languages spoken today in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
They've inhabited northeastern Iraq, northwestern Iran and parts of present-day Turkey, Syria and Armenia for centuries. They lived largely autonomously until the seventh century, when Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula conquered them. They maintained their separate identity, however, despite subsequent conquests, by Mongols in the 13th to 15th centuries and by the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.
The Kurds were promised an independent state by one of the treaties that dissolved the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, but there was no mention of it in a later treaty, and they've revolted at various times against Turkish and Iraqi governments in an effort to establish their own country.
Arabs trace their origin to the Arabian Peninsula, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest country. During the sixth and seventh centuries, Arabs pushed out of the peninsula and established a huge empire that eventually included Sicily and southern Spain as well as North Africa and much of the Middle East. The Arab empire declined with the rise of the Turks in the 11th and 13th centuries. The Arabic language originated in the Arabian Peninsula. It's considered an Afroasiatic language related to Hebrew and Aramaic. Other Afroasiatic languages are spoken in eastern Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia and Chad.
Source: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th edition. Copyright 2005, Columbia University Press.
(Compiled by Mark Seibel.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.