The most recommended books about the Kurds

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to the Kurds, and here are their favorite Kurds books.
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Book cover of Kiss the Dust

Berlie W. Doherty Author Of The Girl Who Saw Lions

From my list on children’s books about refugees and asylum seekers.

Who am I?

My maternal great-grandparents were Irish immigrants. My paternal grandfather left Liverpool in the late 19th century to go to Australia. I’d love to know their children’s stories! Some of the families I visited as a social worker (mid-1960s) were immigrants, struggling to make sense of a new language and a new culture. I met a child who had come here alone as an illegal immigrant and had been a house slave until the social services settled her with a foster family. I met author Hanna Jansen and her many adopted children from war-torn countries. Fiction gives us many powerful stories about children forced to flee from their homes because of war, tyranny, hunger, poverty, natural disasters.

Berlie's book list on children’s books about refugees and asylum seekers

Berlie W. Doherty Why did Berlie love this book?

13 year old Tara is a Kurd living in Iraq. Overnight her world is turned upside down as her people are under bombardment from the government of Saddam Hussein and she has to flee for her life. It is 1970. Tara and her mother and little sister Hero and brother make a difficult, dangerous overnight journey across the mountains into Iran, but even there their lives are in danger. They have no idea what has happened to Tara’s father and brother, or if they will ever see them again.

I knew little about the Kurds until I read this book. Laird’s sympathetic and well-researched novel took me into the heart of these people who have no homeland, this family, and this teenaged war refugee.

By Elizabeth Laird,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kiss the Dust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Tara is an ordinary teenager. Although her country, Kurdistan, is caught up in a war, the fighting seems far away. It hasn't really touched her. Until now. The secret police are closing in. Tara and her family must flee to the mountains with only the few things they can carry. It is a hard and dangerous journey - but their struggles have only just begun. Will anywhere feel like home again?


Book cover of The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East

Janet Biehl Author Of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin

From my list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria).

Who am I?

I was the partner and late-life collaborator of the late social ecology theorist Murray Bookchin. Shortly before his death his 2006, the Kurdish freedom movement took up his ideas, as Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s thought leader, had recommended them. Öcalan created a new ideology based in part on social ecology, promoting face-to-face democracy through citizen assemblies and councils; the liberation of women; a cooperative economy; and an ecological orientation. In several northern provinces of Syria, activist Kurds started building liberatory institutions based on these ideas, at first illicitly, under the Assad regime’s brutal persecution. Then a few years later, after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the northern provinces declined to take sides in the conflict but instead created a revolution, turning the democratic, gender-equal institutions they had been building into the polity of self-governing provinces, known as Rojava (now known as the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria). As a result of my connection with Bookchin, I was privileged to visit three times and witnessed the revolution.

Janet's book list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria)

Janet Biehl Why did Janet love this book?

After World War I, the great powers who carved up the Middle East should have by all rights given the huge population of Kurds there a state of their own. But the new Turkish republic made sure they didn’t, and as a result of this historic betrayal, Kurdish people have lived as a minority in several Middle Eastern countries, whose dictatorial governments persecuted them brutally and often still do. Phillips, a longtime champion of Kurdish human rights, surveys their condition and traces their current evolution into a vibrant political community, arguing for international recognition of their right to self-determination.

By David L. Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Kurdish Spring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kurds are the largest stateless people in the world. An estimated thirty-two million Kurds live in "Kurdistan," which includes parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran-today's "hot spots" in the Middle East. The Kurdish Spring explores the subjugation of Kurds by Arab, Ottoman, and Persian powers for almost a century, and explains why Kurds are now evolving from a victimized people to a coherent political community.

David L. Phillips describes Kurdish rebellions and arbitrary divisions in the last century, chronicling the nadir of Kurdish experience in the 1980s. He discusses draconian measures implemented by Iraq, including use of chemical weapons,…


Book cover of The Kurds of Northern Syria: Governance, Diversity and Conflicts

Janet Biehl Author Of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin

From my list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria).

Who am I?

I was the partner and late-life collaborator of the late social ecology theorist Murray Bookchin. Shortly before his death his 2006, the Kurdish freedom movement took up his ideas, as Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s thought leader, had recommended them. Öcalan created a new ideology based in part on social ecology, promoting face-to-face democracy through citizen assemblies and councils; the liberation of women; a cooperative economy; and an ecological orientation. In several northern provinces of Syria, activist Kurds started building liberatory institutions based on these ideas, at first illicitly, under the Assad regime’s brutal persecution. Then a few years later, after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the northern provinces declined to take sides in the conflict but instead created a revolution, turning the democratic, gender-equal institutions they had been building into the polity of self-governing provinces, known as Rojava (now known as the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria). As a result of my connection with Bookchin, I was privileged to visit three times and witnessed the revolution.

Janet's book list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria)

Janet Biehl Why did Janet love this book?

This analysis traces the momentous social and political transformation of northeastern Syria brought about by the Rojava Revolution. It is grounded in a thorough knowledge of the literature on Kurdish politics and the Syrian war. At the same time one of the co-authors, a journalist based in Erbil, had unprecedented access to officials in the self-administration as well as civilians on the ground. The first-hand research and interviews are a pillar of the book, which explores the prospects for Kurdish autonomy with realism and nuance.

By Harriet Allsopp, Wladimir van Wilgenburg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Kurds of Northern Syria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on unprecedented access to Kurdish-governed areas of Syria, including exclusive interviews with administration officials and civilian surveys, this book sheds light on the socio-political landscape of this minority group and the various political factions vying to speak for them.
The first English-language book to capture the momentous transformations that have occurred since 2011, the authors move beyond idealized images of Rojava and the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) to provide a nuanced assessment of the Kurdish autonomous experience and the prospects for self-rule in Syria. The book draws on unparalleled field research, as well as analysis of the literature…


Book cover of Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women's Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan

Janet Biehl Author Of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin

From my list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria).

Who am I?

I was the partner and late-life collaborator of the late social ecology theorist Murray Bookchin. Shortly before his death his 2006, the Kurdish freedom movement took up his ideas, as Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s thought leader, had recommended them. Öcalan created a new ideology based in part on social ecology, promoting face-to-face democracy through citizen assemblies and councils; the liberation of women; a cooperative economy; and an ecological orientation. In several northern provinces of Syria, activist Kurds started building liberatory institutions based on these ideas, at first illicitly, under the Assad regime’s brutal persecution. Then a few years later, after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the northern provinces declined to take sides in the conflict but instead created a revolution, turning the democratic, gender-equal institutions they had been building into the polity of self-governing provinces, known as Rojava (now known as the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria). As a result of my connection with Bookchin, I was privileged to visit three times and witnessed the revolution.

Janet's book list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria)

Janet Biehl Why did Janet love this book?

Originally written in German and published in 2014, this first full-length study of the revolution is based on extensive research there, including interviews with participants in the revolution. It remains a basic text for any study of the revolution.

By Michael Knapp, Anja Flach, Ercan Ayboga

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Revolution in Rojava as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new kind of society is being built in Syria, but it's not one you would expect. Surrounded by deadly bands of ISIS and hostile Turkish forces, the people living in Syria's Rojava cantons are carving out one of the most radically progressive societies on the planet today. Western visitors have been astounded by the success of their project, a communally organised democracy which considers women's equality indispensable and rejects reactionary nationalist ideology whilst being fiercely anti-capitalist.

The people of Rojava call their new system democratic confederalism. An implementation of the recent ideology of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan,…


Book cover of Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History

Christiane Bird Author Of A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

From my list on classics about the world of the Kurds.

Who am I?

I first became interested in the Kurds during a 1998 journey I took to Iran to work on my first book about the Middle East, Neither East nor West. While there, I traveled to Sanandaj, Iran’s unofficial Kurdish capital, where I was immediately struck by how different the area seemed from the rest of the Islamic Republic—heartbreaking in its lonesome beauty, and defiant. Despite a large number of Revolutionary Guards on the streets, the men swaggered and women strode. These people are not cowed, I thought—no wonder they make the Islamic government nervous. I had to find out more.

Christiane's book list on classics about the world of the Kurds

Christiane Bird Why did Christiane love this book?

This enormous repository of Kurdish history and culture is jam-packed with everything from photographs and maps, to excerpts from memoirs and letters, to clips from newspapers and government documents. Covering the period from the 1870s to the early 2000s, it includes accounts from both the Kurds themselves and outsiders. I poured over the book both before and after my travels, and each time I did, I discovered a powerful new narrative or image I hadn’t noticed before.

By Susan Meiselas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kurdistan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kurdistan was erased from world maps after World War I, when the victorious powers carved up the Middle East, leaving the Kurds without a homeland. Today the Kurds, who live on land that straddles the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, are by far the largest ethnic group in the world without a state.Renowned photographer Susan Meiselas entered northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War to record the effects of Saddam Hussein's campaigns against Iraq's Kurdish population. She joined Human Rights Watch in documenting the destruction of Kurdish villages (some of which Hussein had attacked with chemical weapons in…


Book cover of Road through Kurdistan: The Narrative of an Engineer in Iraq

Johan Franzen Author Of Pride and Power: A Modern History of Iraq

From my list on Iraqi history.

Who am I?

As a teenager in 1991, I watched a coalition of Western powers bombard Iraq into submission. Twelve years later, “regime change” was the agenda. Iraq descended into sectarianism, civil war, and Islamist insurgency. Western depictions had reduced Iraq to an authoritarian state with a megalomaniac leader and no history of its own. These events and the accompanying vilification of Iraq and its people convinced me to study the country’s history. I try to bring nuance and depth to a story so often told superficially. I think history is about giving life to the voices and perspectives of the past. The result, I hope, is an authentic and unbiased portrayal of Iraqi history.

Johan's book list on Iraqi history

Johan Franzen Why did Johan love this book?

This book, which was published in 1937, is perhaps a strange choice for a list of this kind. However, Road through Kurdistan provides fascinating insights into many aspects of Iraqi social and political history in the 1930s. The author, Archibald Milne Hamilton, was a civil engineer from New Zealand who was commissioned to build a strategically important road through Southern Kurdistan, stretching from Erbil, through Rowanduz, and ending at the Iranian border. The road was constructed between 1928 and 1932 and subsequently became known as the Hamilton Road. The book is interesting from an engineering perspective, as the road was a major feat, but also because of its numerous anecdotes about all the people Hamilton encountered over the years. It is a rare account by a non-British outsider who offers a unique perspective on many contemporary social and political issues. 

By Archibald Milne Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Road through Kurdistan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1928, A.M. Hamilton travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan, having been commissioned to build a road that would stretch from Northern Iraq, through the mountains and gorges of Kurdistan and on to the Iranian border. Now called the Hamilton Road, this was, even by today's standards, a considerable feat of engineering and remains one of the most strategically important roads in the region. In this colourful and engaging account, Hamilton describes the four years he spent overcoming immense obstacles - disease, ferocious brigands, warring tribes and bureaucratic officials - to carve a path through some of the most beautiful but inhospitable…


Book cover of The Kurdish Nationalist Movements in Turkey, 1980 to 2011: Oppression, Resistance, War, Education in the Mother Tongue and Relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government

Ceren Sengül Author Of Customized Forms of Kurdishness in Turkey: State Rhetoric, Locality, and Language Use

From my list on the relationship between Turkey and Kurds.

Who am I?

I have always been interested in political and social events around me, and being from Turkey, it was inevitable not to be surrounded by the news of the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK that has been going on for decades. However, perhaps due to being a member of the non-Muslim minority community of Turkey myself, I have always been interested in the ‘non-mainstream’ explanations of a state-ethnic group conflict. This interest in alternative explanations led me to study an MSc in Nationalism Studies and to a PhD in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, with the focus of my thesis being Kurdishness in Turkey. 

Ceren's book list on the relationship between Turkey and Kurds

Ceren Sengül Why did Ceren love this book?

This book is a very good source to understand the more recent history of the Turkish state and Kurds, up until 2011 when the book was published. 2011 is also the year when I first started my PhD, so this was actually one of the first books I read when I started my PhD, and I also reviewed this book.

The more monumental events in the recent history of Turkey such as the Ergenekon trials are explained here through their relations to the Kurdish nationalist movements.

Soner Çağaptay’s book that I have recommended above and this book can be read back to back to get an up-to-date understanding of why the relations between the Turkish state and Kurds are the way they are. 

Book cover of Children of the Jinn: The Story of My Search for the Kurds and Their Country

Christiane Bird Author Of A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

From my list on classics about the world of the Kurds.

Who am I?

I first became interested in the Kurds during a 1998 journey I took to Iran to work on my first book about the Middle East, Neither East nor West. While there, I traveled to Sanandaj, Iran’s unofficial Kurdish capital, where I was immediately struck by how different the area seemed from the rest of the Islamic Republic—heartbreaking in its lonesome beauty, and defiant. Despite a large number of Revolutionary Guards on the streets, the men swaggered and women strode. These people are not cowed, I thought—no wonder they make the Islamic government nervous. I had to find out more.

Christiane's book list on classics about the world of the Kurds

Christiane Bird Why did Christiane love this book?

Five years before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Kahn traveled to northwest Iran to study the Kurdish language and teach English. Because Kurdish was outlawed at that time, she endured much suspicion and endless stonewalling before finally being welcomed into Kurdish homes. The result is this moving and groundbreaking work that in a sense paved the way for other travelogues about Kurdistan, including my own. Kahn writes beautifully about the Kurdish women she meets, the difficulties of understanding another culture, and the constant threats of living under SAVAK (then Iran’s secret police).

By Margaret Kahn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Children of the Jinn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Forty years after the publication of Margaret Kahn's book, Children of the Jinn, Kurds, the fourth largest linguistic and ethnic group of the Middle East, are still being denied basic human rights. The book is an historical and ethnographic account of the lives and struggles of the individuals she met during the year Iraqi Kurds rose up, with American backing, to wrest their rights from the Ba'athist regime. In the Iranian border town where she lived, she witnessed the arrival of a hundred thousand refugees. She volunteered in the refugee school and saw first-hand what happened when the U.S. government…


Book cover of Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989

Ceren Sengül Author Of Customized Forms of Kurdishness in Turkey: State Rhetoric, Locality, and Language Use

From my list on the relationship between Turkey and Kurds.

Who am I?

I have always been interested in political and social events around me, and being from Turkey, it was inevitable not to be surrounded by the news of the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK that has been going on for decades. However, perhaps due to being a member of the non-Muslim minority community of Turkey myself, I have always been interested in the ‘non-mainstream’ explanations of a state-ethnic group conflict. This interest in alternative explanations led me to study an MSc in Nationalism Studies and to a PhD in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, with the focus of my thesis being Kurdishness in Turkey. 

Ceren's book list on the relationship between Turkey and Kurds

Ceren Sengül Why did Ceren love this book?

Another chronological resume of events in the more recent history of Turkey (since the end of the Cold War), this book is essential reading for anyone who is interested in Turkey.

What made me first interested in this book was its title, Angry Nation, which I thought was very apt to describe the Turkish nation.

Even though this book is about the contemporary history of Turkey in general, its sections on the Kurdish war in the 1990s and war and peace in Kurdistan discuss the state’s actions towards Kurds.

After all, the history of contemporary Turkey would not be complete without talking about its Kurdish and other non-Turkish citizens. 

By Kerem Oktem,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Angry Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its re-emergence as nation-state in 1923, Turkey has often looked like an odd appendix to the West situated in the borderlands of Europe and the Middle East, economically backward, inward looking, marred by political violence, yet a staunch NATO ally, it has been eyed with suspicion by both 'East' and 'West'. The momentous changes in the regional and world order after 1989 have catapulted the country back to the world stage. Ever since, Turkey has turned into a major power broker and has developed into one the largest economies in the world. In the process, however, the country has…


Book cover of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction

Jack Nusan Porter Author Of If Only You Could Bottle It: Memoirs of a Radical Son

From my list on the sociology of genocide and evil.

Who am I?

I'm an immigrant child-survivor of the Holocaust, came to America after living in a DP camp in Linz, Austria in 1947 with my wonderful parents. We lost 25 members of our family to the Nazis so I “know evil”. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, went to Washington High School, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Northwestern University where I received a Ph.D. in sociology and studied with one of the best sociologists of deviance (Howie Becker). I combined sociology with deviance, evil, the Holocaust, and genocide, but as a progressive Zionist, I added socialist and kibbutz-life. All these things make up my memoir If Only You Could Bottle It: Memoirs of a Radical Son.

Jack's book list on the sociology of genocide and evil

Jack Nusan Porter Why did Jack love this book?

As one of the founders of the field of modern genocide studies, I’m still learning; it is still a relatively new discipline, having been started in the late 1970s;  in fact, the first organization on genocide was founded in only 1994, just 30 years ago, the IAGS, the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

It took a long time to create a textbook; most of the earlier books were anthologies like my own book, and textbooks may not be the most titillating of books to read but the best one is by my Canadian colleague Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, second edition.

Jones is not only a good writer but also a photographer. There are dozens of good books and good writers dealing with genocide; a reader might want to consider books by Samantha Power, Timothy Snyder, Martin Shaw, Helen Fein, and Israel Charny.

It’s a gruesome topic but handled…

By Adam Jones,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Genocide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction is the most wide-ranging textbook on genocide yet published. The book is designed as a text for upper-undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a primer for non-specialists and general readers interested in learning about one of humanity's enduring blights.

Fully updated to reflect the latest thinking in this rapidly developing field, this unique book:

Provides an introduction to genocide as both a historical phenomenon and an analytical-legal concept, including the concept of genocidal intent, and the dynamism and contingency of genocidal processes. Discusses the role of state-building, imperialism, war, and social revolution in fuelling genocide.…