Sherf Al'dín BidlísíBeing the native inhabitants of their land, there are no "beginnings" for Kurdish history and people. Kurds and their history are the end products of thousands of years of continuous internal evolution and assimilation of new peoples and ideas introduced sporadically into their land. Genetically, Kurds are the descendants of all those who ever came to settle in Kurdistan, and not any one of them. A people such as the Guti, Kurti. Mede, Mard, Carduchi, Gordyene, Adianbene, Zila and Khaldi signify not the ancestor of the Kurds but only an ancestor. Archaeological finds continue to document some of mankind's earliest steps towards development of agriculture. Domestication of many common farm animals (sheep, goats, hogs and dogs), record keeping (the token system), development of domestic technologies (weaving, fired pottery making and glazing), metallurgy and urbanization took place in Kurdistan, dating back between 12,000 and 8.000 years ago.

Reconstruction of the Kurdish history is a difficult task. It frequently involves interpolation and extrapolation among a variety of sources written neither for nor about Kurds. Middle Eastern history has all too often (although not always) been written by its hegemons, and most recently the modern nation-states. The Kurds have not been hegemons for over 800 years. The result is that Kurdish contributions to history have been ignored, or worse, appropriated by other peoples (as to who or what is considered Kurdish in the present work, consult the Preface and National Identity). Any pioneering effort to reconstruct Kurdish history from fragments long buried and neglected is bound to raise questions and generate controversy, no matter how meticulous the research. This is to be expected because it challenges the status quo.

Origin of The Kurds

By Prof. Mehrdad A. Izady

Being the native inhabitants of their land. there are no "beginnings" for Kurdish history and people. Kurds and their history are the end products of thousands of years of continuous internal evolution and assimilation of new peoples and ideas introduced sporadically into their land. Genetically, Kurds are the descendants of all those who ever came to settle in Kurdistan, and not any one of them. A people such as the Guti, Kurti. Mede, Mard, Carduchi, Gordyene, Adianbene, Zila and Khaldi signify not the ancestor of the Kurds but only an ancestor.

Archaeological finds continue to document that some of mankind's earliest steps towards development of agriculture. domestication of many common farm animals (sheep, goats, hogs and dogs), record keeping (the token system), development of domestic technologies (weaving, fired pottery making and glazing), metallurgy and urbanization took place in Kurdistan, dating back between 12,000 and 8.000 years ago.

The earliest evidence so far of a unified and distinct culture (and possibly, ethnicity) by people inhabiting the Kurdish mountains dates back to the Halaf culture of 8,000-7,400 years ago. This was followed by the spread of the Ubaidian culture, which was a foreign introduction from Mesopotamia. After about a millennium, its dominance was replaced by the Hurrian culture, which may or may not have been the Halafian people reasserting their dominance over their mountainous homeland. The Hurrian period lasted from 6,300 to about 2,600 years ago.

Much more is known of the Hurrians. They spoke a language of the Northeast Caucasian family of languages (or Alarodian), kin to modern Chechen and Lezgian. The Hurrians spread far and wide, dominating much territory outside their Zagros-Taurus mountain base. Their settlement of Anatolia was complete-all the way to the Aegean coasts. Like their Kurdish descendents, they however did not expand too far from the mountains. Their intrusions into the neighboring plains of Mesopotamia and the Iranian Pteau, therefore, were primarily military annexations with little population settlement. Their economy was surprisingly integrated and focused, along with their political bonds, mainly running parallel within the Zagros- Taurus mountains, rather than radiating out to the lowlands, as was the case during the preceding (foreign) Ubaid cultural period. The mountain-plain economic exchanges remained secondary in importance, judging by the archaeological remains of goods and their origin.

The Hurrians-whose name survives now most prominently in the dialect and district of Hawraman/Awraman in Kurdistan- divided into many clans and subgroups, who set up city-states, kingdoms and empires known today after their respective clan names. These included the Gutis, Kurti, Khadi, Mards, Mushku, Manna, Hatti, Mitanni, Urartu, and the Kassitis1es, to name just a few. All these were Hurrians, and together form the Hurrian phase of Kurdish history.

By about 4.000 years ago, the first vanguard of the Indo-European-speaking peoples were trickling into Kurdistan in limited numbers and settling there. These formed the aristocracy of the Mitani, Kassite, and Hittite kingdoms, while the common peoples there remained solidly Hurrian. By about 3,000 years ago, the trickle had turned into a flood, and Hurrian Kurdistan was fast becoming Indo-European Kurdistan. Far from having been wiped out, the Hurrian legacy, despite its linguistic eclipse, remains the single most important element of the Kurdish culture until today. It forms the substructure for every aspects of Kurdish existence, from their native religion to their art, their social organization, women's status, and even the form of their militia warfare.

Medes, Scythians and Sagarthians are just the better-known clans of the Indo- European-speaking Aryans who settled in Kurdistan. By about 2,600 years ago, the Medes had already set up an empire that included all Kurdistan and vast territories far beyond. Medeans were followed by scores of other kingdoms and city-states--all dominated by Aryan aristocracies and a populace that was becoming Indo-European, Kurdish speakers if not so already.

By the advent of the classical era in 300 BC. Kurds were already experiencing massive population movements that resulted in settlement and domination of many neighboring regions. Important Kurdish polities of this time were all by-products of these movements. The Zelan Kurdish clan of Commagene (Adyaman area), for example, spread to establish in addition to the Zelanid dynasty of Commagene, the Zelanid kingdom of Cappadocia and the Zelanid empire of Pontus-all in Anatolia. These became Roman vassals by the end of the Ist century BC. In the east the Kurdish kingdoms of Gordyene, Cortea, Media, Kirm, and Adiabene had, by the 1st century BC, become confederate members of the Parthian Federation.

While all larger Kurdish Kingdoms of the west gradually lost their existence to the Romans, in the east they survived into the 3rd century AD and the advent of the Sasanian Persian empire. The last major Kurdish dynasty, the Kayosids, fell in AD 380. Smaller Kurdish principalities (called the Kohyar, "mountain administrators") however, preserved their autonomous existence into the 7th century and the coming of Islam.

Several socio-economic revolutions in the garb of religious movements emerged in Kurdistan at this time, many due to the exploitation by central governments, some due to natural disasters. These continued as underground movement into the Islamic era, bursting forth periodically to demand social reforms. The Mazdakite and Khurramite movements are best-known among these.

The eclipse of the Sasanian and Byzantine power by the Muslim caliphate, and its own subsequent weakening, permitted the Kurdish principalities and "mountain administrators" to set up new, independent states. The Shaddadids of the Caucasus and Armenia, the Rawadids/Rawandids of Azerbaijan, the Marwandis of eastern Anatolia; the Hasanwayhids, Fadhilwayhids, and Ayyarids of the central Zagros and the Shabankara of Fars and Kirman are some of the medieval Kurdish dynasties.

The Ayyubids stand out from these by the vastness of their domain. From their capital at Cairo they ruled territories of eastern Libya, Egypt, Yemen, western Arabia, Syria, the Holy Lands, Armenia and much of Kurdistan. As the custodians of Islam's holy cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, the Ayyubids were instrumental in the defeat and expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land.

With the 12th and 13th centuries the Turkic nomads arrived in the area who in time politically dominated vast segments of the Middle East. Most independent Kurdish states succumbed to various Turkic kingdoms and empires. Kurdish principalities, however, survived and continued with their autonomous existence until the 17th century. Intermittently, these would rule independently when local empires weakened or collapsed.

The advent of the Safavid and Ottoman empires in the area and their division of Kurdistan into two uneven imperial dependencies was on a par with the practice of the preceding few centuries. Their introduction of artillery and scorched-earth policy into Kurdistan, however, was a new, and devastating development.

In the course of the 16th to 18th centuries, vast portions of Kurdistan were systematically devastated and large numbers of Kurds were deported to far corners of the Safavid and Ottoman empires. The magnitude of death and destruction wrought on Kurdistan unified its people in their call to rid the land of these foreign vandals. The lasting mutual suffenng awakened in Kurds a community feeling--nationalism, that called for a unified Kurdish state and fostering of Kurdish culture and language. Thus the historian Sharaf al-Din Bitlisi wrote the first pan-Kurdish history the Sharafnama in 1597, as Ahmad Khani composed the national epic of Mem-o-Zin in 1695, which called for a Kurdish state to fend for its people. Kurdish nationalism was born.

For one last time a large Kurdish kingdom--the Zand, was born in 1750. Like the medieval Ayyubids, however, the Zands set up their capital and kingdom outside Kurdistan, and pursued no policies aimed at unification of the Kurdish nation. By 1867, the very last autonomous Kurdish principalities were being systematically eradicated by the Ottoman and Persian governments that ruled Kurdistan. They now ruled directly, via governors, all Kurdish provinces. The situation further deteriorated after the end of the WWI and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

The Treaty of Sèvres (signed August 10, 1921) anticipated an independent Kurdish state to cover large portions of the former Ottoman Kurdistan. Unimpressed by the Kurds' many bloody uprisings for independence, France and Britain divided up Ottoman Kurdistan between Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The Treaty of Lausanne (signed June 24, 1923) formalized this division. Kurds of Persia/Iran, meanwhile, were kept where they were by Tehran.

Drawing of well-guarded state boundaries dividing Kurdistan has, since 1921, a Micted Kurdish society with such a degree of fragmentation, that its impact is tearing apart the Kurds' unity as a nation. The 1920s saw the setting up of Kurdish Autonomous Province (the "Red Kurdistan") in Soviet Azerbaijan. It was disbanded in 1929. In 1945, Kurds set up a Kurdish republic at Mahabad in the Soviet, occupied zone in Iran. It lasted one year, until it was reoccupied by the Iranian army.

Since 1970s, the Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed an official autonomous status in a portion of that state's Kurdistan. By the end of 1991, they had become all but independent from Iraq. By 1995, however, the Kurdish government in Arbil was at the verge of political suicide due to the outbreak of factional fighting between various Kurdish warlords.

Since 1987 the Kurds in Turkey by themselves constituting a majority of all Kurds have waged a war of national liberation against Ankara's 70 years of heavy handed suppression of any vestige of the Kurdish identity and its rich and ancient culture. The massive uprising had by 1995 propelled Turkey into a state of civil war. The burgeoning and youthful Kurdish population in Turkey, is now demanding absolute equality with the Turkish component in that state, and failing that, full independence.

In the Caucasus, the fledgling Armenian Republic, in the course of 1992-94 wiped out the entire Kurdish community of the former "Red Kurdistan." Having ethnically "cleansed" it, Armenia has effectively annexed Red Kurdistan's territory that forms the land bridge between the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper.

List of Source:



10,000 BC - 3000 BC

This is by far the most noteworthy period in the history of Kurdistan. The technological advancements and discoveries made in the Kurdish highlands in the 7000 years preceding the rise of Mesopotamia (3000 BC) forever changed the course of human history, and altered the very face of the planet. Much that was achieved later by the civilization of lowland Mesopotamia starting 5000 years ago began 7000 years before that, in the bordering mountains and valleys of Kurdistan. The archaeological and zoological-botanical evidence of Kurdistan's crucial importance to the development of civilization is bountiful and well documented.


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Median Heraldic Emblem and Flag Motif

Discovery: This artifact was found via illegal digging in what is routinely described as "northwest Persia," and offered for purchase by an unidentified seller to the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1953-54. That is all that is known of its provenance.

The dig's location, however, must have been at or near Hamadan. There are a number of compelling reasons to believe so. The style matches other similar items found in excavations in Hamadan--before or after. 

Had this item been dug up far away from Hamadan--a center for licit and illicit trade in archaeological artifacts--it would have been doubtlessly melted down and turned into modern jewelry for sale. The item is quite large and heavy, and makes for a good "melt item" if it could not be sold to those Hamadani art merchants for its higher artistic/historic value. In fact, the said merchants themselves would organize bands of illegal diggers to poke around for such things that could be sold to Western buyers of all types.



Artistic style: 

The period items recovered from Hamadam uniformly host this same elements of motif that is often, and carelessly described as "Achaemenian.”  If anything, it is the Achaemenians who inherited their style ( and much of their genes) from their Median forebears (among others) not the reverse. 

Fig. 1 (Source: Plaque with horned lion-griffins, the Metropolitan Museum)

The artistic style, motif and workmanship are clearly Median due to following reasons:

1. Two animals facing each other to form a votive is a common occurrence in the “Luristan Bronzes”—a vast hoard of bronze objects from the late Iron Age that have been found in Hamadan, Kirmanshah, Ilam and Luristan provinces of Iran, all in the general environ of Media’s heartland at Mây Dasht and Hamadan. However, to the licit and illicit art markets of the West where these looted pieces were brought for sale, the are collectively known and the Luristan Bronzes. The dates ascertained for these bronzes (1000 to 650 BC) comfortably overlapping and coinciding with the history of the Median dynasty rule (750-540 BC) Examples are too numerous to need listing, but a few pieces that served as standard/flag pole terminals should suffice (figs 2-4).

Fig 2   Fig 3     Fig 4

The Median gold object under study here is naturally more elaborate and of precious metal (gold) as it is made for the high official use, compared to the Scythian tribal chief and warrior for whose flags and standards these bronzes were fashioned. But the motif is basically identical: two animals, their bodies facing each other (goats, eagle headed lions, lions, etc). (Figs 5-9)

Fig 6  Fig 7 Fig 8  Fig 9 Fig 1

2. Type of horns worn by the lions. The curling horns are those of mountain goats of the Zagors region, not those of  the (smooth surfaced) bulls used commonly by the Zoroastrian Persians who held cows/bulls in place of reverence. Again, the Luristan bronzes corroborate this stylish fact. Indeed even human motifs, when adorned with horns in the ‘Luristan’ repertoire, the horn are those of mountain goats. (figs. 10-11)

Fig 10 Fig 11

3. The heavy weight of the peace preclude it from being worn as ornament anywhere on the body by a person. Way too heavy and large. It is a heraldic motif sewn into a leather flag by the late Medians. This would be in full conformity with the wealth of flag standards and heraldic emblems found among the surviving Luristan bronzes, some which depicted above. 

Votive elements of the emblem: 

The emblem contains five disks. They could variable represent the five kings of Median dynasty—placing the date for the emblem in the reign of the last Media king, Astyages (r. 585-550BC). Or alternatively, they represent the unity of the five tribes of Medes (excluding the Zigs of Atropatene, the forebears of modern Chigini Kurds) as listed later on (and inaccurately) by Herodotus. This latter would place the disk’s origin in the reign of Cyaxares (see below).

The two animals standing on their hind legs are of course a local stylistic tradition seen already on so many ancient bronzes from the region. It could be further interpreted, if need be, as commemorating several seminal events in the history of the rise of the Median state, e.g., the unification under king Cyaxares (625-585BcC) of the two Medias: the Magna Media (the mountainous Zagros area to Isfahan) with Media Atropatene (the plains to the northeast). In such case then, the disks would represent the five tribes of Media shorn of the Zig.

Beyond a reasonable doubt, this item is a Median emblem, originally installed on a supporting medium for display. It is far too heavy and oversized (H. 13.6 cm, W. 9.8 cm/ H 5.44 inches,W3.92 inch, and weighs over half a kilogram/one pound) for any item of clothing to host it. It is a ceremonial, emblem containing commemorative/historical Median symbols of unification.

The body of the two lions face each other in conformity with the tradition seen in the earlier and contemporary bronzes. But their faces do not.  There are two uncharacteristically elements in this: the  lions are attached to each other at their chest/heart. However and uniquely, despite this emphasis on the close embrace, the face of the two lions look away from each other and into the outside horizons. Why?

To double the animal in an emblem—all body or just the head—is not uncommon in the area or beyond. The double-headed eagle motif, so closely associated with the division of the Roman empire into two—the Western and the Eastern empires—following Hadrian, is also found not uncommonly among the Sumerian artifacts, including one from Lagash, one of the oldest Sumerian cities. Strangely, a two-headed eagle cut from smoky jade by the Olmec culture of Central America may be as old (fig 12).  The ancient Hittites in Anatolia just west of the Kurdish mountains, were avid users of the doubled headed eagle as well. A 13th century BC examples from their capital at Hattusas is depicted below (fig. 13). Later the same is met in the Median and Egyptian art as well. 

Fig 12 Fig 13

In all these examples, the face of the two animals look away from each other not into each other. Seemingly doubling the head or the entire body of the animal has a religious or political significance. But so does the direction of the gaze of the creatures included in all such emblems.

In Roman history, the emblem and of the early republic was a simple sea eagle (fig. 14) . In time it became more elaborate, complete with a motto (SPQR), a laurel wreath and—a disk (fig 15) 
Fig 14   Fig 15
Fig 16   Fig 17  Fig 1

It eagle emblem of the Romans sprouted a second head and neck, becoming a double-headed eagle when the state/empire was divided by Hadrian into the western and eastern states. The eastern entity evolved to become know as the Byzantine empire, which maintained the double eagle motif until passing it on to the Eastern Orthodox church and the ruling dynasties that followed that church.  In the double eagle emblem, while the birds shared their entire bodies all the way to the base of the neck, the faces look outward and away from each other as do the lions on the Median emblem (Figs 16-17).  Can the Median emblem commemorate a unification or a division? If a unification, it would be that of the plain and mountain portions of Media, achieved under king Cyaxares the Great (better known as the conqueror of Nineveh, Assyria’s imperial capital in 605BC). 

Conversely, this can commemorate the springing of two ruling families under king Astyages, when his grandson, Cyrus the Great became the ruler of the Persians. Later, when Cyrus conquers Media and joins it to his domain in Persis to create his vast empire, the lasting entente between the Medes and the Persians is commemorated more clearly at Persepolis, the Achamenids’ ceremonial capital. There a Mede and a Persian are ubiquitously represented in carvings and bas reliefs, holding hands as if conjoined (the Medes in the Persepolitan carvings wear their usual pantaloon (as do their Kurdish descendants today) while the Persians who wear their long robes.  (Fig 18)


Fig 18 (Source: Getty Institution)

Equally interesting, is the retention of the disks that appears as a single, an unmarked simple round shape hanging above the animal’s head, into a inscribed and/or emblazoned with a sign of cross, on the body of the animal. This is what is seen on the Median emblem. The five disks are interspersed across the emblem: one jointly held by the paws of the two lions; one covering the point where the lions’ heart touch each other; two are held in the coil of the lions’ tale (one each), and the fifth is held together by the joining hands of the two lions at the highest point of the emblem, reminiscent of the joining hands of the Medes and Persians at Persepolis depicted in fig. 18. 

Clearly, the disk has a political or religious value to it. In case of the Roman one, it may depict the sun or heavens, which later on is confirmed by carrying the sign of cross and other Christian signs (compare the figures 16 to 17 above).  In case of the Medians, the meanings is political/historical, as have been already hypothesized above. 

Question of Authenticity:

When faced with a valuable art object, it is always legitimate to ask if it can be a fake--the question that the authorities at New York Metropolitan Museum must have asked when they bought the object in the early 1950s.  The available technology today allows even for national and global news and important photographs to be faked. So, how about this historical emblem? The authenticity of the object can be established thus:

1. In view of the analysis presented above, it is clear beyond reasonable doubt that the style and motifs are in full conformity with the long-established local artistic tradition, going all the way back to the Luristan bronze, and therefore authentic. Its excellent workmanship speaks of its importance and high production commission.  The piece is stylistically, historically and artistically authentic.

But while authentic and not a fake,  can it be a modern replica of a now hidden original?

2. It is quite unlikely this is a replica given the time of its discovery. Why spend so much on the heavy gold to make a replica, while the Metropolitan Museum in NY pays good money for the original object if authenticated?  Before buying it directly or indirectly from the illicit art dealers of Hamadan, the Museum obviously had the piece thoroughly examined by its experts at their laboratories for its originality.  But, even if this were a replica, it would make almost no difference to its importance to the Kurdish artistic tradition. It is the design, the motif and the historical/political message that it imparts that are important not weather this is the original or a copy.  Most archaeological sites and badly damaged works of art are routinely restored to recreate their original state of appearance for study and public viewing. In many respect they too become a replica through excessive restoration. But do they lose their artistic or national value? No. Let us not forget that much of the world-famous archaeological remains of the palaces at Knossos in Crete and the historical monuments in Athens are primarily replicas, but still retain their value to the national pride of the Greeks.

3. In case of this Median object, what would be the logic or reason to create and sell a replica to the scrutinizing, scientifically well equipped and staffed the Metropolitan Museum? The emblem is not an international treasure like a Vermeer painting to occasion illicit replicas. It is of historical value only to the Kurds, and then only recently after I identified the item and encouraged Kurdish institutions to adopt it as their own emblem. 

4. Any legitimate challenge to the authenticity of this object--its origin and its historic worth--must rationally refute and disestablish the three elements of authenticity stated above, and in a standard scientific and artistic manner. Then it must also provide results of an onsite reexamining of the Metropolitan Museum object in order to prove that this single item among millions that the world famous Museum carries in their vast collection is a replica. The endeavor should also evidence that the Museum's regiment of scholars, art historians and laboratory technicians have all been wrong since 1953 when they acquired, identified and authenticated the object.


This item which was discovered in Hamadan, the capital of the ancient Medians, and currently held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is late Median in style and execution. I has been authenticated by the Museum experts since its acquisition in 1953.  It is a heraldic emblem made to be sewn/affixed onto another medium, most likely leather, to form a flag—functional or ceremonial. It is not a Persian Achaemenian item, despite the latter adopting much of the Median artistic styles and culture (as well as the decentralized form of statecraft) into their own. 


By: M. R. Izady, 1995, expanded 2016

Prof M.R. Izady, The First International Conference on Kurdish History, Berlin: Kurdish Institute of Berlin, 1995


Prehistoric Investigation Near Mandali, IRAQ

In the spring of I966 a survey of archaeological sites was begun in the qadha of Mandali, Diyala Liwa, east of Baghdad, and between Mandali and Badra, Kut Liwa, along the foothills bordering the Iranian frontier (Fig. i). The survey was undertaken initially with financial support from the American Philosophical Society and continued in I967 with the assistance of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.' It is hoped that ultimately all archaeological sites in the area will be surveyed systematically, but the primary reason for the selection of this particular region was the possibility that it might provide clues towards the solution of a number of prehistoric problems.

Three essentially geographic considerations led to this choice. The first was the fact that Mandali lies roughly equidistant from Tell es-Sawwan, the southernmost Hassuna-Samarra site,2 and Ras al 'Amiya, the northern known limit of the southern pottery type known as Hajji Muhammad or Al 'Ubaid Z.3 Thus it was hoped that information concerning the relationships, chronological and typological, between these two distinctive prehistoric groups might be found. The second factor was the actual physical situation of the area which, although consisting for the most part of alluvial plain, lies at a significantly higher elevation than the more central portion of the river basins. The plain slopes gradually downwards from the foothills so that Mandali itself has an elevation of 137 m. in contrast with 34 m. at Baghdad. There was, therefore, the possibility that here early prehistoric mounds might be visible above the level of the plain as in Assyria, not as in Sumer buried beneath the silt that has seriously hampered archaeological investigation.

Prehistoric Investigations near Mandali, Iraq
Author(s): Joan Oates
Source: Iraq, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Spring, 1968), pp. 1-20
Published by: British Institute for the Study of Iraq
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4199835


Ancient history

3000 BC- 400 BC

This period marks the progressive technological and commercial overshadowing of Kurdistan by neighboring Mesopotamian cultures. It also heralds- a power struggle between the military forces of the mountains (Kurdistan) and the plains of the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia and Syria) for political and economic control of this most civilized and richest of the planet's corners. Successive advances and retreats by both sides in the struggle for supremacy continue to this day. The ancient period also marks the coming of the Aryans and the beginning of the transformation of Kurdistan into an Indo-European-speaking society, which culminated in the classical period.


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Classical History

400 BC - 600 AD

This period in Kurdish history marks the homogenization and consolidation of the modern Kurdish national identity. The ethnic designator Kurd is established finally, and applied to all segments of the nation. After over a millennium of Aryan nomadic settlements, and rejuvenated by the infusion of the Aryan ethnic element, independent and vital Kurdish kingdoms resurfaced after three centuries of eclipse under Achaemenian and Seleucid rule. This revival reached its apex in the 1st century BC, when Kurdish political hegemony stretched from Greece and Ukraine to the Straits of Hormuz. Toward the end of this period, Kurdish influence over southwest Asia shifted from politics to religion and demography, which stretched well into the medieval period.


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Medieval History

600 AD - 1600 AD

This vibrant period of Kurdish history is marked by the reemergence of Kurdish political power from the 7th to 9th century, after three centuries of decline under the centralized governments of the Sasanians of Persia and the Byzantine Empire. It culminated in three centuries, the 10th through the 12th, that can rightfully be called Islam's Kurdish centuries. Through steady emigrations and military conquests, their political rule extended from central Asia to Libya and Yemen.


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Early Modern History

1497 - 1918

This period in the history of the Kurds is one of steady decline in every aspect of their national life, with the possible exception of literature.  An important proportion of the nation also found itself deported to far-away regions in the course of the 250 years from ca. 1500 to 1750.

An energetic, industrious, and reasonably worldly Kurdish society at the beginning of the period had turned into one of the most backward and devastated societies in the Middle East by the end of the period.  There were two primary causes of this decline: 1) the division of the Middle East into two, warring empires, Persians and the Ottoman, with their line of fire being the heartland of Kurdistan, and more importantly, 2) the utter economic isolation of Kurdistan resulting from the epoch-making shift in international trade routes.


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Modern History

1915 up to Present

The idea of a nation-state in the modern sense and on the European model was more or less unknown in the Middle East until the late 19th century. This European political convention had caught on as much with Kurds as with any other nationality in the area at the time of the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.


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The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion, 1880-1925

By Robert Olson, University of Texas Press, Austin

The Sheikh Said rebellion was the first large-scale nationalist rebellion by the Kurds. The role of the Azadi was fundamental in its unfolding. Kurdish intellectuals and military officers lay at the heart of the nationalist movement, in terms of organization and recruitment. The paramount influence of the more secular or non-cleric Kurdish nationalist organizations must be separated from the rebellion itself and its "sheikhly" leadership. The Sheikh Said rebellion was led largely by sheikhs, a deliberate determination by the leadership of Azadi from 1921 onward.

These decisions were defined and given force in the Azadi congresses of 1924. The fact that the rebellion had a religious character was the result of Azadi's assessment of the strategy and tactics necessary for carrying out a successful revolution. While the Sheikh Said rebellion was a nationalist rebellion, the mobilization, propaganda, and symbols were those of a religious rebellion. It must be remembered that it was and continued to be characterized by most Turkish scholars (such as Behcet Cemal and Metin Toker) as a religious rebellion, instigated by reactionaries, who happened to be Kurds, against the secularizing reforms of the Kemalist government from 1922 onward (especially the abolition of the caliphate on 3 March 1924 and the National Law Court Organization Regulation among others).

It should be noted, however, that recently some Turkish scholars have also characterized the rebellion as "a nationalist rebellion in religious garb". The basis of this is the fact that Sheikh Said was an ardent nationalist, as demonstrated by his earlier career. The consensus of scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s (much of it emanating from Western social scientists and orientalists) that nationalism and genuine religious commitment and spirituality, especially Islamic, are incompatible is not valid in the case of Sheikh Said's rebellion. The Iranian revolution of the 1970s and 1980s has demonstrated forcefully the fallacy of this sort of reasoning. Martin van Bruinessen, the only scholar who has studied the rebellion in any detail, has stated emphatically that "the primary aim of both [Sheikh Said and the Azadi leaders] was the establishment of an independent Kurdistan." Sheikh Said is an example of a man who was simultaneously an ardent nationalist and a committed believer. Many of the leaders of the Azadi and of the rebellion may have been genuinely upset by the abolition of the caliphate. For the average Kurd who participated in the rebellion, the religious and nationalist motivations were doubtless mixed. Most of the Kurds thought that the sheikhs who led the rebellion were religious and more importantly, Kurds.

Many other crucial events, factors, and developments played a role in the rebellion. Many of the leaders wanted to protect their land, their domination of the markets for their livestock , and their control of the legal system. All or some of which seemed to be threatened by the secularizing and centralizing reforms of the central government in Ankara. The Sheikh Said rebellion, was a turning point in the history of the Kurds in that nationalism was the prime factor in its organization and development. This is indicated by the fact that the subsequent large rebellions by the Kurds were nationalist and religious, employing nationalist symbols and propaganda. The Sheikh Said rebellion clearly demonstrated the direction that Kurdish nationalism was to take. In the Zeylan (1930) and Agri (1926-1932) rebellions, nationalist Kurdish slogans were used extensively.

This does not mean that traditional motivations of banditry and tribal feuds, as well as personal vendettas, were not prominent casual factors in the rebellion. In this and in other senses, the rebellion could be described as "primitive," as Amal Vinogradov describes the Iraqi revolt of 1920. But the Sheikh Said rebellion , like the Iraqi rebellion, was a genuine national response to fundamental dislocations in the political and socioeconomic spheres. Like their Kurdish counterparts who had gained so much experience by their participation in the Hamidiye Regiments and in World War I, the Iraqi tribesmen (some of whom were Kurdish) who fought in the Ottoman army benefited from the military experience they gained in World War I. One of the interesting developments concerning the Sheikh Said rebellion of 1925 and the Jangali rebellion of Kuchak Khan in northern Iran from 1914 to 1921 is the supposed efficiency of arms and technology in supporting revolution and rebellion by dissident and nationalist minority groups. The participation of Kurdish, Arab, and Iranian tribesmen in the Ottoman, Qajar, and British armies and their familarity with the substantial technological and military changes that had been occurring since the 1880s may have contributed to their conviction that these weapons and organizational methods could be used effectively in their own national movements. Their assessmens may have been sound. It was misfortune of all three rebellions, however, that they were challenged and defeated by more powerful forces and stronger nationalisms. In the case of the Kurds, it was the stronger state and more developed nationalism of the Turks. For Kuchak Khan in Gilan, the same was true. But, in additions, the Jangalis were deprived at crucial junctures of aid from the Soviet Union and the Communist movement. The Jangalis' opponent, the Iranian government, backed and supported by the British, was able to defeat the rebels. Unlike the Sheikh Said rebellion, British forces played a major role in the suppression and defeat of both the Jangali movement and the Iraqi revolt. It is possible that exposure to modern weapons, but not to modern diplomacy, may have caused the leaders of all three rebellions and/or revolts to act prematurely.

The Sheikh Said rebellion was tribal. The proportionate number of nomadic tribesmen who took part in the rebellion was much higher than in the Iraqi and Jangali rebellions. Few tribal or peasant cultivators participated in the rebellion as combatants. Indeed, as indicated above, the leaders of the rebellion did not even try to recruit the tribal and peasant cultivators, either because they thought that the peasants were simply too much under the thumb of the landlords through fear, coercion, or indifference. The role of the tribal and peasant cultivators was much greater in the Iraqi and Jangali rebellions. It is difficult to know how much land was owned by derebeys or agas within the area of rebellion, although there were a number of large landowners in the extended area (e.g. Diyarbakir) of the rebellion. If tribal chiefs are classified as derebeys or agas , then it seems that most of them were engaged in animal husbandry. But the landlords of the Diyarbakir plains opposed the rebellion. They played a principal role in assuring that Diyarbakir remained loyal to the Turkish government when it was attacked and besieged by Sheikh Said. The cooperation of these agas with the government is another indication of the strong ties that the Kemalists had already established with many Kurdish agas and chiefs. It was a premonition of a future when they were to become one of the mainstays of the Ataturk coalition.

The rebellion did not demonstrate much tribal coordination with urban dweller. Diyarbakir, heavily Kurdish did not rise in support of the rebels. The populace of Elazig initially surrendered without fighting, only to turn against the rebels because of their excessive looting and pillage. Again urban participation in the Iraqi and Jangali rebellions was greater than in the Sheikh Said rebellion. The coordination with urban groups was inhibited ny the territorial isolation of the core area of the rebellion. Communication, except on horse or donkey, was impossible, especially after the telegraph lines were cut. Also, telegraph lines had not yet been extended to many towns. The establishment of Azadi in Erzurum after 1921, in addition to the split in Kurdish nationalist movement, resulted in less contact with the Kurdish nationalists in Istanbul, although, as we have seen above, contacts between Azadi and Istanbul were maintained. The ulama and sheikhs played a large influential role in the Jangali and Iraqi rebellions, as they did in the rebellion of Sheikh Said. Their input in the rebellion of Sheikh Said was significantly greater than in the other two.

The Sheikh Said rebellion, then, was a prototype of a post-World War I nationalist rebellion. Its weaknesses were the usual ones: inter-tribal rivalry and Sunni-Shi'i differences, especially represented by the Hormek-Cibran tribal conflict, contributed to the lack of success of rising. These cleavages were exacerbated by the Naksibandi/non-Naksibandi differences as well. These, rather than the differences between Zaza and non-Zaza speakers, played an important role in the evolution of the rebellion and in the growth of Kurdish nationalism. Urban-rural cleavages, tribal-peasant and landowner-tribal hostilities, and antithetical secular-religious orientations among its leaders all contributed to its lack of success. The Sheikh Said rebellion represented an incipient nationalism that was also challenged by a strong nationalism that had mobilized in the course of the past thirty years, gathered strength during World War I, and further energized by the war of liberation with the power of an organized state behind it. Turkish nationalists claimed the territory on which the Kurdish nationalists wanted to create an independent Kurdistan. The Turks also proclaimed a nationalism that was inclusive of the Kurds, however prejudicial, while Kurdish nationalism, imperatively so, was exclusive of the Turks and their nationalism. This made Turkish nationalism initially stronger ideologically than Kurdish nationalism.

The Sheikh Said rebellion demonstrated, territorially, and politically, the increased vulnerability of the Kurds as a result of the displacement, deportation, and massacre of Armenians during World War I. The removal of the Armenians also removed the buffers of protection that their presence and nationalism offered the Kurds. The situation of the Kurds and the suppression of their nationalism was even more ironic in light of their eager participation in the deportation and massacre of the Armenians in 1915 and subsequently. The truly tragic meaning that the elimination of the Armenians held for the Kurds and Kurdish nationalism was recognized, as menitioned earlier, by some of the Kurdidh nationalist leaders such as Halid Beg Cibran.

In assessing the effect of the rebellion of Turkey's history and politics, my position differs from that of Erik Jan Zurcher and that of Metin Toker. Zurcher in his recent study assigns the Sheikh Said rebellion and its aftermath only two paragraphs, while he devotes an entire chapter to the purges of 1926. Metin Toker, on the other hand, wrote an entire book on the subject of the Sheikh Said rebellion, in an attempt to demonstrate that it represented a turning point in the history of the modern Turkish republic. To be sure, Toker states that one has to make a distinction between the event of the rebellion itself and its consequences. As an event , says Toker, the rebellion was not much. As soon as the Turkish armed forces were able to mobilize, it was crushed. The tenor of my argument here is that the Sheikh Said rebellion, as an event, was much more important than Toker suggests and profoundly more so than Zurcher indicates.

Metin Toker is correct, however, in asserting that the consequences of the rebellion for Turkey, especially the Kemalists, were far more important than the rebellion itself. The main reason for this is that Toker is convinced, rightly in my judgment, that military action by the Kurds -even if they had displayed much more unity, cooperation, and coordination than they did- would never have withstood a focused attack by the experienced Turkish forces. However, the rebellion as an event was more important than Toker asserts because he refuses to acknowledge that it represented a challenging nationalism in competition with Turkish nationalism and, hence, threatening to the Turkish state.

In terms of domestic Turkish politics, the rebellion was, in my opinion, nearly as important as Toker suggests. According to Toker, the rebellion gave Kemalists, or "radicals" as he calls them, an opportunity to silence the criticism of the Istanbul press, which was aligned with oppositional groups and, shortly thereafter, regional newspapers as well. It also established the legal means via the Restoration of Order Law and the creation of independence tribunals to arrest the leading members of the oppostion forces when the time was ripe, in June 1926 after the discovery of a plot in Izmir to assasinate Mustafa Kemal. Soon after the discovery of the alleged plot, twentyone members of the Progressive Republican party and eleven of the most important members of the Committee of Union and Progress were arrested. Some escaped arrest only because they were abroad or went into hiding. Less than one month after the discovery of the plot, fifteen members of groups opposed to the Kemalists were condemned to death. Even the heroes of the revolution and of the war of liberation, such as Refet Bele, Rauf Orbay, and Kazim Karabekir, who managed to escape death, were never again to play significant roles in the politics of Turkey. The only exception was Fuad Cebesoy.

The suppression of the opposition to the Kemalists in the wake of the discovery of the assassination plot in Izmir in June 1926 has been dealt with adequately elsewhere. The point that I wish to make here is that the machinery to facilitate the crushing of the opposition both politically and legally was put into place in the effort to suppress the Sheikh Said rebellion. Ironically, many of those sentenced to death in the Izmir plot had voted for the very independence tribunals to which they fell victim. While the Kemalists had to wait until the purges of June-July 1926, nearly a year after the suppression of the Sheikh Said rebellion, to rid themselves of remaining opposition, the formal and organized opposition as represented by the Progressive Republican party was eliminated when the party was banned on June 3 1925.

Metin Toker writes that it was only after the Sheikh Said rebellion that three "revolutions" were able to occur: the Code of Civil Law (Medeni Kanunu Devrimi) of 4 October 1926; the Dress and Headgear Law (Kiyafet Kanunu Devrimi) of 25 November 1925; and the Alphabet Law (Harf Kanunu) of 1 November 1928. These kinds of reform would only have been possible in a Turkey under the Restoration of Order Law. Indeed, Toker sees similarities between the period of 1925 and that of 1957-60. In both instances, Ismet Inonu was able to assert his authority to restore order to the Kemalist program. Unfortunately, argues Toker, Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes did not have in 1957-60 the same power and legitimacy that Ismet Inonu and Mustafa Kemal possessed in 1925.

In short, for Toker, the Sheikh Said rebellion remains a symbol of the impediments -conservativism, religious fanaticism, Muslim brotherhoods, and formal democratic opposition- that the "radical" Kemalists had to suppress or contain in order to proceed with their Western-oriented, capitalist directed, heavy industry-biased modernization program. The Sheikh Said rebellion emphasized to the Kemalists that this program might be delayed through continuing political infighting or might not be carried out at all. The decisions to pursue the Kemalist road to modernization were probably determined a few years earlier, but certainly there was a solid core that wished to pursue this course expeditiously by 1924. It was the Sheikh Said rebellion that created the atmosphere and the mechanisms to carry out the purges of 1926. In this sense, Toker's analysis is correct. Zurcher does not sufficiently emphasize the atmosphere and context of the purges of 1926. The reason why the Sheikh Said rebellion is so important for the Turkish history is that the laws and instutions created for its suppression were agreed to by those who opposed Kemalism. They agreed, no matter how reluctantly, because no patriotic Turkish official could tolerate a contending nationalism. Here we have a good example of laws and instutions created to suppress an "external" enemy that are later used by the group in power to quash "internal" opposition. The Kemalist opponents and Fethi Bey realized this and therefore tried to depict the rebellion as a regional uprising, certainly one that was counterrevolutionary. But the fact that the rebellion was Kurdish and nationalist severely limited any objections that they could make. More strenuous opposition would have produced the charge that they were traitors. As it was, the members of the Progressive Republican party were charged with complicity in the rebellion, altough such complicity was never proven.

The Sheikh Said rebellion gave the Kemalist government a certain justification for categorizing serious opposition as being in league with the Kurds, having sympathy for Kurdish nationalism, or favoring ideologies that would strengthen Kurdish nationalism, or Kurdish ethnic power. If the red flag of the leftists was hoisted beside the green flag of Sheikh Said (representing Kurdish nationalism as well as Islam), the menace of the rebellion's legacy would be even more of a threat to Kemalism and, possibly, in the future to the Kurdish statet itself. The rebellion proved an opportunity to reduce the opposition to Kemalist modernization through the closing on 30 November 1925 of all tarikats (lodges), zaviyes (cells), and turbes (religious tombs). Religious titles were abolished and wearing of clerical garb was prohibited. The Dress Law was passed on 25 November 1926, aimed against religious centers of opposition for the purpose of enhancing its legitimacy against the Kemalists. What is important to note here is that these laws were passed in an atmosphere of political consciousness on the part of Turkish public that their implementation and acceptance would reduce the threat of Kurdish nationalism.

The Sheikh Said rebellion created and provided a means whereby most serious subsequent opposition to government policies or comprehensive disagreement with its progress laid open the possibility that the disaffected groups would be labeled as traitors. In the aftermath of the rebellion, it was relatively easy to color opposition forces with a hostile ethnic tinge. The vehicles created and the laws passed for the suppression of the rebellion and the symbols of opposition to the Kemalist program that it generated meant that the consolidation of the Turkish state and of Turkish nationalism were greatly expedited by the suppression and perceived threat of Kurdish nationalism. The nationalist aspirations of ten percent of population had to be denied if the nationalist goals of the other ninety percent were to be achieved. It is in this sense that the Sheikh Said rebellion, its suppression, and its aftermath were more important than the purges of 1926, which simply eliminated the remaining opposition to the Kemalists' programs. Most of those who were purged or sentenced to death agreed or would have agreed with the position subsequently adopted by the Turkish government vis-a-vis the Kurds and their nationalism. After all, when opportunities arose after 1950 for different policies to be followed or implemented, they were not.

The suppression of the Sheikh Said rebellion contributed to the consolidation of the new Turkish republic, the evolution and domination of the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Firkasi) and the one-party state it represented up to 1950, and the greater articulation of Turkish nationalism on which the party and the state were based. The creation of a one-party state conditioned the lack of serious discussion of policy alternatives, which in turn meant that there was a monodimensionality to the possible ideological solutions to the problems and challenges that the young republic would confront. It is this unidimensional approach that led to the great surprise of the Republican People's party at the strength of appeal of the Democrat party in 1946. The inability of the Republican People's party to learn from the lesson of 1946 led inexorably to its defeat in 1950. In this sense, one of the reasons for the defeat of the People's Party in 1950 was the legacy of the monodimensionality that the Sheikh Said rebellion and its consequences introduced into the Turkish polity. In fact, the entire post-World War II period, when the military was in power in 1960-61, 1973, and from 1980 onward, follows a pattern shaped by the political and ideological consequences of the rebellion. Many factors contributed to the emergence of the modern Turkish polity-the Kurds and Kurdish nationalism may not be the single most important factor. But their influence on the development of modern Turkey has been most underestimated by scholars and students of Turkey.

It was stated in Chapter 5 that seventeen of the eighteen military engagements in which Turkish military fought from 1924 to 1938 occured in Kurdistan. Information about post-1938 Turkish military engagements is not available, but if it were, a similar situation would probably be noted. Turkey's armed forces intervened in Hatay in 1938, in Korea in 1950-1953, and in Cyprus in 1974. The military engagements against the Kurds far exceeded the number of external interventions and engagements. By the 1980s, Turkey's military actions against the Kurds had assumed external as well as internal proportions. In 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, Turkish forces entered Iraq in order to suppress and contain Kurdish nationalist and guerilla groups. The struggle against Kurdish nationalism, in which certain patterns of policies were implemented and against which certain nationalist, ideological, and psychological premises and attitudes were initially adopted in 1925, continued to play an important role in Turkey's policy decisions more than fifty years after the Sheikh Said rebellion. These factors will quite likely continue to influence Turkish policy well into the twenty-first century. Kurdish nationalism, articulated and symbolized by the Sheikh Said rebellion, will also continue far into the next century.

The objectives and policies of the third major party involved in the Sheikh Said rebellion, Great Britain, have been discussed in Chapter 5. There is, however, another aspect to the international consequences of the rebellion that should be mentioned. Great Britain had consolidated its power in northern Iraq through its forward policy, adopted after the Air Ministry assumed control of military operations from the War Office in August, 1922. From 1922 to 1925, the RAF, under the command of Sir John Salmond, who replaced Sir Hugh Trenchard as chief of the Air Staff in 1929, pursued a vigorous bombing policy against the Kurds and Arabs in northern Iraq. The bombing forced Turkish forces led by Colonel Ozdemir to retreat from Rawanduz in June 1923. In many ways, the formal treaty between Turkey and Iraq on 5 June 1926 was shaped by the success of the British bombing policies. As we have seen above, the new Turkish republic was quick to learn from the British. By the end of 1926, Turkey had acquired 106 aircraft. In the following years, air power was used extensively in military operations against the Kurds. Air power was an effective means by which the new Turkish republic consolidated its state power, especially against the Kurds, just as British air power was instrumental in consolidating Britain's imperial power in the post-World War I Middle East. The lessons learned regarding the use of air power in northern Iraq, especiallyduring the period 1922-1925, were used to good advantage by the British in Sudan, the Northwest frontier, Palestine, and other places. These examples are illustrative of the relationship between established empires and new states when two are not in direct military conflict but both wish to subdue third parties following policies antagonistic to the empire or to the new state. It became easier for Britain and Turkey to bomb Kurds "tan to make political concessions to Kurdish nationalism."

In the period prior to Sheikh Said rebellion, the Kurds (and Turks, too) had to face the new technology of massive bombing, including incendiary bombing at night. In the post-Sheikh Said period, the Kurds had to face the might of an experienced British air force, as well as the burgeoning and increasingly effective Turkish air force. It would be more than thirty-five years before the Kurds had adequate antiaircraft guns. In the intervening years, the Turks and the British (Iraqi) forces were able to extend their control over areas of Turkey and Iraq that were predominantly Kurdish. By 1926, the same bombing policies against the Kurds were followed by Reza Khan in Iran. The effective use air power andits implied threat played an important in the origins and consequences of the Sheikh Said rebellion. The psychological terror it induced in the peasant and nomadic peoples of Iraq and Turkey and Iran, especially through incendiary night bombing, proved to be especially effective. Iraq was, according to L. S. Amery, the British colonial secretary in 1925,"a splendid training ground for the Air Force".

One of the results of this effective British use of air power between World War I and World War II largely against the peoples of British colonies was that it contributed to the unpreparedness of British air defenses against the Germans at the outbreak of world War II, what A.J.P. Taylor has called RAF's "doctrine that overwhelming superiority was the only defence." Right up to the outbreak of the second World War and even during it, " the policy Lord Hugh Trenchard, who was chief air marshal from 1919 to 1929, had established was followed: "Bombing," he held, "could win a war by itself; it was also the only means of not being bombed by others. Trenchard and his successors persistently neglected air defense." Trenchard had first witnessed the great effectiveness of straregic air bombing, sometimes in coordination with infantry, in northern Iraq during the early 1920s. Taylor was of the opinion that the successful use of British air power in northern Iraq contributed to the deterioration of the British army, the lack of mechanized vehicles, and the failure to create a sufficient defense system in the 1920s and 1930s. British success against the Turks and then against the Kurds and Arabs in nothern Iraq in the early 1920s may have contributed subsequently to the RAF's lack of preparedness against the Germans on the eve of and during the early years of World War II. Recent studies have confirmed Taylor's judgments.

Source: Robert W Olson, "The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion", 1880-1925, University of Texas Press, 1989, 229 pages

The republic of Kurdistan in Mehabad

Short-lived state in today's western Iran from 1945 to 1946.

The republic's official name was "State of Republic of Kurdistan" (Kurdish: Komarí Kurdistan le Mehabad), but was also referred to as "National Government of Kurdistan". Through its one year existence, the republic never quite decided whether it was an independent state or autonomous region of Iran.
Kurdistan Republic
The capital of the republic was Mehabad. The extent of the republic was never set — there were peaceful negotiations with the neighbouring Iranian province of Azerbaijan about which republic should control border towns like Khoy, Selmas and Orumiyeh (Wirmí) in the north, and Miandouad (Míyandoaw) in the east.

A government was established, but the republic never got to electing a parliament. A national army was established, but did never get enough time to develop into a credible defence force.

A treaty of friendship was signed with Azerbaijan, covering cooperation on the most important political issues, like economy, military and foreign politics.

The republic introduced Kurdish as the official language, and the language to be used in educational institutions. Some Kurdish language periodicals appeared.

There were some redistribution of agricultural lands, but this only applied to unoccupied lands. There were no forms of land reform.

In fact, during World war II the Russians occupied Northern Iran and the British occupied the south. The objective was to dislodge Reza Shah who the Allies suspected would turn his pro-German sympathy into military alliance. A power vacuum resulted in the Kurdish area between the two zones, with some areas, Shahpur and Urmiya (Wirmí), falling under Soviet control. In the hope of using the opportunity to break loose from Iranian tutelage. Kurdish nationalists formed a party in 1942, Komelley Jhíyanewey Kurd (The Kurd Resurrection Group). Under Soviet influence, but not control, both the Kurds and the Azerbaijani Turks further north were able to direct their own affairs. The Soviets still harboured an interest in annexing the Azerbaijan area which they had coveted throughout much of the 19th Century, and were also extremely interested in oil concessions in north Iran. But the Allies had, at the time of their invasion, also pledged themselves to withdraw from Iran by March 1946. As that time drew near the Kurds and Azerbaijanis formalized their independence from Tehran. In December 1945 Azerbaijanis captured Tabriz with Soviet encouragement, and declared a Democratic Repuplic of Azerbaijan. Following the Azerbaijani lead the Kurds declared the Republic of Mehabad a few days later, and in January 1946 formed a government under the Presidency of Qazi (judge) Muhammad, a respected member of a leading family of Mehabad.
Map of Kurdistan Republic
The Republic was outside the area actually occupied by Soviet forces stretching from Urmiya (Rezaiah) northwards, and was unable to incorporate Kurdish areas of Saqqiz (Seqiz), Sanandaj (Sine) and Kirmanshan to south which were within the Anglo-American zone of control. It was thus pitifully small. The government was formed by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDPIr), an amalgam and compromise between older groups, Komelle, Híwa, a younger Iraqi leftist party, and a group of Kurdish communists. The longstanding division between Kurds, even in so small a area were soon apparent. Before the declaration of the republic the Soviet had already encouraged separatism, not through leftist political groups, but more pragmatically trough tribal chiefs. Each of these had been evasive, reluctant to jeopardize his own pivotal position between government and tribes people. Following the declaration of the republic many other lesser chiefs in the area had avoided becoming to closely involved with the Mehabad Government, which found itself depended mainly on relatives of the locally popular Qazi Muhammad and other citizens of Mahabad. Only the fortuitous acquisition of Mulla Mastafa Barzani (in flight from British and Hashemites in Iraq) and 3000 followers in November 1945 made Qazi Muhammad's position feasible.

Whether or not the Mehabad Republic was set upon a path to complete independence is questionable. At the time of its establishment it sought complete autonomy within Iran's frontiers. Within the republic Kurdish became the official language, periodicals appeared, and the economy benefitted from direct trade withe USSR. A number of traditional leaders had fled rather than be implicated in a movement which would destroy their own powerful position between Tehran and their tribal or village populations. The land such chiefs was redistributed, but not on leftist principles. Some of it went to the Barzani's from Iraq. Leftists and traditionalists were anxious to compromise in order to keep the republic afloat. At a political level the Mehabad Government expected the USSR to stand by them although, since pragmatism had led the Soviet to approach tribal leaders in spring 1945 rather than to sponsor ideologically correct republics, this was wishful thinking. The expectation also ignored widespread Kurdish suspicion of the Russians, based on Russian incursions into Azerbaijan in the 19th Century, and the way in which Russians had laid bare parts of Kurdistan, including sacking Mehabad during World War I. Kurdish political groups elsewhere were hostile Qazi Muhammad's Soviet connections. Tribes in the region suffered economically from Soviet occupation and from the Mehabad Republic since they could not make their customary tobacco crop sales to other parts of Iran. West of Mehabad both the Mamesh and Mangur tribes (the closest tribes to the town) were bitterly hostile to Mahabad, to the extent that Barzani's men, who had outlasted their welcome in the area, were sent against them.

The Mehabad Government also badly miscalculated Soviet interests. Although the Soviet had encouraged both Azerbaijan and Mhabad to declare autonomous republics, they were not prepared to defend Them. Regardless of whether either was a sound 'soviet' - and it was manifestly clear Mehabad was not - Soviet interests lay in its overall relationship with Iran, and with the oil exploration concession it was not only interested in but managed to obtain (though subsequently not ratified by Iran's parliament) in spring 1946. By late May 1946 the Soviets had left Iranian soil. Their military help to the Kurdish Republic did not extend beyond persuading a few petty tribal chiefs always ready for fighting and loot to join the Qazi and to persuade the reluctant Amir Khan of the Shikak (who had resigned from Mahabad Government) to reaffirm his support. despite honest attempts Qazi Muhammad was unable to reach an agreement with Tehran. He was aware that a majority of Kurds under their tribal chiefs were unwilling to support him and liable to support the government. In December 1946 the Iranian advanced on Azerbaijan where the republic collapsed almost without resistance, with some of its leadership fleeing to USSR. Amir Khan once more changed sides, pledging loyalty to Tehran, and along with other chiefs, being accepted back into the fold. Soon afterwards Iranian troops entered Mehabad ( the Dehbokri, Mamesh and Mangur) in the van of the advancing column. Qazi Muhammad, a man of honour to the end, made no attempt to flee. Barzani withdrew with his men to Iraqi side of the border.
Qazi Mohammad
All traces of Qazi Muhammad's Government were eradicated. The printing press was closed, the teaching of Kurdish prohibited, and the people of Mehabad burnt their Kurdish books. The area was disarmed, though those Kurdish tribes which had co-operated with the Iranian government were exempted. In March 1947 Qazi Muhammad an two of his colleagues were publicly hanged in Mehabad's main square. Eleven chiefs hanged to encourage loyalty amongst the other. For the Kurds the episode of Mehabad held bitter lessons. Barely one third of the Iranian Kurds had fallen inside the Mehabad Republic. Many of these did not actively oppose but certainly did not support it. much rested on the personal prestige of Qazi Muhammad within the town. Beyond the 'liberated zone'few Kurds demonstrated their willingness either to rebel where they were or march to Mehabad's aid. Most stayed at home. Belief in, and dependence on, outside powerful sponsors was shown to be dangerous, potentially suicidal. The military strength of the Kurds still by lay in the hand of tribal chiefs, and these proved to be quarrelsome, capricious, unreliable, and politically uncommitted to the same ideas as urban intellectuals and nationalists. The same bitter lessons were to be replayed in Iraq.

Cabinet of the Republic of Kurdistan in Mahabad
Members of Cabinet

  1. Mr. Qazi Muhammad (Qazí Muhemed), President
  2. Mr. Haji Baba Sheikh (Hají Baba Sheyx), Prime Minister


  • 1941: As part of World War II, Iran is partly occupied by foreign forces. In the south, British troops move in, while Soviet troops take control over the north. The region around Mehabad is not occupied.
  • 1942: The Kurdish movement Komelley Jhíyaní Kurdistan is founded, asking for more rights of the Kurds.
  • 1945: The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) is started, and all members of Komelle joins. KDP asked for autonomy (i.e. not an independent state), Kurdish as an official language, local democracy and governance and better laws for dealing with the relations between peasants and landowners.
  • 1946 January 24: The State of Republic of Kurdistan is proclaimed by the Kurdish Democratic Party in a ceremony in Seqiz. Delegates from the surrounding lands participate. Qazi Muhammad becomes president, while Mustafa Barzani as commander-in-chief.
  • May: Soviet troops withdraws from Iran, and leaves the republic vulnerable for attack by Iranian forces.
  • December: Iranian troops march into Mehabad, and end the Kurdish rule over the region.

 The Oath of Office of President Ghazi Mohammad Republic of Kurdistan, 1945.

"I swear by God and God’s supreme Word (the Koran), the Homeland and the honor of the Kurds and their
sacred flag, that I shall endeavor with my body and soul for the independence of Kurdistan and the keeping
aloft its flag, until my last breath of life and the last drop of my blood. I shall, as the President of Kurdistan, remain loyal and devote to the unity of Kurds and Azerbaijan."



   1. David Mcdowall, The Kurds in Iran, 1991
   2. The Encyclopaedia of Orient




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Ismet Sheríf Vanlí

Ismet Sherif Vanli

Prof. Ismet Cherif Vanli (1924-2011), (Kurdish: Ismet Sheríf Wanlí, عیسمەت شەریف وانلی) was born on 21st Nov 1924 to Kurdish parents in the Kurdish quarter of the city of Damascus/Syria. His father Muhammad Cherif Vanli had migrated to Damascus from the Van region of northeastern Kurdistan long before the fall of Ottoman Empire in 1918. Ismet's mother Xayriya Abdulla Alarrashi was originally from Diyarbaker who had moved with her family to Damascus.

After finishing his primary and secondary school in Arabic and French he moved to Beirut/Lebanon for further education. He studied Civil Engineering for one and half year before he realized that he has his heart on some other subjects.

Vanly moved to Lausanne/Switzerland in late 1948. He met the prominent Kurdish scholar Nouraddin Zaza at Lausanne university. Zaza was a strong factor in enrolling young Vanly at Lausanne university. Vanly successfully finished a bachelor degree in law and become a lawyer. He continued with his education at the University of Geneva where he accomplished a masters degree in History and a doctorate in political science. His doctoral dissertation focused on the right of the Kurdish nation to self determination and building a Kurdish homeland based on human rights and International laws.

With other Kurdish student in diaspora. Ismet established the Kurdish Student Society in Europe KSSE in 1956. Many existing student societies of Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian origin were against a separate Kurdish student societies. They argued that Kurdish interests were already imbedded in their programs. Nonetheless, Ismet was intent on becoming the voice of the Kurdish nation in Europe. He traveled around the Europe and attended many international conferences as KSSE representative. In 1958 he was elected to represent KSSE at London International Conference (?) where many nations of the worlds were represented. He also was KSSE representative at annual conferences of International Student Union.

In early 1959 he moved to Paris to study Kurdish History at the Sorbonne University. This was in liaison with Kamran Bedir khan who was at that time a lecturer in Kurdish language at the Sorbonne. France was the only country in the world that Kurdish historical studies were provided.

As a true believer in Kurdish nation's legitimate rights for self-determination he promoted Kurdish political struggle in Europe. Vanly was the spokesman in Europe for General Mostapha Barzani's, from 1962 to 1966, and then 1975 and 1976. “He used to say that I did not believe in Kurdish autonomy,” states Vanli. “I suggested this many times that Barzani needed to change his views form Kurdish autonomy in Iraq to a democratic federal Iraq where Kurds could get their federal state.” (excerpts from Vanli’s 1969 book “The Struggle of Iraqi Kurdistan” that was based. on his doctoral dissertation, where he argues that the Kurdish nation have the right to determine their own faith.) Vanli believed that many Kurdish movements after 1945 have lost the real will of Kurdish nation for a free and independent homeland.

Prof. Vanli died on 9th or Nov 2011 in Lausanne/Swiss. Vanli worked primarily on national politics of the Kurds and their history, using French language as the medium. Some of Vanli's better-known works include: 

  1. Parez VANLI: Aspects de la Question nationale Kurde en Iran, Paris: Juillet, 1959.
  2. Ismet Cheriff Vanli: La Question d unification de la langue Kurde existe, Londres, Mars, 1960. 
  3. Ismet Cheriff VANLI: Entertein sur le Kurdistan et la question Kurde, accorde par I auteur grec V. Sakkatos, Athenes, Juin, 1959. 

This biography was prepared by Dilan Roshani

Prof. Vanly before the assassination attempt, posing with the Assyrian female Péshmege, Margaret

Jalile Jalil

Prof Jalile Jalil















Kamal Mazhar Ahmad

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Prof Kamal Mazhar Ahmad

Dr Kamal Mazhar Ahmad

Prof Kamal Mazhar Ahmad (Kurdish: Kemal Mezher Ehmad) was born in Silémaní, Baban province 1938, . He grew up in a turbulent time of the Iraqi history when General Abdul Karim Qassem came to power after a military coupe. Young Kamal after finishing his college education in Silémaní went to Soviet Union for further education. He finished his PHD in history and returned to Iraq in mid-60s.

Kamal started his academic career as a lecturer at the Baghdad University. Soon in the beginning of 1970s he became an active member of the "Kurdish Scientific Society” (Kurdish; Korrí Zanyarí Kurd).

Following Kurdish uprising in 1974 he joined the Kurdish resistance in the mountains. Soon after he went back to his job in Baghdad. He continued to teach at the Baghdad University until the fall of Saddam in April 2003. During these years he became Professor in Histroy.

Prof Kamal Mazhar Ahamd has published numerous books on Kurdish history both in Kurdish and Arabic, some of which have been translated into English.





 Further study:

1. Ruwange, a TV interview with Dr Kamal Mazhar Ahamd on 10th of June 2007

Mehrdad M.R. Izady

Prof Mehrdad R. Izady

Michael Mehrdad Izady (Kurdish: Mihrdad Ízedí, مهرداد ئیزه‌دی) was born in 1963 to a Kurdish father and a Belgian mother. He spent much of his youth in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Korea as his diplomat parents moved from one assignment to another. He is one of the most prominent native Kurdish historians of our time. Izady finished his BA degree in History, Political Science and Geography at Kansas State University in 1976. His passion for history and geography allowed him to finish a masters degrees in Geography in 1978, Political Science and International Relations in 1979 at Syracuse University as well as Middle Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Columbia University 1986. He continued his academic career in research at Columbia University, where he completed his PhD at the department of Middle Eastern Languages and Civilizations in 1992.

His views on Kurdish history and historiography challenged many previous theories about Kurds and their ancient culture. At the first paragraph of second chapter "History" of his book "The Kurds: A Concise Handbook" he says:

"Reconstruction of the Kurdish history is a difficult task. It frequently involves interpolation and extrapolation among a variety of sources written neither for nor about Kurds. Middle Eastern history has all too often (although not always) been written by its hegemons, and most recently the modern nation-states. The Kurds have not been hegemons for over 800 years. The result is that Kurdish contributions to history have been ignored, or worse, appropriated by other peoples (as to who or what is considered Kurdish in the present work, consult the Preface and National Identity). Any pioneering effort to reconstruct Kurdish history from fragments long buried and neglected is bound to raise questions and generate controversy, no matter how meticulous the research. This is to be expected because it challenges the status quo. If this work serves to encourage further scholarly investigation, it will have served its purpose."

Izady has lectured in the Department of Near Eastern Languages, and Civilizations at Harvard University. He has taught at various American and European institutions such as Harvard University (1990-95), Smithsonian Institution (Washington, 1996), Uppsala University, (Sweden, 1997), Free University of Berlin (Germany, 1998), and He has been teaching in the Department of History at Fordham University and Pace University since 2001. Izady has lectured widely and testified before two US, Congressional subcommittees on the Kurds. He has published extensively in the Kurdish Times as well as The Middle East Journal. He has also contributed to the Encyclopaedias of Asian History and has published maps on the distribution of Kurds. 


  1. Author of the "Manifesto of the Kurdish People for the Creation of a  Free, Independent and Unified Homeland" 1996
  2. Author of the “Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Kurdistan,” 1996
  3. Author of the Standardization of the Kurdish national flag to match current international specifications for the flags of nations, to include the its history and justification for its design as found in  "The National Flag of Kurdistan", KURDISTANICA 1998      




  1. "The Sharafnâma: The History of the Kurdish Nation - 1597", Being the first of the seven-volume critical translation and extensive commentary of the late medieval work on Kurdish history, Costa Mesa: Mazda, 2005
  2. "The Kurds: A Concise Handbook", Washington & London: Taylor & Francis, 1992, Translated and published in French (1998), Persian (publishing date unknown), Turkish (2004), and Kurdish (2007)
  3. Guidebook to Iraq. A cultural and political field guide for military and diplomatic personnel (2004-present), currently in its 20th edition.
  4. Guidebook to Afghanistan. A cultural and political field guide for military and diplomatic personnel (2004-present), currently in its 19th edition.
  5. Guidebook to the Levant. A cultural and political field guide for military and diplomatic personnel (2005-present), 2nd. edition
  6. Guidebook to the Caucasus. A cultural and political field guide for the military and diplomatic personnel (2006-present), 2nd edition.
  7. Guidebook to the Balkans. A cultural and political field guide for military and diplomatic personnel (2007-present), 2nd. edition.
  8. Guidebook to Islam and Insurgency. A cultural and political field guide for military and diplomatic personnel (2008), 11st edition.

Chapters contributed to Edited Books

  1. Between Iraq and a Hard Place: The Kurdish Predicament,” in Lawrence G. Potter and Gary Sick and Lawrence Potter, eds., Iran, Iraq, and the legacy of War, London/New York: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2005
  2. “Kurds,” in Encyclopedia of the Developing World, London/New York: Routledge, 2005
  3. Kurds and the Formation of the State of Iraq, 1917-1932,” in Edited by R. Simon and E. Tejirian, eds., The Creation of Iraq, 1914-1921, New York: Columbia University Press, 2005
  4. Gulf and Indian Ocean Basin Ethnic Diversity: An Evolutionary History,” in G. Sick and L. Potter, eds., Security in the Persian Gulf: Origins, Obstacles and the Search for Consensus, New York: Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press, 2001
  5. “Self-Evident Axioms and the Question of “Natural Rights”” in M. Ahmed, ed., Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on the Rights of the Non-Sovereign Peoples, Washington DC, November 1999
  6. The Kurdish Demographic Revolution and Its Socio-Political Implications,” in Ole Høiris ed., Contrasts and Solutions in the Middle East, Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1997
  7. “Geopolitics of Kurdistan vs. Hopes of a New World Order,” in Phyllis Bennis and Michel Moushabeck, eds., Altered States: A Reader in the New World Order, New York: Interlink, 1993
  8. “E uno plurium?: A Projection on the Future of the National Minorities and their Identity in the 21st-Century,” in J. Cole and E. Skinner, eds., The Trans-nationalization of Ethnicity and World Politics, Washington, DC: Howard University, 1995

Articles, Encyclopaedia entries, Maps

  1. "The First Documented Resettlement of Kurds into Western and Southwestern Anatolia circa 181 BC", KURDISTANICA, July 1998
  2. “Social Impact of the Change in International Trade Routes in the Early Modern Times” in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Kurdish History, Berlin, Berlin: Kurdish Institute of Berlin, 1998
  3. “On the Ancestry of the House of Ardalan,” in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Kurdish History, Berlin, Berlin: Kurdish Institute of Berlin, 1998
  4. “Khanates of Caucasus in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Times,” in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Kurdish History, Berlin, Berlin: Kurdish Institute of Berlin, 1998
  5. "A history of Kurdish navigation", KURDISTANICA, Sep 1997
  6. “On the Nature of Ethnicity and the Future of Mutli-Ethnic States.” Proceedings of the 6th Congress of the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies: 10-14 April 1996, Al al-Bayt University, Mafraq, Jordan, 1996
  7. “A History of Classical Kingdom of Adiabene: 4th century BC to 4th century AD.” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Kurdish History, Lausanne, Berlin: Kurdish Institute of Berlin, 1995
  8. “The Zelanid Dynasties of Classical Cappadocia, Commagene and Pontus: 4th century BC to 1st century AD,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Kurdish History, Lausanne, Berlin: Kurdish Institute of Berlin, 1995
  9. “A Brief History of Hurrian Kurdistan: 4000-500 BC,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Kurdish History, Lausanne, Berlin: Kurdish Institute of Berlin, 1995
  10. The 1,100 Anniversary of Abu-Hanifa Dinawari,” Kurdish Life, Number 17, winter 1996
  11. Drowning of Archaeological and Artistic Monuments by Hydroelectric Dams,” Kurdya 9, Vienna, 1996
  12. The Sphinx’s Beard, Notes on Kurdish political naiveté”, Kurdish Life, Number 15, Summer 1995
  13. “Die Qalehi Yazdigird: Juwel der kurdischen Vergangenheit,” Kurdya 7, Vienna, October 1995
  14. The Current State of Kurdish Historiography,” Kurdish Life, Number 16, fall, 1995
  15. “Archaeological Site of Qaleh-i Yazdigird,” Kurdish Life, Number 6, 1993
  16. “Onomastic History of Kurdish Clans, Part I” Int.Journal of Kurdish Studies  VI.i-ii, 1993
  17. “Onomastic History of Kurdish Clans, Part II” Int.Journal of Kurdish Studies VII.i-ii, 1994
  18. In Gutis We Trust”, Kurdish Life, Number 14, 1995
  19. Are Kurds descended from the Medes?” Kurdish Life, Number 10, 1994
  20. Kurdistan, Where Historical Credit is Due”, Kurdish Life, Number 4, 1992
  21. “You too Armenia?” Kurdish Life 9, 1994
  22. Exploring Kurdish Historical Origins”, Kurdish Life, Number 7, 1993
  23. “Persian Carrot and Turkish Steak: Contrasting Policies Targeted at Assimilating the Azeris in Iran and the Kurds in Turkey,” Kurdish Times III.i-ii, 1990
  24. “Kurdish Psychological Landscape,” Kurdish Times  II.i, 1988
  25. “Kurdish Migrations in Historical Perspective,” Journal of Kurdish Studies, I, i, 1986
  26. A Kurdish Lingua Franca?,” Kurdish Times, II. ii, 1988
  27. A wall map, Kurds: A People Apart, on distribution of the Kurds in the Middle East, 1985; 2nd edition, 1990
  28. Entries in the Encyclopaedia of Asian History on various Middle Eastern topics, 1987
  29. Entries on ethnic groups in the Middle East, the World Encyclopaedia for Children, 1983

Book Reviews

  1. Riley-Smith, Jonathan, ed., The Atlas of the Crusades.New York: Facts On File, 1991. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, IX.1-2, 1996.
  2. Bournoutian, George, A History of Qarabagh: An Annotated Translation of Mirza Jamal Javanshir Qarabaghi’s Tarikh-e Qarabagh. Costa Mesa, California: Mazda, 1994. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VIII.1-2, 1995.
  3. Sheriff, Abdul, ed., The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1995. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, X.1-2, 1996. A joint review with A. Akasheh.
  4. Fathi al-Sha‘ir, Muhammed, Al-Akrad fi ahd ‘Imad al-Din Zangi: 1127-1146. Port Said, Egypt, 1991. Reviewed in Al-Usur al-Wusta, Newsletter of the Middle East Medievalists (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago), 1996.
  5. Sherwin-White, Susan and Amélie Kuhrt, From Samarkhand to Sardis: A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VIII.1-2, 1995.
  6. Dodgeon, Michael and Samuel Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars: AD 226-363. London: Routledge, 1994. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VIII.1-2, 1995.
  7. Magocsi, Paul Robert, Historical Atlas of East Central Europe. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VIII.1-2, 1995.
  8. Bournoutian, George A., A History of the Armenian People: Volume I, Pre-History to 1500 A.D. Costa Mesa, California: Mazda, 1993. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VII.1-2, 1994.
  9. Wilhelm, Gernot, The Hurrians. Trns. by Diana Stein. Warminster, UK: Aris & Philips Ltd., 1989. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VII.1-2, 1994.
  10. Grosz, Katarzyna, The Archive of the Wullu Family. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 1988. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VII.1-2, 1994.
  11. Diakonoff, I.M. and S.A. Starostin, “Hurro-Urartian as an Eastern Caucasian Language,” Münchener Studien zur Sprachwisssenschaft. New Series 12 (Munich, 1986). Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VII.1-2, 1994.
  12. Yalçin-Heckman, Lale, Tribe and Kinship among the Kurds. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1991. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, VI.1-2, 1993.
  13. Andrews, Peter A., Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert, 1989. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, V.1-2, 1992.
  14. Gunter, Michael, The Kurds of Iraq: Tragedy and Hope, New York, St. Martin Press, 1992. Reviewed in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, V.1-2, 1992.


 This biography was prepared by Dilan Roshani


Muhammad Amin Zaki Bag

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 Dr. Muhammad Amin Zaki Bag (Kurdish:  Dr. Mehmed Emín Zekí)

Dr. Mehmed Emín Zekí Beg

Prince Sharaf al-Dîn Bitlîsî

Prince Sharaf al-Dîn Bitlîsî

By Prof M.R. Izady

Historian & KurdologistAlthough primarily a collection of dynastic histories, there is little doubt that the Sharafnâma is the single most important surviving text on Kurdish history and people.

The work is that of Prince Sharaf al-Dîn Bitlîsî (Kurdish: Mír Sheref el-Dín Bitlísí), who states he finished at least the first edition of the work on or shortly after 30 Dhu’l-hajja of the hegira year 1005 (4 August 1597).  Strong evidence suggests, as shall be seen below, that the author made further additions and alterations to the book as it was being copied for distribution in subsequent years.

Sharaf al-Dîn Bitlîsî was a prince of the Rozhiki/Rojikî/Roshakî dynasty, which had ruled for centuries from its capital of Bitlîs, intermittently as an independent emirate or as vassal to various empires that rose and fell in the region. Bitlîs or Bidlîs (the spelling which the author himself recommends, but occasionally fails to employ)  is in northwestern Kurdistan, about 15 miles to the west-southwest of Lake Van. The author, however, was born on February 25, 1543, in the town of Karahrûd (the medieval Karaj Abû-Dulaf, in the environs of modern Arâk) between Hamadan and Qum, in Persia. There, his father, Prince Shams al-Dîn, having been unseated by the Ottomans, was spending time as a refugee at the Safavid court. Bitlîsî’s mother was a Turcoman princess of the prestigious Bäyindir clan.  This is the same clan from which had recently sprung the royal house of the Aq Qoyunlu, whose greatest king, Uzun Hasan, was the maternal grandfather of Shah Ismâ·îl, the founder of the Safavid empire in Persia. From his mother’s side, therefore, Bitlîsî could claim relationship to both the illustrious Safavid and Aq Qoyunlu dynasties. But he preferred another geneology, one that derived its roots and legitimacy from the pre-Islamic Sasanian emperors of Persia. He removes all doubts about his preferred roots when, in the final dedicatory sentences to the Sharafnâma, Bitlîsî signs his work as “Sharaf son of Shams al-Dîn al-Akâsirî,”.

At present, the author’s name is commonly known to the Kurds and others simply as “Sharaf Khan.” This is, however, a later development and would have been considered inaccurate by the author at the time the Sharafnâma was written. At that time, khan was a title reserved for the princes among the Turco-Mongolian peoples (as suffixed to the names of the Ottoman and Ilkhanid sultans). Among non-Turco-Mongolians, khan was the title of tribal chiefs. Safavid monarchs, therefore—as expected—never used it. Sharaf al-Dîn Bitlîsî was neither a Turco-Mongolian monarch nor a tribal chief. He was thus formally known in his own time, and for some time after, as Mîr Sharaf, “Prince Sharaf,” which accurately emphasized his royal lineage.

After returning to Bitlîs to take up the Rozhiki throne as a suzerain to the Ottoman court, Bitlîsî gradually assumed the title khan which had been granted to him by the Ottoman Turkish sultans. The formula “Sharaf Khan” appears on building projects he commissioned in the last two decades of his life. Nowhere in the Sharafnâma, however, is the title khan affixed to the author’s name. Clearly, he did not care for the title and used it only when politically and outwardly necessary, such as in the dedicatory inscriptions affixed to public projects and buildings he commissioned. The replacement of the traditional title mîr—a contraction for emir, “prince,” with the Turkic title khan is a later development. Despite this, he remained best known as Mîr Sharaf, “Prince Sharaf” to the end of his days. Thus, Mustafâ b. Abdallâh Kâtib Chalabî, better known as Hâjî Khalîfa (Haci Halife Katip Çelebi), in his monumental biographical dictionary, the Kashf al-Dhunûn, wrote of our author and his Sharafnâma in these words:

The history of Sharaf Khân al-Bidlîsî, known as Mîr Sharaf. The book is in Persian and gives an account of the Kurdish princes and rulers in chapters. He then mentions the dynasties of the Ottomans and the Safavids, in chronological order to the [hegira] year 1005.

In view of this, nowhere in my work has the title khan been used for the author, but emir/mir “prince” which he preferred.

SharafnameBitlîsî maintains that his dynasty is ultimately connected with the Sasanian emperors of Persia. This came about, he states, through importation by the Rozhiki tribal confederacy of two princes of the Kurdish Bâdhid/Dustakid dynasty of the city-state of Akhlât (modern Ahlat), which had earlier branched off to give rise to the dynasty of the Marwânids (AD 983-1085). The Bâdhids/Dustakids, and therefore the Marwânids, did in fact claim such a Sasanian genealogy for themselves. This connection was explained as being through a certain Bahwât (<Badhwand), who was said to have been a son of Jâmâsp, a son  of the Sasanian emperor Cabades/Qubâd (r. AD 488-531). This is very interesting indeed, as a large number of other Kurdish princely houses—including the modern Ardalâns of southern and eastern Kurdistan—also claimed lineage from Cabades/Qubâd. This very important issue is discussed in detail by Bitlîsî in Book Four of the Sharafnâma.

Bitlîsî contends that his Rozhiki line of the old Dustakid/Bâdhid dynasty had ruled from Bitlîs for over 450 years prior to the writing of the Sharafnâma. This places the beginning of the Rozhiki independent rule at around AD 1145, or 60 years after the fall of the Marwânid branch of the Bâdhid/Dostakid dynasty. He then pushes the advent of the Rozhikis (as vassals?) farther back, to circa AD 1035 and the long reign of the greatest Marwânid king, Naßr al-Dawla Ahmad b. Marwân (r. 1011-1061). By claiming the Rozhikis as just an offshoot of the Marwanîds and by extension, the Dostakids/Bâdhids, Biltîsî finally gives the founding year of AD 836 and a life span of 761 years for the dynasty up to his own day. Considering many interregna such as the one that lasted for the better part of the author’s own life—this need not be an exaggeration. The Rozhikis’ rule was to continue long after our author’s life, until 1849, when the last scion of the dynasty, coincidentally also named Prince Sharaf, was deposed by the invading German-led Ottoman army and sent to exile in Istanbul. This would make for an extra-ordinary total life span of 1,013 years for the dynasty!

Intermarriages between various Kurdish dynasties were frequent, and the Sharafnâma brims with such accounts. We know from the history of Ibn Azraq al-Fâriqî that the Marwânids sent for brides to the Kurdish Shadyânids/Shaddâdids of the Caucasus and the Rewandids/Rawâdids of Azerbaijan. Thus, when the main line of a dynasty was extinguished, there was always an offshoot in one of the neighboring courts to claim its legacy of reign and bloodline.

Such claimants gained further credence if they were already in the position of ruler (as vassals, etc.) prior to the demise of the dynasty’s main line. One cannot be certain how strong a kin relationship and what extent of power sharing were present between the early Rozhikis and the Marwânids. But if we are to honor Bitlîsî’s emphatic declarations of continuity between the two dynasties (and that of the Bâdhids), we may also need to extend it to the Ardalâns. By a similar history, the Ardalân princes of southern and eastern Kurdistan likewise claimed descent from the Marwânids and ultimately the Sasanian emperors, as did the Rozhikis.

Source: The Sharafnâma or the History of the Kurdish Nation - 1597

History: Related articles

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7,000 years older than Stonehenge

7,000 years older than Stonehenge: the site that stunned archaeologists

Circles of elaborately carved stones from about 9,500BC predate even agriculture

Nicholas Birch in Istanbul (The Guardian, Wednesday April 23, 2008)

As a child, Klaus Schmidt used to grub around in caves in his native Germany in the hope of finding prehistoric paintings. Thirty years later, a member of the German Archaeological Institute, he found something infinitely more important: a temple complex almost twice as old as anything comparable on the planet.

"This place is a supernova," said Schmidt, standing under a lone tree on a windswept hilltop 35 miles north of Turkey's border with Syria. "Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here."

Behind him are the first folds of the Anatolian plateau. Ahead, the Mesopotamian plain, like a dust-coloured sea, stretches south hundreds of miles. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill.

Compared with Stonehenge, they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated (four out of an estimated 20) are more than 30 metres across. T-shaped pillars like the rest, two five-metre stones tower at least a metre above their peers. What makes them remarkable are their carved reliefs of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.

Never mind wheels or writing, the people who erected them did not even have pottery or domesticated wheat. They lived in villages. But they were hunters, not farmers.

"Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilisations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture", said Ian Hodder, a Stanford University professor of anthropology who has directed digs at Catalhoyuk, Turkey's best known neolithic site, since 1993. "Gobekli changes everything. It's elaborate, it's complex and it is pre-agricultural. That alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time."

With only a fraction of the site opened up after a decade of excavation, Gobekli Tepe's significance to the people who built it remains unclear. Some think it was the centre of a fertility rite, with the two tall stones at the centre of each circle representing a man and woman. It is a theory the tourist board in nearby Urfa has taken up with alacrity. Visit the Garden of Eden, its brochures trumpet; see Adam and Eve.

Schmidt is sceptical. He agrees Gobekli Tepe may well be "the last flowering of a semi-nomadic world that farming was just about to destroy", and points out that if it is in near perfect condition today, it is because those who built it buried it soon after under tons of soil, as though its wild animal-rich world had lost all meaning.

But the site is devoid of the fertility symbols found at other neolithic sites, and the T-shaped columns, while clearly semi-human, are sexless.


"I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods," said Schmidt, patting one of the biggest stones. "They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers.

"In my opinion, the people who carved them were asking themselves the biggest questions of all. What is this universe? Why are we here?"

With no evidence of houses or graves near the stones, Schmidt believes the hilltop was a site of pilgrimage for communities within a radius of roughly a hundred miles. The tallest stones all face south-east, as if scanning plains that are scattered with contemporary sites in many ways no less remarkable than Gobekli Tepe.

Last year, for instance, French archaeologists working at Djade al-Mughara in northern Syria uncovered the oldest mural ever found. "Two square metres of geometric shapes, in red, black and white - like a Paul Klee painting", said Eric Coqueugniot, of the University of Lyon, who is leading the excavation.

Coqueugniot describes Schmidt's hypothesis that Gobekli Tepe was a meeting point for rituals as "tempting", given its spectacular position. But surveys of the region were still in their infancy. "Tomorrow, somebody might find somewhere even more dramatic."

Vecihi Ozkaya, the director of a dig at Kortiktepe, 120 miles east of Urfa, doubts the thousands of stone pots he has found since 2001 in hundreds of 11,500-year-old graves quite qualify as that. But his excitement fills his austere office at Dicle University in Diyarbakir.

"Look at this", he said, pointing at a photo of an exquisitely carved sculpture showing an animal, half-human, half-lion. "It's a sphinx, thousands of years before Egypt. South-eastern Turkey, northern Syria - this region saw the wedding night of our civilisation."


A history of Kurdish navigation

By Prof. M. R. Izady

General history

One of the least-known-and most fascinating-chapters in Kurdish history is the long-lasting participation and occasional dominance of the sea trade and colonization of coastal areas and many islands of the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea basins by the Kurds.

Being "inseparably" a mountain people, the last place one expects to find Kurds dominating would be the vast oceanic expanses of the south seas. But we only need to remember how the Arabs-the "navigators of sand deserts"-came subsequently to engage in well-documented sea faring exploits to wake up to the fact that people and cultures are not genetically bound to a particular natural environment, way of life, economic activity, or trade.

Kurdish attention to maritime trade and settlement, as shall be seen below, was the rather unexpected result of a heavy settlement of the coastal regions that were at convenient distance from the Kurdish mountainous heartland. For most of the last 12,000 years, Kurdish mountains have been a source of population surplus and immigrants. From their Zagros-Taurus base, Kurds more than one occasion flowed to settle the coastal regions of the Black Sea to the north, Mediterranean Sea to the west, Caspian Sea to the east and the Persian Gulf-Indian Ocean to the south. Once dominating the coastal regions, it was only a matter of time for these formerly mountain-dwellers to discover and participate in the lucrative maritime trade and commerce. To the north, the Black Sea coastal regions were already largely Kurdicized by the population moving out of Cappadocia by the 1st century BC, when the part-Kurdish geographer, Strabo, recorded the process. The movement into Indian Ocean basin had begun at about the same time as that into Pontus, i.e., prior to the 5th century BC.

In time, this Kurdish movement south resulted in heavy settlement and the political dominance of southern Persia by Kurdish dynasties who, having acquired long coast lines on the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, turned to benefit from the lucrative maritime trade revenues. By the advent of the Parthians in the area in the 2nd century BC, one Kurdish dynasty had come to dominate Pars/Fars, Shabankara, Kirman and Mazun (Oman) on both coasts of the Straits of Hormuz. This was the royal house of Badhrangi/Barzangi from whom issued Rambehesht, mother of Ardasher, the founder of the Sasanian Empire. Let us examine these two episodes separately.

Mediterranean and Black seas

The earliest known records of Kurdish engagement in navigation of these seas belong to the period of political dominance of the Zelanid Kurdish dynasties of Anatolia for the two centuries prior to the advent of Christ. Pontian Zelanids evolved into a maritime state with a maritime economic and military base. More than any thing else, this was the result of Pontian geography.


Walled in between powerful states in the Anatolian hinterland and the Black Sea, Zelanid Kurdish state soon came to view the sea as an opportunity rather than liability. In less than two generations time, the capital of Zelanid state was transferred from Amasea (modern Amasya) to the port city of Amisus (modern Samsun). From whence the Zelanids had only the horizons of the open sea for their limits. Tapping into maritime trade, they soon began sinking in gold-far more so than their Cappadocian counterparts ever dreamed of. The Zelanids' push for land acquisition also followed this sea-faring orientation: they expanded to include coastal regions rather than the hinterland. First the coastal region of Bethynia was annexed with its ideally-located port city of Sinope, in which was to be born Mithridates the Great. Eastward, all the Black Sea coasts to the foothills of Mt. Caucasus followed suit. Legendary Colchis (Golkhidia in western Georgia) was in time to be assigned for rule to the geographer Strabo's Kurdish uncle, Moaphernes. Coastal lands to the far side of the Black Sea soon followed. First was taken in ca. 110 BC the ancient Scythian kingdom of Bosporus along with its Greek colonists. The Zelanids thus inherited the Taman and Crimean peninsulas and the entire coasts of the Sea of Azov. This gave them control over the deltas of Don, Dnieper and Dniestr rivers which drained the entire grain-rich hinterland of Ukraine. The wealth and vast food supplies gained this way by the Pontian Zelanids propelled it into an empire-building mode.

Under the half-a-century-long reign of Mithridates Euergetes, the Zelanids followed the natural maritime routes and after dominating the Sea of Marmara and moved into the Aegean Sea. Strabo relates how his great grandfather, Doryla?s, was assigned by Euergetes to raise troops from the island of Crete in the far end of the Aegean Sea. (Strabo, Geo, X.iv.10) Consummating a process started by his father, Emperor Pharnaces I, under Euergetes' direction the Pontian Zelanids became by and large a maritime empire.

The next step-expansion into the vast expanse and tapping the wealth of-the Mediterranean Sea came under Mithridates the Great. But instead of expanding directly through the Aegean into the Mediterranean, he established a short-cut over land, and reached Mediterranean through Cappadocia and Cilicia. Neither he nor his predecessors ever had embarked to fully annex Cappadocia and snuff out the ancient branch of the Zelanid house there. Now, however, the commercial and economic opportunities outweighed the filial concerns, and Cappadocia was annexed outright, while making Cilicia a vassal. By 87 BC, Zelanid navy and allies were in control of eastern Mediterranean Sea, from whence they attacked and harassed the Romans in Greece and Sicily.

The eventual defeat of the Zelanids on land and the occupation of their original home by the Romans, neither could nor did end in the destruction of the Pontian Zelanids: they simply moved their seat to their overseas possessions in Bosporos and Crimea on the Ukrainian-North Caucasian coasts. But first let us examine the events in the Indian Ocean as they were unfolding at this time, before concluding the Zelanid maritime history.

Indian Ocean

It is fascinating to note that while these events were transpiring in the Mediterranean and Black seas, another Kurdish dynasty was going through the same metamorphosis from a mountain kingdom to a maritime empire: the Badhrangids of Persis and Carmania. These occupied the extreme opposite space from the Zelanids in respect to Kurdistan proper. And like the Pontian Zelanids, the Badhrangids were pushed against the sea, in this case, the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, and like them they discovered the wealth and military opportunities open to a maritime regime.

As the Pontian Zelanids were moving to annex the coastal territories of the Black Sea, the Badhrangids/Barzangids were doing the same in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Mazun/Oman became the first major overseas possession of the Badhrangids where they took up the port of Suhar as the regional capital. From this base the Barzangids had by the end of 1st century BC, moved to annex most of the islands off East Africa. Socotra, Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia were followed by the Combolo/Comoros and Madagascar. By the 1st century AD, the Badhrangids were the dominant maritime power in the Indian Ocean, with headquarters at newly-founded ports from Madagascar to Somalia. Then came the disaster at home. Like the Zelanids, the Badhrangids were challenged on their original home territory by the emergence of an expanding young empire; Rome in case of Pontus, Sasanian Persia in case of the Badhrangids. Similar to the Zelanids, in a short few decades, the Badhrangids had been expelled from their home region. To survive, the Badhrangids too found it necessary to transplant their power center to their overseas possession.

The extant historical records make it fairly clear how and when the Zelanids moved to northern coasts of the Black Sea. No such records are thus far available for the early stages of the Badhrangids' transplantation overseas. It is not clear, for example, whether the main seat of the Badhrangids was first moved across the Persian Gulf to port of Suhar in Mazun (modern Oman) before resettling later, and permanently in East Africa, or was it moved directly to Africa. Mirroring the struggle between the Romans and the Zelanids who followed the latter even into their overseas retreats, the Sasanian Persians, after chasing the Badhrangids off their ancestral home in Fars/Persis, had by the late 3rd and early 4th century AD taken Mazun and other regions on the southern coast of the Persian Gulf from the Badhrangids. This pushed the Badhrangids conclusively into East Africa. While the second push by the Romans against the Zelanid in their overseas refuge in Bosporus concluded their history for ever, the Badhrangids survived for another 500 successful year in their third place of refuge: East Africa. The Badhrangids in fact outlasted the Sasanians, and in wealth and commerce, outranked them. The Zelanids were not so fortunate. This major difference between the fortunes of the two Kurdish maritime empires was due fully to the blind element of geography and not the talent of their dynasts.

The Zelanids overseas refuge was on the far side of the Black Sea-an inland sea for which the only exist to the open world oceans was through the narrow straits of Bosphorus and Dardanells, both of which firmly under controlled of their Roman enemy. The Zelanids were thus hemmed in, and were in time snuffed out by the Romans. The Badhrangids, on the other hand, were facing the Indian Ocean and the open seas. No Sasanian naval or land actions could any longer corner the Badhrangids trade routes or their versatile maritime empire. The Badhrangids in their overseas possession were there to stay-and prosper. Their complete expulsion from the Persian Gulf-Arabian Sea basin by the Sasanians turned out to be a further boon to the Badhrangids, who seeking new trading outposts, fanned out to coastal India, Indochina, and southern China, and eventually, the eastern Pacific Ocean. As early as AD 110 one finds in the navigation logs, The Roundabout the Inidan Ocean (Periplus Maris Erythraei, trans. and ed., Lionel Casson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), recounts a brisk trade between the Kurdish Barzangi ports on the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, and East Africa (Periplus, 38).

Colonies of Kurds, Persians and other Iranic peoples from southern Iran "founded everywhere on the [East African] coast and islands commercial settlements in pre-Islamic times, centuries before Muhammed?" (Richard Reusch, History of East Africa. New York: Ungar, 1961, 33, 49). Because of the dominance of the Barzangi of East Africa, soon it came to be known as Barzangibar ("Barzangi coast"), eventually shortened to Zangibar (whence Zanzibar). The black slaves they marketed in Asia, were thus known as the zangi/zinji, meaning a native of Zangibar-a name that continues to the present as a pejorative for an African black in the Middle Eastern languages.

In East Africa, many colonial cities were founded in the Zanzibar archipelago and later, on the mainland under the tutelage of the Barzangis. The cities of Zangibar and Manda in the archipelago soon were rivaled and surpassed by cities like Mombasa, Malindi, Brava, Mogadishu, Kisimayu and of course the Barzangi colonial capital of Kilwa Kisiwani south of modern Dar es Salaam. Kilwa became the nucleus of an East African Barzangi empire, better known as "Kilwa Empire," that stretched from the Horn of Africa to Mozambique and included settlements on Madagascar, the Comoros, the Seychelles and the Zanzibar archipelago per se.

An independent Kilwa Empire seems to have come into being when the first Sasanian emperor, Ardasher I, ended in AD 224 the independent rule of the parent Barzangi state in southern Persia. In the reign of Ardasher's successor, Shapor I, Sasanians had annexed the southern shores of the Gulf and Muscat on the Indian Ocean, finishing off any vestige of Barzangi independence on the Asian continent. By the mid-6th century, the Yemen had been wrested by the Sasanians from the Ethiopian Empire, effectively cutting off the Barzangis in East Africa from all their Middle Eastern roots and trade. These steps may have been the impetus for the Kilwa Barzangis to embark on a search for new markets, now that the Sasanians were in firm control of the ports and markets in Persia and Arabia.

The Barzangis thus fanned out east and engaged in commerce with India, the Malay archipelago and south China, leaving behind geographical names telltale of their once dominant position. The name of the Malabar coast of India (Malay+bar, "Malay coast") is just a parallel with that of Zangibar/Zanzibar. This process is also at the root of how the sea faring hero Sindbad, gets his Kurdish name, and how the third largest island in the Philippines archipelago is called Palawan/Pahlawan-"hero" in Kurdish, and now also "hero, saint" in all Southeast Asian languages.

The Sasanians took great interest in continuing the Barzangi enterprise in the south seas, for by middle of the 5th century AD, they had gained from the Barzangis the "control of the sea ways in the western half of the Indian Ocean." (Gervase Matthew, "The East African Coast until the Coming of the Portuguese," in Roland Oliver and Gervase Mathew, eds., History of East Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963, 99). This added a definite Persian coloring to the earlier Kurdish endeavor in maritime trade in the Indian Ocean. Persian colonies were already flourishing in South China, East Indies and south India-and East Africa by the 7th century.

It is not clear how successful the Sasanians were in continuing the impressive steps of the Barzangis in dominating the maritime trade and the colonies in East Africa, south and southeast Asia and China. The rather scanty numismatic evidence on exhibit at the Beit al-Amani Museum at Zanzibar city includes four Parthian and one Sasanian piece from the mint at Ctesiphon, the latest of which is one of Ardasher I. This can hardly be used to compare Barzangi Kurdish success with that of subsequent Sasanian Persians.

One should recognize that the survival of Zoroastrian fire temples found in many locations in the Kilwa domain is not necessarily a Sasanian vestige. Sasanian sources, including rock inscriptions and textual records tell of the Badhrangi/Barzangi house having served an important Zoroastrian function as custodians of the great temple of the goddess Anahita at Stakhr/Persepolis. It is hard to believe that such a religious function was not transplanted by the Barzangis to their East African domains. These mixed Iranic colonies continued to prosper into the early Islamic era, when under attacks from the aggrieved native population, the imperial capital of Kilwa fell and nearly 2,000 of its inhabitants were eaten in a single week.

A new wave of Iranic dominance of East Africa unfolded in the 11th century, and this time it was a joint endeavor by the Persians and Shabankara Kurds of Shiraz region in southern Iran. East African traditions and chronicles, numismatic and architectural evidence, statements of European traveler Joao De Barros, and reports of Muslim travelers and geographers imply that after the Barzangis, another "Shirazi" dynasty moved to East Africa, establishing the Zanj Empire, and ruling there for more than 500 years from 980 to 1513 (Reusch, 91-215; Mathew, 102-106). The founder, Ali ibn Hasan, "ruled over the whole coast from Lamu in the north to Sofala in the south, if not farther." (Reusch, 107). Thus modern elite and many common citizens of the Zanzibar archipelago and those of the "Swahil" (Lindi to Mombasa and Malindi) and "Benadir" (Kisimayu to Mogadishu) coasts of East Africa call themselves "Afro-Shirazi," including the main political party in Zanzibar, the "Afro-Shirazi Party".

The foundation of the modern town of Zanzibar (the stone town center) was laid late in the reign of this Kurdo-Persian "Shirazi" dynasty. Arabs, particularly those from Oman came to dominate East Africa after the fall of this dynasty. The Portuguese, Germans and the British successively ruled and divided the area into various colonial domains beginning with the 17th century. The dominance by Middle Easterners of the area, nevertheless, continued under European colonial regimes, albeit in an ever-shrinking form, until the anti-white revolution of 1964 completely removed the last vestiges of non-native, Iranic-Arabian domination from their first, and ironically last, bastion-Zanzibar. Recent archaeological excavations in the old Kilwa imperial sites such as Unguja Ukuu, Tumbatu, Mtambwe and Mkumbuu are shedding new light on the history of settlement and institution of the Iranic empire of Kilwa, and the interconnection between various far-flung segments of that maritime state with each other and southern Iran.

One can only hypothesize what could have been, if the much more powerful Zelanids had an open ocean lapping on their coast instead of the besieged Black Sea. The great potentials of this Kurdish maritime empire may not have been wasted and the history of the Kurdish people in general might have taken a different, less mountain-oriented turn.

Bibliography: The most valuable textual source of information on the Kurdish maritime enterprise into the South Seas comes from The Periplus of the Erythraei. A rather short manual by an anonymous traveler, the Periplus provides a concise description of trading ports in the Indian Ocean basin, including East Africa and the Persian Gulf. The Periplus Maris Erythraei, trans. and ed., Lionel Casson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).

Abu-Hanifa Ahmad Dinawari

The 1,100th Anniversary of a World-Class Kurdish Scholar

By Prof. M. R. Izady

The year 1996 marks the 1,100th anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest Kurdish and Islamic minds of all times, Abu-Hanifa Ahmad Dinawari.

Among the founders of the Islamic sciences as we know them today, he was born in Dinawar circa AD 820 as Abu Hanifa Ahmad son of Dawud son of Wanand. He studied astronomy, mathematics and mechanics in Isfahan, Persia and philology and poetry in Kufa and Basra, Iraq. He died on July 24, 896 at Dinawar.

At the time, cosmopolitan Dinawar served as the metropolis of southern Kurdistan, thanks to her location on the primary east-west international commercial artery, the Silk Road. It was thus home to an array of first-rate scholars and thinkers such as Abu-Hanifa. A cursory glance through modern encyclopedias or pre-modern Islamic biographical dictionaries plainly demonstrate this wealth of intellectuals native to Dinawar.

Although the specifics of his personal life, including his birth date remain foggy, a clue to Abu-Hanifa's early family history can be found in the name of his grandfather, Wanand. This is an Iranic Kurdish name, and clearly non-Muslim. It implies that despite the wealth of his writings on the Islamic thought and topics, Abu-Hanifa was only a second generation Muslim convert. This was rather common at the time, as people were gradually converting to the new religion of Islam as it entered its third century of existence. His other compatriots such as the theologian, Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Mihran Dinawari, and the grammarian Abu-Ali Ahmad ibn Jafar ibn Badh Dinawari, and the oneirocritic Abu-Sa'id ibn Nasr ibn Yakov Dinawari, were similarly and obviously second generation Muslim converts. What is uncommon, is Abu-Hanifa's respect for his own native people and value for their historical and cultural contribution.

Abu-Hanifa-the man and the phenomenon-owe much to the intellectual currents that existed in those golden early centuries of Islamic civilization. World-class thinkers, scientists, authors, composers, architects, and the like were naturally commonplace at this time when the pride of states and state grandees were in founding universities, libraries, observatories, hospitals and laboratories, and not in warfare and politicking. The meticulousness, scientific precision and reliability which mark Abu-Hanifa's works and his discipline of thought is however precisely the hallmark of the early generations of Islamic scientists and authors hailing from the Iranic lands, a phenomenon much commented on by the great Spanish Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun in his Muqqadima.

Like many of his contemporaries, Abu-Hanifa is a world-class mind belonging thus to all ages and peoples, and not to a particular group or time. But Kurd he was, and judging by his surviving works, he looked at the world from the point of view of a Kurd. It is therefore no surprise that among the list of his compositions one finds the first-known work on Kurds' ancestry, the Ansâb al-Akrâd.

The characteristic that most strikes any reader of Abu-Hanifa's writings is the vastness of his knowledge. His works are marked by that aspect of a polymath whose extensive multidisciplinary knowledge surfaces ubiquitously in every work and on every subject about which he writes. Driven by a hyperactive analytical mind, Abu Hanifa has difficulty limiting himself to a single field or topic when explaining an entity or a phenomenon. His quest to demonstrate the interrelation of all fields of knowledge come to the fore at every turn. Thus Abu-Hanifa is as much a first-rate mathematician, astronomer, metallurgist and industrial engineer as he is a botanist, zoologist, historian, geographer, philologist, literary critic and ethnographer. His six large volumes of Kitâb al-nabât , "Book of Flora," for example, is not just a primary resource on plants and their morphological categorization, soil morphology and hydrology, but also constitute the most complete medieval philological treatise on the plant names and their occurrence in the poetic literature. As a good measure, the book also contains valuable commentaries on metallurgy and the mechanics of the blast furnaces!

A selected list of Abu-Hanifa Dinawari's writings includes, on pure sciences:


Kitâb al-jabr wa'l-muqâbila ("Book of Algebra"), Kitâb al-nabât ("Book of Flora"), Kitâb al-kusuf ("Book of Solar Eclipses"), Kitâb al-radd alâ rasad al-Isfahâni ("Refutation of al-Isfahani's Astronomical Observations"), Kitâb al-hisâb ("Book of Calculus"), Bahth fi hisâb al-Hind ("Analysis of Indian Calculous"), Kitâb al-jam' wa'l-tafriq ("Book of Arithmetics"), Kitab al-qibla wa'l-ziwal ("Book of Astral Orientations"), Kitâb al-anwâ' ("Book of Weather"), and Islâh al-mantiq ("Improvement upon Logic").

On social sciences and humanities there are:

Akhbâr al-tiwâl ("General History"), Kitâb al-kabir ("Grand Book" in history of sciences), Kitâb al-fisâha ("Book of Rhetorics"), Kitâb al-buldân ("Book of Geography"), Kitâb al-shi'r wa'l-shu'arâ ("Book of Poetry and Poets"), and Ansâb al-Akrâd ("Ancestry of the Kurds").


Lists of other lost works of Abu-Hanifa are found in the works of others who subsequently used his writings as reference or simply plagiarized them. The great historian and ethnographer, Mas'udi, informs us that Ibn Qutayba Dinawari, for example, had copied verbatim Abu-Hanifa's Book of Astral Orientations into a work of his own. That many generations of scientists and authors copied portions of Abu-Hanifa's works has inadvertently assured the survival of numerous fragments of what otherwise would have been lost. Nevertheless, and sadly, only his General History survives in its entirety.

In one of these subsequent works, Suwar al-kawâkib, after commenting on the high rank of Abu-Hanifa as an astronomer, the pre-eminent Persian astronomer and the discoverer of the Andromeda galaxy, Abdul-Rahmân Sufi Shirâzi relates that he personally saw Abu-Hanifa's observatory at Dinawar, fifty years after his death, in AD 946. Abu-Hanifa's aging students, he states, were still operating its facilities at the time. It continued operation for another two centuries ending with the Mongol sack of Dinawar. Commenting on Abu-Hanifa's Book of Weather, which apparently he came upon for the first time in the author's private library on the site of the observatory, Sufi described it as the most complete work of its kind.

The most important quality of Abu-Hanifa to attract subsequent generations of researchers was his precision. "It may be that this disposition was connected," writes B. Lewin, the author of Abu-Hanifa's biography for the 2nd edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, "also with his mathematical genius attested by works of his in the field of the exact sciences, which were cultivated by the scholars of Iranic origin like himself."

There is far more known of the works of Abu-Hanifa than himself, and what we know of him is mostly inferred from between the lines of his writings. His sentiments regarding his native roots can be glimpsed when in his Book of Flora, he becomes the first-known author to use Kurdish terms for Kurdistan's indigenous plants in his text, which was otherwise in accordance with the international standards of the time, written in Arabic.

While there is a universal praise for Abu-Hanifa's scientific works in the pre-modern Islamic texts, his writings and views on history raised much controversy and active antagonism. In his General History, he becomes the first historian of Islamic times to write history from the point of view and interest of the Iranic peoples of whom Kurds constitute the second largest branch. The Prophet Muhammad is thus mentioned in the marginal notes on the reign of the Sasanian king Chosroes I Anoshervan in General History. Arabs and Islam appear there only when they invade Kurdistan and other Iranic lands. His diligent recording and emphasis on the Iranic and Kurdish mythology and legends contrast markedly with the cursory treatment of the Arab and Islamic phenomenon that was the staple of the writers at the time.

Not swimming mindlessly with the historiographical currents of his time and produce a rehash of what has been written and what was being written to bolster the standing of young Islam and the Arabs, Abu-Hanifa was treading unsafe territories. As an ethical scholar he held true to his own people by collecting and preserving in General History their legends, folklore and history. His "tendency in promoting Iranic views" as Lewin phrases it, was politically incorrect, insomuch as is the resurrection of the Kurdish history and cultural legacy today.

As a scholar of exact sciences, Abu-Hanifa must have despaired over the existing standard historical views that contradicted known historical facts. He must not have realized that there is a fundamental difference between disciplines such as algebra and history: the former an exercise in accuracy, the latter in subterfuge. What is wanted is a history bolstering the position of the dominant people at any given time-a history as it should have been and not as it was. Abu-Hanifa who built observatories to chart the exact position of stars and movements of the planets could not compose a history that contradicted the available and authentic records, no matter against whose cherished fantasy it ran. Far from attacking any group of people, his records showed the true course. This was not how history was expected to be written, and Abu-Hanifa's scientific approach to history had to be aborted.

Branded as a sha'ubiyya, "nationalist," his works of history were shunned by his and subsequent generations of Arabo-Islamic historians. Thus, his General History "in spite of its literary and scholarly qualities," writes Lewin, "never met with great approval and popularity in the Arab speaking world [because] history is seen [by Abu-Hanifa] from an Iranian point of view" Let us not forget that meanwhile, fawning over and aggrandizing the Arab share of history was not considered a sha'ubiyya -nationalist act at the time; this derogation was reserved only for others claiming theirs own heritage.

This is the situation that is mirrored today when attempts are made to collect and write on the Kurdish historical and cultural legacy. The authors who do so are dismissed as "nationalists" and their work as nationalist fantasies. Abu-Hanifa would not notice the difference in the reaction of the establishment were he writing his General History today-more than 1,100 years later!

Noting the disapproval with which Abu-Hanifa's iconoclastic historical views were received in his own age, it is paradoxical that of all of his works only the General History (Akhbâr al-tiwâl) has survived in its entirety to the present. Perhaps it was the originality of his historiography that intrigued the collectors to commission numerous copies, unwittingly assuring its survival. Perhaps it was the historians who kept copies to benefit from it in private while bashing it in public. Or perhaps it was due to Abu-Hanifa's compatriots, pleased to see a non-cliche work on history that treated them fairly and with the importance they merited. The preservation of General History, therefore, many have been achieved not by accident.

For rejecting the socio-historical views of his time, views which suppressed his people's immense contributions in the past, Abu-Hanifa paid dearly. In no standard Islamic biographical work is his name entered under the rubric "historian." Ibn Nadim thus writes in al-Fihrist, his biographical work on the authors: "His name was Ahmad son of Dawud, a native of Dinawar. He studied with the scholars of Basra and Kufa. He added much to what he obtained. He was proficient in many fields of sciences, such as grammar, lexicography, trigonometry, arithmetics and Indian sciences (i.e., natural sciences). He was trustworthy and his work reliable. Upon his Book of Flora the scientists have marveled. Among his other books are " Ibn Nadim makes no mention of Abu Hanifa's contribution to history, even though he celebrates his scientific genius, trustworthiness and precision.

Others were not so charitable. Abu Hanifa's biography is completely dropped from the most prestigious Islamic biographical dictionary, the monumental eight-volume Wafiyat al-a'ayan, written by none else than Ibn Khallikân-a fellow Kurd from Arbil! Ibn Khallikân mentions Abu-Hanifa only when relating the sources that others had used in composing their own scientific works.

The steps taken by so prestigious a scientist as Abu-Hanifa to right the wrongs that were rampant in the first two centuries of Muslim historiography, were followed by the authors of other nationalities whose history and legacy had been allowed to fall by the wayside. In the century following Abu-Hanifa's pioneering General History, Iranic peoples undertook to resurrect and popularize their own similarly neglected and berated past. The Shâhnâma and Marzbânnâma written respectively in Persian and Tabari/Mazandarani mark not only the vigorous emergence of non-Arab, non-Islamic histories, but also the renaissance of those languages. In doing so they replace not just pro-Arabian historiography, but Arabic language itself as the medium of historiography in the non-Arab territories. Abu-Hanifa's challenge in the middle of the 9th century of the existing biased historiography succeeded in unraveling it by the 11th century.

It is a paradox to compare the dogged enthusiasm by which Abu-Hanifa asserted his Kurdishness 1,100 years ago with the indifference of his modern compatriots to claim his legacy and celebrate his contributions to the world of science and culture. A thinker who did not sacrifice truth to convenience, Abu-Hanifa's ethics should be a yardstick by which to measure the integrity of all authors and scholars, past and present. He should be a model and a point of pride to modern Kurds who put pen to the paper to write of their own historical and cultural legacy.

After the destruction by the Mongols in the 13th century and the Timurids in the 14th, Dinawar slowly decayed into a mass of ruins. Today the birthplace of Abu-Hanifa is marked by the village of Shirkhân that sits quietly on the middle of the vast fields of fallen masonry, broken arches and cemeteries. It serves now as a rich quarry of loot for the international art smugglers. Sadly, for except the small district of Kandula to the northwest corner of the Dinawar plain, the old Gurâni dialect of Kurdish which most probably served Abu-Hanifa as his mother tongue has been also replaced by the Sorâni and Kalhuri dialects of Kurmânji Kurdish. But Abu-Hanifa's seminal contributions and legacy which survive in his works transcends him above the ruins and adverse changes, rendering him a mind for all times and place.

Let us rejoice in the 1,100th anniversary of Abu-Hanifa Ahmad Dinawari's life of achievements-a "Renaissance man" and a native son of Kurdistan whose immense contributions make him a true citizen of the world citizen.

 Source: M.R. Izady, “The 1,100 Anniversary of Abu-Hanifa Dinawari,” Kurdish Life, Number 17, winter 1996

Abu-Hanifa Ahmad Dinawari's works

Mathematics and Natural Sciences

  1. Kitâb al-jabr wa'l-muqâbila ("Book of Algebra")
  2. Kitâb al-nabât ("Book of Plants")
  3. Kitâb al-kusuf ("Book of Solar Eclipses")
  4. Kitâb al-radd alâ rasad al-Isfahâni ("Refutation of al-Isfahani's Astronomical Observations")
  5. Kitâb al-hisâb ("Book of Arithmetics")
  6. Bahth fi hisâb al-Hind ("Analysis of Indian Arithmetics")
  7. Kitâb al-jam' wa'l-tafriq ("Book of Arithmetics")
  8. Kitab al-qibla wa'l-ziwal ("Book of Astral Orientations")
  9. Kitâb al-anwâ' ("Book of Weather")
  10. Islâh al-mantiq ("Improvement upon Logic")

Social Sciences and Humanities

  1. Akhbâr al-tiwâl ("General History")
  2. Kitâb al-kabir ("Grand Book" in history of sciences)
  3. Kitâb al-fisâha ("Book of Rhetorics")
  4. Kitâb al-buldân ("Book of Geography")
  5. Kitâb al-shi'r wa'l-shu'arâ ("Book of Poetry and Poets")
  6. Ansâb al-Akrâd ("Ancestry of the Kurds")

Are Kurds Descended From the Medes?

A few years ago, I was given a letter from an American, non-academic individual, asking "Are Kurds descended from the Medes?" I responded as best I could avoiding the myriad of details which might well have diminished rather than enhanced interest in the topic. With the proliferation of printed matter on the Kurds since the Gulf War, this question-or presumption-increasingly arises in the media.

It is also difficult to set aside the political overtones attached to this otherwise academic question. Kurds and the Westerners interested in Kurdish topics--scholars, politicians, reporters, and the general public--have variously attempted to answer what is basically an academic pursuit. Unfortunately, the issue is too often raised to serve a political agenda and a scholarly pursuit. Consequently, this question can no longer be answered without crediting too much or denying too much of the Kurds history-a "history" necessary either to bolster or to deny Kurdish political claims. Apparently, there is an a-priori assumption that if Kurds descended from the ancient and illustrious Medes their claim to an identity, and therefore, to a modern homeland is more valid than would be the case had they simply appeared from nowhere on some auspicious occasion such as the advent of Islam in the 7th century. Admittedly and outside to the field of political gamesmanship, I can only attempt to respond to the question from an academic perspective.

Do Kurds descend from the Medes? Well, yes and no--the same "yes and no" response one might make to the question: "Are Italians descendants of the Romans?" Remember that the Italian peninsula (ancient Etruria) was well populated and boasted a sophisticated civilization before the coming of the Latin tribes who eventually established Rome and fostered what we know as Roman civilization. But they did not stop there. Latin-speaking Romans colonized and settled many lands in Europe and the Middle East. In the process, they imparted their language and many of their cultural traits to the local peoples. Linguistically, in addition to the Italians, the French, Romanians, Catalans, Corsicans, Portuguese, Spaniards (and all of Latin America) also speak Romance (Latin) languages. Thus at least linguistically, not just the Italians, but all these can claim to be the modern Romans.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, many other peoples (primarily Germanic, but Slavs as well) came to settle in Italy, superimposing new genetic and cultural material on what Romans left behind. Some of the most impressive examples of Roman art and architecture are found outside Italy in north Africa and the Middle East. The most important "Roman" thinkers and luminaries also came from outside Italy, from Greece, Spain, Anatolia, Syria…etc. If we were to honor the claim that the Byzantine Empire was in fact the "Eastern Roman Empire," the Greeks and the Anatolians (now Turkified) who spent 1400 years of their history under the "Roman" imperial rule and ran the region for all but 200 years, are more "Roman" than any one else. Italians ceased to be Roman subjects, when they fell outside the sphere of control of Constantinople-the "New Rome", after the 4th century AD.

If we were to call the Italians the modern descendants of the Romans, then it follows that we must also be ready to assume that the multitude of peoples and cultures that were there in the Italian peninsula before the coming of the Roman (Latin) tribes, and those who arrived after the demise of the Romans, all somehow vanished into the thin air. Are not the Italians the progeny of all these peoples and cultures and of the Romans as well? Of course they are.

Well then, are the Italians descended from the Romans? The answer still remains "yes and no." No, because linguistically and culturally, many other peoples share this Roman heritage, not just the Italians. All are equally right to assert that they are the descendants of the ancient Romans. Yes, because the Romans began their career in the Italian peninsula, and only then expanded out to form an empire and to cultivate their culture and language in other places. And when the Latin-speaking Romans were gone, their name and legend remained most tangible and concentrated in the region of their birth: the modern Lazio (ancient Latium), surrounding the city of Rome. On the question of Roman inheritance, Italians are therefore entitled to just a bit more, that which makes them first among equals-or prima inter pares, as a Roman might have put it.

The Italian example illustrates the complications that arise when attempting to apply simplistic questions to complex socio-cultural and processes. A more fundamental flaw in this line of questioning, i.e., Kurdish descent from Medes (or Italians from Romans), emanate from the common assumption that like movies, all peoples and cultures must have a "beginning." Presumably Kurdish descent from the Medes would then place their "beginning" with the reign of the first legendary Median king, Dioces, in 727 BC. But what was happening in 728 BC-a year before Dioces ascended the throne? Where were the Medes? Or were there any Medes before his coronation? Are we to presume that a populous ethnic group, a culture and a language-all appeared miraculously when Dioces decided it was time to crown?

Mesopotamian sources make reference to Medes nearly 500 years prior to this "beginning." Such sources also mention the Zagros and Taurus mountains teaming with other peoples, civilizations and governments with whom Mesopotamians conducted a bustling trade and cultural exchanges, or against whom they warred. What happened to all these sophisticated native populations and states in the area when the Medes "began"?

Median tribes first settled the areas between the modern Hamadan and Kirmanshah in southeastern Kurdistan--the very heartland of Media, and an area that came to be called in the Assyrian record, Medaya, in recognition of this settlement. Medes were a nomadic group who ventured into the Middle East along with other Indo-European-speaking nomads such as the Persians, Armenians, and Afghans. Soon, however, their fortunes eclipsed all others. The Medes first expanded from their heartland in southeastern Kurdistan and their capital, Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana), to cover the Zagros mountains, western parts of the Iranian Plateau and eastern Anatolia. This expanded territory is what the term "Media" meant to classical authors. From here the Medes would ultimately establish an empire stretching from Asia Minor to Central Asia. Their empire was ultimately eclipsed in 549 BC by the rising star of the Medes' cousins, the Persians.

Two thousand years ago, Strabo wrote: "The Medes are said to have been the originators of the customs for the Armenians, and also, still earlier, for the Persians, who were their masters and their successors in the supreme authority over Asia…" (Geography, XI.xiii.9). Strabo further asserts that the Median contributions included the costumes, ornaments, sports, court manners and the mode of kingship (Ibid.). To these Median contributions we also must add religion.

Now, where did the Medes acquire the sophisticated civilization they later passed on to the Persians and Armenians? Surely it could not have been a part of their primitive nomadic heritage that was shared with their fellow nomadic Armenians and Persians. At no time in history have nomads been known for civilized customs or cultural sophistication. And there is no reason to believe the Median nomads who arrived in the Zagros were any different. Most likely, Medes simply inherited the cultures which came under their suzerainty, and in time became their champions. Medes did however bring a language, which matters now, but in all likelihood did not matter then.

Modern Kurds speak a language akin to the Median, i.e., an Indo-European language of the Iranic branch. But so do most other ethnic groups in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Baluchistan. In a more restricted sense, the language of the modern Kurds belongs to a group of languages (Northwest Iranic) which is concentrated, with the exception of the Baluchi, within the territories of old Media. We can only surmise that the Medes also spoke a language of this branch because, except for a few words and proper names, there are no surviving records of the speech of the Medians. What remains can only affirm conclusively the Indo-European, Iranic identity of the Median language-nothing more. But someone must have originated the Northwest Iranic group of languages, and the Medes remain the best, if not the only known candidates to have done so.

But linguistically, the Gilanis, Mazandaranis, Tats, Talishis, and Baluchis, all have as much in common with the Medes as do the Kurds: they all speak Northwest Iranic languages! In fact, the now Turkic-speaking Azeris, if they so choose, can also lay strong claim to the legacy of the Medes. In classical times, Azerbaijan was nearly always included as a part of Media. Moreover, the Azeris became linguistically Turkified only a few centuries ago. Their very ethnic name still remains Iranic.

Clearly, this matter cannot be settled linguistically, even if we knew precisely what the Medes spoke. Too many other ethnic groups share their linguistic past with the Kurds, and presumably all of them with the Medes.

So how about geography or ethnography? Median territories included mountains as well as the neighboring plains. Strabo tells us that most of Media is cold and mountainous, particularly "those mountains which lie above Ecbatana/Hamadan"; but he also recognizes the extension of greater Media into the balmier plains to the east where one now finds the bustling Persian communities and cities such as Teheran and Isfahan.(Geography, XI.xiii.7)

During the period of their ascendancy, all earlier peoples who inhabited the territories that came to be called Media were lumped together and called Medes by outsiders. On the other hand, when Strabo wrote his geography, the ethnic name "Mede" (if it ever had such connotation, particularly after the establishment of the empire), was already dead. Old ethnic names had re-emerged, or new ones had appeared in place of those that died out. However, "Media" as a geographical designator remained. And this geographical designator, like that of Rome after its political demise, kept shrinking until in Islamic times it had receded to were the ancient Median began their expansive careers in southeastern Kurdistan--the area between Hamadan (their ancient capital) and Kirmanshah. Until about eight centuries ago, that region in southeastern Kurdistan was still called Mah (i.e., Media). Like Latium and Rome in Italy--and their special place in the story of rise and twilight of the Romans--what little remains today of the old Medians and the name "Mede," is found densely concentrated in southeastern Kurdistan--the site of the rise and twilight of the Medes. In fact there are still some Kurdish tribes and clans who carry the evolved forms of the name "Mede." Among these are the Meywandlu, Meymand, Mamand, and the Mafi, to name a few. The largest plain in that entire region is still called, Mahy Dasht, "The Plain of Medes."

A composite past is virtually the norm for every old civilization. It would be very strange otherwise. The Persians, Arabs and (though they prefer not to admit it), the Turks--all have similarly composite pasts, as do the Italians and all other peoples and culture that have evolved in these, some of the planet's oldest civilized parts.

Considering this complicated picture, which ethnic groups can claim to be the descended from the Medes? If it mattered--and I do not believe it does--then Kurds along with a few others can make this claim. But like the Italians, who can claim a little bit more of the Roman legacy than the others on geographical and chronological grounds , the Kurds can do likewise in respect to the Medes. For like the Italians, they too are 'first among equals.'

The Medes added nothing of particular cultural value to justify fighting over their inheritance. The civilization and cultural lux ascribed to the elusive Medes they had adopted from the indigenous peoples and illustrious cultures they found already in place when they arrived in western Asia as nomadic immigrants in circa 1100 BC. Kurdish culture, which identifies the Kurdish people, has its native roots in the distinguished legacy of all those who preceded the Medes, but also includes the Medes. Only for a relatively short time did those mountains come to be called Media. And the Medes who settled in the Zagros brought little but they learned much from the local indigenous people with an ancient and sophisticated civilization. Before merging their identity with them, the Medes enriched the local cultures with one more layer of experience and one more addition of genes into their racial pool. And what they left behind after their ethnic name disappeared, continued to evolve through cultures and peoples who came after them, settled in the area and in turn disappeared into the local milieu.

Yes, Kurds as the descendants of the Medes inasmuch as they contributed genetically and linguistically to the formation of what the Kurds are today. No, Kurds are not descendants of the Medes as their civilized ancestors were already in place when the Medes appeared, flourished, and ultimately disappeared. Kurds need not have come at some given date from some other place into their present homeland; indeed they did not. They and their culture are the progeny of an evolution of native inhabitants and cultures of the Zagros-Taurus mountain systems, coming to us from remote antiquity. The addition of a Median ingredient was only one of countless many.

Let us conclude that neither Kurds or any other nation require ad discrete beginning. Only the most fanciful movie buffs can think of the intricate processes of the evolution of nations as one that needs a beginning, and an end.

Source: “Are Kurds descended from the Medes?”, Kurdish Life, Number 10, 1994


Desperately Seeking Full-Time Kurdologists

By Prof. Mehrdad Izady

A most important first step in launching the field of Kurdish studies is the creation of a cadre of area studies scholars and academics whose primary interests are Kurds. Thus far it has been the Turkologist, Arabist, Armeniologist or Iranist who touches the Kurds only insomuch as they impact on his or her primary focus. This is neither unusual nor wrong. One's research interest must be just that: the focal point of one's universe of research and academic concern, perhaps even of one's personal affection.

Why then is the field of Kurdology lacking such dedicated individuals, and what are the ramifications of their absence? To answer these questions, we must first analyze the process through which an area-study scholar develops bonds of interest with a given group.

Most scholars develop an interest in an area or a group of people in their undergraduate years, move on to learn their language, and then to produce advanced research papers and doctoral theses focused precisely on them. Commonly they establish bonds of personal friendship with members of the ethnic group, who may well be among their college classmates. Unfailingly they spend time in the group's country, enjoying their culture and often their hospitality. Understandably this exposure generates affection for and attachment to the people with whom they share so many fond memories of youth. They come to sympathize with their national concerns and empathize on local issues. These grass-root area studies scholars generally scrutinize neighboring ethnic groups only insomuch as the adopted group interacts with them. There is little impetus to do otherwise.

Thus far, the Kurds have been unable to furnish such crucial early experiences to potential Western Kurdologists for several reasons: l) Lacking an independent state, ethnic Kurds in the West were, until very recently, non-entities to nearly everyone else. They were identified by others, and readily presented themselves, as Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians or Turks, not as Kurds. (To the average American student, even country names such as Iran, Iraq or Turkey are still barely recognized. And still many spell 'Kurd' with a "c.") Thus obliged to misrepresent themselves, Kurds tended not to generate those bonds of affection in the name of the Kurd with Western students whom they befriended; 2) Utter absence of Kurdish language courses and Kurdish curricula precluded the creation of professional bonds rendering Kurds and Kurdistan a centerpiece of academic concern for an area studies student. Even today no such opportunity exists in the United States, and rarely in Europe; 3) Lack of readily available, or rather identifiable research material and literature in local university and public libraries as compared with neighboring ethnic groups, discouraged and continues to delimit the choice of Kurds as topics of academic papers and theses- 4) There is no viable philanthropic, self-aware Kurdish community to financially support and personally entertain future scholars of Kurdish studies.

For these reasons, a Western student body has not formed to independently press for the establishment of a college-level field of Kurdology at American and European schools. This is changing. The Kurdish presence in Europe is at a respectable size now and is growing fast in the United States.

Potential Western Kurdologists are befriending Kurds and enjoying their hospitality. Kurds are now less reluctant to identify themselves as Kurds, not simply as Iranian, Iraqi, Turk or Syrian. Irrespective of the reasons behind it. Kurds are found frequently in Western news media now. Fewer and fewer students spell Kurd with a "c." The single element that remains unchanged in this picture is the apathy of the Kurdish community and Kurdish organizations towards higher education.

Unlike the Armenians, who until a few years ago were also a stateless diaspora, Kurdish communities remain unsympathetic to any educational contribution that could establish a venerable field of Kurdish studies in the West. Many simply consider such philanthropy equal to alms giving. They fail to see such support as fostering their own rapidly eroding heritage.

Many major universities in the United States and Europe would willingly sponsor chairs for Kurdish studies were supporting funds available from Kurdish individuals, the Kurdish community, or Kurdish organizations. The majority of chairs in Armenian studies in American universities have been donated by Armenian philanthropists such as Kevorkian and Zohrab. No Kurdish university chairs exist because no Kurdish philanthropists exist.

In the absence of a bona fide university-level field of Kurdish studies directed by credible, first-rate scholars, Kurds will continue to be treated as footnotes, albeit very large footnotes, to the history of others. They will remain sidelined by the experience and interest of more dynamic and sophisticated ethnic neighbors. Presently there are virtually no dedicated, full-time Western Kurdologists pooling their talents to withstand and to challenge the astonishingly dismissive attitude regarding Kurdish heritage and history. Lacking this base, Kurds do not feel it intellectually fashionable or academically safe to confront the current outrageous status quo.

The most tangible consequence of the absence of "grass roots" Kurdologists has of course been the sidelining and downsizing of Kurdish history, human and cultural contributions, by scholars who confess to "part-time" interest in Kurdish topics. And because thus far only they are available, these "insiders" are first to be consulted by academia, news media and governments to provide information on Kurdish topics. Most have proven to be first to pull the rug from under current Kurdish national demands in support of other ethnic or political groups in which they have a full-time interest and with whom they identify. A sad reality is that Kurds have been more than willing to dance on these lopsided grounds.

To endear himself, to avoid being dismissed as a Kurdish "nationalist," the fledgling Kurdish scholar tends to wholeheartedly support the belittling of his national heritage to that of a marginal nomadic culture. Such Kurds willingly parcel out their own nation's contribution to those ethnic groups fortunate enough to have established fields of area studies and scholar advocates already in place in the West. Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that in the past few years alone, articles have appeared attributing all the silver work in Kurdistan to the Kurdish Jews, all the stoneworks to the Assyrians, all the fine rugs to the Persians, all the architectural monuments to the Armenians, and most vestiges of Kurdish ethnicity to the Turks.

At just about any conference dedicated to Middle Eastern topics, Kurdish students and scholars have therefore to show two sides. In the presence of the part-time Western Kurdologist, they swim with the current, racing to be ever more dismissive of their own heritage. But when talking privately to fellow Kurdish scholars, they become exasperated and indignant, convinced that their heritage is being given short shrift. This, for example, is in marked contrast to the Western Turkologist, who races to outdo the Turkish scholar in praising ever-expanding contributions of the Turks to human civilization. Were an Iranist to present a conference paper declaring that Montezuma was a Persian, there is little doubt that a goodly number of scholars present would agree that it is a topic worthy of discussion. But if a scholar were to identify as Kurdish an unattributed archaeological piece excavated from under the Kurds, he would raise eyebrows if not jeers - and from the Kurds, too. Prominent authors who have published extensively in the U.S. on Kurdish politics have produced pieces implying that Kurds are somehow genetically defective a people naturally inclined to quarrel and therefore racially incapable of political order. Such blatant bigotry vis a vis any other ethnic group would of course precipitate civil rights litigation in the United States and public demonstrations in Europe. But "occasional" Kurdologists have largely been getting away with murder - academic and political murder of the Kurds.

As Armenians will readily tell you, generous financial support from the community is the essential first step in remedying this sorry situation. Such monies would provide for activities and programs to attract college students and inspire them to become full-time Kurdologists. Kurds must be the primary concern of those intending to enter the field. Issues pertaining to the ethnic neighbors of the Kurds should be of secondary concern to the Kurdologist. The Kurdologist's point of departure must be the production of research pieces focused solely on Kurdistan and the Kurdish heritage. When writing history, that of other cultures and peoples should be relevant only insofar as they interact with Kurds - never more. In political or economic analysis, the Kurdish point of view should be the centerpiece, and not as is currently the case, the afterthought.

Obviously, all will remain a pipe dream unless career and financial opportunity is generated to support such a body of Kurdologists. To take a last lesson from the ancient neighbors of the Kurds, the Armenians, self-help is the only help. All communities support only those activities which they knew as promoting their communal agendas. If Kurds need a dedicated body of full-time Kurdologists, they need to give. The choices are clear: with Kurdish funds establish and support institutions and academic chairs that treat you first class; or, while waiting for Godo, take what little the "part-time" Kurdologists are willing to give - biased or not.

-What can't academic advocates do for you! Want the Turks to be the originators of human civilization, or the progenitors of all languages - including Indo-European? No problem. Don't let amateurs like Kemal Ataturk and his "Sun Language" theory make you a laughing stock. Sponsor people in academia with big names. They'll do it for you.

Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist at Cambridge University, proposed in 1987 that Indo-European speaking people originated in Turkey, and only later did they spread into Europe and Asia. The impetus for such an historic expansion, he claimed, was the invention of agriculture in western Turkey "eight thousand years ago." It does not bother Professor Renfrew that agriculture was already in full bloom in Kurdistan for four thousand years prior to that date. Nor does it matter that everyone in Kurdistan and Anatolia spoke dialects of Hurrian. There were no Indo-European speaking people in that area before the coming of the Hittites and Mittanis forty-five hundred years ago. If Turkey, better yet Turkish dominated western Turkey, could be established through the prestige of the Cambridge University Department of Archaeology as the cradle of Indo-European languages and home to the first agriculture, then only the details would remain open to debate, but not the theory itself. Well, it worked.

Now, in 1995, major scientific journals are taking Renfrew's shambolic reasoning as fact and presenting it alongside major historical linguistic theories. To this they add only "most recent" or "most intriguing."

Then came the inevitable: to "prove" that Turkish itself is an Indo-European language. This task fell on linguist Johanna Nichols of the University of California at Berkeley. Five years after the publication of Renfrew's theory, Nichols has come up with the proposition that Indo-European speaking people originated in Mongolia, as did the Turks. In an article in the weekly "Science News" (February 25, 1995), a publication of the oldest continuing American foundation dedicated to reporting new scientific discoveries, Nichols is paraphrased: "Four successive spreads of Indo-European language families followed (out of Mongolia): proto-Indo-European around 5,500 years ago, Iranian about 4,000 years ago, Turkic nearly 2,000 years ago, and Mongolian between 1,500 and 1,000 years ago." Congratulations" What Ataturk discovered sixty years ago, based on dogma, is now "proven" by Renfrew and Nichols based on "data."

A conference is scheduled for April 1996 at the University of Pennsylvania to bring together scientists from around the world to discuss the origins of Indo-European people. Stay tuned for more wondrous discoveries to support Ataturk's Sun-Language theory.

All these developments are taking place at a time when historical records crediting anything of value directly to the people called Kurds are immediately challenged by academics who ask: "But how can we be sure that the term 'Kurd' meant an ethnic Kurd? Didn't 'Kurd' mean a shepherd --- any shepherd?"

Wake up, Kurds. You are being stripped naked of your history and cultural heritage. And without your history and cultural heritage your claim to your land isn't worth a dime.


Source: M. Izady, "Desperately Seeking Full-Time Kurdologists", the Kurdish Life, Number 13, Winter 1995,


Evidence for the World’s earliest Beer and Wine making in Kurdistan

In a correspondence to the prestigious British scientific journal Nature (vol.360, 5 November, 1992, p. 24) Rudolph Michel of Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology, and Patrick McGovern of University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Virginia Badler, Department of Near Eastern Studies, University of Toronto, archaeological and laboratory evidence is provided to prove the oldest existing trace of production of barley beer in the world.
Their evidence comes from the archaeological site of Godin, 6 miles (10 km) east of Kangawar, in southern Kurdistan, in Iran, where a few years earlier the evidence for world’s earliest grape wine, also dating to 5100 years ago was found by a team from the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada that originally excavated the site. (see also the Postscript at the end) 
The disturbing, but not very surprising element in their report was to attribute the development of beer making technology to the far-off Sumerians. Several years earlier, the earliest known evidence for the grape wine making technology found at Godin had also been duly contributed to the Sumerians.
For the past three generations archaeologist have been excavating from Kurdistan the evidence for the invention and development of some of the most crucial technologies that transferred man-the-hunter into man-the-farmer and eventually man-the-civilized. As if the Kurdish mountains and its inhabitants not being suitable place and people to have been the original developers of those technologies despite the clear archaeological evidence, almost instinctively the archaeologists have been uneasy to contribute any thing original found in there to its native people. They have instead looked for an outside source of influence, at times desperately, and when not found, they have tended to list the originating culture as unknown. The sameevidence found in any one of the other loci of civilization like Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Greece are automatically attributed to those cultures until proven otherwise. 
The treatment of the cultures of the Kurdish mountains has been and remains the reverse. The irony is that as in the case of these most recent discoveries, the argument supporting the Sumerian involvment, is based on evidence that is later in date and indirect in nature (i.e., from the seal impressions) than the Kurdish hard evidence of the actual fermentation vats complete with dried up calcium oxalate sediments (beer residue). In fact Michel et al, indicate that the carbonized remains of the barley used for preparation of the drink was also found first at Godin, just as they admit is the evidence for grapes used for wine making. Let us thus briefly take a closer look at the archaeological evidence as well as the relationship that existed between Zagros mountain societies and the Sumerians to see where the direction of influence must have been, and how.
Godin by no means is an odd incidence of technological sophistication in an otherwise culturally and technologically barren region to lead to require a search for an external civilizing influence. The mound of Godin (or Gawdin) is in fact located in one of the world’s richest archaeological regions, stretching for one hundred miles from Shahabad to Hamadan, where the task for any archaeologist is not where to excavate, but which one of the hundreds of mounds, temples, palace complexes and cave habitats to choose. Here one finds some of the earliest evidence of mankind’s domestication of cereals (e.g., barley and wheat) and live stock (e.g., goats and sheep) and development of some of the other basic technologies dating to 11,000 years ago (Braidwood et al, 1960). Additionally, within this very same region is found the remains of the world oldest glazed pottery at Seh Gabi (Levine, 1974; Vandiver, 1990), earliest experiments with writing and accounting at Godin and Ganj Dara (Schmandt-Besserat, 1986; Nissen, 1986; Green, 1981) and now wine and beer. 
Godin itself turns out to have been a major city with well planned and solidly built buildings and a contemporary of the oldest cities of Sumeria and Akkadia, and at a time when most of the rest of the world lived in caves. Godin today can be seen as a great mound on the eastern horizon if one stands on the imposing remains of the 2300 years old grand staircases and the vast colonnaded temple platform of the goddess Anahita at Kangawar.
This entire archaeological region straddles the old Silk Road which was predated for thousands of years by other crucial commercial arteries of the ancient world that connected the East to the West over the Iranian plateau, lowland Mesopotamia, and the Levant. As such, the region boasted a commerce oriented civilization that exported many of its technological developments and discoveries and now contains the remains of many imported artifact and raw material from far away sources and cultures of the time. About 4,500 years ago this region served as the heartland for the native empire of the Qutils (or Gutis) who were among the Hurrian ancestors of the modern Kurds before their Aryanization in the hands of the immigrating Indo- European tribes such as the Medes, Sagarthians, and the Scytho-Alans. The Quti military might soon expanded from the Kurdish mountains and their capital of Aratta to subdue every neighboring regions including Sumeria and Akkadia. In light of the discovery of many well-constructed buildings, wealth of artifacts and new technologies, Godin is the strongest candidate for the site of ancient Aratta. 
A Qutil general named Merkar declared his independence from the mountain domains of the Qutil Federation whose king happened to be Merkar’s own brother. Breaking with Aratta, Merkar established circa 2500 BC a separate dynasty to rule independently over all of the Sumerian and Akkadian city-states, taking the famous Uruk (Erech-Kullab) of Gilgamesh for his capital. By 2250 BC the Qutils had totally annexed Sumeria and Akkadia, ruling them until 2120 BC. During that 130 years the Qutils actually settled and flourished in Sumeria in large numbers, populating for example, the twin city of Kesh-Adab (Kramer 1987). Conversely, there has never been any evidence for the Sumerian power to have expanded, let alone engaging in large-scale settlment in any part of the rugged Kurdish highlands. 
It is absolutely extraordinary that the tablets recording the correspondence between the Qutil ruler in Aratta and the rebellious Merkar (who was commonly known as Enmerkar, after he took up the Sumerian royal title of En) has survived to this day. These now constitute some of most valuable written records for the history of the Kurdish highlands of circa 4500 years ago. Samuel N. Kramer, arguably the foremost Sumerologist has fortunately translated these correspondence (Kramer, 1987), which established for a good deal of close commercial, artisitic and political contact between Aratta and Uruk, and in none of them is there a hint that the society at Aratta (Godin?) was any less sophisticated or looked down upon by the now all-famous Uruk of Sumeria. In fact, Kramer shows that it was Sumeria which needed the help from the Arattan architects, decorators as well as raw material to build its temple of Innana in 4500 BC! 
Whereas Kurdish mountains are the natural habitats of wild barley, wheat and many other cereals, and the evidence points at their earliest domestication there and not to Sumerian marsh lands and deserts where domesticated cereals were introduced much later from the highland, it is only logical to believe that the fermented product of barley, that is beer, to have been also introduced there from the highlands. 
This recent archaeological evidence just fortifies the common logic. In fact the beer and wine discovered at Godin date to this exact time period, and could have been introduced by the Qutils into Sumeria where later and indirect evidence (in form of seal markings showing people drinking beer through a straw from a common vat) is found. In fact the Sumerian tablets also record another introduction into Sumeria by Enmerkar the Qutil: worship of the bird-god Anzu, which surprisingly is still worshipped by the Yezidi Kurds as the bird-icon, Anzul (or Anzal). 
The strong but totally unjustified hints by the Michel group at Sumerian origin for the Godin beer technology prompted the New York Times to carry an article in the same week, squarely attributing the invention of beer (and grape wine) to the Sumerians, with not a word of the Kurdish mountains in Iran, deep inside which, the actual discovery had taken place. The New York Post carried a cartoon the following day after the New York Times, showing a beer guzzling “Sumerians” in ancient Egyptian costumes (?!), with a banner over their heads declaring “Iraq’s Best Beer”! 
Postscript: In 1996, at the 7000-years-old site of Hajji Firuz, between Mahabad and Shnu in eastern Kurdistan, Iran, was found by Patrick E. McGovern and the same team from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, even anolder evidence for wine making in Kurdistan and the world (Archaeology, 10/1996) Six jars, each two-and-a-half gallon in capacity, found in the kitchen areas of a house at Hajji Firuz, contained chemical evidence of a well-developed grape wine making industry. 
Using infrared spectrometry, liquid chromatology, and a wet chemical test, was found calcium salt from tartaric acid, which occurs naturally in large amounts only in grapes. Resin from the terebinth tree was also present, presumably used as a preservative, indicating that the wine was deliberately made and did not result from the unintentional fermentation of grape juice. Grapes still grow wild at that and other parts of Kurdistan.
Meanwhile, grape presses made of stone and dated to the late third millennium BC have been recently found at Titris Hoyuk, south of Adyaman in western Kurdistan, Turkey. Wine--that “beverage of the gods,” seem now to have been invented and improved by the ancestors of the Kurds. 
Sources: Braidwood, R. et al, “Seeking the World’s First Farmers in Persian Kurdistan: A Full Scale Investigation of Pre-Historic Sites near Kirmanshah,” Ill. Lon. News (October 22, 1960); Levine, L.D., “The Excavations at Seh Gabi,” Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran. (Chicago, 1974); Vandiver, P., “Ancient Glazes,” Scientific American 262:4 (April 1990); Schmandt-Besserat, D., “An Ancient Token System: The Precursor to Numerals and Writing,” Archaeology (November/December 1986); Nissen, H., “The Development of Writing and of Glyptic Art,” in U. Finkbeiner and W. Rölling, eds., Gamdat Nasr: Period or Regional Style? (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1986); Green, M.W., “The Construction and Implementation of the Cuneiform Writing System,” Visible Language, xv.4 (1981); Kramer, N., “Ancient Sumer and Iran: Gleanings from Sumerian Literature,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute, I (1987). 

Prof. M. R. Izady

Exploring Kurdish Origins

The question of Kurdish origins, i.e., who the Kurds are and where they come from, has for too long remained an enigma. Doubtless in a few words one can respond, for example, that Kurds are the end-product of numerous layers of cultural and genetic material superimposed over thousands of years of internal migrations, immigrations, cultural innovations and importations. But identifying the roots and the course of evolution of present Kurdish ethnic identity calls for a greater effort. It calls for the study of each of the many layers of these human movements and cultural influences, as many and as early in time as is currently possible. And to achieve this, one needs to delve deep into antiquity, and debate notions as diverse as anthropology, linguistics, genetics, theology, economics and demography, not to mention simple old narrative history.

Lithograph. Naples 1818.

"He was magnificently attired in the Koordish taste: his gown was of a rich, flowered, gold Indian stuff; he had a superb Cashmere shawl ornamented with gold fringe on his head, put on in a wild loose manner; his upper dress was a capot, or cloak, of crimson Venetian cloth, with rich gold fogs, or bosses, on it...I could see he was well aware of the advantages of his person."

Narative of a Residence in Koordistan by Claudius James Rich, Esq. London, 1863.

The Kurdish Museum

Presently, at least 5 distinct layers can be identified with various degrees of certainty.

Halaf Cultural Period

Exploring Kurdish OriginsThe earliest evidence thus far of a unified and distinct culture shared by the people inhabiting the Kurdish mountains relates to the period of the ‘Halaf Culture’ that began around 8000 years ago. Named after the ancient mound of Tell Halaf west of the town of Qamishli in what is now the Syrian Kurdistan, this culture is best-known for its easily recognizable style of pottery which, fortunately, was produced in abundance. Exquisitely painted, delicately designed Halaf pottery are easily distinguishable from earlier and later productions. Judging from the pottery remains alone, Halaf culture appears to have been extant between 6000 to 5400 BC, a period of about 600 years.

In fact taking Halaf pottery as a prime example, many archaeologists now point out by that shared pottery style is a simple but crucial tool in helping to classify prehistoric cultures in the Middle East. Yet, while shared pottery can imply shared culture, it can no more imply shared ethnicity for the people who produced them than shared rug designs can now. Today, for example, the Turkic Qashqai, Luric Mamasani and the Arab Baseri peoples of southern Iran all share similar rug designs. Ethno-linguistically, however, these three peoples share virtually nothing else. This fact should serve as a clear warning to those who would use shared artistic styles and plastic arts as an indication of shared ethnicity. Pottery styles must be taken in tandem with other evidence in order to make a case for shared culture and ethnicity. But, wide-spread Halafian excavation sites have much more in common than styles of pottery.

Solid evidence has now emerged indicating striking similarities in food, technology, architecture, ritual practices and ornaments, all of which merge to suggest something more substantive. Archaeologist Julian Reade, now a curator at the British Museum’s Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities thus states: "While we really know little about how the inhabitants of a Halaf village thought, let alone what languages or languages they used for thinking, and what levels of abstraction could be expressed verbally, it seems likely they had comparable social structures, sharing many of the same implicit values, and that even those who did not travel regularly many have met from time to time in a religious or administrative centers." (footnote 1)

With the aid of these archaeological criteria, J. Reade as well as M. Roaf (archaeologist and former director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, now at the University of California, Berkeley) have determined the boundaries of the Halaf culture. They coincide almost exactly with the area the ethnic Kurds still call home: from Kirmanshah to Adyaman, and from Afrin near the Mediterranean Sea to northern areas of Lake Van. The distribution of the Halaf pottery and the distribution of ethnic Kurds today are a near-perfect match. The single exception is the Mosul-Tikrit region of the Mesopotamian lowlands. (footnote 2) James Mellaart, better known for his excavation at Catal Hüyük, meanwhile, has found many of the motifs and composite designs present on the Halaf pottery and figurines still extant in the textile and decorative designs of the modern Kurds who now inhabit the same excavated Halafian sites. (footnote 3)

It is highly unlikely that the Halaf people constituted an immigrant population. According to several demographic studies, the Zagros mountains were the site of perennial population surplus and pressure from 12000 to 5000 years ago, which must have resulted in many episodes of emigration. (footnote 4) This population pressure in the Zagros-Taurus folds was a consequence of successive technological advances in domestication of common crops and animals, and resulted in a prosperous agricultural economy and trade, ergo high population density. The Halafian phenomenon is likely the result of a massive internal migration which succeeded to culturally unify the population in Kurdistan.

The fact that the Halaf Culture spread so rapidly over such a considerable distance across the rugged Kurdish mountains is thought to have been the result of the development of a new life-style and economic activity necessitating mobility, namely nomadic herding. All the pre-requisite technologies had been developed and the necessary animals, particularly the dog, had now been domesticated by the settled agriculturists. The Halafian figurines of dogs (with jaunty upcurled tails uncharacteristic of any wolf), excavated from Jarmo in central Kurdistan is the earliest definitive evidence of the development of "man’s best friend" and the herder’s most prized protection. (footnote 5) Nomadic herding has since been a very mobile cornerstone of the Zagros-Taurus cultures and societies.

Ubaid Cultural Period

The Halaf Cultural period ends with the arrival, circa 5300 BC of a new culture and, quite likely a new people: the so-called Ubaidians.

Named after the archaeological mound of al-Ubaid in modern Iraq, where their remains first excavated, the people of Ubaid culture expanded in time from the plains of Mesopotamia into the mountains. The culture of the Ubaidians, or the proto-Euphratians, as they are sometimes called, caused a hybrid culture to emerge in the mountains. This new cultural phase in Kurdistan comprised of the earlier Halafian heritage, superimposed by this new, but foreign influence. The Ubaid cultural ascendance predominated in most of Kurdistan and Mesopotamia for the ensuing 1000 years.

Of the language and ethnic affiliation of the Ubaidians we know nothing beyond the barest conjecture. However, it is they who gave the names ‘Tigris’ and ‘Euphrates’ to the primary rivers of Kurdistan and Mesopotamia. (footnote 6)

Personally, I have come to suspect that the Ubaidian people may be identical or related to the enigmatic "Khaldi." The Khaldi are well represented in ancient Kurdistan, and were time Kurdicized to survive today as many Kurdish clans and tribes bearing variations of the old name, such as the modern Khallikan.(footnote 7) The modern survivors are found precisely were the classical Graeco-Roman sources recorded the Khaldi around 2000 years ago: mainly in northern and western Kurdistan. In support of this one may note the important fact that as the Ubaidians were found in lowland Mesopotamia as also in highland Kurdistan, the same is true of the Khaldi who were found in large numbers in both regions. Like their highland branch, the lowland Khaldi were also in time assimilated. In Mesopotamia, the Ubaidians were Semitized, becoming known as the celebrated Chaldeans.

The cultural impact of the Ubaidians on the mountain communities, nonetheless, was vast, although apparently it was not particularly deep.

Hurrian Cultural Period.

By approximately 4300 BC, a new culture, and possibly a new people, came to dominate the mountains: the Hurrians.

Of the Hurrians we know much more, and the volume of our knowledge becomes greater as the time becomes more recent. We know, for example, that the Hurrians spread far and wide into the Zagros-Taurus-Pontus mountain systems, and intruded for a time also on the neighboring plains of Mesopotamia and the Iranian Plateau. However, they never expanded too far from the mountains. Their economy was surprisingly integrated and focused, along with their political bonds, which runs largely parallel with the Zagros-Taurus-Pontus mountains, rather than radiating out to the lowlands, as was the case during the preceding Ubaid cultural period. Mountain-plain economic exchanges remained secondary in importance, judging by the archaeological remains of goods and their origin.

The Hurrians spoke a language, or properly, languages, of the north-eastern group of the Caucasic family of languages, distantly related to modern Chechen, Lezgian and Lakz. Their direction of Hurrian expansion is not yet understood, and by no means should be taken as having been north-south, i.e., an expansion out of the Caucasus, as often is presumed without any evidence. It may well be that it was the prolific Hurrians who introduced Northeast Caucasian languages into the Caucasus, instead of having originated from that tiny, sparsely-populated region.

For a long time the states founded by the Hurrians remained small, until around 2500 BC when larger political-military entities evolved out of the older, Hurrian city-states. Six polities are of special note: Urartu, Mushq/Mushku, Urkish, Subar/Saubar, Baini, Guti/Qutil and Manna. The kingdom of Mushku is now believed to have brought about the final downfall of the Hittites in Anatolia. Their name survives in the city of Mush/Mus in north-central Kurdistan of Turkey. The Subaru who operated from the areas north of modern Arbil in central Kurdistan have left their name in the populous and historic Kurdish tribal confederacy of Zubari, who still inhabit the areas north of Arbil.

The Guti/Qutils of central and southern Kurdistan, after gradually unifying the smaller mountain principalities, became strong enough in 2250 BC to actually annex Sumeria and the rest of lowland Mesopotamia. A Guti/Qutil dynasty ruled Sumeria for 130 years until 2120 BC.

Four legendary emporia, Arrap’ha, Melidi Washukani and Aratta served the Hurrians in their inter-regional trade with the economies outside the mountains. With certainty, Arrap’ha is to be identified with modern Kirkuk, Melidi with Malatya, while Washukani and Aratta are probably to be identified, respectively, with the rich archaeological sites of Godin Teppa (near Kangawar in southeastern Kurdistan, Iran) and Tell Fakhariya (west of Qamishli, in west-central Kurdistan, Syria). By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the culture and people of Kurdistan appear to have been unified under a Hurrian identity.

The legacy of the Hurrians to the present culture of the Kurds is fundamental. It is manifest in the realm of Kurdish religion, mythology, material and martial arts, and even the genetics. Nearly three-quarters of Kurdish clan names and roughly half of topographical and urban names are also of Hurrian origin, e.g., the names of the clans of Bukhti, Tirikan, Bazayni, Bakran, Mand; rivers Murad, Balik and Khabur, lake Van; the towns of Mardin, Ziwiya and Dinawar. Mythological and religious symbols present in the art of the later Hurrian dynasties, such as the Mannaeans and Kassites of eastern Kurdistan, and the Lullus of the southeast, present in part what can still be observed in the Kurdish ancient religion of Yazdanism, better-known today by its various denominations as Alevism, Yezidism, and Yarisanism (Ahl-i Haqq).

It is fascinating to recognize the origin of many tattooing motifs still used by the traditional Kurds on their bodies as replicas of those which appear on the Hurrian figurines. One such is the combination that incorporates serpent, sun disc, dog and comb/rain motifs. In fact some of these Hurrian tattoo motifs are also present in the religious decorative arts of the Yezidi Kurds, as found most prominently at the great shrine at Lalish.

By the end of the Hurrian period, Kurdistan seem to have been culturally and ethnically homogenized to form a single civilization which was identified as such by the neighboring cultures and peoples. Sumerians, for example, called everybody in the Kurdish mountains as "Subaru," while the Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians used the term "Guti/Qutil." To the ancient Jews, they were are all the "Qarduim." All these ancient appellations have modern representatives in the names of major Kurdish clans, and were by no means the artifacts of the imagination of those early Mesopotamians. The lowlanders of Mesopotamia must have seen the uniformity of the culture (and presumably the ethnicity) of the peoples of the Kurdish mountains, prompting them to call these mountaineers by a single native ethnic/tribal name that was most familiar to them at any given time. Likewise, today we know all of these same mountain people as Kurds. This portrait of a culturally homogenized Kurdistan was not to last.

The Aryan Period

As early as 2000 BC, the vanguards of the Indo-European speaking tribal immigrants, such as the Hittites and the Mittanis (Sindis), had arrived in southwestern Asia. While the Hittites only marginally affected the mountain communities in Kurdistan, the Mittanis settled inside Kurdistan around modern Diyarbakir, and influenced the natives in several fields worthy of note, in particular the introduction of knotted rug weaving. Even rug designs introduced by the Mittanis and recognized by the replication in the Assyrian floor carvings, remain the hallmark of the Kurdish rugs and kelims. The modern mina khâni and chwar such styles are basically the same today as those the Assyrians copied and depicted nearly 3000 years ago.

The name ‘Mittani’ survives today in the Kurdish clans of Mattini and Millani/Milli who inhabit the exact same geographical areas of Kurdistan as the ancient Mittani. The name "Mittan," however, is a Hurrian name rather than Aryan. At the onset of Aryan immigration into Kurdistan, only the aristocracy of the high-ranking warrior groups were Aryans, while the bulk of the people were still Hurrian in all manners. The Mittani aristocratic house almost certainly was from the immigrant Sindis, who survive today in the populous Kurdish clan of Sindi—again—in the same area where the Mittani kingdom once existed. These ancient Sindi seem to have been an Indic, and not Iranic group of people, and in fact a branch of the better known Sindis of India-Pakistan, that has imparted its name to the River Indus and in fact, India itself. (footnote 8) While the bulk of the Sindis moved on to India, some wondered into Kurdistan to give rise to the Mittani royal house and the modern Sindi Kurds. Others, still, remained in Europe, and are recorded in the 1st century AD inhabiting the Taiman Peninsula on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Ukraine.

Expectedly, the Mittani pantheon includes names like Indra, Varuna, Suriya and Nasatya is typically Indic. The Mittanis could have introduced during this early period some of the Indic/Vedic tradition that appears to be manifest in the Kurdish religion of Yazdanism.

The avalanche of the Indo-European tribes, however, was to come about 1200 BC, raining havoc on the economy and settled culture in the mountains and lowlands alike. The north was settled by the Haigs who are known to us now as the Armenians, while the rest of the mountains became targets of settlement of various Iranic peoples, such as the Medes, Persian, Scythians, Sarmatians, and Sagarthians (whose name survives in the name of the Zagros mountains).

By 850 BC, the last Hurrian states had been extinguished by the invading Aryans, whose sheer number of immigrants must have been considerable. These succeeded over time to change the Hurrian language(s) of the people in Kurdistan, as well as their genetic make-up. By about the 3rd century BC, the Aryanization of the mountain communities was virtually complete.

Since the star of the Mittani shown brightest in 1500 BC, Aryan dynasties of various size and influence continued their appearance in various corners of Kurdistan. None, however, was to match, and in fact surpass the Mittanis as the Medians. The rise of the Medes from their capital at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in 727 coincided with the fall of the last major Hurrian kingdom: the Mannaeans. Ignoring the proud legacy of the Hurrian states and even the Aryan empire of the Mittanis which can squarely be claimed by on every ground by modern Kurds, it is the Medes that the Kurds have grown most fund of. Medes are claimed regularly by the Kurds and pronounced by others to be the ancestors of them. This is strange, when realizing how many millennia of cultural and ethnic evolution preceded the rise of Medes into Kurdistan. In reality, Medes are no more the ancestors of the modern Kurds as all other Halafian, Hurrian and Mittani who came before them or the legion of other peoples and states that came after them. Nonetheless, today, even the first Kurdish satellite television transmitter is given the name "Med TV" (Kurdish for "Median TV"). Fascination of the Kurds with the Median Federation (a.k.a., Empire) that ended in 549 BC remains supreme, indeed.

It is surprising to most that among the Kurds the Aryan cultural was and still remains secondary to that of the Hurrians. Culturally, Aryan nomads brought very little with to add to what they found already present in the Zagros-Taurus region. As has been the case, cultural sophistication and civilization are not what nomads are known for. On the contrary, nomads are inclined to annihilate what settled life and culture they find in their path as adversaries for possession of land and political dominance. We have no ample evidence, including a bona fide economic dark age lasting for roughly 500 years in the areas touched by the Aryans, that they behaved much the same barbarian way.

The Aryan influence on the local Hurrian Kurdish people must have been very similar to what transpired in Anatolia 2,500 years later when the Turkic nomads broke in after the battle of Manzikert in AD 1071. Much insight can be learned from this more recent nomadic dislocation for the older, murkier Aryan episode. Following the Manzikert, the Turkic nomads gradually imparted their language to all the millions of civilized, sophisticated Anatolians whom they converted from Christianity to their own religion of Hanafi Sunni Islam. Almost everyone in Anatolia gradually assumed a new Turkish identity when converted to Islam. But, this did not mean that the old cultural, human and genetic legacy ceased to exist. On the contrary, the rich and ancient Anatolian cultures and peoples continued their existence under the new Turkish identity, albeit, with the addition of some genetic and cultural material brought over by the nomads.

Architecture, domestic and monumental, decorative arts, farming techniques, herding practices, and religion remained much the same in Kurdistan following Aryan settlement, while the people progressively came to speak the Indo-European, Iranic language of these Aryan immigrants, admit new deities into their earlier Hurrian pantheon, and become lighter in their complexion. No abrupt change is encountered in the culture of Kurdistan while this linguistic and genetic shift was taking place under the Aryan pressure, barring the appearance of the so-call, "gray ware" pottery.

Near every thing in the contemporary culture of the Kurds can be traced to this massive Hurrian substructure, with the Aryan superstructure generally quite superficial and "skin deep"—to use a pun, in many fundamental ways. Even the time-honored Kurdish tactic of guerrilla warfare finds its roots among the Hurrian Gutis long before its was put into good use as a well-tested and developed tactic by the Median Cyaxares in this Assyrian campaigns in 612 BC. In the Bisitun inscription, the Persian king Darius I also makes note of this battle tactic used by the mountaineers against his forces, calling the guerrillas the kara (a lexical cognate of the term, "guerrilla"). Eight hundred years later, King Ardasher, founder of the Persian Sasanian dynasty, faces the same defensive tactics by the Kurds. The term he uses for them is jan-spâr, which means almost identical with the modern term Kurds give their guerrilla warriors: the peshmerga.

So far the victory cylinder of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser I (r. 1114-1076 BC) is the oldest record of the incidence of the ethnic name of the Kurds. It records the "Kurti" or "Qurtie" among the peoples whom the king conquered in his mountain campaigns south of the Lake Van region. The more exact location of these "Kurti" is given by the same document as Mt. Azu/Hazu. We are extraordinarily lucky that this "address" was still current until about sixty years ago—over 3100 years after Tiglath-pileser I. The town of Kurti in the Mt. Hizan region south of Lake Van is the same as the "Kurti in the Mt. Azu" of the Assyrians! The town of Kurti was still serving as a seat of a Kurdish princely house when the Kurdish historian Sharaf al-Din Bitlisi added the dynasty’s history into his celebrated history, the Sharafnâma, in 1597. This "birthplace" of the Kurds continued to be known with the archaic name until the Turkish government changed its name and that of its eponymous river to Bahçesaray in the 1930s. The oldest Kurdish place name—it "birth place" thus joined history, so recent in history.

The Akkadian term "Kurti" denoted vaguely and indeterminate portion or groups of inhabitants of the Zagros (and eastern Taurus) mountains. To their very end in the 6th century BC, on the other hand, the Babylonians loosely (and apparently pejoratively) called most every body who lived in the Zagros-Taurus system a "Guti", including the Medes! But Babylonian records also attest to many more specific subdivisional names such as the Mardi, Kardaka, Lullubi and Qardu, the last three of which have all been used frequently in the needless controversy over the roots and antiquity of the ethnic term ‘Kurd,’ and the question of the presence of a general ethnic designator.

By the 3rd century BC, at any rate, the very term Kurd (or rather "Kurti") had been conclusively established. Polybius (d. ca. 133 BC) in his history when reporting on the events of 221-220 BC, (footnote 9) and Strabo (d. ca. AD 48) in his geography (footnote 10) are the earliest Western sources I am aware of to have made mention of the Kurds with their present ethnic name, albeit, in latinized form Cyrtii, "the Kurti." Historians Livy, Pliny, Plutarch, and much later, Procopius also mention this ethnic name for the native population of Media and parts of Anatolia for the classical times. Ptolemy inadvertently provides us with an array of Kurdish tribal names, when he records them as they appear as toponyms for where the tribe resided. Bagraoandene for the Bagrawands or Bakrans of Diyarbakir, Belcanea for the Belikans of Antep, Tigranoandene for the Tirigans of Hakkari, Sophene for the Subhans of Elazig, Derzene for the Dersimis and Bokhtanoi for the Bokhti (Bohtans) etc. These tribes are still with us today.

When the Aryan Medes and Persians arrived on the eastern flanks of the Zagros around 1000 BC, a massive internal migration from the eastern Taurus and northern and central Zagros toward the southern Zagros was in progress. By the 6th century BC, many large tribes which we now find among the Kurds were also present in southern Zagros, in Fars and even Kirman. As early as the 3rd century BC, the "Kurtioi" are reported by the Greek, and later Roman authors (in the Latin form of "Cyrtii") to inhabit as much the southern Zagros (Persis or Pars/Fars) as the central and northern Zagros (Kurdistan proper). This was to continue for another millennium, by which time, the ethnic name of "Kurd" had become established for nearly all if not all inhabitants of the mountains, from the Straits of Hormuz to the heart of Anatolia. Northern Zagros and Anatolia once teamed with various and related groups of people speaking Iranic tongue(s). By about 2000 years ago, many of these, such as the Iranic Pontians, Commagenes, Cappadocians, the western Medes and the Indic Mitannis, like the earlier Hurrian Mannas, Lullus, Saubarus, Kardakas, and Qutils, had been totally absorbed into a new Kurdish ethnic pool. These are among many mountain-inhabiting peoples whose assimilation has formed genetically, culturally, socially and linguistically the contemporary Kurds. The Kurdish diversity of race, tradition and spoken dialects encountered today point to the direction of this compound identity.

Reflecting on the gradual and organic assimilation of one of these groups into the larger Kurdish ethnic pool, Pliny the Elder (d. AD 79) tries to reconcile what appeared to him to be rather a name-change for a familiar people. Enumerating the nations of the known world, he states, "Joining on to Adiabene [central Kurdistan centered on Arbil] are the people formerly called the Carduchi [the Kardukh] and now the Cordueni past whom flows the river Tigris…" (footnote 11)

These Carduchi mentioned by Pliny are the same people whom Xenophon and his fellow ten thousand Greek troops had encountered nearly three centuries earlier when retreating through Kurdistan in 401 BC. Xenophon called them the “Kardukhoi” The name is likely the same as that of ‘Kardaka,’ (the people who provided a part of the Babylonian royal guards before 530 bc), and the ‘Qarduim’ (mentioned frequently in the Talmud). (footnote 12)

The early Islamic sources enumerate tens of Kurdish tribes and family clans outside Kurdistan proper in the southern Zagros, the Caucasus, Elburz, Taurus and Amanus mountains. In time, however, all of these assimilated into the local. This fact has been an unwarranted source of puzzlement for many modern writers on Kurdish history. Unaware of the history and extent of early Kurdish migrations and finding, at present, very few Kurds in these other mountain areas, they have often drawn the wrong conclusion that the term "Kurd" could not have been an ethnic name but rather a designator for all mountain nomads in general. This facile hypothesis is hardly worthy of refutation, realizing that no such doubt is cast on any other mobile nations such as the Turks and that Arabs who have spread and contracted periodically over thousands of miles of territory. (footnote 13)

From the time the Kurds are Aryanized until the 16th century of our era, the Kurdish culture remained basically unchanged, despite introduction of new empires, religions, and immigrants. The Kurds remained primarily followers of the ancient, Hurrian religion of Yazdanism, spoke an Iranic language that the medieval Islamic sources termed Pahlawani. Pahlawani survives today in the dialects of Gurani and Dimili (Zaza) on the peripheries of Kurdistan. Only the loss of Kurds of the southern Zagros through their metamorphosis into Lurs and a fresh expansion of Kurds into Elbruz and Pontus mountains that are noteworthy events.

Semitic and Turkic Periods

After the Aryan settlement, Kurdistan continued to receive new peoples and cultural influences, none however, strong enough to alter the Kurdish cultural and ethnic identity as did the Aryans. Large numbers of Aramaic-speaking people seem to have only settled in more accessible valleys of western Kurdistan. Through the introduction of Judaism, and later Christianity, some Kurds, however, came to relinquish Kurdish and spoke Aramaic instead despite the paucity of the Aramaic demographic element. It is fascinating to note through examining contemporary Kurdish culture that Judaism appear to have exercised a much deeper and more lasting influence on the Kurdish indigenous culture and religion than Christianity, despite the fact that most ethnic neighbors of the Kurds between 5th and 12th centuries were Christians.

The role of the Arabs and the impact of Islam on the Kurdish society and culture is less difficult to survey. The Arabian peninsula was experiencing a runaway population explosion when the advent of Islam translated that pressure into a massive outburst of Arabian nomads and brought about their settlement of foreign lands. In Kurdistan Arab tribes settled near almost every major town and agricultural center. By the 10th century, the Islamic historians and geographers report Arabian populations living among the Kurds from northern shores of Lake Van to Dinawar and from Hamadan to Malatya. These eventually assimilated, living behind only their genetic imprint (as the darker-complected city Kurds), and bequeathing of two exotic Semitic sounds into the speech of many Kurds: glottal a and h.

The same fleeting influence was true of the Turkic settlement of Kurdistan and its cultural impact. Several centuries of Turkic nomadic passage through Kurdistan beginning with the 12th century, wrecked havoc with the settled Kurds and their economy, as the Aryan migrations had done so 2500 years earlier. The Turkic cultural legacy was in itself nil, but the forces of internal change it unleashed within the Kurdish society turned out to be nearly as decisive as the Aryan invasion and settlement. Kurdistan would surely have turkified under this tremendous nomadic pressure and destructiveness, had it not been for one group of Kurdish nomads, the energetic Kurmanj, who emerged from the Hakkari highlands to fill nearly every niche left vacant by the agriculturist Kurds and less energetic nomads under the Turkic pressure. The Turkic nomads were primarily steppe nomads, and proved less of a match for the Kurmanj mountain nomads in the rough terrain of Kurdistan. Some Kurds were Turkified to be sure; e.g., the populous tribes of Dimbuli, Sheqaqi, Barani and Jewanshir. Conversely, many Kurdish tribes with Turkic names (e.g., Karachul, Chol, Oghaz, Jambul, Devalu, Karaqich and Chichak) are in fact assimilated Turkish and Turcoman tribes who have left behind only their names and were in every other respect kurdicized.

This massive tribal dislocation that could have subsided over time took a new and more destructive turn by the advent of a century-long holocaust in Kurdish and Armenian territories in eastern Anatolia in the 16th century. The decisive turn for massive nomadization of the Kurdish was made by the long Perso-Ottoman wars and particularly the Safavids’ "scorched-earth" policy. More importantly still was the deadly economic blow brought about by the shift for the sea transport of the East-West commerce which also commenced at the turn of the 16th century. Together they heralded the beginning of the end for much of the social fabric and sophisticated culture of Kurdistan as it had existed since the time of the Medes. The agriculturist, urban-based Kurdish culture and society was to shift to a nomadic economy under a newly assumed identity. The nomadized Kurdish farmers eventually accepted the Shafiite Sunni Islam from the Kurmanj nomads and began speaking the vernacular of Kurmanji, a close kin to the old Pahlawani. In time, the older Kurdish society—religion and language notwithstanding—was marginalized and physically pushed to the peripheries of Kurdistan. At present, over three-quarters of the Kurds speak various dialects of Kurmanji and similar numbers practice Shafiite Sunni Islam. In a sense, the "Kurmanj" assimilated the "Kurds," and in the process they assumed the old ethnic name and inherited all that was left of the older culture. Until only 50 years ago, a vast majority of the "Kurds" would identify themselves as Kurmanj and their language as Kurmanji. It was the outsiders and the educated that continued to uniformly call them Kurds, regardless of the dialect they spoke, religion they practiced, or the economic life style they followed. In the past 50 years, however, the term Kurmanj as an ethnic designator has been ruthlessly suppressed by the native population themselves and their leadership in favor of the time-honored term, "Kurd." Only in the most remote areas in the mountains and the detached but populous Kurdish exclave in Khurasan and Turkmenistan is the term "Kurmanj" given routinely by the common people for their ethnic affiliation. This too is disappearing fast under the influence of the educated Kurds.

There is, as should be expected, a strong correlation between practice of ancient Yazdani religion and the speaking of Pahlawani, as there is also a close connection between being a Muslim and speaking Kurmanji. The shift from the former to the latter identity in Kurdistan is accelerating, and seems destined to totally submerge the residual Pahlawani-Yazdani identity of the older Kurdistan. Only a shrinking number of Kurds still speak Pahlawani in the form of the dialects of Dimili (Zaza) in far northwestern Kurdistan in Turkey, and as Gurani, Laki and Hewrami (Awramani) in southeastern Kurdistan in Iran and Iraq. The old religion of Yazdanism is still practiced as Alevism, Yezidism and Yarisanism (the Ahl-i Haqq) denominations, but these too are shrinking in number and import.

With introduction of modern age communication systems into the Kurdish society, the process of cultural and ethnic homogenization of the Kurds has inevitably accelerated. The last step in the evolution of Kurdish cultural and ethnic identity is near completion today. The Kurdish ethnic identity is thus destined to comprise Kurmanji-speaking, Shafiite Muslim people, the last layer to be added to the many former layers which, in combination, render the Kurds what and who they are today: the heirs to millennia of cultural and genetic evolution of the native inhabitants of the Zagros-Taurus mountain systems.

M. R. Izady

(From a Lecture given at Harvard University, 10 March 1993.)


1. Julian Reade, Mesopotamia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 17.

2. Michael Roaf,Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (New York: Equinox-Oxford, 1990), 49.

3. James Mellaart, The Neolithic of the Near East (New York: Scribner, 1975).

4. E.g., T. Cuyler Young, T., "The Iranian Migration into the Zagros," Iran V (1967); ); Cuyler Young, T., "Population Dynamics and Philosophical Dichotomies," in L.D. Levine and T.C. Young, Jr., eds., Mountains and Lowlands: Essays in the Archaeology of Greater Mesopotamia (Malibu, California: Bibliotheca Mesopotamica, vol. 7, 1977); Smith, P., "Iran 9000-4000 BC," Expedition 13 (1971 Bridsell, J.B., "Some Population Problems Involving Pleistocene Man," Population Studies: Animal Ecology and Demography, Cold Spring Harbor Symposia in Quantitative Biology 22 (Cold Spring, Colorado, 1957; and particularly, Smith, P. and T. Cuyler Young, "The Force of Numbers: Population Pressure in the Central Zagros 12000-4500 BC," The Hilly Flanks, Essays on the Prehistory of Southwestern Asia (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1982).

5. Charles Reed, "A Review of the Archaeological Evidence on Animal Domestication in the Prehistoric Near East," in R. Braidwood and B. Howe, eds., Prehistoric Inveestigation in Iraqi Kurdistan (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1960), 128.

6. As well as the names of almost all the cities that we now recognize as Sumerian.

7. Khaldi>Kalli+the clan suffix, kan>Khallikan.

8. What is known to the west as River Indus, is River Sindh to the natives of the Indian Subcontinent. Southern third of Pakistan is still the realm of the Sindhi people and is knwon by that name. The name "India" is, meanwhile, derived from Sindh through the Old Persian conversion of the initial letter s to h (a common practice in that language), to produce Hind. The ancient Greeks, meanwhile, took up this Persian rendition of the name (i.e., Hind), and dropped the initial letter h (as is common in that language), coming up with name "Ind," plus the Greek suffix us, to get "Indus".

9. Polybius.Histories, V.52.

10. Strabo, Geography, V.xi.13.2-3; VII.xv.15.1.

11. Pliny. Natural History VI.xviii.46.

12. In the 20th century, many hypotheses have been advanced to connect the name Kurd to that of the ancient Hurrian Guti (Hallo, 1971) or the "Kardukhoi" of the Greek historian Xenophon (Cawkwell, 1979), none of which can any longer be maintained in light of discovery of the aformentioned Assyrian stele. The name Guti, at any rate, survives today clearly in the name of the Kurdish clan of Judikan, inhabiting the heartland of the ancient Gutis in southeatern Kurdistan. The "Kardukhoi" who come to subsequently be known as the Gordyene to the classical authors, are none other than the predecessors of modern Girdi clan of Kurds who still reside exactaly where the ancient Kardukhoi/Godyene were found. The name "Kurti/Kurd" seem likely to be of Aryan origin—one of the first, in fact, in Kurdistan—instead of the far more common Hurrian clan names encountered at all periods until today and including the Khardukhoi and Guti.

13. No "proof" beyond a single, vague phrase by a medieval Persian writer, Hamza Isfahani, has ever been produced to support the idea that "Kurd" was not an ethnic designator. Hamza states that "The Persians call the Daylamites the ‘Kurds of Tabaristan’, and the Badouin the ‘Kurds of Assyria’." What some medieval Persian did or did not according to Hamza is hardly material to the Kurds and their ethnic history. Other, far more respected medieval historian such as Tabari, Ya’qubi, Mas’udi, Yaqut, Jayhani, Juwayni, Rawandi, Miskiwayh and Mustawfi, arry the Kurds alongside the Arabs and Turks as bona finde ethnic groups.

Source: M. Izady, "Exploring Kurdish Origins", the Kurdish Life, Number 7, Summer 1993, and Lecture at Harvard University, 10 March 1993.

In Guti we Trust

Recently I came across a new and otherwise excellent pictorial book on Kurdish costumes and fabrics. In such a book, nevertheless, the authors had somehow thought it appropriate to dedicate over a third of their accompanying text to Kurdish history. This was not an art history, which could have made its inclusion somewhat justifiable. It was instead a sad attempt at dynastic and political history of the Kurds with little if any resemblance to real history. In this caricature, mythological figures are treated as real persons and Kurds treated as non-Kurds and vice versa. And the starting point of all these "history" is set, of course, at the advent of the ubiquitous, sine qua non, Gutis. What the authors lack in historical knowledge, they simply replace with their pure and refreshing conviction. But, conviction alone makes for poor argument.

I have never known a Kurd who does not believe in the extreme antiquity of his or her nation's history. And yet, when asked, he or she can only conjecture over this presumably long history, with the "Guti" forming the last stop on this Proustian "remembrance of things past."

To Kurds, Gutis have become the source of history, ethnicity, and sentiments regarding their roots. They have even come to believe that the very term "Kurd" (however impossibly) derives from "Guti." In fact Guti has become synonymous with their history-the very embodiment of truth and authenticity; almost a god. But ask a Kurd: "Who were the Gutis?" and none can tell you! No surprise this; as they should not be able to. No one knows precisely who these Gutis were nor what of their achievements. If the Gutis are such an enigma and culturally such non-entity, why would Kurds want them as their ancestors; why do they point to these Gutis as the defining source to document for their long history? Well that is the exact point. To the unknown, one is free to attribute all things, great or small, good or bad-and get away with it.

But who really were the Gutis? Among the many Hurrian-speaking inhabitants of the Kurdish mountains one does find a group by that name (also called Qutil, Quti and the like). They are ascribed by Mesopotamian records to a land, conveniently called after the Gutis, "Gutium." This Gutium was located somewhere in the central Zagros range, between Luristan and Lake Van. For about two centuries (circa 2,200 to 2,000 BC) the Gutis gained the upper military hand over the Mesopotamian (primarily, Sumerian) states. In an impressive show of force, they succeeded to annex Sumeria to their domain. Apparently they also founded a separate Guti dynasty that ruled from Sumeria for over a century, until they were evicted. In fact, the Biblical- and modern Mt. Judi (between Zakho and Sirnak in north-central Kurdistan) and the Kurdish clan of Judikanlu preserve variant forms of the old name, "Guti." So far, so good.

The Gutis were certainly not the only Hurrian-speaking peoples who overflowed the Kurdish mountains into Mesopotamia, but just one of them. What little we know of the language of the Gutis, according to palaeo-linguist Diakonoff, is that it is a Hurrian dialect similar, for example, to Urartian (Diakonoff and Starostin, "Hurro-Urartian as an Eastern Caucasian Language," Münchener Studien zur Sprachwisssenschaft. New Series 12, 1986). Hurrian ancestors of the modern Kurds were already populating entire cities in Mesopotamia (e.g., the twin city of Kesh-Adab) and those on the foothills (e.g., Nuzi/Gasur). By 1,500 BC, these Hurrian multitude had even created a form of pidgin Akkadian to communicated with the Mesopotamian lowlanders. Akkadian tablets speak disparagingly of the Hurrian scribes whose bad usage of the Akkadian they brand "the Hurrian style." At the important, nearby Hurrian urban centers like Arap'he (ancient Kirkuk) one does not even find even the name Guti mentioned in any record. One might argue that Arap'he's archives are only 3,500 years old, and therefore, about 500 years younger than the Gutis. Well, the Sumerian tables commissioned under the famous king Enmerkar about 4,500 years ago, speak at length of the strong economic, religious and political bonds between Sumeria and "Aratta"-the famed, thus far mysterious kingdom in the central Zagros mountains and presumably the heartland of the Gutis. Enmerkar lived about 450 years before the occupation of Sumeria by the mountain peoples we call Gutis. Nowhere, however, does Enmerkar speak of the Guti or mention their land. One might argue that Enmerkar did not know the mountains and mountain dwellers well. But he did.

A startling fact came to light when the Sumeralogist S.N. Kramer's translated a Sumerian tablet revealing that Enmerkar himself a brother of the king of Aratta, and therefore, presumably a native of the Kurdish mountains (Kramer, "Ancient Sumer and Iran: Gleanings from Sumerian Literature," Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 1, 1987). How could he not have heard of the Gutis, if indeed they were a significant military force?

Here is the paradox: No Sumerian had ever seen or heard of a Guti before the Guti occupation of Sumeria. Nor did natives of the Kurdish mountains afterward. In fact, we would never have heard of Gutis either, were it not for their 125-year-long occupation of Sumeria, which in fact forever destroyed Sumeria and the Sumerian society. The rising star of the Semites in Mesopotamia shone brightest under king Sargon I of Agade (Akkadia). Sargon got rid of Sumeria and the "real" Gutis with it some 3,800 years ago.

After Sargon, the Gutis are not seen again. But for the next 1500 years, Mesopotamians call all inhabitants of the Kurdish mountains "Guti" as a derogation.

Let me reemphasize that the Hurrian archives-that is, those of the native inhabitants of the Kurdish mountains-never note the Guti phenomenon. If the native cultures in the mountains did not know the Gutis, and, except for the Sumerians in a single century, nor did any of the lowland cultures in Mesopotamia, then how important could the Gutis really have been? Not very much, I am afraid. If the Gutis were so in consequential, why all the fuss and for so long a time? Gutis became big shots by accident when they inadvertently got mingled with the proverbial "right" people: the Sumerians, who would matter a great deal in millennia to come. Sumerians are the ones whose concerns became eventually the foundations of modern humanity's concerns; their religion and myths the foundation of most subsequent religions and myths. The stories of Noah and the Flood, patriarch Abraham (a native of "Ur of Chaldese"-a capital of Sumeria), even English terms such as "hallelujah" and "abyss" are Sumerian in origin. Therefore, what affected the Sumerians made an everlasting impact on humanity's basic tenets of knowledge and tradition. What pained Sumerians, pained everybody else indirectly-and for a long time to come. Fortune smiled on the obscure Gutis only when they pained the Sumerians.

Many otherwise obscure and insignificant peoples are familiar to us today for no better reason than they pained or pleased the Jews thousands of years ago (and now us through the influence of the Bible and the Koran). Who would have heard of the Edomites, Sodomites, Gomorrahns, Moabites and others had they not been incorporated into Jewish myth and religion? Surely Gutis would have gone forever unknown had they not showed up in Sumeria at the proverbial eleventh hour.

The Akkadians passed the Sumerian legacy to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians and on to us. Thus until the eclipse of Mesopotamia under the Persian dominance in the 6th century BC, the Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians called every one they did not like in the mountains "Gutis." Today, still we refer to all ill-mannered people as "Philistines", despite the fact that the ancient Philistines managed to only get on the wrong side of the Jews. But adoption of the Jewish legacy by more than half the world's population since then is accompanied by the disdain for the Philistines, although no one has seen a Philistine in the flesh for about 3,000 years. Remember, the real Vandals only managed to "vandalize" the art and architecture of the imperial Rome. But today, we call all such persons "vandals," being whether American or Armenian, Japanese or Jamaican.

It is the source of delight that Kurdish public feels the need for their history. But it is a disgrace that Kurdish historians and intellectuals have failed to make available their real history-a history which the Kurd can be proud of, and not a "Guti" fantasy.

The "Guti" bug has infected even the Westerners who write about the Kurds-often in flights of fancy. One remarkable example appeared in a draft for a guidebook produced by a Washington-based organization called Access, which received a grant for the publication from the US Institute of Peace. The section on the Kurds contained a chronology that began thusly: "2,400 BC: A nomadic herd [sic] of Guti in the Zagros mountain range"! And this guide was publicized as a resource for the use of "students, scholars, public officials" and the like. Hallelujah.

Writing to dispel the Guti hang-up, I may well be accused of leaving the Kurdish "herd" without a history. But banking on illusions to build reality is like building palaces on the clouds. Kurds have been given the one-fits-all Gutis by their intellectuals as a poor excuse for history. In the company of the Gutis, Kurds have become the object of ridicule among those with some knowledge of the real history. In all honesty, how serious would we take a group's claim to antiquity if all they could produce to prove past greatness were a connection to the Philistines? Gutis, great ancestors?!

With luck, we ought to see less of the Gutis and Guti buffs in the future. The conviction of Kurds regarding their antiquity will inevitably result in restoration of the true history of this ancient people. For where there is demand, there will always be a supplier.


Source: M.R. Izady, “In Gutis We Trust”, Kurdish Life, Number 14, 1995


Khurasani Kurdish Exclave in the 19th Century

By Prof. M. R. Izady

This detached exclave of Kurdish inhabited land is found on the modern northeastern borders of Iran with Turkmenistan in what has been historically known as northern sector of the province of Khurasan (the “land of rising sun”).  

Politically, at around 1835, the territory of northern Khurasan was fully inside Persia/Iran, although the writ of the government in Teheran was barely read in the area. The Kurdish and Turkmen nomadic tribes held undisputed sway over their territories, paying practically no homage to the Persian crown. The same was true of the old Kurdish principalities in the area, whose power was soon to be violently ended by the military actions of the Persian army.

The Khurasani Kurdish exclave is located on the Revand Heights, a formation of two parallel ridges running in a southeasterly direction from the Caspian Sea to the borders of Afghanistan where they join the Parapamisus mountains. In effect, the Revand bridges the high Elburz mountains to the west to the Hindu Kush massif to the east. The Revand may well be considered the eastern third of the high Elburz.

The two parallel ridges of the Revand act as ramparts to a long fertile valley with three main towns of Qochan, Shirvan and Bojnurd, lying almost equidistantly from one another, from east to west. River Atrak runs almost the total length of the valley, from the southeast to the northwest, emptying into the Caspian. The smaller Kashaf River drains the southeastern quarter of the valley, running the exact opposite course of the Atrak and disappearing in the sands of the Kara Kum desert of Turkmenistan in Central Asia. The thick Caspian forests cover the western one third of the exclave, becoming open parkland and then grassland towards the east. The northern slopes facing the parched Kara Kum desert boast only to seasonal grass and open stands of tamarisk trees and brushes. The area is naturally rich in cochineal-bearing trees, producing copious amount of the valuable crimson dye for local weavers as well as for export.

The summers are generally warm, and occasionally hot due to the impact of the great Kara Kum sand desert to the north and the Kavir salt desert to the south. Winters, on the other hand, are brutal. The cold Siberian air mass descends on the region like a frigid dome, dropping the temperatures to around minus 40 degrees on any normal winter. Production of heavy furs (Persian lamb coats and hats in particular), heavy woolen clothing and thick durable rugs are thus a necessity in the area. Much was produced and exported in the past as in the present, marketed in the local bazaars of Qochan, Shirvan and Bojnurd as also in the great emporium of Meshhad.
The major city of Meshhad—for long the capital of Persian Khurasan—is on the immediate eastern fringes of the Kurdish exclave, while to the west is the city of Asterabad (modern Gurgan), for long the largest city and emporium of the province of Mazenderan. Much was exported from Asterabad to the Russian markets and beyond via the Caspian Sea. Meshhad, on the other hand, was one of the major cities on the entire old Silk Road. This made the city a great natural market for the Kurdish exclave’s export of its goods and import of technology and products it needed. There are also many other ancient towns and cities dotting the Revand Heights and its piedmont on all sides. The modern Turkmen capital of Ashgabat is, for example, on the northern slopes of the Revand, with its southern suburbs being in the Kurdish territories.

The main trunk of the Silk Road crossed on the southern slopes of the Revand, from Meshhad to the fabled Nishapor, and on to Sabzavar (Bayhaq), Damghan, Varamin and Teheran (Ray), and then toward the Zagros crossings at Hamadan and Kirmanshah (see the section on Southern Kurdistan in this book). A secondary trunk line ran parallel to this, from Meshhad to Qochan (Khebushan), Shirvan, Bojnurd (Buzanjird), Gorgan, Asterabad and joined the main line at Damghan. The northern route passed through the heartland of the Khurasani Kurdish exclave, but was always secondary in importance due to predation by the Turkmen raiders since the 13th century. Nonetheless, much commerce took place on that secondary line. Often, such as at Isfarayin, this secondary line would join main line deep within the Kurdish territories and well before arriving in the dangerous Turkmen-held territories farther west. Commodities such as dried foodstuff (raisin, almonds, apricots and peaches), cereals, raw wool, and dye stuff (such as cochineal), precious and semiprecious stones such as turquoise and carnelian were soled to the passing merchants. Kurds and the remaining settled Persians also presented for sale woolens and cotton goods, rugs, kilims and various other textiles.  

Being so close to the world’s primary east-west land route naturally provided a vast market for what could be produced locally. The same commercial land route also attracted into the region some of the most vicious raiders and bandits seen anywhere. The road was operative only as long as some measure of safety could be provided. The Kurdish emirs and khans, as also their Persian neighbors had much to gain for providing the necessary safe passage. The revenue earned from tolls and sales could have been dazzling. Kurds, however, were relative new comers to the area by 1835.

The Khurasani exclave is not a “native” Kurdish territory, at least not in the standard Middle Eastern parlance, in which the criterion for nativeness is measured by the millennia not centuries. For medieval times, the periodic reports of Kurdish nomadic presence in the area are not uncommon, although at no time did the Kurds form anything like a substantial portion of local population there. The area forms the very heartland of ancient Parthia, with Parthian ruins everywhere. The territory had, however, been Persianized by the 5th century AD. The Turco-Mongolian nomadic influx, beginning with the 6th century had turned into a destructive flood by the 13th. As the result, these, some of the most fertile territories in southwestern Asia, had been largely depopulated and its urban-agricultural base destroyed by the nomads when the present Kurdish population arrived.

The present Kurdish population began settling the area early in the 16th century, with the major influx taking place in the 17th, when vast numbers of Kurds were deported en masse by the Safavid kings of Persia into northern Khurasan and beyond. These arrivals did not cease until well into the 18th century, with the Zand tribe of southeast Kurdistan being among the last deportees to arrive there.

Prior to this episode, however, Kurds had ventured into the region in the earlier centuries and millennia, with considerable population of Kurds present in the Revand Heights as late as the 10th and 11th centuries. These earlier Kurdish populations, however, were voluntary arrivals of wondering nomads, and in time they largely, if not totally were assimilated into the local Persian population. Upon their mass arrival in the 16th century, the Kurds found the countryside nearly entirely dominated by the Turco-Mongolian Kara’its, many of whom by then practiced settled agricultural life, while the nomads in the area comprised of some of the fiercest Turkmen tribes. The ancient Persian community had retreated into strongly fortified fortress-villages or barricaded themselves inside walled cities. Kurds changed this picture drastically and almost immediately.

Such deported populations, having been removed from their cultural and geographical roots, normally face assimilation. Many Kurdish deportees in the past have assimilated into the local populations, leaving behind only vestiges of their former selves as marker in the modern inhabitants (such as Kurdish clan surnames, toponyms and/or weaving styles). Why the Kurdish exclave in Khurasan has survived unassimilated, remains vivacious and in fact expanding, is due to several auspicious reasons: 1) they were brought into the area en masse, leading to abrupt dominance of the territory through their sheer numbers and, 2) the local Persian peasantry had been already decimated by the Turkmen and Uzbek raiders and the Kara’it settlers. This fact had necessitated the repopulating of the area in the first place with loyal newcomers in the minds of the Safavid strategists; 3) the religious animosity between the Kurd and the Turkmen elements in the area—Kurds being Alevi and Shiites, while Turkmens Sunnis—further hampered assimilation even after the loss of their language. By the end of the 19th century, the third largest Kurdish tribal confederacy in the area—the Qarachorlu—who had been most exposed and often dominated by the Turkmen tribal chiefs, had become Turkmeni speaking. They did not, however, assimilate into the Turkmen ethnic pool because of their religious difference. They remain today a large Kurdish clan who are identified as Kurds by their neighbors as well as themselves, although they are almost totally Turkmeni speaking.1

The Safavid resettlement authorities must have been counting on this element for choosing Kurds to be brought into the area. But there were also the paramount elements of military prowess and tribal social coherence among these Kurds of upper Tigris-Euphrates basin that were needed for a successful defense of Safavid northern Khurasan.2 The entire mountainous northern Khurasan was subsequently reconstituted into five autonomous fiefs, placed under five Kurdish emirs of Zafaranlu, Shadlu (or Shadilu), Qarachurlu, Qaramanlu and Kowanlu. The first three of these had survived the ages until 1835 as autonomous principality (like the Zafaranlu) or khanates (the others). The harsh security conditions reigning in northern Khurasan—the very reason that necessitated bringing of Kurds into the area in the first place, had taken a bloody toll. The Kurds were being hemmed in from all sides but south by the Turkmen raiders who had access to better European firearms, purchasing them at the bazaars of Khiva and Bukhara. The price for these arms were ironically provided by the Turkmen engagement in trade of Kurdish and Persian slaves.

Many Kurds and Persian peasants were taken into slavery by the Turkmens and sold in the slave markets of Khiva and Bukhara, and as far as Kashgar in China, where they were encountered by the early European travelers. At the time of the Russian takeover of the Khanate of Khiva in 1873, they found over 15,000 Kurdish and Persian slaves in that khanate alone!  Their sales’ proceeds usually went into the purchase of the firearms that were then used to capture more slaves for the Turkmen raiders. The Kurdish territory was shrinking under this ceaseless Turkmen tribal predation powered by the new European armaments.

Under the military pressure of the central Iranian government, the Turkmens were disarmed in the course of 1930s, losing their military advantage vis-à-vis Kurds. The numerical superiority of the Kurds now came to play the decisive role and a reversal of the situation dominant circa 1835 has been at work ever since. A massive resettlement of that rich pastureland by the Kurdish sheep breeders had marginalized the far less numerous Turkmen horse breeders. This feat was largely accomplished in the past 50 years, bringing with it an expansion of market for Kurdish handicraft such as rugs. The market cities of eastern Mazandaran province, Iran, such as Gurgan, Sari, and even Gumbad-i Qabus (the primary market town for the Turkmen products) are now awash with Kurdish rugs, kilims and other products. Earlier, it was the eastern markets such as Meshhad, Sabzevar (Bayhaq) and Nishapor which served as sole outside market for Kurdish fabrics.

In their composition, the Khurasani Kurds are perhaps the single most nomadic of all Kurdish groups today. At the time when nearly all Kurds’ neighbors in that area have become settled farmers, the mobile Kurdish nomads there are actively expanding the ethnic territories of Khurasani Kurds in nearly all direction. In fact the fourth original fiefs set up by the Safavids for the Kurdish settlement in the area in the 17th century, but subsequently lost, is being actively retrieved by the Kurds at present. That is the Gurgan Steppe, the westernmost of the five fiefs, and the heartland of Turkmen tribal areas in Persia/Iran.

The primary Kurdish tribal confederacies in the region were (and remain today) the same as the original fief divisions under the Safavids. The most important was and remains the Zafaranlu, headed by the princely House of Chemishkazag whose last capital at Qochan remains the largest city and market in the area. The Karamanlu and the Kowanlus have been eclipsed to become constituent parts, albeit very large parts, of the Zafaranlus. In 1835 the Zafaranlu territory stretched from the western environs of Meshhad to half way between towns of Shrivan and Bojnurd. The Shadlu (more properly, Shadilu) were the second most important, and held their capital at Bojnurd (the medieval Persian city of  Buzanjird). The Qarachurlu held the westernmost territory of the Khurasani Kurdish exclave, and the most exposed one to the Turkmen raiders. The town of Samalqan served them as their headquarters.
There were also several smaller confederacies at the time, including the Jelali, whose territory were the northern hill country facing the great Kara Kum desert in central Asia.
The Zafaranlu confederacy (more correctly, Zakhuran) have always controlled the largest area and contained most member tribes, clans and household. Rarely have the Zafaranlu lost their political and military leadership of the Khurasani Kurds. They also have distinguished themselves with their military service to the Persian court, defending her northeastern imperial boundaries against the incursions by Central Asiatic powers that may be. Further afield, they participated in various foreign expeditions of the Persian monarchs, extending to the recent Iran-Iraq war. It may be remembered that it was the Zafaranlu general and his Kurdish contingency that played a major role in the conquest of Mughal India for the Persian monarch, Nadir Shah in 1738.3

The Zafaranlu comprised of the following tribes and clans in early 19th century: Amarlu, Badelan, Bichran, Hewadan, Hizowalan, Izan, Jalali, Kardakan, Kaykan (Kiki), Khalikan, Kowan, Malewan (or Milan), Mazhdakan (Mazdakan), Naman, Palukan, Qachkan, Qaramanlu, Qasmanlu, Rashan, Retakan (Radkan), Sefkan, Selseporan, Shakan, Shamlu, Shaykhawan, Shirkan, Titikan, Topkan, Waran, Zangan (Zinkan), and Zaydan. All these clans engaged in production of rug and/or kilim. The name of their products, however, seldom paralleled those of the producing clan, but rather came to be known after the town in which they were marketed, such as Qochan, Shirvan, Daragaz, or Meshhad.

The Shadlu comprised of the Alan, Bughan, Dirqan, Garivan, Gurdan, Inran, Japa, Juyan, Kaghan, Mitran, Qilichan, Qarabashlu, Qupran (Kupran).

The smaller Jelali khanate was centered on the town of Firuza, only a few miles from Ashgabat, the capital of modern Turkmenistan. The Jelalis consisted of the clans of Bagân, Farkhân, Jelâlân, Kewerân, Kumbalakân and Qurakan

Although the Topkanlus were in principle a member of the great Zafaranlu confederacy, due to their immense size, degree of autonomy, as well as their own distinct style of rug weaving, merit a subdivision of their own.

The Kurds who arrived in Khurasan were largely from the parts of Kurdistan now in Turkey. Thus, they naturally speak various dialects of North Kurmanji that still predominates among the Turkish Kurds. Indubitably, there must have also arrived in Khurasan an appreciable number of Dimili/Zaza speaking Kurds as well, since they form a large linguistic minority in Turkish Kurdistan--then as now. These, however, have almost all assimilated into the Kurmanji-speaking community in Khurasan.  

What distinguishes the Khurasani Kurds from their kin in Turkey, however, is that they are by a vast majority Alevis and Shi’ites, while in Turkey it is Sunni Islam that claims the largest number of Kurds there. This may point to the fact that the said area of Kurdistan was far more dominated by the followers of Alevism and Shi’ism 500 years ago. Presently, only about a quarter of the Kurds in Turkey still practice Alevism and Shi’ism. The Khurasani Kurds, therefore, may be preserving a relic of the past religious history of Kurdistan. This holds credulity when it is viewed alongside the art and costumes of the Khurasani Kurds

The costumes and customs of Khurasani Kurds, for example, although most closely resemble those of Kurds in Turkey, nonetheless, they actually show more affinity with the Southeast European costumes than what one understand today to be conventionally Kurdish. The knee-high skirts of women, worn in layers and fitted with white aprons and high-healed shoes remind one more of the Ukrainian or Romanian costumes than Kurdish, or even Middle Eastern. There can be no doubt that this was the fashion of what the Kurds in Anatolia wore 500 years ago as none other in Khurasan wear anything remotely resembling their costumes. The loyalty with which the Khurasani Kurds have maintained their antique language, customs and costumes also point towards antiquity of their rug weaving and designs.

During the formative years of Qajar dynasty’s ascendancy in Persia, much effort was given by the government in Teheran to bring local emirs and princes under the vassalage of Persia if not incorporate them altogether. In 1822 James Baillie Fraser visited Qochan. Seven years earlier, the last of the independent Chemishkazag emirs, Emir Riza Quli Khan had replaced his father on the throne. He had successfully withstood the siege of his capital by the Qajar King of Persia, Fath Ali Shah, by taking refuge at the better-defended fortress of Shirvan. There, the flooded moat prevented the Qajar artillery from getting too near to cause the collapse of the defensive walls. Thirteen years later, James Baillie Fraser was to visit and report on other Kurdish principalities in Central Kurdistan (present Iraqi Kurdistan) and how they were faring with the threat of centralizing imperial Ottoman government. This has already reviewed in this book under the relevant chapter.

The Emir was not so lucky, however, in 1831, when nine years after Fraser’s visit he had to face the able Persian crown prince, Abbas Mirza, who having finished two drawn-out wars with the Russian Empire over the Caucasus, had now brought the full force of his war-hardened army and lethal artillery upon the Khurasani Kurds. Having failed to gain the submission of the Kurdish prince, his capital of Qochan was besieged by 13,000 Persian troops and given to three days of heavy artillery bombardment in August of 1831. British army engineers oversaw the efficient performance of the canons. The 8,000 defending troops under Emir Riza Quli Khan finally succumbed to the force of the Persian artillery and surrendered. Emir Riza Quli was banished to Azerbaijan but died conveniently on the way. His son, Sam, was appointed by the Persian crown to rule as vassal from Qochan.

The loss of autonomy lead to a slow but steady loss of ability by the Chemishkazag emirs to protect their territory from frequent incursions by the raiding nomads gathering slaves and booty. The economic conditions deteriorated, impacting the quality of the rugs produced in the region as well. The British diplomat and traveler Alexander Burns arrived in Qochan the following year in 1832 and reports on the condition of the city and its principality. Burns relates that most of the countryside had been abandoned, and the peasants had taken refuge in Qochan. The final coup de grace to the emirate came in a series of devastating earthquakes in 1873, 1894 and particularly in 1895. Most of the city’s population died during and in the aftermath of the last quake. The devastation was so thorough that the old city had to be abandoned altogether. A new Qochan was built 712 miles east of the old city. Only 8,000 people survived the final quake in 1895. In 1835, there had been more than 40,000 living in Qochan. Only some vintage photographs are all that now remain of the sumptuous palaces and mansions of the old Kurdish principalities of Khurasan.

The khanate of Bojnurd had to also go through the same harrowing experience of the emirate of Qochan as the Qajar dynasty of Persia proceeded with centralization of their imperial territories. The Khurasani Kurds faced the process a full 30 years ahead of the Adrenals of eastern Kurdistan in Persia who were overthrown in 1867. The Kurdish principalities in the Ottoman lands fell in 1847-48. What was common among all these (except the Ardelans) was the way of their downfall: artillery bombardment by the Persians and the Ottomans, hiring the services of the European army engineers (the English in case of Persia, the Germans in case of the Ottomans). The same blood bath that had brought down Qochan and its house of Zafaranlu princes in 1837, visited on Bojnurd ten years later. The city came under a Persian siege and artillery bombardment in the winter of 1846-47. Its surrender effectively ended the autonomy and prosperity of that Kurdish khanate as well.

It is fascinating that an indirect glimpse can be mustered into the economy and prosperity of the exclave, before and after the loss of its autonomy, via an examination of its artwork and handicraft made for sale. There is a marked difference between the Kurdish rug production in Khurasan before and after the loss of the emirates. The high quality rugs become a rarity after the 1840s, but the lower quality, village rugs and kilims continue production. Several weaving provinces nonetheless can be recognized in the area, all of which named after the major market town they were presented for sale. Qochan, Shirvan, Bojnurd—all have a recognizable style of weaving. It is difficult to distinguish them apart today, due to frequent movement of people. The sedentary people have been pushed around by frequent wars and calamitous earthquakes. The nomads, meanwhile, have been changing their location drastically due to creation of new impenetrable international boundaries, forced settlement by the central governments, and their ubiquitous interethnic wars. Indeed the provenience of earlier Khurasani rugs of circa 1835 are far easier to ascribe than specimens that came after, due to these social and political upheavals.

The most interesting aspect of the Kurdish rugs from Khurasan is the retaining of their original, eastern Anatolian designs, coloring and motifs. After nearly 500 years of exile, this seems to be an extraordinary feat. The local Persian Khurasani style as well as the well-known Turkmen style have had only a minor impact on the Kurdish weaves. The abundance of cochineal dye that gives the Turkmen rugs their brilliant, but monotonous, red coloring is largely absent from the Kurdish rugs. True, there are Kurdish products at present or in the past that mimicked the easy dying of the Turkmen rugs with cochineal red added to the natural black and white wool being the only colors used. On occasions, even the Turkmen “gul” (rose) style has been copied by the Kurdish weavers in Khurasan. These, however, were and still are marginal in their importance to the Kurdish weavers. The paramount design of the Khurasani Kurdish rugs remains—like those in northern and western Kurdistan where they originate—hauzi, mina khani, pir gul and chwar souch, while the latch-hooked diamonds are the most common device, followed by the kissal. Brilliant yellows, greens and orange, mixed with cochineal red and natural wool colors, give the Khurasani rugs a brilliance and variety that Kurdish rugs are known for everywhere. Khurasani Kurdish rugs and kilims are therefore easy to recognize in the large surrounding markets, from Meshhad to Gurgan to Nishapor or Ashgabat.

Like the rugs produced in Eastern Kurdistan under the Ardalan princely patronage of the early 19th century, the contemporaneous Khurasani Kurdish rugs also demonstrate a dichotomy in their quality and design: a repertoire of very delicate weaves with sophisticated designs coupled with the finest raw material--catered to the princely tastes of the local emirs as well as for sale to discriminating buyers in far away markets. Another was the heavy (and prolific) product for the common people—nomads and farmers—who faced harsh climatic condition and boasted to a limited individual purchasing power. The unique specimens of these early 18th and 19th century Khurasani Kurdish rugs found in the shrine collection in Meshhad form the evidence for the existence of this dichotomy of quality in the rugs of the area.


  1. This should not be taken as strange in itself. The Irish speak English, but neither themselves nor anyone else would identify them as “Englishmen.”
  2. A few other groups were also brought into the area by the Safavids, none however, as massively as the Kurds. Many have in fact survived to the present. Among these are the Lurs and Afshar Turcomans from Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.
  3. In 1747, the same Zafaranlu generals assassinated Nadir Shah at Qochan.


Kurdistan, Where Historical Credit is Due

By Mehrdad R. Izady, 1992

In correspondence with the prestigious British scientific journal, Nature (Vol.360,5, Nov. 1992, p.24), Rudolph Michel of the Museum of Applied Science, Center for Archaeology, Patrick McGovern of University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania and Vlrginia Badler, Department of Near Eastern Studies, University of Toronto, provide archaeological and laboratory evidence regarding the world's oldest existing trace of the production of barley beer. Their investigations took place at the archaeological site of Godin, six miles (10 kilometers) east of Kangawar in southern Kurdistan in Iran. It was at this same site where, a few years earlier, evidence of the earliest grape wine production (also dating between 4000-4500 years ago) was found by the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada team that originally excavated the site.

The disturbing, but not surprising, element in their report 1S that they attribute the development of beer making technology to the far off Sumerians, just as several years earlier winemaking technology was similarly attributed to the Sumerians.

Yet for the past three generations it has been in Kurdistan where archaeologists have been excavating to find evidence for the invention and development of the technologies that transformed man-the-hunter into man-the-farmer and ultimately into man-the-civilized. It is as if the Kurdish mountains and their inhabitants could not possibly have been the site of technologies of such significance, despite irrefutable evidence that they themselves unearthed. Almost instinctively, archaeologists have been reluctant to attribute origins to the original inhabitants of Kurdistan. Instead, they continue to search for external originating sources, at times with a measure of desperation. When such a source eludes them, they tend to list the originating culture as "unknown." By contrast, when evidence is found in other loci of civilization, as in Mesopotamia, Egypt or Greece, for example, it is automatically attributed to these cultures until proven otherwise.

The reverse is true in treating cultures of the Kurdish mountains. The irony is that, as in the case of bear and wine discoveries, the argument supporting Sumerian involvement is based on evidence that is not only indirect but of later date (i.e., from seal impressions). Kurdish hard evidence deriving from actual fermentation vats complete with dried calcium oxalate sediments (beer residue), is dismissed. Yet Michel et al admit that the carbonized remains of barley used in preparation of the beer was also found first at Godin, as were grapes used for wine making. A brief but close examination of the archaeological evidence and the relationship that existedbetween Kurdish mountain societies and the Sumerians indicate both the direction of influence and the reasons behind it.

Godin was by no means the isolated incidence of technological sophistication in an otherwise culturally and technologically barren region that would justify the search for an external civilizing influence. In fact, the mound of Godin (or Gawdin) is located in one of the world's richest archaeological regions stretching for one hundred miles from Shahabad, one of the capitals of the ancient Elamites, to Hamadan, the capital of the ancient Medians. In this region the problem for the archaeologist is not where to excavate but which to choose from the literally hundreds of mounds, temples, palace complexes and cave habitats. Here one finds some of the earliest evidence of the domestication of cereals (e.g., barley and wheat), livestock (e.g., goats and sheep) and development of other basic technologies datingback 11000 years (Braidwood et al,1960). Additionally, in the same region are found remains of the world's oldest glazed pottery at Seh Gabi (Levine, 1974; Vandiver,1990), earliest experiments with writing and accounting at Godin and Ganj Dara (Schmandt-Besserat, 1986; Nissen, 1986; Green, 1981), and now, wine and beer. At a time when most of the rest of the world inhabited caves, Godin appears to have been a major city with well planned and solidly constructed buildings, a city contemporaneous with the oldest cities of Sumeria and Akkadia. Today Godin can be seen as an imposing mound on the eastern horizon if one stands on the remains of its 2300-year-old grand staircases and the vast colonnaded temple platform of the Goddess Anahita at Kangawar.

This entire archaeological region straddles the old Silk Road which is predated by millenia by other important commercial arteries of the ancient world connecting East to West over the Iranian Plateau, lowland Mesopotamia and the Levant. As such, the region boasted a commerce oriented civilization that exported many of its technological achievements and products and now holds the remains of artifacts and raw materials imported from far away sources and cultures.

About 4500 years ago, this region served as the heartland of the native empire of the Qutils, who were among the Hurrian, Palaeo-Caucasic ancestors of the modern Kurds before their Arianization by immigrating Indo-European tribes: Medes, Sagarthians and Scytho-Alans. Qutil military might soon expanded from their capital of Aratta and the Kurdish mountains to subdue every neighboring region including Sumeria and Akkadia. In light of the discovery at Godin of many well constructed buildings, a wealth of artifacts and new technology, the city is the strongest candidate for the site of ancient Aratta.

The Qutil general, Merkar, declared his independence from the mountain domains of the Qutil Federation, whose king was his own brother. Having broken away from Aratta, circa 2500 BC, Merkar succeeded in establishing a separate Qutil dynasty that ruled independently over Sumerian and Akkadian citystates. Merkar took the reknowned Uruk (Erech-Kulab) of Gilgamesh for his capital. The Qutils actually settled and flourished in large numbers in Sumeria, populating, among others, the twin city of Kesh-Adab (Kramer,1987). Conversely, there has never been any evidence to indicate that the Sumerians expanded, let alone settled any part of the far off Kurdish highlands.

It is absolutely extraordinary that to this day, tablets have survived that record the correspondence between the Qutil ruler in Aratta and the rebellious Merkar (commonlyknown as Enmerkar. after he took up the Sumerian royal title of En). These now represent some of the most valuable written records of the history of the Kurdish highlands in ancient times. Fortunately, S. Noah Kramer, the foremost Sumerialogist, has translated this correspondence establishing that there was a good deal of commercial and political contact between Aratta and Uruk. In none of this correspondence is there a hint that the society at Aratta (Godin?) was less sophisticated or perceived as such by the Uruk of Sumeria.

Since the Kurdish mountains are the natural habitat of wild barley, wheat and many other cereals and evidence points to domestication there and not in the Sumerian marshlands and deserts where domesticated cereals were introduced from the highlands at a much later date one can logically conclude that the fermented product of barley for beer making also origined in the same highlands. Recent archaeological evidence alluded to above only reinforces this logic. In fact, the beer and wine discovered at Godin date from the precise time period of the Qutil takeover of Sumeria and could have been introduced by the group which gave rise to Enmerkar in Sumeria. Indirect Sumerian evidence from seal markings depicting people drinking beer through straws from a common vat post-dates the Qutil dynasty of that land.

Moreover, the Sumerian tablets also record another introduction into Sumeria by the Qutil, Enmerkar, the cult of the birdgod Anzu, still worshipped by the Yezidi Kurds as the bird icon Anzul (or Anzal).

While lacking in justification, hints by the Michel group of Sumerian origin for Godinbeer technologyprompted theNew York Tmes on 5 November to carry an article squarely attributing the invention of beer (and grape wine) to the Sumerians with no mention of the Kurdish mountains in Iran, deep inside which the actual discovery occurred. The contribution of the Kurds and their inventive ancestors was totally ignored. On the following day, the New York Post carried a cartoon depicting beer-guzzling "Sumerians" in ancient Egyptian costumes with a caption over their heads that reads, "Iraq's Best Beer."

Mehrdad R. Izady, Harvard University [Kurdish Life, Number 4, Fall 1992].

Sources: Braidwood, R. et al, "Seeking the World's First Farmers in Persian Kurdistan: A Full Scale Investigation of Pre-historic Sites Near Kirmanshah," Ill. Lon. News (October 22, 1960); Levine, L. D., "The Excavations at Seh Gabi," Proceedings of the Third Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran (Chicago,1974); Vandiver, P., "Ancient Glazes," Scientific American 262:4 (April 1990); Schmandt-Besserat, D., "An Ancient Token System: the Precursor to Numerals and Writing," Archaeology (November-December 1986; Nissen, H., "The Development of Writing and of Glyptic Art," (Wiesbaden, 1986); Green, M. W., "The Construction and Implementation of the Cuneiform Writing System," Visible Language, xv.4 (1981); Kramer, S. Noah, "Ancient Sumer and Iran: Gleanings from Sumerian Literature,"Bulletin of the Asia Institute, I (1987).

Kurdistan: Toward a Cultural-Historical Definition

By Kamal Mirawdeli, The International Conference, The Kurds Political status and Human Rights, March 1993

Introduction: Kurdistan means the land of the Kurds. And both the land and the people, of course exist. Yet, as Paul Rich (1991:Vii) has written. In political terms: “Kurdistan does not exist, which is why it is so important. This anomalous structure has long been part of the Middle East conundrum”, the understanding of which entails understanding the politics of power and the relationship between power and knowledge. It is power which creates the conditions for the production of knowledge about peoples, and which ultimately defines its boundaries, scope, and even nomenclature.If Kurdistan is and has been absent from the political discourse of the Middle East, if the problem of the Middle East has been reduced to the case of the Palestinian Arabs against Israel, it is not because in reality, in its political significance, historical legitimacy, and humanitarian urgency, the Kurdish cause is inferior to that of the Palestinians. It is because the whole political system of the Middle East and the power-knowledge strategy resulting from it has been based since 1920 on this hiatus: the absence of Kurdistan, the silence of the Kurds, the persistence of an ongoing human tragedy. In the same way as the political system of the Middle East survives on the suppression of the Kurdish people, its political discourse thrives on the omission or distortion of the Kurdish discourse.

Kurdistan, even as a mere vocal entity, is a dangerous word. It should not be uttered. It means the land of the Kurds. But this dangerous seminal semantic combination is supposed not to exist, and it is exactly this that the Turks have been trying to convince themselves and the world of for the past 70 years. In the process, they have brutalized and dehumanize themselves as much as the Kurds. This is why the Arab regime in Iraq has been using the most sophisticated modern lethal weapons to prove that there are, in what it calls the north oh Iraq, only bare rugged mountains with no trace of fauna or flora, let alone human beings. In Iran, both Persian chauvinism and Islamic fundamentalism have banished the Kurds from their cultural existence and arrested them in the darkest of medieval moments. In Syria, there is a belt of extinction tightened around them. In the former Soviet Union, they are driven from one exile to another. And the West, and the world, have been conspiring and conniving in all this, simply because the Kurds do not have a state, and therefore they do not have the power to control their economy and rich resources. Therefore they do not really exist. Referring to the West’s attitude toward the Kurds, Howell (1965:6) writes:

The prevailing attitude toward the Kurds is a mixture of ignorance romanticism, and suspicion. They are in the popular mind, the perpetrators of the Armenian massacres, gallant brigands of epic proportions, or the nefarious agents of Soviet imperialism.”

Twenty years after Howell’s words, we saw, for example, the same attitudes prevailing in apparently a very important scholarly book written about a very important timely subject: the position and role of the Kurds in the context of the Iran- Iraq war. The writer Stephen Pelletiere has entitled his book The Kurds: An Unstable Element in the Gulf. Consider this definition of the Kurds. For Pelletiere the Kurds are not a nation or a group of human beings but an element with a destabilizing function in the harmonious chemistry of power and political order of the Middle East. To the author, they have always exhibited the same essential characteristics as mercenaries, warriors, and troublemakers. He writes (Pelletier: 11): “A number of factors contribute to this trouble- making ability. First, the Kurdish society is basically anarchic, and the Kurds have long tradition of serving as mercenaries in the armies of Europe and the Middle East- which is to say the Kurds are a fighting people Second, the Kurds traditional homeland Kurdistan, is crucially located where the superpowers confront each other in the Gulf region Finally, Kurdistan is an inhospitable land that is hard to penetrate. Particularly with modern mechanized armies. Taken in combination what do these three factors tell us? The Kurds are a fighting people who could be difficult to rout, even though they are continually disrupting the peace in an area that is adjacent to the Gulf where the superpowers want to maintain stability.”

What is the writer’s message? To rout such unroutable and dangerous destabilizers in such a significant geopolitical area, every method is justified, perhaps even chemical weapons, which the West so generously supplied Saddam with in the late 1980s. It is astonishing to find a writer so strongly adhering to these assumptions while he is writing during the first Gulf War, a war in which the most brutal old and new methods of human butchery were used, the war of cities, chemical weapons, human waves: and which caused more than one million casualties and the almost total ruin of two countries. Were Iraq and Iran defenders of peace, and the Kurds “disrupting the peace in the area”? Weren’t the Kurds victimized and murdered by both these two powerful countries without having even the most basic weapons to defend themselves? I mention this as an example of the grave misrepresentations the Kurds have been subjected to in the West. Perhaps the end of the Cold War and the experience of the second Gulf War and its aftermath will change this and a new beginning for the Kurdish discourse in the West will obtain. I hope that this conference, together with many other indicators, will be an example and evidence that this new beginning is already happening.

It is not my aim in this paper to delve into the political intricacies of the Kurdish question. I want simply to define Kurdistan on the basis of the existential historical reality of the land and the people who continued throughout many millennia to inhabit it in one way or another, creating with their labour, blood, and imagination many interesting phases of the drama of human existence.

I am going to address the cultural- historical identity of Kurdistan in the light of several discourses. By “culture” I mean all the material and spiritual aspects and expressions of the life of a people. By “discourse” I simply mean a domain of knowledge with its own paradigms of research and production. The aggregate result of the discourses, I hope, will provide the elements which can define the specificity and actuality of the Kurdish discourse. I want to explain further that my focus is primarily on Kurdistan and not on the Kurds as a “race.” The concept of race itself is an invention of power, just as racial homogeneity is a myth. Therefore, I shall use “space” or geography as the principal category of description and analysis. Historical realities unfold themselves in geographical space. In geographical space, too, we can find the recurrent patterns that account for the nature of Power relationships.

Kurdistan: The Geographical Concept

The word Kurdistan was first used by the Seljuks in the 12th century as a name for the province including the lands between Azerbaijan and Luristan (Senna, Dainawar, Hamadan, Kirmanshah, etc.) as well as certain adjoining areas to the west of Zagros (Shahrazur, Khuftiyan) ( Minorsky 1923: 1130). But known by similar names- as we shall see later- Kurdistan has been the traditional homeland of the Kurds since the dawn of history. It is the country where the Kurdish people have been constituted ethnically as a homogeneous community, where they have developed their culture and shaped their destiny.

Kurdistan is a geographically contiguous territory where the Kurdish ethnos predominates. It is an extensive country of about 409,650 square kilometres in size (Qassemlou, 1965:14). The greatest part of Kurdistan is a highland lying astride the numerous parallel ranges of two mountain systems, the eastern extension of the Taurus and the northern extension of the Zagros: but on the southeast it spreads across a belt of foothills to the Mesopotamian plain. Lake Van in northern Kurdistan lies at an altitude of 1,700 meters in the angle where the two systems meet (Hassanpour, 1989:1). The length of Kurdistan, measured from north to south, is 1,000 kilometres, the average width being 200 kilometres in the south, increasing northwards, where it measures 750 kilometres (Qassemlou, p. 14).

Kurdistan is in its entirety a country of high mountains. The average altitude of the whole country is high ranging from 1,000 to 41,500 meters above sea level. There exist towns situated far higher than that (e.g., Bijar at 1,920 meters), and on the other hand, there are towns situated much lower, such as Arbil (430 meters) lying on the verge of Iraqi desert. If Kurdistan is a country of very uneven relief, it is no less generously watered by numbers of clear springs and many water courses and actual river Araxes (Aras) is in Kurdistan in the plateau of Bingol, with a thousand lakes between the Tigris and Euphrates the two biblical rivers which traverse Kurdistan in particular. The Tigris (1,718 kilometres long) waters Kurdistan in its upper course. It has its source in the region of Lake Hazar to the north of the Maden Mountains, and waters for 300 kilometres of Turkish Kurdistan the towns famous in Kurdish history: Ergani, Diyarbakir, Hasankeyf, and Cizre /Djazira (Enuyclopedia of Islam, 1988:422). Iranian Kurdistan is also traversed by numerous streams, several of which lie in the Chil Cheshme, a great massif of 2,085 meters in the Mukri country.

There are also several lakes in Kurdistan of which the largest is lake Urme in Iranian Kurdistan: 130 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide in places: Van in northern Kurdistan: and lake Zrebar to the west of Marivan and southeast of Pandjwin in southern Kurdistan.

Because of its altitude, the climate of Kurdistan is harsh in winter. Snow covers the high summits for many months of the year. In the plains, rainfall varies between 200 and 400 millimetres a year, although it may reach between 700 and 2,000 and even 3,000 millimetres on the plateaux between the different chains of the mountains. But in the valleys of central Kurdistan, the climate is continental and even arid.

Kurdistan’s mountains are covered with pastures and vegetation, and its valleys with forests, orchards, and meadows which in spring are dotted with multicoloured wild flower. In the mountains, high mountain-pastures stretch over many kilometres and provide pasturage for herds of goat and sheep. In places, edible wild plant grows, sought after by shepherds and simple folk for their medical properties and carefully collected by women. In spring, flowers cover in abundance the smallest corner literally stupefies and whose perfumes intoxicate the passer by.(The source of the above is Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1988:442.)

The location of Kurdistan-occupying that area of the mountain complex extending from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf which separates Anatolia from the Iranian plateaux-has earned for Kurdistan a reputation as “the backbone of Middle East” and thus of great geostrategic significance (Howell, 1965:19). In this sense, Kurdistan is a geopolitical concept as it has been so approached by many writers especially in the context of the Cold War and its strategic location vis-à-vis the Gulf (e.g, pelletiere above).

The fact that Kurdistan is a denied concept also expresses the colonial state of Kurdistan. There is, as the Turkish writer Ismail Besikci (1992:2) has put it, “a Turkish Kurdistan, an Iraqi Kurdistan, an Iranian Kurdistan, and a Syria Kurdistan but the Kurds themselves have no Kurdistan.”

According to David McDowell (1990:7): “Although the term Kurdistan appears on few maps, it is clearly more than a geographical term since it refers also to a human culture which exists in that land. To this extent, Kurdistan is a social and political concept.”

Finally, Kurdistan is also an anthropological concept. For it is impossible to study and understand the Kurdish people without examining the impact of their mountains upon their character and their history. Therefore, I agree with Howell (1956:19) when he writes: “The mountainous character of Kurdistan has been influential in determining not only the internal development of Kurdish society but also the nature of the relationship between the Kurds and members of adjacent societies. It is, in fact, tempting to explain almost every aspect of Kurdish history and behaviour on the basis of the physical configuration of this environment.”

Chris Kutschera (1983:23) expresses a similar opinion: “… it cannot be denied that the geographical environment in which Kurds have been living shaped their soul and continued to determine the course of their history.”

The Geological Discourse

Let us start from the beginning of the beginnings: Where was Kurdistan when existence itself was in limbo? The invaluable scientific researches  of professor H.A. Wright  on the mountain ranges of Kurdistan (Wright 1952, 1961, 1964) have illustrated  the fact that certain climatic and ecological transformations occurred in Kurdistan’s mountains more than 11.000 years ago, which ended that late Quaternary and created favourable conditions for rainfall, the emergence of forests, and the growth of wild wheat and barley. This enabled prehistoric man to achieve an important historic transition from a hunter to a cave-dwelling being and then settle in agrarian villages about 9,000 years ago. Europe had to wait 6,000 more years to witness these climatic transformations.

The Archaeological Discourse

The real identity of Kurdistan is still hidden in its archaeology. However, there were invaluable archaeological investigations in Kurdistan in the 1940s and 1950s which have unravelled and revealed a number of mysteries not only about the antiquity of Kurdistan but also about the beginning of human civilization. Professor Robert Braidwood, Linda Braidwood, and their colleagues (Braidwood, R. et al., 1960; Braidwood, L., 1953) have a prominent position in this respect. They have established beyond any doubt that Kurdistan was one of the first cradles of humankind which witnessed the Neolithic/agrarian revolution about 9,000 years ago. Commenting on the findings of professor Braidwwod at the Jarmo site in Southern Kurdistan in 1948 and 1955, Georges Roux writes in his book, The Ancient Iraq (Roux, 1964:58-59): “Thus, 3,500 years at least before Europe, Northern Iraq was the scene of the Neolithic revolution, the most important perhaps of all times. On the foothills of Kurdistan watered every winter by Atlantic rains, man ceases to be a wandering hunter, depending for his living upon his luck and skill and becomes a farmer attached to the small piece of land from which he obtains a regular food supply. Out of clay he builds himself a house. He secures in sheep and cattle a permanent and easy available source of milk, meal, wool and hide. At the same time, his social tendencies develop, for the care and defence of the land call for close co-operation. Each family probably erects its own farm, cultivates its own field, grazes its own flock, and makes its own tool; but several families are grouped together and from a hamlet, the embryo of a social organization. Later other revolution occur: metal will replace stone, villages will grow into cities, and cities will be united into kingdoms and kingdoms into empires. Yet the essentials of life, the labour of man bent over mother earth and enslaved to its cycle of seasons, has not changed since those remote days.

The occurrence of the agrarian revolution in Kurdistan about 7,000 years ago and the subsequent socio-cultural developments in Kurdish communities had a great impact on shaping the historical patterns of the ethnic constitution and function of the peoples of Kurdistan. This can be rightly understood only in the context of the mountainous character of Kurdistan and the opportunities and obstacles this afforded its inhabitants.

We argue that, in the context of this geographical environment, the archaeological discourse provides some basic socio-cultural premises upon which we can base the historical process of Kurdish society and the definition of its distinctive identity.

Both geological and archaeological data show that Kurdistan has been settled since the epoch of the Middle Palaeolithic culture, which coincides with the first stage of the last glacial period in Europe. The main type of economy was that of wild animals. The communities were formed on the basis of joint labour activity and some degree of kinship. In the Neolithic period, in the 7th or 8th millennium, there appeared dwellings built with clay and unbaked bricks, as can be observed in the layers of the village Gandhi-dearth. It seems that 95 percent of the animal bones found in Charmo were of fully domesticated animals, especially goats and sheep. The buildings of this period had a stone base and it is likely that there was a temple among them. The population produced clay vessels and copper pearls and needles. An important stage of the agrarian development in Kurdistan can be traced in the plain of Sindshar between the second half of the 7th millennium and the first half of the 6th millennium.

The culture of this period was based on productive farming as represented by the remains of the Kul-tepe and some other villages. The most interesting feature of this period is the absence of any hunting weapons. The tools were made out of flint and obsidian. The plant remains belong to fully cultivated wheat and barley, and the bones to domesticated animals only. The pottery of Kul-tepe was hand-made, baked, decorated in relief and painted. Among the plastic found in the tepee, there are some anthropomorphic and zoomorphic examples very complex in design. (Kurdo 1988:8)

The emergence of this culture was part of a pattern of changes which characterized the region as a whole:

The rainfall increased and the territory suitable for cultivation grew as well; as a result the settlement gradually moved from the foothills of the plains. The barter among different tribes became constant when the communes became fully farming and stock-breeding. The provided more generous and constant sources of sustenance. The result can be observed in the very rapid increase in the population as well. So the number of settlements continued to grow. (ibid:8).

Gradually, farm and stock-breeding tribes in the Zagros Mountains began to move in a southeast direction and new pastures. The first to move were the herdsmen specialized in pasture but who were familiar with farming as well. Their villages were the first to appear on the territory of the future Elamite state. The remnants of the first villages in Elam are spread in whole territory, which shows that the number of people who came was great and that they occupied a very large area. Diakonov (1985a:2):

No important culture could develop in Elam until the first men who had descended to the plain from highlands established communities in sufficient number and with techniques adequate to turn the water of the rivers to their use and to develop an agricultural civilization based upon river irrigation. The first settlers were attested in a side valley (the site of Ali Kosh, early 7th millennium B.C.). They were goat herders acquainted with some primitive agriculture processes; they were apparently related to the first herdsmen-agriculturalists of the more northern regions of the south mountains.

Diakonov further explains the relationship developed between the Elamite lowland, suitable for irrigation and agriculture, and the Elamite hill-land, suited for sheep and cattle-breeding:

The hill-lands could also sever as a refuge area for the inhabitants of lowlands during times of disastrous inundation or excessive heat and drought. In no period was there was in the neighbouring land of Sumer. (ibid.:5-6)

The people of the hill-lands were the Guti, among the ancestors of the Kurds, who established strong dynasties and played a dangerous role in the ancient history of Mesopotamia.

This brief presentation of the evidence of archaeological data demonstrates obvious patterns and characteristics of the social, cultural, and political development of tribal communities in the mountains of Kurdistan, which we can reconstruct as follows:

Their reliance on stock-breeding constituted the most dynamic factor in their behaviour. As the stock increased rapidly and constantly, new pastures were needed. Sheep and goat were a kind of living capital with constant growth and great potential for the accumulation of wealth, leading to the emergence of tribal aristocracies and extended territorial hegemony, leading to the emergence of dynasties or migration and resettlement.
This mobility was an important factor for the creation of system of communication, cooperation, confederation, or conflict. Despite the physical barriers of the mountains, seasonal migration in search of warm territories, farming land, and pastures have been a common feature of the Kurdish way of life for thousands of years.

A common culture and way of life characterized mountain communities despite tribal division and regional variation. The mountains were as much a factor of unification as of separation. The both divided and united the population. They provided the cultural and a spiritual/aesthetic factor for national pride. Struggling against the harsh climate of winter, celebrating the blessings of spring, depending on farming and the products of their sheep and goats for food and clothing, Kurds developed some common cultural features: the selection of the site of villages (usually near a spring of water, however mountainous and isolated the site may be; hence, a Kurdish name for village:

Awayii, awadani-water settlement); the building of Qalas-castles; the architecture of houses; design of costumes and ways of dressing; pottery, handicrafts, and artefacts; ways of baking and cooking; production of Kurdish rugs; hospitality; marriage and kinship relations; the position of women within the family and society; and so on.

A spiritual culture came into existence, too. Forms of art, language oral poetry and religious songs and ideas thrived in the pastoral/agricultural communities. While we do not have evidence yet of the written forms of language and dialects of the ancient inhabitants of Zagros, it is known that the migrating Zagrosians in Elam introduced a system of hieroglyphic writing in the early third millennium B.C. however, that was replaced by the Akkadian when the latter attacked and subjected Elam about 2300 B.C.: “Semitic personal names prevailed over Elamite ones: even prayers to Elamite gods were written in Akkadian. Although the country as a whole retained its Elamite linguistic and cultural character” (Diakonov 1985a:10).

This cultural exchange between the mountain people of Zagros and the Elamites, on the one hand, and the Akkadians , on the other, is also an early illustration of a repeatable historical pattern . Frustrated by the parochial parameters of mountain life, tribes (or even individuals) with large herds of cattle would usually migrate to the plains, bringing their skills and ambitions, and merge with the town communities. Thus while the city- states were developed as centres of a highly developed civilization, Kurdish mountains and valleys were staying at the periphery, subject to both cultural drainage and military threat . However, the culture and civilization of the mountains, though less developed, was more continuous and enduring as it was less vulnerable to the destructions and displacements caused by imperial wars and large- scale migrations. Thus, it was more able in assimilating migrant groups and external cultural influences and, ultimately, in becoming a more essential element in defining the identity of the people. Even in Elam, though the language and writing and administrative system was Akkadaised, Semitic names prevailed over Elamite ones and even the prayers to Elamite gods were written in Akkadian Therefore in Elam, it was more difficult to penetrate into the deep- rooted culture of the population as a whole, which retained its Elamite linguistic and cultural character (Diakonff:10). While there is much historical evidence of the expansion and settlement of the Zagros population in large number in Elam and Sumeria, there has never been any evidence to indicate that plains- dwellers expanded and settled any part of Kurdish highlands, though definitely there have been many cases of occupation and imposition of foreign rule, tribute, religion, and language, especially in written form.

The Genealogical Discourse

By this we mean discourse concerned with the etymology of the name “Kurd” and the origins of the Kurds.

In his “The name Kurd and its philological connexions,” G. M. Driver (1923: 393-403) notes that  the earliest trace of the Kurds is to be found on a Sumerian clay- tablet, of the third millennium B. C., on which “the land of Kar- da” or “Qar- da” is mentioned. This “land of Karda” adjoined that of the people of Su, who dwelt on the south Lake Wan, and seems in all probability to have been connected with the Qurtie who lived in the mountains to the west of the same lake.

Driver examines the philological variations of Karda in the Greek, Latin, Syriac, early Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Persian (such as Cordueni, Gordyeni, Kordyoui, Karduchi, Kardueni, Qardu, Kardaye, Qardawaye, etc.) and finds that the similarities undoubtedly refer to a common descent. Arshak Safarastian (1948:16-17) believes that the patronymic “Kurd” is genuine and correct. The name has derived from the land and kingdom of Gutium and the Guti people, and has assimilated the letter “r” after the vowel “u” (Guti=Gurti), a linguistic rule which in general applies to most Indo- European languages, particularly those of the East, such as , Armenian, Sanskrit and Greek . Cuneiform inscriptions in the Sumerian language have definitively shown that the land of Gutium was one of the oldest independent kingdoms of the ancient civilized East, contemporary with Sumer, Akkad, Elam and Armenia.

The land of Gutium corresponds to the Kurdistan of today and its capital is believed to have been in or around Arrakha (Kirkuk). In 2300 B. C. the Gutis, in alliance with Elam, attacked and conquered Babylon and ruled it for 124 years.

After the Gutis other peoples appear in Zagros, such as the Kassites (Akkadian Kassi), the Lullubi, and the Hurrians. South Mesopotamia came fully under the domination of the Kassites in the 16th century B. C., but the Kassites of southern Mesopotamia became entirely Babylonised in culture and were cut off from the Kassites in the mountains.

Diakonov has carefully followed the emergence of the Aryan tribes, including the Medes, in the Iranian highlands. He believes that not later than some time in the first half of the 2nd millennium B. C. tribes speaking Indo-Iranian dialects, known later as Medes, appeared in the Kurdish highlands. Indo-Iranian is a branch of the Proto-Indo-European dialects spoken in eastern-central Europe. It seems that a slow and gradual process of merger between the Medes and the autochthonous population took place with the Medes taking over the culture of the natives, being most suitable for local conditions, while gradually Aryanising the language of the population. There is no archaeological evidence indicating changes in the material culture of the area, which continued without interruption. Also the ethnic composition of western Media toward the beginning of the first millennium B.C. still indicated vast areas inhabited by a population speaking pre-Iranian languages. The whole expanse to the south of Lake Urmiya and around Lake Van, were probably still inhabited by a population termed Quti- Lullubi by the Assyrians and Babylonians. (Diakonov 1985b:42)

The presence of a Quti population in the western part of historical Media is recorded in Assyrian sources as late as during the reign of Sargon II (722-703 B.C.). Assyrian sources of the 7th century B.C. mention also a certain “Mehranian” language in the western part of the historical province of Media, but it is hard to determine what kind of language this was. More to the south, in the mountains of Luristan, lived Kassites and Lasubigallians. The etymologies of names for the Kurdish highlands, established by cuneiform inscriptions of the 9th and 7th centuries B.C., show that a mixture of languages existed during the 1st millennium B.C., But toward the end of the 6th century B.C., or the beginning of the 5th there was in eastern Media no vestige of any pre-Iranian population and Arya became the general name by which all Indo-Europeans, from Scythia to India, called themselves. Herodotus reports that the Medes too called themselves Arya (1.101.vll.62) (Diakonov: 44). However, the name Karda survived in another from: Karduchi. Xenophon’s story of the encounter of the Ten Thousand Greeks, while retreating to Greece after an unsuccessful military enterprise in Persia, is very famous. Xenophon’s Persian guides give him the following description of the Karduchi (3.5):

“These people, they said, lived in the mountains and were very warlike and not subject to the king. Indeed, a royal army of a hundred and twenty thousand had once invaded their country, and not a man of them had got back because of the terrible conditions of the ground they had to go through. However on occasions when they made a treaty with the satrap who controlled the plains, there was mutual intercourse between the Carduchi and them.”

Xenophon clearly shows that the Carduchi had their own language different form the Persians. He had to speak with them via an interpreter who knew their language (4.2). He also refers to “a lot of brazen utensils in the furniture of the houses” deserted by the Carduchis (4.1) and describes their bows which were “between four and five feet long. And the arrows were of more than three feet” (4.2).

Polybius mentions Cardaces (another form of the Carduchi), along with the Medes, Greeks, Arabs, Carmanians, etc., as 1,000 strong juvelineers working as mercenaries in Ptolemy’s army (V.6.9,12). Strabo refers specifically to the Carduchian, whose name, he says, had changed to the Gordyaeans. His description of them is compatible with the Xenophonian archetype:

“Near the Tigris, lie the places belonging to the Gordyaeans: and their cities are named Sareisa and Satalca and Pinca, a very powerful fortress with three citadels, each enclosed by a separate fortification of its own, so that they constitute as it were, a triple city. But still it not only was held in subjection by the King of the Armenians, but the Romans took it by force, although the Gordyaens had an exceptional repute as master- builders and as experts in the construction of siege engines: and it was for this reason that Tiagranes used them in such work…. The country is rich in pasturage and so rich in plants that it also produces the evergreens and spice plants called amomum: and it is a feeding- ground for lions: and it also produces naphtha and the stone called gangitis, which is avoided by reptiles. (16.1.24)

Strablo also uses the name Cardaces, which is mentioned by Polybius. But he mentions it to describe the Persians” youth-training schemes. Carda, he explains, “means the manly and warlike.” And it seems that he uses Cardaces to mean a sort of training that makes one manly and warlike. (The training he associated with Cardaces is “training them to endure heat and cold and rains, and to cross torrential steams in such a way as to keep both armour and clothing dry, and also to rend flocks and live outdoors all night and eat wild fruits, such as pistachio nuts, acorns, and wild pears.” Then he goes on:

“These are called Cardaces, since they live on thievery, for “carda” means the manly and warlike spirit. Their daily food after their gymnastic exercises consists of bread, barley- cakes, cardamom, grains of salt, and roasted or boiled meat: but their drink is water.

They hunt by throwing spears from horseback, and with bows and slings: and late in the afternoon they are trained in the planting of trees and in the cutting and gathering of roots and in making weapons and in the art of making linen cloths and hunters” nets. (15.3.18)

Thus it is not implausible to say that “Cardaces” suggests the institutionaliza- tion of the whole Caduchian/ Median mode of life by the Persian ruling power. The activities which are listed above under the term “Karda” are but the integration of the customs of the Medes, especially the highlanders of them, including, in this geographical sense, the Carduchis (or the Gordyaeans or Cardaces, to use the other variants). It is notable here that “Gord” in Persian too means hero or brave. It is possible that the Persians inherited both the name and the military/ training institution of Karda from the Medes. The Medes, in turn, might have used the Karduchis as the main core force of their army and have given them a dominant military and political position to the extent that this name “Karda” became identified with their military practice and institution as a whole.

It seems that the Medianization of Kurdistan and its pre- Median population occurred during the time of the Zagros people’s common struggle against Assyria under the leadership of the Medes. The success of the Medes- not only in fighting back against Assyria, but also in destroying it and its rule in Kurdistan, establishing in its place a formidable expanded Median empire- must have made people proud to identify themselves with the Medes and to speak their dialect, which was the language of the ruling people. On the other hand, the persistence of the name Karda- Guti- Karduchi leads us to believe that a kind of historical compromise between these two names was a logical possibility, especially after the Medes lost their dominance. Hence, some Kurdologists, such as Soane and the late Kurdish scholar Taufiq Wahbi, believe that the present appellation of Kurdmanji is a combination of the name Kurd and Mad. Soane writes (1913:xi):

Kurdmanji, a word probably originally kurdmahi (many words ending in or a or in ah in old Persian appear in Kurdish as ang or inj), and the syllable mah has been thought by some authorities to mean “Mede”… that theory here receives strong and unexplained confirmation, for the peculiarity of the name of the race itself had up to the present remained undetected.

Wahbi (1965) argues that after the Sassanid period the name Mad changed in to Mang, Mas, and in the Islamic period into Mah. Then the name gradually disappeared but the people survived. The Parthian King Ardashiri Papakan considered the conquest of the Medes as his greatest enterprise, and he mentions the Medes and the Kurds together as one nation. According to Wahbi, until the 6th century A.D. the Kurds and Mad were mentioned as one people. Then, probably the name Kurd gradually assimilated the name Mad to create the new word Kurdmad- Kurdmah- Kurdmanj.

According to Minorsky (1923:1134): about the period of the Arab conquest a single ethnical term Kurd (plural Akrad ) was beginning to be applied to an amalgamation of Iranicised tribes . Among the latter some were autoch- thonous… some were Semits… and some probably Armenian.

There is no difference in opinion that the names Kurd and Kurdmanj are inter- changeable nomenclatures for the Kurdish people. The Kurdish poet Ahmadi Khni (1693) uses them in this way.

The above exposition of the genealogy of the name Kurd demonstrates the fact that the factor of power has been crucial in the survival of the name. The power of the Gutis-Karduchis-Kurds came from their mountain stronghold and their hard but proud way of life. And they have become a persistent element in the consciousness of other powers because of this reality. Hence, the geographical factor is more important in defining the Kurdish identity and culture than defining the Kurds in term of race and ethnic origin. It is clear that strong communities of autochthonous inhabitants of Kurdistan survived for thousand of years, while entering the processes of merger, cultural exchange, and mutual assimilation with other migrant or occupying groups. Although Driver does not agree that the derivation of the name Kurd from the Guti can be philologically established, he nevertheless, has no doubts that the people described by the ancients as Karduchi Corduneui, Cyrti, and so on, are the same people who were called the Kurds by the Persians and the Arabs. Driver (400-401) writes: “The Sumerian Qarda on Lake Van and Qurti with whom the Assyrians fought in the mountains of Azu- which can hardly be other than be modern Hazzu-occupy precisely the same territory as the Karduchi, who beset the retreat of the Ten Thousand, while the territory described as occupied by the Gordyae or the Cordueni is merely an extension of Karduchia, just as modern Kurdistan is but a vastly expanded Gordye or Corduene.”

Another aspect of continuity, according to Driver, is the similarity of the habits of the people as mountain dwellers. To prove his point he quotes Gibbon’s stereotypical description of the Kurds as “a people hardy, strong, savage, impatient of the yoke, addicted to rapine, and tenacious of the government of their national chiefs.” The continuity of the habit of the Kurds as robbers makes Driver relate the name Kurd to karda and cyrtie, as these are related to the Persian Gurd, which means brave or bandit.

In conclusion, what has become clear to us from this argument is the persistence of the geographical discourse which categorically proves that Kurdistan was, has been, and ever be the homeland of the Kurdish people:

The names used to describe the majority population groups and kingdoms existing in Kurdistan since 3000 B.C. have all similar philological characteristics or very close connection to the name “Kurd” of today. This substantiates common origin as well as the geographical condition of possibility.

Even the names of dynasties that were philologically different from the name Kurd have been used together to refer to one ethnic group (such as the Assyrian’ and Babylonian’s grouping of the Guti-Lullobi people, and the Sassanids’ grouping of the Meds and Kurds as one nation.) It is a tribute to the antiquity of the nation and its formidable mountains that, together with the people, ancient names such as the name Mede survived in the word Kurdmanji or in the name of the Kurdish city Amed (Diyarnbekir in Northjern Kurdistan) and Kurdish town Amedi (in South Kurdistan). There are thousands of other ancient names of tribes, mountains, hills, rivers, and places in Kurdistan (such as Mangur, Mamsh, Hamawand, Jaf, Shikak, Lolan, Zebar, Yazidi, Bilbas, Handrin, Asos, Kur-Kur, Kolara, Safin, Qandil, etc.) which have survived until today and whose etymologies are not known but are undoubtedly of a very ancient Median, pre-Median, or pre-Islamic origin.

The habitat of all these ancient ethnic groups and kingdoms corresponds more or less to the geography of Kurdistan today.
They all had one common culture and common distinctive national characteristics as mountain people.
The same pattern of the relationship with the adjacent city-state/imperial power obtained, namely mutual fear and hostility on the one hand, and cultural exchange and trade on the other.
We can better understand this last point, which represent the external dimension of Kurdish society, by restoring to the beginnings of historical discourse on the Kurds and providing a very broad outline of their history.

The Historical Discourse

By historical discourse I mean historiography, i.e., the emergence of written history   books and not just inscription on tablets.

The physical configuration of Kurdland and its location as the backbone of the Near East have always given it a special position within the logistics and strategies of power relationships and imperial/imperialist enterprises. Consequently, what has often been emphasized in the historical discourse on the Kurds is their function as an “element” in the process of power relationships in this strategic area. This has naturally led to a reductive approach: seeing Kurds only as warriors and mercenaries, ignoring or distorting the cultural and civilizational achievements and even the human reality of the Kurds as a nation. Below we will examine the image of the Medes/Kurds in the Greek historical discourse.

The Medes

During the reign of the kings of Assyria, the Medes were a loose federation of separate tribes who had been able to maintain their independence from the Assyrian power. The subjugation of Media was a challenging enterprise to the Assyrian king. Both Sannachareb and Egarhadon express their pride that they were the first Assyrian king to have forced the Medes into submission and forced them to pay tribute:

“The oration of the prophet Nahum devoted to the last war of Assyrian clearly shows whom the near East regarded as their main enemy: the Assyrian nobility (nozer), including the priests, the military, the officers of the administration (taphsar) and the merchant (rochel). This small clique of men, who had amassed what for those times was great wealth paid for by the people’s blood, was recklessly exploiting for its own benefit, the rest of the near Eastern population. The entire orient lived in the hope to see the destruction of Assyrian, “the dwelling of the lions,” and the fall of Nineveh, “the blood city.” (Diakonov, 1985b:121)

The first nation to rise against Assyrian and herald the era of freedom to the other nations of the Middle East was, Herodotus tells us (1.95), Media.

“When the Assyrian had ruled upper Asia for five hundred and twenty years (from 1229 to 709 B.C.), their subjects began on revolt from them, first of all, the Medes. These, it would seem, proved their valour in fighting for freedom against the Assyrians, they cast off their slavery and won freedom. Afterwards the other subject nations too did the same as the Medes.” Here, Herodotus establishes two archaic characteristics of the Kurds: love for freedom and valour in fighting.

When the Medes became a united nation, they, Herodotus says, developed a strong military organization. They were, he states, “the first who arrayed the men of Asia in companies and set each kind in bands part, the spearmen and archers and the horsemen; before this were all blended alike confusedly together” (1.100). In 615 B.C. the Medes conquered Arrapkha (Kirkuk), the old capital of the Gutis. In 614 they conquered the old Assyrian capital of Ashar and finally in 612 the “blood city,” Nineva, and, thus, they replaced the Assyrians in imperial hegemony over Asia. But the Medes did not attack Babylonia. Instead, they lived in peace with each other. And it was during this period that Babylon emerged as the largest city of “the civilized world” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1974:988). In 539 Media and Babylonia concluded a treaty of defence against the Persian, who had become a growing threat since 559 under their king Cyrus II. However Cyrus annexed Media in 550, and Babylonia surrendered without resistance.

But even in the context of the Persian power, the Medes retained their military power and cultural autonomy. They constituted a large part of Cyrus’s army. They were, in Herodotus’ word, “as many as the Persian” (viii. 113), and they were equipped the same way as the Persian: “Indeed that fashion of armour is Median, not Persian” (viii 113). Throughout his history, Thucydides calls the Battle of Marathon, the first major war between Asia and Greece, “the Median war.” Medism and “Medization” are the charges used against those Greeks who sided with the Persians in the war. In the speeches that take place prior to the Peloponnesian Wars, the Corinthians describe the Medes in this manner: “The Medes, we ourselves know, had time to come down from the ends of the earth to Peloponnesus, without any force of yours worth any force of yours worthy of name to meet him” (1.3.69, See also ch. Iv.)

The Thebans apologize for their “unwilling Medism” in the Median wars and they talk of Boeotanians as claiming to be the only people who “did not Medize when the barbarians invaded Hellas” (3, X, 26-65). In 479 B.C. “the Medes returned from Europe defeated by sea and land by Hellenes,” leaving an enduring impression on the consciousness and history of the Greeks. The Greek writer Aeschylus, who himself participated in this war and later wrote his play The Persians, wrote the following quatrain for his own grave in Sicily:

“Here Aeschylus lies in Gelas’ land of corn,
Euphonion’s son, in far-off Athens born;
That he was valiant Marathon could show,
And long-haired Medes could tell it, for they know.”

And when the hero of Platea betrays the Greek cause for the sake of his own personal ambitions and enters a secret alliance with the Persians, he cannot help but express this new behaviour, Thucydides tells us, by changing his lifestyle. He “went out of Byzantium in a Median dress, was attended on his march through Thrace by a body guard of Medes and Egyptians, kept a Persian table” (1.4.1300).

Herodotus shows the strength of the culture of the Medes. He states that after annexing Media, the Persians being keen on adopting alien customs, adopted the cultural customs and institution of the Medes: “They have taken the dress of the Medes considering it superior to their own.” Also in his fictitious biography of Cyrus, cyroaddia, Xenophon explains why Cyrus and the Persians preferred Median dress (viii.i.40-42); “Cyrus chose to wear the Median dress himself and persuaded his associates also to adopt it; for he thought that if anyone had any personal defect, that dress would help to conceal it, and that it made the wearer look very tall and handsome. “Xenophon also draws an effeminate image of the Median king Astyages, and gives an exotic account of the Median dress (iii. 2): “He (the king) was adorned with pencilling beneath his eyes, with rouge rubbed on his face, and with a wig of false hair-the common Median fashion. For all this Median, and so are the purple tunics, and their mantles, the necklaces about their necks, and the bracelets on their wrists while the Persian at home even to this day have plainer clothes and a more frugal way of life.”

Polybius’ geographical sketch Media (Book 5, 6-44) illustrates the mountainous character of the country, its vastness, the warlike character of its tribes, and its numerous towns and villages. About south Media, he writes (5.44): “Its southern portion extends as far as Mesopotamia and the territory of Apollonia and borders on Persia, from which it is protected by mount Zagros, a range which has as ascent of a hundred stages, and consisting as it does of different branches meeting at various point, contains in the intervals depressions and deep valleys inhabited by the Cossai, Corbrenae, Carchi and other barbarous tribes with a high reputation for their warlike qualities. Media itself has several mountain chaina running a cross it from east to west between which lie plains full of towns and villages.”

Strabo, in line with his philosophical-geographical interpretation of culture, emphasizes the geographical-environmental pattern of other way of life of different peoples in spite of their “races.” Thus, the highlands are very cold, their populations are “migratory and predatory” and able to provide large number of professional warriors, while low-lying lands are very fertile and productive. The most interesting aspect of Strabo’s environmental approach, however, is his interpretation of the organization of cultural customs which, he says, are common among the Medes, the Armenians, and the Persian. He writes (11.13.9): “As for customs, most of theirs (the Medes) and those of the Armenians are the same, because their countries are similar. The Medes, however, are said to have been the origination of customs for the Armenians, and also, still earlier, for the Persians, who were their masters and their successor in the supreme authority over Asia. For example, their “Persian” stole (robe) as it is now called, and their zeal for archery and horsemanship, and the court that they pay for their kings, and their ornaments, and the divine reverence paid by subjects to kings, came to the Persian from the Medes. And that this is true is particularly clear form their dress, for tiara, citari, a pilus, tunics with sleeves reaching to the hands, and trousers, are indeed suitable things to wear in cold and northerly regions such as the Medes’, but by no means in southerly regions; and most of the settlement possessed by the Persian were on the Red Sea, farther south than the country that reached to Media. However the customs even of the conqueror so august and appropriate to royal pomp that they submitted to wear feminine robes instead of going naked or lightly clad, and to cover their bodies all over with clothes.”

Dress styles and national costumes have remained very important elements of Kurdish culture and identity, to the extent that they have also been politicized and subjected to political repression. The Kurdish dress was prohibited in Iran by Reza Shah and in Turkey by the Kemalist regime. Despite centuries of occupation, repression, and attempts of assimilation and genocide, Kurdistan still boats a diverse range of beautiful and colourful women’s and men’s dresses: This confirms the position of the national costume as a distinctive characteristic of the Kurdish people, on the one hand, and a vivid embodiment of a deep-rooted culture and civilization, on the other.

With the loss of the military and political power to the Persians, who appropriated and adopted military role, thus preserving their internal autonomy as well as maintaining their autochthonous culture. They remained, generally as a loose regional confederation of tribes leading an independent agricultural/pastoral way of life, migrating seasonally between their winter lowlands (Garmiyan) and summer highland (Zozan, Kwestan). This pattern was threatened or shattered from time to time by external invasion and involvement in the conflicts and rivalries of adjacent imperial power.


In the 17 century, the Arabs invaded Kurdistan to spread the Islamic religion. The Kurds put up a fierce resistance in Fars, Nainawa, Saharazur and many Kurdish communities perished. Because of the Kurds could not stop the waves of Arab invaders, and eventually the majority were converted to Islam. Two factors facilitated this conversion. First, as an Oriental religion, Islam’s basic principles and ideals had much in common with other pre-Islamic religion including Judaism, Christianity, and the religion prevailing in Kurdistan: Zoroastrianism. Second, once they invaded the country, the Arabs, being a desert people, withdrew to the plains and made no attempt to settle in Kurdistan or interfere with the local autonomy of the population apart from imposing Zakat and appointing regional rulers. However, during the first three centuries of Hijra, the Kurds played a considerable part in the events of the Islamic world, on the one hand, and were engaged in a series of insurrections and rebellions, on the other. The Kurds effectively reasserted their independence in different region of Kurdistan in the 10th century through establishing some strong independent dynasties, the most famous one being the great Marwand dynasty of a Kurdish prince who ruled Farkin, Dyarbakir and Jazirat-inm Omar from 990 to 1096 A.D. One of its princes, Abu Nasr Ahmad, ruled for 50 years and endowed his cities with fine buildings, caravansaries, baths, bridges and many other works of public utility.

In the 10th century, the Kurds gave fierce resistant to the Siljuks who invaded Islamic countries and occupied the great Muslim capital of Baghdad. They succeeded in stopping the Seljukian invasion of Kurdistan, which became a bastion of freedom as it gave shelter to thousands of Christians who fled to escape from Seljukian massacre.

Despite the great losses which the Kurds suffered, the Seljuks ruled over Iran, Iraq and Armenia forms a great landmark in Kurdish history.

The Seljuk ruler Sultan Malik Shah, under the influence and political guidance of his tutor, the famous statesman of that age, Nizam-ul-Mulk, adopted an appeasement policy toward the Kurdish tribes to “lure” them “down their hilly nests” and domesticate them by allowing them internal autonomy. Nizam-ulMulk granted independent fiefs to the local Kurdish chieftains. These chiefs (or Aghas) were made completely independent in their internal affairs but had no furnish a predetermined number of well-equipped troops to the Sultan when required. Thus the Seljuks legalized the independence of the Kurdish Aghas (Sheikh Waheed, 1958: 59-60). Under the last Seljuki ruler, Sandjar, the province of Kurdistan was formed of the western part of what the Arab historians used to call “Dijbal,” the country of mountains.

The Kurds played a very important role in the second half of the 11th century, which became the age of intellectual history in the Middle East. The Kurdish historian Ibn Khalakan records that, at both Zizamia Institute at Nishapur and at Baghdad, Kurdish Scholars outnumbered the others (Ibid:59-64).

Salahuddin (Saladin) and the Kurdish Character

The Kurds played an epoch-making role in the military and political history of Islam and the world in the 12th century, when the Kurdish leader Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi appeared on the historical stage. Salahuddin was able to unite the Kurds and the Islamic world against the crusaders, recapturing Jerusalem for the Muslims in 1187. Salahuddin represents a monumental embodiment of the traditional Kurdish character: bravery, boldness, chivalry, generosity and warm humanity. In the era of religious fanaticism, Salahuddin’s kindness and chivalry after the recapturing of Jerusalem were unprecedented in the history of warfare in the East or in the West, so much so that they made a great impression on the imagination of the European peoples. Various legends were spread in the West about his kindness, courtesy, chivalry and even his imagined Christian origins. Munro (1931:338-39) sums up the image of Saladin in the West in the following: “Saladin was much admired in the West. His merciful conduct and generosity after the capture of Jerusalem, so different from that of the Crusaders in 1099, excited wonder. He was very tolerant. He allowed Latin Christians to have two deacons in Jerusalem, at Bethlehem, and at Nazareth, and to carry on their services freely. He was noted for his courtesy. Between him and Richard the Lion-heart there were many friendly relations. Richard even proposed that his sister should marry the brother of Saladin and that the two should receive Jerusalem as a wedding present thus ending the strife between Christians and Muslim. Many legends grew around the name of the grate Saracen leader, who was said to have received a knighthood from a Christian. Tales of his mercy and generosity were spread to the West.

It is noteworthy that, even in the reign of Salahuddin Kurdistan remained outside the control of Salahuddin’s Islamic empire, whose borders stopped at the foothills of Zagros.

The Mongols

After Salahuddin, the Kurds were greatly weakened by a continuing tide of Mongol invasion, which swept across Central Asia and destroyed all that was the product of centuries of flourishing human civilization. However, the Mongols failed to exterminate the Kurds, who successfully defeated the Mongol force in the mountainous region near Kirmanshah, forcing Genghis Khan to recall his army and give up his venture of occupying Baghdad. But Hulagoo pursued his ambition to the end, sweeping across Kurdistan destroying Arbil, depopulating Sharazur, and occupying and destroying Baghdad in 1258 A.D., followed by further destructive invasions of Kurdistan by the Mongols under the leadership Taimur-i-Lang (Tartar).

The Ottomans and Safavids

In the early 16th century, the Shah of Persia constituted a new threat to Kurdistan. The Kurdsih tribes and Persia were in an almost constant state of war.

In the 16th century, the Ottoman and Safavid Empires completely dominated the area: Three-quarters of Kurdistan was occupied by the Ottomans, the rest by the Safavids. Kurdistan, as the buffer zone, was caught in the sectarian war between these two belligerent empires. The Kurds, having more interest and power in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan and being Suni Musilms, were inclined to help the Sultan against the Shi’ite Persian who constantly persecuted the Kurds, in return for the Sultan’s recognizing and respect for their local independence. The Persian army was defeated in Chalderan, and a number of Kurdish dynasties were established in the south of Kurdistan. However, both empires tried to gain the loyalty of the Kurdish chiefs in order to use them against each other. Some of the feudal chiefs tried to capitalize on this situation to further their own interest. This had a negative effect on Kurdish society, deepening tribal antagonisms between rival Kurdish dynasties and imposing on internal Kurdish politics a very detrimental external factor which was to have serious repercussions for the development of the Kurdish national movement.

The war between Persia and the Ottomans resulted in an official partition of Kurdistan into two parts following the Treaty of Erzerum in 1613. Nevertheless, the alliance between the Kurds and the Ottoman Turks continued. Kurdistan as a whole was ruled by autonomous Kurdish principalities:

“For over four hundred years the Kurds of the Ottoman Empire had lived a practically autonomous existence. The control of Sultans over their Eastern Anatolian provinces remained nominal due to distance, rugged terrain, and lack of means of communication. No serious trouble took place between the Kurds and the Ottoman government until the centralizing policy of Sultan Mahmud II (d.  1839) began to antagonize the feudal lords and led to their insurrection. (Joseph, 1961:49)

During these centuries a significant number of Kurdish dynasties came into existence: Kurdish towns flourished: Kurdish classical poetry was born: the Kurdish prince of Bidlis, Sharaf al- Din Bidlisi, wrote in 1597 the first history of his nation: and the Kurdish poet Ahmadi Khani introduced the idea of national liberation and an independent Kurdish state in his Memu- Zin, written in 1693-1694.

Kurdish Language

A strong expression of the antiquity, cultural continuity, and distinctiveness of Kurds is the Kurdish language itself. There have been several theories and assumptions regarding the Kurdish language: its independence, origins, and mode of existence. It was not only ignorance, as Edmunds has rightly asserted (Edmunds, 1957:7), which made some Western colonial travellers in Kurdistan in the 19th century describe the Kurdish language as a corrupt form of Persian or a motley of Persian, Arabic, and Turkic language. Prejudice and hostility toward the Kurds also had a role in drawing those writers to these ignorant conclusions. That the peoples who inhabited Kurdistan since antiquity- such as the Gutis, the Zagrosian Elamites, the Karduchi, and the Medians- had their own language, which were different from both the language of the plain people in the south of Mesopo- tamia and later from the Persian, is well substantiated by evidence of ancient inscriptions and historical descriptions. We touched upon some of these in the presentation of archaeological, genealogical, and historical discourses on Kurdistan. There is no doubt that all ethnic groups and communities which inhabited Kurdistan or were in close cultural and military exchange with it have historically contributed to the genesis and development of the Kurdish language in the same way as they have contributed to the ethnic formation of the Kurdish nation. However, it has been established that “from whatever language it (the Kurdish) may have derived, it has certainly in many respects, undergone an individual and peculiar development of its own” (Fossum, 1923:6). This peculiar independent development was both protected and facilitated by the physical mountainous character of Kurdistan. It was this factor which in particular, enabled the Kurdish language to survive but remain little affected by the waves of Arabization which Islam triggered in the Middle East from 7th century onwards. The great Muslim thinker and historian Ibn Khaldun provides a clever theoretical insight and historical description of this Arabization process, which we wish to quote here for its scientific and historical value. He writes (The Muqaddima, 1987:294): “The dialect of urban population follows the language of the nation or race that has control of (the cities) or has founded them. Therefore, the dialects spoken in all Muslim cities in the East and the West at this time are Arabic… The reason for this is the fact that the Muslim dynasty gained power over foreign nations. Religion and religious organisations constitute the form of existence and royal authority, which together constitute the matter for religion. From is prior to matter. Religion is derived from the religious law which is Arabic, because the prophet was an Arab. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid using any language but Arabic in all the provinces of Islam. This may be exemplified by “Umer’s prohibition against using the idiom native among the non- Arab dialect, and the language of the supporters of the Muslim dynasty was Arabic, those dialects were avoided altogether in all its provinces. Because people follow the government and adopt its ways, use of the Arabic, the (foreign) nations avoided using their own dialects and language in all the cities and provinces. The non- Arab languages came to seem imported and foreign there.”

Ibn Khaldun clearly expounds on the decisive roles of both power (the state) and religion in the Arabization of non- Arab Islamic nations. The Kurds were not entirely immune from the impact of this powerful dual force. Following the Arab conquest, the Islamic tradition replaced the pre- Islamic traditions in Kurdistan. This had a great effect on the Kurdish language and culture. Islam introduced literacy into the Arabic language as the language chosen by Allah to convey the message of Islam. And the Islamic law and Quranic studies became the only domains through which one could get educated. In order to replace the pre-Islamic traditions and “propagate the new faith in a language previously unknown to the populace, individuals had to be trained who would read and write in Arabic, and were able to interpret and put into practice religious laws. These men, known as Mullas (Mela, in Kurdish), were local Kurds trained in schools which formed part of the mosque system. The earliest Kurdish poets came, invariably, from the ranks of the Mullas.” (Hassanpour, 1991:47). The result of the state Arabization of literacy in Kurdistan can be observed in massive numbers of books and manuscripts written by Kurdish scholars in Arabic on various subjects of Islamic tradition including Quran, Hadith, Islamic law, Arabic language and grammar, history, and so on. However, this was the case with very small literary elite of the Kurdish society. Otherwise, the Kurdish population as a whole retained its linguistic and cultural character. Popular poets, singers, and story- tellers continued to enrich and develop the Lyrical and epic traditions of Kurdish folk poetry. Even in terms of religion, some pre- Islamic religious communities and traditions survived and continued in Kurdistan. The Yezidis, for example, continued to say their prayers and write their traditions in Kurdish despite continued oppression over many centuries. Also Zoroastrian traditions were preserved in Kurdish in the Gorani dialect in Hawraman. Furthermore, the Kurds added their own stamp to the Islamic faith. In the same way as the Persians created Shiism, Kurdistan created Sufism. The most famous Sufi orders (tariqat) in Kurdistan are Qadiri (founded by a famous saint, Sheikh Abdul- Qadir al- Gailani: 1077-1161), and Naqish- bandi (founded by Muhammad Baha- ud- Din of Bukhare:1317-1489) (Edmunds,1957:62ff).

But unlike the Shiites, the Kurds, perhaps to their own disadvantage, have never developed their Sufi orders into a religious ideology that promotes Kurdish national power and hegemony.

The Kurdish language belongs to the northern group of Iranian languages. In contrast to modern Persian which falls into the south western groups (Edmunds, 1957:7). The Iranian languages in turn, belong to Indo-European languages. Bildisi in Sharafnama (1981), in the 16th century, divides the Kurdish language into four dialects: Kurmanji, Luri, Gurani and Kalhor. This classification is still valid. However, political circumstances and the socio-historical development of Kurdish society have naturally changed the position of these dialects within the mainstream of spoken Kurdish, on the one hand, and in relation to the standard Kurdish, on the other.

Now the Kurds refer to their language as Kurdi and use Kirmanji to identify the variations of the main geographical dialects of Kurdistan. Thus, Hama Khorsid (1983:14-28) distinguishes four dialects on the basis of their geographical distribution and linguistic use:

The North Kurmanji (or Kirmanji): spoken by the Kurds of Turkey, Syria, Armenia and by the Kurds of the districts of Dihok and Zebar in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Middle Kurmanji (which is also called Sorani): spoken by the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan and the majority of Kurds in Iranian Kurdistan.
The South Kurmanji: Hama Khorshid includes within this group the sub-dialects of Faili (orginal Luri), Bakhtyari, Mamasanni, Kalhuri and Laki. Thus, it is widely spoken “along the south-eastern region of Kurdistan (Luristan), extending from the high road between Khanaqin-Malaye on the north down to the north-eastern coast of the gulf.”
The Gurani, which includes the subdialect of original Gurani, Hawrami, Bajilani and Zaza.

The original Gurani is spoken by the population of Karan, Zahaw and Jwanro (Iran) as well as some Kakais of Tauq and some tribes of Zangana near Kifri (Iraq). Hawrami is spoken in Hawraman and the Pawa mountains (Iraq-Iran). Bajilani is a dialect scattered east of Mousl (Shabak tribe), Zahaw and near Khanaqin and Quratu, Hurain and Sshekhan (Iraq). Zaza is one of the branch dialects of the Gurani, but it is located outside the Gurani dialect region very far away to the north, inside the region between Mush, Kharbot (Elazig) and Erzingan in northern Kurdistan: i.e, it is concentrated in the region between the Euphrates tributaries, Murat Su and Furat Su, to the point of their meeting south of Musheer Dagh mountains, within the Dersim region (Hama Khorshid; pp. 31-32. Minorsky; 1943;76).

This classification by Hama Khorshid represents a comprehensive account of the Kurdish dialects and their geographical distribution. There are two main issues related to the dialectical variations of the Kurdish language: the mutual intelligibility of the dialects and the development of a standard written Kurdish.

The differences between the dialects are at times greatly exaggerated. This is often the result of ignorance or having very little contact with or knowledge of the language and the dialects. Major Noel, having himself mixed with the Kurds and becoming familiar with their dialects, reveals the ignorance and inaccuracy underlying this exaggeration when he writes (Noel: 1919: 9):

“It is often said that the Kurdish language is nothing more than a patois which varies from valley to valley. It is true that the language of S.E. Kurdis- tan, i.e., Baba Kurdi, is considerably different from Kurmanji, but it is untrue to say that variations of Kurmanji show very fundamental differences. I have with me men from the Bohtan, Diarbekir, and Hakhari. All of them can well understand and make themselves clearly understood in the extreme west of Kurdistan. They would only have to remain here for a few weeks to be perfectly at home with the language. Such differences as exist are chiefly due to changes in vowel sounds. For example, I have heard the word for mother- DYK, DY, DA, DI (Y being pronounced as Y in TRY). This is, of course, somewhat puzzling to a foreigner who has not got his ear attuned to the various sounds. His aptitude to magnify unduly the differences between the dialects is further increased by the fact the words that do alter are adverbs, prepositions, and other words which are being constantly used. For example, for the word “now” we have “AISTA” at Sulaymaniya: “NHA” in the Hakkari, and “ANGOH” in western Kurdistan. Other variations are, “AISTA HA” “ANEKA,” “NIKA” and “HENU- KA”. Therefore, anybody with a good grounding of the dialect could very easily and rapidly pick up another dialect by memorising a brief list of the common words which differ.”

If, as Noel has rightly observed, only a few weeks are enough to make a Kurd from a distant region of the farthest north of Kurdistan feel at home with the dialect of another region at the extreme west, then it would have clearly been possible to minimize the differences and develop a standard Kurdish language in a very short time indeed, had the Kurds had their own state or even opportunities to use and study in their own language. This takes us to another important issue, which is the standardization of the Kurdish language. Fortunately, this topic has been the subject of a thorough scientific study by Amir Hassanpour, whose doctoral thesis on the subject (University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, 1989) represents the first comprehensive research into the historical background, political context, and the cultural- linguistic process of the standardization of the Kurdish language. He produces the most clear and authoritative statement regarding this important subject. Hassanpour’s approach has the benefit of a global scientific vision of the issue and his ability (in terms of language and background as a Kurdish intellectual) to have access to variety of sources and references which match his vision. This has enabled him to produce a work of a great scientific value which, I believe, will become a classic in its field.

The main thrust of Hassanpour’s study is his explanation of the historical process by which the Sulaymaniyah sub-dialect of the Sorani/ Middle Kirmanji dialect could develop into a standard Kurdish language in Iraq, and be adopted as such in Iran. He has studied both the linguistic and non- linguistic changes that have taken place within the Kurdish speech community since the language was first used in writing in the 15th century. He produces, for the first time, a wide range of very well- classified and coherent data about different aspects of the use of Kurdish in classical poetry, press and journalism, books, education, broadcasting, local administration, and other cultural manifestations such as theatre and cinema. And on the basis of rigorous historical documentation and scientific arguments, he identifies numerous significant changes in the political context, social base, and cultural environment, as well as the structure and function of the Kurdish dialects since the end of the 19th century and, in particular, in the post- 1918 period which led to the emergence of the Sulaymaniyah sub-dialect. This subdialect, which first became dominant under the Baban dynasty, emerged as the standard Kurdish language in Iraq after achieving official regional status in the newly created state of Iraq (Hassanpour, 413-415).

While Hassanpour acknowledges and establishes the spectacular development of Sorani/Middle Kirmanji as the dominant standardized Kurdish, he explains that this historical development has not happened yet within the Northern Kurmanji subdialects. Neither has Sorani, for obvious political reasons, became a realistic option. Kurmanji has been held back by the linguicide policies of the states of Turkey and Syria. It is in exile in Europe that, in the last few years, the Kurmanji- speaking Kurds of Turkey, the main force for promotion of this dialect, have started a trend toward unifying the three current variants of Northern Kurmanji (Yerevan, Syria, and Turkey), drawing on the standardization efforts of the Kurds of Syria (1930-1946) and the Soviet Union. In conclusion, Hassanpour rightly defines the current state of the Kurdish language as being bi- standard with the Middle Kurmanji/Sorani dialect being at a much more development state.

The Kurdish language is the most essential feature and socio-historical and spiritual medium of Kurdish identity and culture. However, the strength, development, and prospects of the Kurdish language as the standardized language of about 30 million people will remain contingent upon the political status and future of the Kurdish people in their traditional land, Kurdistan.


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  2. Trans. By H.W. Smyth. London
  3. Bidlisi, Sharafhans (1981). Shararnama (in Kurdish). Tehran.
  4. Bois, Thomas (1986). “Kurds, Kurdistan,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leiden.
  5. Briadwood, R.J. (1960). Pre-historic Investigations in Kurdistan. Chicago.
  6. Braidwood, L. (1953). Digging beyond the Tigris. New York.
  7. Diakonoff, I.M. (1985a). “Elma,” in The Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge.
  8. Diakonoff, I.M. (1985b) “Media,” in The Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge.
  9. Driver, G.R. (1922). “Studies in Kurdish History,” in B.S.O.S, Vol. 11, part 11.
  10. Driver, G.R. (1923). “The name Kurd and its philological connexions,” in J.R.A.S, Vol. 10.
  11. Edmunds, C.S. (1957). Kurds, Turks and Arabs. London.
  12. Fossum, L.O. (1919). A practical Kurdish Grammar. Inter-Syndical Ev. Lutheran Mission Society. USA.
  13. Georges, Roux (1964). Ancient Iraq. London.
  14. Hassanpour, A. (1989). “The language factor in national development: The standardization of the Kurdish language, 1918-1985.” Ann Arbor.
  15. Herodotus (1916). The History of Herodotus. Trans. Geoges Rawlinson. London.
  16. Howell, W.N. (1965). “The Soviet Union and The Kurds.” Ph.D. thesis University of Virginia.
  17. Ibn Khaldun (1987). The Muqaddima: an Introduction to History. Translated by Franz Rosenthal-abridged edition. London.
  18. Khorsihd, F.h. (1983). Kurdish Language and the Geographical Distribution of its Dialects. Baghdad.
  19. Kurdo, J. (1988). Kurdistan: the Origin of Kurdish Civilization. Stockholm.   
  20. McDowall, D. (1992). The Kurds. London.
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  22. Minor sky, V. (1943). 2The Guran,” in B.S.O.A.S. Vol. Xi. Part 3.
  23. Munro, D. (1931). “The Western Attitude towards Islam During the period of Crusaders,” in Speculum, No. 6.
  24. Nikitin, w. (1985). The Kurds and Kurdistan (in Persian). Translated by M. Qadhi. Tehran.
  25. Pelletiere, S.C. (1984). The Kurds: an Unstable Element in the Gulf. Colorado.
  26. Rich, Paul (1991). (Introduction to) W.R. Hay, A Soldier in Kurdistan. 2nd edition. London.
  27. Safarastian, A. (1946). Kurds and Kurdistan. London.
  28. Soan, E.B. (1913). Grammar of the Kurmanji or Kurdish Language. London.
    ……. (1919) Diary of major Noel on Special Duty in Kurdistan. Basrah.
    ……. (1921) “short Anthology of Guran Poetry,” in J.R.A.S, part 1.
  29. Strabo (1969). The Geography of Strabo. End. & trans. By Richard Crawley. London.
  30. Thucydides (1914). History of the Peloponnesian War. Trans. Richard Crawley. London.
  31. Wahbi, T. (1965). The Origins of the Kurds and Their Language. London.
  32. Waheed, Sheikh A. (1958) The Kurds and Their Country. Lahore.
  33. Xenophon, (1981). The Persian Expedition Translated by George Cawkwell. London.


This article was presented at:

The International Conference
The Kurds Political status and Human Rights
Georgetown, Washington, D.C
March 17-19-1993

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The Land of the Lion and the Sun as Seen on a Summer Caravan Trip

By Harold F. Weston,  The National Geographic Magazine April 1921, pp417-468
Note that this copy of the article contains the sections on Kurds, pp417-425 only.
PERSIANS say, with a great feeling of envy, that the man who has seen the most of the world is the greatest liar. So when I am asked to tell "all about Persia," 1 generally ask if I should not include Russia, too, having been there just six hours.
What counts most in enjoying, visualizing, or telling about the "romantic East," or any strange place, is your power of imagination. I can but bring together a few faded petals; the reader’s imagination must arrange them and appropriately spray them with attar of roses.
Persia, for a surprising majority of people in America, is not much more definite than a hazy pink or green spot swimming around India  "Oh, you know, beyond Turkey."
Persia suggests Omar Khayyam, gardens and rugs, rugs remembered from colorful magazine advertisements or hasty glimpses into Fifth Avenue  windows. Many dusty books lie on library shelves. All I propose to do is to offer a few sketches in rough outline, which may help to visualize Persia of today; to pin those green or pink spots onto the map by a few vivid incidents, border them with bleak mountain ranges. dot here and there with crumbling palaces and cypressed  gardens, color with affable hosts in the form of rotund chieftains or fugitive  brigands, enliven with m mysterious veiled ladies and equally hidden but more numerous minute "critters";  then sweep it all over with dust, heat, decay, and almost unbroken desert.
Persia is almost as large as Germany, France, Italy, and the British Isles combined.  It is an arid plateau from 3,000 to 7,000 feet high, seamed by snowcapped mountains. 
The people are mostly Aryan, but but you can read all this in any encyclopedia. So we will start in the good old fashioned way.
Once upon a time there was an armistice and two young Americans, who since  '16 had been with the "Y” in Mesopotamia, conceived the idea of crossing Persia by caravan. The British military authorities gave the casual that the 2,000 brigands still in possession of the one main caravan route through central Persia might have something to say about it, though the British were sending assistance to the Persian Government to round them up. That was naturally the straw that led the camel to drink, and by May we had left Baghdad with permission to travel on the British military motor convoys through Kurdish tan to the Caspian.
A Kurdish lad was obtained as a servant, sonic emergency rations, a sixty pound tent which was never used except to be reviled (by Persian muleteers, of course), and various other incidentals, such as medicines, camera films and cash.
A Sir Somebody wrote about his trip through Persia, that he had uselessly carried two articles  a revolver and a large box of insect powder. In both cases he sighed, "Of what u se is one against so many!" Yea, verily; but lie who would venture into the land of "the lion and the sun," let him go well armed with a goodly supply of patience and faith that all is the will of God, no matter what happens: water to drink in which countless pilgrims have performed perfunctory ablutions; mules that are to come tomorrow, you wait, but, "Inshallah" (if God wills it), there will be another tomorrow for God is indeed Great, "Allahu Akbar!"
Leaving Baghdad by the little railroad, which ran almost to the Persian border, by the second day we arrived at Khanikin. There is only one passable route from Mesopotamia through Kurdistan into central or northern Persia; hence the importance of the towns on the road used by thousands of caravans and pilgrims.
Let me present a brief sketch of the setting as we were waiting to cross the frontier:
Tents pure white against the autumn toned uplands; for, although it was May, the coarse grass, thistles, and wild flowers that carpet these desert hills in the spring had already been scorched by the sun. Behind', the dark purple ranges that border the Persian plateau were still spotted with silver streaks of snow.
Black lines were slowly moving supply carts and cavalry of the British forces marching tip to cross Persia to the Caspian. Squads of khaki clad figures on the parade ground near the camp, balanced on the other side by the dark brown forms of camels, which were being loaded with bales of fodder to the accompaniment of an intermittent series of pathetic, enraged, impassioned roars and raucous gurgles from the protesting beasts.
Half a mile below lay the little mud built town of Khanikin, half Arab, hat half Persian, brilliant in the sun against a dark fringe of date palms. Along the dusty road between the high walled gardens there came out of the town a straggling group of donkeys and blue clad men, returning Persian pilgrims from the sacred cities of Kerbela and Nedief or caravans of merchandise for the bazaars of Hamadan or Teheran, all with thinking bells, Jangling bells, and clouds of dust.
At last our convoy of Ford cars was ready to leave, and, bumping and chugoring, we wound along the white line of the new macadamized road toward the Persian hills. 
The journey to Hamadan some 300 miles was by stages of twenty miles a day, accomplished in the early morning, before the heat of the day. The cars were driven by unskilled Indian mechanice, which fact added zest to the scenery of successive mountains and rolling valleys. On one day, out of thirteen cars blessed Fords), one turned turtle, one burned up, one broke its steering gear on a c ass, and one ran over a Kurd!
The following outline of a combined two days' journey is quite typical of the scenery: First, along tile, wide Kangavar Valley, past a small village with fine poplars and deliciously scented sweet brier. Over a three arched brick bridge, which, though built some hundreds of years ago and of little more than a foot's thickness at the top of the arch, was so well constructed that loaded two ton motor lorries could cross with safety (see Color Plate XII). Then tip through the narrow defile of a pass, leaving a magnificent view of a snow range behind its, onto an undulating plain, where brown and white oxen were pulling crude wooden prows.  Skirting another insignificant village with a picturesque ruined "château" perched on the top of a steep crag. Down to the side of a swift  flowing stream, with witch  elm, wild almond, and clusters of fruit trees  apricots, peaches, and cherries  where we camped.
With the dawn, out again onto the barren plateau, up and down a second pass to a deserted valley with shimmering silt deposits. Around a promontory of the range we were encircling, and, from the height of a bluff, there lay the village of Huseinabad below us. A characteristic heat or dust haze turned the clouds shell pink, the clouds that browsed on the towering snow form of Mt. Elwend, which shouldered out the northern sky.
The Kurds are racially quite distinct from the Persians and have rarely been submissive to the central government. They are in reality semi barbaric, nomadic tribes that live on their flocks and by hunting ill these wild mountain valleys. They have their own national costume, which is perhaps the most picture esque in all Persia.
Almost always armed to the teeth, these tribesmen look particularly romantic when dashing down a boulder  strewn hillside on their sure  footed ponies: the gleam of a rifle slung over a shoulder; flowing purple turban loosely bound around a huge black felt hat; broad, colorful scarf about the waist, half hiding two or even three bandoleers and above which projects hilts of a knife and a locally made revolver or perhaps a German automatic Mauser; baggy trousers, gaily tasseled and embroidered saddlecloths, and a certain air of bravado withal that vividly recalls an Oriental, a more brilliant  Velasquez, or those gallantly attired heroes so naïvely shown in old Persian miniatures.
The Kurdish women are generally somber in dress, but do not hide the beauty of their faces under veils as strictly as the Persian women. We were, however, lucky in seeing a gathering all decked out in their Sunday best. The occasion was a wedding.
It was evening. I was seated on a grave stone, painting the dilapidated town of Kasr i Shirin, sprawled out over the brow of the opposite hill, ending in the ruins of a. third century castle. I could look into a courtyard over the enclosing walls and see a noisy wedding crowd.
"Hi, ya, ya, ya, ya," the women cried, emphasizing the first and last syllables, to the accompaniment of a big drum. There was an orchestra; too, consisting of four weird instruments a guitar violin, a piccolo flute, a six foot brass trombone horn, and kettledrums which were being played apparently at random and intermittently. Now and then one or more of the players would stop for refreshments, and then resume hastily and with much added gusto, catching up, I suppose, the part of the unwritten score that he had missed!
The men and women had formed in separate lines, and with locked arms were swaying backward and forward in a sort of folk dance.
Finally a group of men guests left the wedding, trotting, down the hill, still keep lug in step and singing in unison that monotonous refrain of the Kurdish wedding march. They were going to a pile of merchandise under some willows by the banks of the river. Soon they would call their camels from where they were grazing on the near-by hills; their caravan was to move on with sitting sun.
*Accuracy in reproducing the vivid tints and tones in Persian costumes, architecture, and skies in the preceding color plates has been obtained through the cooperation of Mr. Weston, who is an artist as well as an author. He not only furnished color charts for all of the illustrations, but eight of the photographs have been colored by him.

Prehistory of Saladin

Vladimir Minorsky, Prehistory of Saladin

Saladin's Origins (A)

The famous biographer Ibn Khallikân (A.D. 1211-82) made a special inquiry into the history of Saladin's family1 and came to the following conclusion2: "Historians agree in stating that his father and family belonged to Duwîn, which is a small town situated at the farther extremity of Adharbayjan, in the direction of Arrân and the country of the Kurj (i.e. the Georgians). They were Kurds and belonged to the tribe of Rawâdiya (sic) which is a branch of the great tribe al-Hadâniya (read: *Hadhbâniya).

I was informed by a legist (faqîh) who was a native of Duwîn and never said anything of which he was not certain, that near the gate of the town lies a village called Ajdanaqân, all the inhabitants of which are Rawâdiya Kurds, and that the father of Salâh al-dîn was born there. Shâdî went to Baghdad with his two sons, Asad ad-dîn Shîrkûh and Najm al-dîn Ayyûb, and thence to Tikrît where they settled. Shâdî died there, and his tomb with a cupola (qubba) over it is within the town. I have carefully studied their genealogy but have not found any mention beyond Shâdî".3 Other sources say much less and only stress the fact that Saladin's father was born in Dvin.4

We shall examine one by one the questions raised by the passage of Ibn Khallikân.

1. The sure point in this important statement is Duwîn, i.e., the early Armenian capital Dvin, later one of the key-points of the Muslim domination in the Caucasus.5 The position of Dvin should be sought on the left bank of the river Garni (ancient Azat6 which flows into the Araxes to the east of the river Zanga (Hrazdan) on which Erivan is situated.

2. I have not seen it noticed that the native village of Saladin's ancestors Ajdanaqân should be identified with Azhdanakan which, some four centuries earlier, the Armenian historian Moses of Khoran places in the same neighbourhood.7 The passage occurs in the fantastic story of the king Tigran, who in alliance with Cyrus is said to have crushed the Medians (Arm. Mar < Persian Mâ&a). Tigran was first an ally of *astyages (whom Moses calls Azhdahak),8 and gave his sister Tigranuhi. Having unmasked the wiles of Azhdahak, Tigran killed him and sent Tigranuhi back to Armenia. As to the first wife of Azhdahak, called Anunysh, and ten thousand other prisoners, he settled them "beyond the eastern range of the great mountain (i.e., of Ararat) down to the confines of Golt'n, that is in Tambat, Oskiol, Dazhguynk' and in other palaces standing near the bank of the river (scil.Araxes), one of which called Vranjunik' is opposite the fortress of Naxçavan. Tigran settled Anuysh and her sons in a secure place where from stretch (the traces) of the slide of the great mountain, said to have been caused by a formidable earthquake ... As servants to Anuysh Tigran appointed the Medians (Mar) whom he settled at the foot of the said mountain." What is more important, Moses adds that the story was recorded in the "Historical Songs" which were sung in Golt'n; one of them told how, when Artashat was founded, Artavazd, son of Artashês, "went forth and among the Medians (Mar) built Marakert in the plain called Sharur".9

This text is most remarkable for the accuracy of its geographical indications. The great chasm on the northern face of the Ararat is that of Akhuri. Tambat is one of the high valleys of the Lesser Ararat where in 1905 I found an ancient town lying in ruins. Jula is the well-known frontier point of Julfa. On the northern bank of the Araxes, Sharur lies to the north-west of Nakhchavan,10 and Golt'n corresponds to the tract between Julfa and Ordûbâd. Azhdanakan11 lying at the head of the plain must be located near where the Garni river emerges from the hills, i.e., in the neighbourhood of Dvin.12

3. There is no doubt that the term Mar (Medians) refers to the Kurds.13 In the time of Moses of Khoren there were no Medians in existence, but even now the Kurds continue to occupy the slopes of the Ararat. In the curious Armenian manuscript containing samples of alphabets and languages, written some time before A.D. 1446, a prayer in Kurdish figures as a specimen of "the languages of the Medians (Mar)" and such a use of the term is still attested in dictionaries.14

When in 22/643 Habîb ibn Maslama arrived in Ardasât (*Artashat) he "crossed the river of the Kurds (nahr al-Akrâd) and descended into the plain of Dabîb (Dvin)", see balâdhurî, p. 200, Tabari, I, 2674. This stream can be only the Garni river, for according to a reliable Armenian source15 the Arshakid Khosrov II (A.D. 381-9) planted a wood "from the solid royal castle of Garni down to the plain of Metsamor, down to the hill called Dvin and situated to the north of the great city of Artashat, and down the river to the palace Tiknuni". As already said, towards the end of the 10th century, the great Arab geographer Muqaddasi, 377, remarked that the Christians formed the predominant element in Dvin16 but that the town was held by the Kurds (yadbituhu al-Akrâd).

The whole story of Tigran and Anuysh is a legendary superstructure over the positive fact that in the neighbourhood of Ajdanaqân on the territory between the Ararat, Dvin and Ordûbâd, there lived numerous Kurds, from times more ancient than has been usually assumed. Astyages (Ishtuvegu) was confused by Moses of Khoren with Azhdahak, and possibly the homonymy of Persian mâr ("snake") with Armenian Mar ("Median") also contributed to the imbroglio especially as some connection of the Kurds with Azhdahak was hinted at even in Persian epics.17

4. We come now to Saladin's clan Rawadi (rwâdî) which according to Ibn Khallikan's reliable informant was a sept (batn) of the tribe Hadhânî. Although this name is carefully spelt out in this form (hdhânî), the older parallel forms18 guarantee the reading *Hadhbânî (or Hadhabânî) . This name is derived from the old geographical term for the region of Irbil (Arbela), which is preserved in the name of the Nestorian diocese, Adiabene (Ha&ayyab).19 The Hadhbani had their summer quarters near Ushnû (I. Hauqal) but their activities are recorded in Salmas, Maragha and other places of Azerbayjan.

There is always some uncertainty about the names of the Kurdish tribes as the original tribal name is often replaced by the names of the outsiders who succeeded in taking the leadership of the tribe. This apprantly happened to some sections of the Hadhbânis, who came under the rule of the originally Arab families issued from Rawwâd al-Azdî. In my opinion (see above p. 123), the clan to which Saladin's family belonged was somehow connected with the Rawwâdî family whose name may have been simplified by non-Arabs into Rawâdî.

At this point we have to straighten out another kink in the Ayyubid chart. According to the historian of the Kurds, Sharaf al-dîn, who wrote in 1005/1596, the Ayyûbids belonged to the Ravanda Kurds of Dvin (Sharaf-nâma, p. 55). This term is not found in the earlier sources, although a tribe of a similar name (Ravand, Ravandî) exists nowadays on the western slopes of the frontier range separating Ushnû from Ravânduz. It is possible that Ravandi is only a later mutilation of the former Rawâdî, especially in view of the identity of their summer quarters with those of the old Hadhbânî (see above).20

And to sum up, there may have been successive waves of Kurdish migrations to the Araxes valley. The Kurds were there before the time of Moses of Khoren, but it is possible that after the Arab invasion some Hadhbânîs came to reinforce the original settlers. Finally, the existence of the Rawâdî clan among the Kurds of Dvin is likely to be explained by some particular connection between them and the Rawwâdî of Azarbayjan.

(B) / No historian has recorded the exact year in which Shâdhî ibn Marwân, whith his sons Ayyûb and Shîrkûh, left Dvin. We only know that they made for Baghdad at the invitation of Jamâl al-daula Mujâhid al-dîn Bihrûz b. 'Abdullâh al-Ghiyâthî. The latter had been Shâdhî's close friend in Dvin (?)21 and at the time in question was acting as shihna of 'Irâq. Bihrûz appointed Shâdhî to be dizdâr(commandant) of the castle of Tekrît on the Tigris. As Bihrûz was "the master of Tekrît" Shâdhî had probably not too long to wait for the post which, strictly speaking, was not a government appointment. He died in Tekrit and was succeeded by Ayyûb. The first definite date in the Ayyubid Odyssey was the service rendered by Ayyûb to the ruler of Mosul. In 526/1132 Zangî b. Aqsunqur led an expedition against Baghdad to support the candidature of the Seljukid Mas'ûd b. Muhammad b. Malik-shâh. In the battle which fought near Tekrît on the 2nd of March 1132 Zangi was defeated by the caliph's general Qaraja.22 His retreat was facilitated by Ayyûb who placed at his disposla boats for crossing the Tigris. This generosity to an enemy did not affect Ayyûb's appointment, apparently because of Bihrûz's link with Mas'ûd. Again in the following year 527/1133 ayyûb showed his independence by refusing to surrender to the former vazir, al-'Azîz, who was placed in his custody.23 Bihrûz, "the master of Tekrit", had himself to visit the fortress to carry out the orders (in 527/1132-3). The brothers were turned out of Tekrit only when Shîrkûh killed a man (an isfahsâlâr?) who was abusing a weeping woman. On the night of their departure, the tradition says, Saladin was born in Tekrit, in 532/1138. The family sought the protection of Zangi and the atabek gave them a fief. In 533/19 August 1130 Zangi captured Baalbek and put Ayyûb in charge of this fortress (mustahfiz). After the death of Zangi (14 September 1146) Ayyûb ceded the fortress to the army of Damascus (October 1146) and took service with the Bûrids. Meanwhile Shîrkûh joined Nûr al-dîn of Aleppo, and when the latter decided to dispossess the Bûrids, Shîrkûh took part in the negotiations with his brother and Ayyûb peacefully surrendered Damascus to Nûr al-dîn in 549/1154. Ayyûb kept Damascus on behalf of Nûr al-dîn and Shîrkûh received Hims.24 Soon after 550/1155 the Shaddâdid of Ani Shaddâd, see above p. 88, came as an exile to the residence of the former vassal of his family, Shîrkûh. The latter died an old man in 564/23 March 1169 and Ayyûb followed him in 568/16 August 1173.

The first certain date in the history of the Ayyubids is 1132 and we should remember that in 524/1130 the cruel Qurti b. Tughan-Arslan wrested Dvin from Fadlûn II [the Shaddadis] who lost his life in the fighting. As the Ayyubids are repeatedly called close dependents of the Shaddâdids, it is most probable that, after the death of the last energetic Shaddâdid and in the presence of a brutal usurper, the position of the family became intolerable and this is the most likely explanation of the flight of Shâdhî's family to Baghdad.25


  1. See his notices (translated by de Slane, 1842): I, 243-8, Najm al-dîn Ayyûb ibn Shâdî ibn Marwân; I, 626, Asad al-dîn Shîrkûh ibn Shâdî; III, 235: al-Malik al-'âdil Sayf al-dîn Abû Bakr Muhammad ibn Ayyûb; IV, 479-563: Salâh al-dîn Yûsuf ibn Ayyûb ibn Shâdî.
  2. See also Recueil des historiens des croisades, III, 399, with a translation by de Slane, IV, 479.
  3. Only as a curiosity Khallikân mentions the tree drawn up by an obliging nassâba, which goes up to Adam (hattâ intahâ ilâ âdam).
  4. See Bahâ al-dîn in Recueil, III, 6;I. Athîr, XI, 225 (very brief) and Abul-Fidâ (himself an Ayyûbid!), Annales Moslemici, ed. Reiske, III, 616 (nothing original).
  5. See above chapter 3.
  6. On the Russian 5-verst map three small villages bearing the name Devin are marked in this neighbourhood. Curiously enough one of them is called Dvin-Kurdakend. On the site of the ancient town see N.Y. Marr's archaeological reconnaissance near Ardashahr in Otchal Imperat. Arkheolog. Komissii za 1899, St. Petersburg 1902, pp. 91-4; also N.Y. Marr, "Ani", 1934, p. 17. Manandian, l.c., places Dvin near the village Artashar (whose site he distinguishes from the ancient Artashat, Artaxata, which lay nearer to the Araxes).In 1949 the government of Soviet Armenia decided to restore the ancient Dvin by uniting the villages standing on its presumed site. [The recent discovery of the ruins of the cathedral and the palace of the catholicos has permitted to pinpoint the site of Dvin, see K.G. Kafandarian, quoted in Vestnik Drevney Istorii, 1950, I, 151.]
  7. Moses of Khoren, I, ch. 30, Russian translation by N.O Emin, Moscow 1893, p. 44.
  8. Azhdahâk is a mythical Iranian name < Avestan Azhi Dahâka "the dragon Dahâka". This name has nothing to do with the name Astyages which in the cuneiform texts appears as Ishtuvegu.
  9. Hubschmann, Arm. Ortsnamen, p. 451, comments on this Marakert: "von den Modern gemacht?"? Sachlich unwarscheinlich". On the contrary, the overflowing of the Mar (Medians, Kurds) to the northern bank of Araxes was as natural in olden times as during the "Iranian intermezzo" (see above, p.123).
  10. Shah Ismâ'îl I defeated his Aq-qoyunlu enemeis in Sharur. This district lies between Dvin and Nakhchavan.
  11. Azhdahâ+ Arm. toponymic suffix -akan.
  12. The Nuzhat al-qulûb(A.D. 1340) mentions an Ajnân among the boroughs od Nakhchavan, adding that it is also called kârkhâna ("works") because it possesses a copper mine. This place, however, should not be confused with Ajdanaqân. Brosset in his translation of S. Orbelian, II, 63, quotes a passage from Alishan's Great Armenia, 1855, $171: "Melri (Meghri), to the south of Zangazor (between Ordubad, the Araxes and Akera river) contains the ancient canton of Balk', later called Ajanan and Kajunik'". This Ajanân is then the famous mining centre of Kapan (now Kafan).
  13. Minorsky, "L'origine des Kurdes", Travaux du XX-ene Congres des Orientalistes, Bruxelles 1938, pp. 143-52.
  14. A. Shanidze, "The newly discovered alphabet of the Caucasian Albaninas" (in Russian), Tbilisi 1938. Shanidze quotes the dictionary of Avetikian, Surmelian, Avgerian, Venice 1837: mar"a Kurd, a Shirvani". See "The Medians in ancient Armenia" (in Russian) in N.O. Emin's Izsledovaniya, Moscow 1896, pp. 122-32.
  15. Faustus of Byzantium, III, ch. 8.
  16. Muqaddasi states with regret: ma'a nublihi"despite the nobility (of the town)."
  17. Shâh-nâma, ed. Vullers, I, 36: The Kurds are the decendants of the children whom the cook Armâyîl saved from the ravenous snakes which grew out of the shoulders of Zohhâk
  18. Miskawayh, GMS, VII/6 (fascimile), p. 237 al-hdhâbânyt; Ibn Hauqal, 239 (ed. Kramers, 336): al-hdhbânyh.
  19. Ravânduz and Ushnû lie on the way from Irbil to Azarbayjan.
  20. The alternative would be two seek the origin of Ravandî in the castle Ravânduz, whose name has been connected by Sir H. Rawlinson with the ancient Orontes quoted in this region by Pliny, VI, 118. See JRGS, X, 1840, p. 23; cf. Marquart, Sudarmenien, 1930, 393-6, but in any case Rawwâdî (Rawâdî) cannot be derived from Orontes/Ravânduz.
  21. I. Khallikan, l.c., I, 243. "An amir" with whose wife he was improperly familiar had him casterated and he left to take service with Sultan Ghiyâth al-dîn Mas'ûd ans rose to be tutor to his sons. This must have happened even before Mas'ûd accession to the throne (528-47/1133-52). I. Khallikân, IV, 481, says that Bihrûz was a Greek slave and had a fair complexion. The links of Bihrûz with Transcaucasia appear also from Ibn al-Athîr, XI, 51: reporting on the earthquake which shook Ganja in 434/1139 he says that two sons of the lord of the country Qara-sunqur (*Aq-sunqur?) were killed and "the castle was ruined with Mujâhid al-dîn Bihrûz had there (hunâka)." Immediately after this record the author speaks of a canal (sikr) which Bihrûz built in the region of Nahrawânât.
  22. The famous memoirist Usâma ibn Munqidh was an eye witness of the battle but his account of it has not come down to us, see H. Derenbourg, "Vie d'Ousâma", pp. 144-6.
  23. Al-'Aziz was the uncle of the historian 'Imâd al-dîn who speaks with sympathy of Ayyûb ("a good Muslim") and of his brother Shîrkûh whose personal recollections he quotes, see al-Bunaârî, 154, 163, 167.
  24. See Wiet, Shirkuh in Enc. Isl.
  25. Samuel of Ani, Recueil, Doc. armeniens, I, 453, misunderstood the situation when he wrote that the cause of the exile was the poverty of the family and that in Tekrit Eyyub and "Shiraku" worked as water-carriers. He ends with the story of the prophetic dream of Ayyûb who see flames flaring up from his loins, etc. The pronunciation and the meaning of Shîrkûh is not quite certain: it might be "the mountain lion" and one might think of Shîr-gôh(Shêr-gûê) in Kurdish "having the lion's ear."

Source: V. Minorsky, Studies in Caucasian history, Cambridge University Press, 1957, pp. 124-132.

Problems In Kurdish Historiography

By Prof. Mehrdad Izady

Compilation and organization of Kurdish history is a time consuming task. Happily, the cause is the sheer volume of available primary sources of information, and not the dearth. Located as they have been in the geographical heartland of the greater Middle East, and commanding vast natural and human resources, the ancestors of Kurds have been inevitably and amply recorded in man's earliest experimentations with writing. After all, Kurds do share their past with all the other Middle Eastern peoples who constitute the oldest literate societies on this planet.

Even if the Kurds had meticulously rejected the idea of recording their own history, they could not have escaped being recorded by all the myriad literate peoples in Mesopotamia and beyond with whom they were in sustained contact and interaction. Luckily, Kurds have neither abstained from writing history themselves, nor have they been ignored by the historians and chroniclers of the neighboring cultures. It is simply the lack of research not research material that lies at the root of the current undeveloped state of Kurdish historiography. The business and military records of these inter- regional transactions on clay tablets richly supplement the wealth of surviving classical and medieval histories and chronicles to assist the compilation of Kurdish history. In these sources, Kurdish history is already recorded in detail and already can be found in place in almost every major university and public library in the world. One might properly ask, why then is the Kurdish history in need of compilation and writing if it is already there?

In all of these pre-modern sources, Kurdish history is recorded and written inasmuch as it has constituted a part of the greater human experience of the Middle East. In those earliest civilized parts of the world, history was only rarely compartmentalized and apportioned to bolster or demean various ethno-linguistic groups. Only when a new group of people emerged from obscurity to dominate the Middle Eastern scene, (as the Arabs in the 7th century or the Mongols in the 13th), did an exception to this trend emerge, and then for a short time. It is foolhardy, therefore, to apply the contemporary sociopolitical connotations attached to ethnicity to the pre-modern societies of the Middle East. For those earlier peoples religious persuasion followed by economic life-style surpassed other factors in forming their group feelings. The element of language, which mattered more to the Europeans (from the ancient Greeks to the modern French) often seemed irrelevant to the pre-modern Middle Easterners. And paradoxically, it is on this single factor that modern, European-devised and internationally accepted definitions of ethnicity dwell.

To extract from these sources that portion of the Middle Eastern history and human legacy which belongs specifically to the speakers of Kurdish (both of the current Indo-European and earlier Hurrian type), is a Herculean task indeed. It is a task more suitable to an entire state-sponsored apparatus than the undertaking of an individual or single group. State-sponsored endeavor is precisely how other ethno-linguistic groups who possess an independent state in the region have compiled and written their own ethnic history. By founding and funding state-sponsored academies and grants to universities' liberal arts departments committed to the task, ethnic-oriented compartments of history have been established and popularized.

By the advent of "nation-statism" in the 19th-century Europe-a notion fully dedicated to the altar of languagebased ethnicity-ethnic histories began to be written to bolster the legitimacy of the linguistically demarcated nation-states. They became the sine quo non among the priorities of the new ' national ' governments both to legitimize their ethnic authenticity and legalize their claim to the territory they called their ethnic home. Old general histories were combed for information on a specific ethno-linguistic group, and what was missing was filled in by interpolation, extrapolation or simple fabrication. Bernard Lewis provides eye-opening examples of how Middle Eastern "nation-" states achieved this in his work aptly titled, History: Remembered, Recovered, Invented.

Lacking the power of state apparatus and funding, or from an organized non-governmental philanthropic class, the "ethnic" history of the stateless Kurd is yet to be compiled from the mass of disparate sources. The world is no longer satisfied with the account of general, collective achievements of peoples. It desires and values the specificity of compartmentalized history and the division of human achievements among its contributors: those who cannot delineate their specific share, are declared historically marginal, their culture primitive, and even their claim to their homeland tenuous. Thus ranked inferior, the heritage of any such people is exhibited in natural history museums not art or archaeology museums. Their history and human experience becomes subject of study by anthropologists, but not sociologists or historians. They will occupy the gray areas separating raw nature from civilization, one that is currently labeled as "primitive cultures," and exhibited at natural history museums alongside minerals, plants and animals. Their claim to self governance is similarly discounted in favor of the "enlightening" patronage of an imperial sovereign or annexation to an existing "orderly" modern state as hedge against "instability." Rank-speculation born to ignorance of the speculator has condemned many illustrious culture of past to marginality, not just that of the Kurds. The brilliant civilization of Meso-America is still struggling to shed its image of "primitiveness." The Mayans and Inkas, like the Kurds lack well-paid academic lobbyists and advocates to fend for their rich cultural legacy.

Lacking ready-to-use textbooks on their heritage, these cannot even convince their own young of the value of their heritage, let alone jaded outside professionals. Like the Kurds, the Inka, Maya and Aztec cultures are still displayed at natural history museums and defined by anthropologists.

Similar rank-speculation has been at work in regard to the ancient Hurrian ancestors of the Kurds. Writing of the Hurrians, G. Wilhelm notes this illogic and tries to pinpoint its source.

"The Hurrians were one of the most important ancient"

Eastern civilizations, and yet we have far less information, linguistic as well as historical and cultural, about them than we do about the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Hittites, or [even] the Canaanites." He then laments "the very contradiction between the obvious importance of the Hurrians' role in the ancient Eastern world and the fragmentary evidence about it has given rise to a variety of assessments and even to rank speculation."

Oddly, this is exactly what should be said of the state of thescholarly endeavor dedicated to the study of the historical role and cultural contribution of the descendents of the Hurrians: the Kurds. In fact the odious "rank speculation" vis-à-vis the Kurds is also fully operational. The image of Kurds as "simple tribal nomads" (if not mention predator, bandit or barbarian) lurking by the wayside of history and cultural currents, is espoused even by those who profess Kurdology as their scholarly focus.

In 1965 Thomas Bois, the contributor of the entry "Kurd" in the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, wrote a well known general book on the Kurds, which he named, Connasissance des kurdes ("Knowing the Kurds"). It was translated into English the following year, and titled The Kurds. In the introduction to his book, Bois repeats Vladimir Minorsky's account of the archaic existence of the Kurds and their heavy interaction with Mesopotamia-an account originally published in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia in 1913. Having repeated, but hardly grasped Minorsky's pioneering work, one would be hard pressed to find any more demeaning and disparaging adjectives than those chosen by Bois to describe the society and civilization in Kurdistan with which he intends to acquaint the reader.

"While [the Assyrian king] Sennacherib was engaged in organizing the provinces of Babylon," Bois informs his readers, "the Medes, the highlanders of Zagros, who up to that time had been only one of many barbarous mountain tribes leading a nomadic life or settling in miserable villages…" Of course the reader is never informed by Bois of the source or sources that led him to determine the "barbarous" nature of the mountain tribes of Kurdistan or the "miserable" state of their villages. And this, by the way, is from a friend of the Kurds and a putative "Kurdologist."

It is nothing new that by nature man ranks lowest in importance what he knows the least about. He is most resistant to relinquish the comfort of what is known for the uncertainty and effort of learning the unknown, even if the known is manifestly wrong. I have written at length for the Kurdish public on the manifestations of this dismissive attitude by scrutinizing the conclusions drawn from the archaeological excavations at the ancient mound of Godin east of Dinawar in southeastern Kurdistan, Iran. There, the archaeologist have now found the earliest physical proofs for existence of grape wine and barley beer. Who were the inventors?

Overlooking the fact that grapes and barely are natives of the Zagros-Taurus mountains and first domesticated there; that grapes don't grow in the hot marshlands and saline soils of the southern Mesopotamian plains in Iraq, the archaeologists involved in the excavation at Godin bypassed the indigenous cultures of the Kurdish mountains and squarely attributed the invention of both commodities to-the Sumerians of southern Iraq! At Godin the beer vats were found in a room also stocked with what appeared to be clay balls for use by military slingers. Classical Graeco-Roman historians have consistently ascribed this form of warfare to the peoples of the Zagros, and particularly those whom they call the Kurti, i.e., the Kurds. What can sling balls do to change the historical convention when even the irrefutable facts of geography and botany cannot? How can the Hurrian ancestors of the Kurds claim credit for what is dug up from their ancient home towns for the first time anywhere in world, without upsetting what G. Wilhelm properly calls the current "rank-speculation"? In a paper read to American Anthropological Association in December 1994, Dr. Virginia Badler of the University of Toronto, who now heads the ongoing excavations at Godin, struggles to maintain the status quo by explaining away the physical evidence that refutes it. Thus she explains the existence of the sling balls as another "evidence" that the Sumerians were the inventors of beer and wine. To amplify this manifest subterfuge, she states that "at that time, clay sling balls were weapons of war everywhere." We, of course, are never informed of the provenance of these "some" reports, and how they compare to ubiquitous reports in the ancient and classical sources that slings were the weapon of choice of the Kurds.

To the delight of common sense-and Kurds-in the past four years, other archaeological mounds in Kurdistan like Haji Firuz, northwest of Mahabad and Titris, southwest of Adiyaman have provided further evidence for invention of grape wine in Kurdistan, pre-dating Godin by 2500 years. One wonders how the evidence from Haji Firuz and Titris are going to be explained away by the dogmatist such as V. Badler.

The resistance among the scholars of ancient history to give credit to the Hurrians for their fundamental role in evolution and enrichment of the Middle Eastern-Mediterranean civilization, is precisely that which denies the development and reconstruction of the rest of Kurdish history, from the time of the Hurrians to the opening of the 20th century. In neither case has the dearth of source-material been the problem. What has been, is the apprehension against the opening of the proverbial Pandora's box. This could, as it has now begun in the case of the Hurrian history, call for a major revision of our current standard texts and curricula on historical and cultural evolution of the Middle East and the Mediterranean world, requiring a re-ranking of its traditional contributors.

Setting aside the limitations deriving from the established rank-speculations, one might properly ask: "but have the Kurds contributed anything worth recovering or reporting?" Let us use cold logic one more time. By virtue of their geographical centrality in the greater Middle East-home of the oldest continuous civilizations on earth-Kurds should have inevitably contributed to its formation and transmission in some appreciable level. Then how is one to explain at the face of this logic the fact that no archaeology museum in the world at present exhibits an artifact identified as Kurdish? The answer lies both in deliberate and in faulty misidentification; and it does not stop at artifacts. Allow me to give an example.

This year marks the 1,100th anniversary of one the greatest minds in the history of the Kurds and the Islamic civilization, Abu-Hanifa Ahmad Dinawari. In the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam in 1913, Abu-Hanifa is identified by C. Brockelmann as "Arabic philologist and scientist." Now, "Arabic" in the academic circles is held to mean one who writes his works in Arabic languages, and thus belongs to the Arabic language tradition. This is as misleading as identifying all those people who today write their works in English as "British," and then expecting the readers not to draw the wrong ethnic and national connection from the term. In reality, however, the confusion between the two was hoped for rather than feared, as can presently be seen.

At the beginning of the 20th century, various ethnic histories had begun to be written, and ethnic groups were clamoring to appropriate for their own respective history and heritage whatever could be appropriated. The Encyclopaedia was just helping along with the process. But if there was tongue-incheek double talk in identifying Abu-Hanifa as "Arabic," in 1913, it was eliminated when the second edition of the Encyclopaedia was issued in 1968. B. Lewin in this new edition begins the biography of Abu-Hanifa by straightforwardly calling him an "Arab scholar of the 3rd/9th century." This unmistakable pronouncement by Lewin of Abu- Hanifa 's ethnic affiliation is made despite the fact he then proceeds to relate all of the traditions regarding the strong Iranic personality and sentiments manifest in the works of Abu-Hanifa - feelings which brought him into disfavored in Arab circles at the time.

Lewin relates the fact that Abu-Hanifa had no Arab blood in his ancestry, that his grandfather Wanand was still a non-Muslim, that Abu-Hanifa was born and died in Dinawar in southeastern Kurdistan, that… And despite knowing and relating all these, he finds it not strange to begin his piece by unabashedly calling Abu-Hanifa the "Arab scholar of the 3rd/9th century"! Such blatant misidentification as this is not rejected by the editors of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, simply because to them all Muslims are Arabs until proven otherwise. One would naturally expect from the editors of a work published in Holland to completely leave out the question of the nationality of the personages they include in the Encyclopaedia, a question that should be immaterial to the station of a great scholar. But if the question of nationality is not deemed trivial by the editors, they are bound to accuracy and impartiality in making it. The fact that not a single scholar is ever identified as Kurdish in the thousands of pages of that encyclopaedia, while myriad of manifestly non-Arab scholars like Abu-Hanifa are called straightforwardly "Arab," is evidence that: 1) the question of nationality is not immaterial to the editors of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, and 2) Arabs are their ethnic group of choice. Childish? Yes. But also true.

But it is not just the Arabs and their advocates who take from Kurds. Here is how the entry on Abu-Hanifa begins in the new Encyclopaedia Iranica: "Abu-Hanifa Dinavari, grammarian, lexicographer, astronomer, mathematician, and Islamic traditionalist of Persian origin…" Kurds have not yet thought of claiming the legacy of their own prestigious native son, and Arabs and Persians are clamoring over his appropriation. This open theft is certainly an inadvertent tribute to the high scientific station of Abu-Hanifa that so many alien peoples go through so much trouble to claim him for their own heritage.

Since there is no clear share yet cut out from the common Middle Eastern historical and cultural heritage for the Kurdish nation, the editors of the Encyclopaedia of Islam and Encyclopaedia Iranica, like most modern authors, are loathe to give to a people-the Kurds-what that people have not yet claimed themselves. Why rock the safe boat of the status quo, if the only injured party still has his head in the sand? At a time when even the living Kurds have to "prove" they are Kurds, how can an 1,100-year-old first rate scientist and historian be identified as a Kurd? Abu-Hanifa wrote in Arabic and was a Muslim, he must have been an Arab-an ethnic Arab, in the infinite wisdom of the editors of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the New Edition. Likewise, because Dinawar is within the political borders of modern Iran, Abu-Hanifa can only be a Persian in the minds the editors of the Encyclopaedia Iranica. Let us contrast the importance and yet obscurity of Abu-Hanifa with the unimportance and yet fame of the Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi, to perhaps understand the mechanism involved in fostering pride in a national history and culture.

The 17th-century Eveliya Celebi, whose lifetime achievement was restricted to keeping a very good diary, is now hailed as a world champion of knowledge. This is as much from Ankara as from America and Holland. He has been fawned upon as a supremely keen mind; every bit of his travel diary made subject of doctoral dissertations, translations and intense commentaries, and published in fancy editions, all out of proportions to the merit of his "I came, I saw, I wrote" diary. As if this is insufficient, a foundation has now been dedicated to Evliya Celebi at a major university in United States. All lovers of knowledge should delight in works of this magnitude lavished on a mere traveller and hope that even more will be lavished on men of the scope and substance of Abu-Hanifa.

But this is not likely to occur. The reason? These accolades and honors have little to do with the achievements of Evliya Celebi. It is the Turkish people and history that is being celebrated and ranked-a first-rate Evliya Celebi for the first-rate Turkish culture. By contrast, the Kurd, Abu-Hanifa Ahmad Dinawari, one of the stars of Islamic and world civilization, languishes in obscurity on his 1,100th anniversary, because his tutelary nation, the Kurds, are rank-speculated as lowly and second-rate.

The low esteem currently ascribed to the historical role of the Kurds is also pervasive among the modern Kurds themselves. This is true or they would have strived to alter it. There is of course a reason for this, and that is lack of eduction of Kurds in Kurdish history. Kurds grow up studying highly politicized and historically doctored texts prepared by local state education ministries, and aimed at nothing remotely conducive to learning of Kurdish past or present. They grow up boasting of the grandeur of the Persian Cyrus, the Ottoman Süleyman and the Arab Gamal Abdul Nasser, more or less with the same zeal as a Persian, Turk or Arab. The Kurd is subjected to the same indoctrination as these others; they read the same texts; they listen to the same broadcasts; they see the same propaganda billboards. Why not the same zeal? And when the prestigious Encyclopaedia of Islam unreservedly pronounces Abu- Hanifa an Arab, while Encyclopaedia Iranica calls him a Persian, how would a Kurds identify with him, let alone celebrating his anniversary? There are no "Encyclopaedia of Kurds" to come to his rescue-yet.

Barred from studying their own history and heritage in their schools as students, Kurds naturally find only a few political figures around whose prestige to converge and strengthen their threatened patriotism. Consequently, the modern Kurdish intellectuals end up exulting dead and dubious political figures and tribal chiefs like Simko and Yezdanshir, instead of taking immense pride, which they can rightly take, in the likes of Abu-Hanifa Dinawari. Were the Kurds able to treat Abu-Hanifa as the Turks treat Evliya Celebi, a befitting, world-class Kurdish national hero would be born.

And Abu-Hanifa would not be alone. Every year marks some anniversary of the lives and achievements of Kurdish intellectuals and luminaries of the past. Last year marked the 300th anniversary of Ahmad Khani's writing of the national epic of Mem o Zin; This year the 1,100 anniversary of Abu-Hanifa; 1997 ushers in the 400th anniversary of the writing of the Sharafnama-the first-known pan-Kurdish history by Sharafiddin Bitlisi. And 1998 is the 1800th anniversary of Lucian, one of the greatest epistemologists, rhetoricians and satirists of the Graeco-Roman world.

Lucian, one of the star of classical Greek literature, a Kurd? Born an raised in Samsat, southeast of Adiyaman, Lucian in his writings takes pride in being able to speak and compose in various Greek dialects, so well, he reports, that in Antioch he passed as an Ionian; in Athens as an Antiochian. Lucian is amused that none suspected that Greek was not his native language, and that he was in fact a Soran Kurd. He learned Greek when hired as a boy to do household chores for a local Roman administrator in whose household Greek served as the lingua franca. Like a true Kurd, Lucian often writes of his preference for his mountainous homeland of Kurdistan over the bountiful plains of the others.

Hopefully there will be greater Kurdish enthusiasm in 1998 to mark the 1800th anniversary of Lucian than that exhibited in 1990 when his beloved and oft-serenaded home town of Samsat and its archaeological heritage was drowned beneath the Ataturk Dam reservoir.

The list of anniversaries commemorating the legacy of Kurdish culture and history continues; the richness of that legacy is no accident. If a nation possesses a long and illustrious history, it should be able to produce anniversaries of this magnitude annually. The fact that the Kurds can rightly celebrate several such events every year is a good yardstick by which to measure the richness of their heritage.

All individuals or organizations attempting at remedying this undervaluation and deliberate degradation of Kurdish heritage can in the interim count on facing a hostile world, as hostile in the halls of academe as in the political arena. This is only to be expected, since any new claim to a portion of the human heritage must come at the expense of some other group's claim. Abu-Hanifa Dinawari is already claimed by the Arabs (because he wrote in Arabic) and Persians (because Dinawar is in Iran/Persia). A Kurdish claim to its native son must detach and retrieve him from the Persian and Arabian pantheons. And this loss no one would permit without a struggle. Any pioneering effort, therefore, to collect and organize in one place the history of the Kurds is bound to raise hostility and to generate controversy, regardless of the meticulousness of the research or the charity of intention.

But why have national histories become so contentious? Why are people fighting-literarily-over its apportionment, sale or otherwise appropriation? And why are they stilling luminaries from one another?

Buying history is the most economic way of buying international acceptance, legitimacy of rule and claim to a land, no matter how outlandish the claim. No other branch of the social sciences and humanities has been consequently more intertwined with politics, questions of legitimacy and claim to land than history. Only now are Kurds discovering the optimum importance of history to any claim they may make to their homeland. And this is not a moment too soon. Need one mention how Israel's claim to Zion was buttressed by land allocation ascribed to the Bible? It matters not if the Bible contains such; the fact that history was used as the deed to the land by that state, is precisely what has prompted all states and aspirants to statehood to employ an army of historians.

Writing of national histories requires considerable and continuing public and private support. Such a feat doubtlessly requires the facilities of an academy of dedicated, ethical-and native-Kurdologists, of whom there are still precious few. They face the challenge of altering a status quo that belittles the Kurdish national heritage to one of a marginal nomadic culture not too far removed from the "barbarous mountain tribes and miserable villagers" which the "Kurdologist" Thomas Bois called the ancestors of the Kurds, with which the modern Western guru of Kurdology, Martin van Bruinessen would heartily concurs. This denigration has done much to demoralize the Kurds, both lay and intellectual, in the past 70 years. Much of this belittling is not accidental or even a by-product of the bazaar mentality of area-study scholars who grab for their own discipline what is there to grab. The biased treatment of the Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Encyclopaedia Iranica of the question of the nationality of the scholars they describe has already been reviewed; no "accidents" were found to be responsible for their respectively pro-Arab and pro-Persian falsification of history. And this occurs in a West that boasts "impartiality. "

In the not-so-impartial Middle East, the organs of states are understandably dismissive of the Kurdish heritage, and work to undercut the Kurds' attachment to their national uniqueness and pride in their identity. Even upon leaving the Middle East for the West to study, the Kurd finds in conversation with Western scholars that he is being required to "prove" that there is a Kurdish nation or even an ethnic group. Yet no other group hailing from the Middle East or anywhere else in the world is required to "prove" their identity. Both the Kurd and those who would study him are customarily dispatched to write something on "Kurdish nationalism," a topic on which every college and university library holds a few well-worn titles to offer students of political science-and the curious Kurd. As a good "tribal" person, he might even be delegated to write his college papers or graduate thesis on which Kurdish tribal chief and iter- tribal feud, a petty political dispute or who marries whom in a Kurdish tribe. Never history, least of which, ancient, classical or medieval Kurdish history.

Confused and resentful and beleaguered by their current desperate economic and cultural conditions, many Kurds become the unconscious instrument of their own denigration. W. R .Hay accordingly observed in 1921:

    "The Kurd has a curious habit of disparaging himself and his brethren-probably inculcated by the Turks, who were bent on Ottomanising him, and stamping out all racial feeling. He will continually refer to himself as "zahirbin," one who sees the exterior only, "tamakar" or avaricious, and "wahshi" (barbarian)."

Summary & Conclusion

The primary sources of information on Kurdish history-from antiquity to present time-are plentiful and readily available in all major libraries around the world. What has been preventing the compilation of Kurish history is dearth of research not research material. Development of Kurdish historiography has suffered as much from the state-sponsored discouragement as by Kurds' own lack of endeavor. The absence of Kurdish schools and academic bodies, dedicated to research and compilation of their national history has compounded the current bewilderment over the nation's share of human history and civilization.

It is encouraging to find Kurds discovering the paramount importance of historical education at home and outside in order to replace the present demoralizing atmosphere that denigrate the Kurds and Kurdish share of Middle Eastern and human civilization. They are awakening to the need to retrieve their own past and preserve their own culture without seeking or caring about the approval of the outsiders. The editors of the Encyclopaedia of Islam or Encyclopaedia Iranica, for example, are unlikely to approve of this development because such is bound to result in their having to rewrite large portions of their defective product to make room for the Kurdish share of Middle Eastern history.

Kurdish history must be written first by the Kurds' own historians, if they hope to ever gain parity with their neighbors on historiographyical grounds. Western authors have so far proven themselves neither capable nor interested in treating Kurdish history with dedication, impartiality or fairness. Further, due to lack of financial reward, Kurdish historiography has attracted only second- or third-rate Western historians and non-historians (like anthropologists or political scientist) to produce superficial, often biased accounts of Kurdish past.

Once Kurdish history is written, it would need to also be popularized. All nations must connect to their past by popular celebrations and the pride that attends them. National heroes and proud histories emerge with depiction and description to a larger public. It does not matter how important are individual Kurdish luminaries like Abu-Hanifa Ahmad Dinawari, and how well they are described in dusty encyclopaedias. It does matter how they are related to the Kurds' national heritage and perceived by the man in the street. National historical heroes literally must be trumpeted as such on the streets. Without trumpets there are no heroes. This is patently evident in the example of Evliya Celebi in Turkey reviewed above.

The Kurds are fortunate that the writing of their national history and the study of their specific achievements requires no fabrication or outlandish claims. They need not buy a history. Their job is to strive to resurrect and to popularize their past and their contributions. The overwhelming body of primary historical documents and archaeological evidence necessitate only time and not speculation to do so. Once a Kurdish historian has overcome his fear of upsetting the status quo and survived the inevitable dismissal, if not hostility, of the traditionalist historians and advocates of neighboring ethnic groups, the history and human legacy of the Kurds will be properly understood-and ranked.

 Source: M. Izady, "The Current State of Kurdish Historiography", the Kurdish Life, Number 16, Fall 1995,

Sharafkhan Bidlisi

By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli

Sharafkhan Bidlisi (Kurdish: Mír Sheref el Dín Bitlísí) was born to a ruling family from the tribe of Rozaki (Rozakí) in North Kurdistan in 1543. This background provided him with both opportunity to get excellent education in the sciences of his time, and also to become a political actor at a very early age and then become fully immersed in Kurdish dynastic politics in the context of wider imperialist rivalry and conflict between the Sunni Ottoman and Shiite Safavid empires. Eight years before his birth, the Ottomans had disposed his father from his dynastic rule.

In retaliation, Sharafkhan sided with their enemies the Safavids. Therefore he spent most of his early youth with the Iranian nobility. His father sent him to the capital when he was eight years old. There he studied with the sons of Shah Tuhmasib and his noble relatives. Sharafkhan was engaged in statesmanship when he was only twelve years old. At this age, in 1554, he was made the prince of Salyan and Mohammadabad in the district of Sheerwan north of Azerbaijan. In 1556 he was given the title of Prince of Rozaki tribe and stayed in the King’s castle in Qazwin for two years. In 1568 Shrafkhan became the commander of the army which quelled the rebellion of Ahmad Khan in Lahjan of the Geylan district. When Shah Ismael became King in 1576, Sharafkhan was made the Prince of the Princes of Kurdish tribes in ëran. All major responsibilities of Kurdistan and Luristan were given to him.

When the Qizilbashis accused Shah Ismael of being pro-Sunna, the Shah changed his mind and expelled Sharafkhan to Nekhchewan. This made Sharafkhan very resentful, as he wanted to remain in Kurdistan. The Ottomans were able to establish contacts with Sharafkhan through another Kurdish leader Khasrawkhan, the prince of Wan, and gain his sympathy towards the Ottomans. Thus at the beginning of December 1578, Sharafkhan with a 400 strong force joined the Ottomans and left Nakhchavan to return to Kurdistan.

From then, Sharafkhan participated in the wars which Sultan Murad the Third launched for ten years against the Iranians for the occupation of the districts of Caucuses. In return, Sultan Murad gave him the title Khan and gave the rulership of Bidlis to him and his descendants. Sharafkhan governed Bidlis for a short period and when he was 53 years old he devoted himself to the writing of the history of the Kurds and left the principality to his son Abulmalik Shamsuddin. Thus Sharafkhan lived for 32 years amidst the greatest events of Iran, Turkey and Kurdistan, and devoted the last eleven years of his life to the writing of Kurdish history.

That Sharafkhan did not follow the example of other Kurdish leaders and princes to cling to power until he was dead, killed or disposed, and instead chose to dedicate himself to the writing of the history of his people, tells a lot about Sharafkhan and the nature of his enterprise. This does not only show that Sharafkhan was a great intellectual who greatly valued the art of history, but also shows that during his statesmanship and the turbulent events he experienced, he was a Kurdish statesman and fighter and was always conscious and proud of his Kurdishness and also of the Kurdishness of great many other statesmen, scholars and soldiers who had played or were playing critical roles in the history of the Middle East. Like Ahmadi Khani after him, Sharafkhan was keen to define himself and assert his identity as a Kurd in relation to the other, the Persian and the Turk. He was keen to reclaim a remarkable space of the history of the Middle East which was his nation’s and of the geography of the Middle East which was his people’s homeland. Thus, as I said earlier, Sharafkhan’s was a national project. But how does he define this national project? How does he interpret his nation’s history? Before trying to reply to this, I go back to Sharafnama’s prologue to read what Sharafkhan himself says about the background of his intellectual enterprise.

Soviet Plans for Baba Gurgur

Henry D. Astarjian

With Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, which marked the inception of the cold war, Soviet propaganda in the world and in the Middle East escalated; they offered Marxism-Leninism as a substitute to corrupt capitalism, a system that exploited the masses for the benefit of a few. They presented themselves as advocates of justice, determined to help the oppressed people bring about radical changes in their lives. This meant overthrowing their regimes, and ridding the region from the colonialist-imperialist domination.

The fact that the Soviets had successfully defended Stalingrad and pushed the German forces all the way to Berlin was a forceful, convincing, propaganda point. So was their entry to Berlin! They stressed this point over and over again, praising the heroism of the Soviet soldier, and the wisdom of their commanders. At the end of the litany, it was all, ultimately, attributed to the superiority of the Communist regime, and the endurance of the Soviet people.

Of all this rhetoric, the one that impressed people most was their capture of Berlin. “If it wasn’t for the Soviet Army, the American forces could not have taken Berlin,” boasted their local propagandists. I argued against this point of view because it gave my interlocuters, the Communist propagandists in my neighborhood, the upper hand. It mattered to me that the West was not the first to enter Berlin. At the time we did not know that Ike had made a decision to let the Soviet soldier, rather than his, die for Berlin.

Kurds, who were Soviet sympathizers, were very happy and proud with this victory, but the Turkomans of Kirkuk felt sorry for the defeat of the Axis, since most of them were pro-Nazis even after Turkey had shifted alliance from Hitler to the allies.

This kind of Soviet propaganda echoed favorably in the Arab world because it articulated the realities of their daily life, albeit somewhat exaggerated, and because it fortified their belief that British policies had undermined their society in order to rob the riches of Baba Gurgur.

While the Soviet propaganda belabored to convey its message to the Iraqi general population, it did not have to struggle too hard to win the hearts and minds of some diasporan Armenians who were familiar with the Russian rather then the Soviet culture. Russo-Armenian “Friendship” is rooted in history. Armenia was one of the Russian Khanats in the Middle Ages. Their Tzars had given Holy Echmiadzin, the Vatican of the Armenian Apostolic faith in Armenia, their constitution, Bolozhenia. They were Armenia’s allies who defended Armenia against the invading Turkish Army in the 1920s.

Armenia was one of the sixteen Soviet Republics, and many an Armenian had served, as top-ranking general or foot soldier, in the Soviet Army and defended the fatherland. Anastas Migoyan, an Armenian, was in the politburo, survived all the politburo purges, later, and became Prime Minister. There was his brother, the creator of the MIG jet. Last, but not least, there was Aram Khachaturian the world famous composer.

The Holy Sea of Echmiadzin was the definition of an individual Armenian’s national identity, therefore Soviet or not, Armenia, and by extension the Soviet Union, was their spiritual home.

The Soviets had exploited this relationship to advance their interests, in not only the Armenian community of Kirkuk, but also that of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of post-Genocide Armenians had found a safe haven, and thrived.

In fact, this exploitation was not new; a few years after the Bolshevik Revolution the Soviets recruited some Armenian men of cloth, to implement their great designs for the Middle East. For example, the Armenian Archpishops of Iran and Iraq were agents of OGPU, the predecessor of KGB. The former had authority, which extended to India. In fact, the chief of OGPU in the 1920s was an Armenian who was later liquidated in Paris.

Armenian “Patriots,” knowingly or unknowingly, were ready and willing to be a part of this strategy believing that their support would help their motherland to stand in good stead with the Soviets. In fact, in the mid-1940s, a handful of Armenians were in the hierarchy of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), and at least one of them was an original founder of the organization.

It was this Communist Armenian network, which smuggled the defecting Kim Philby, the famed Soviet mole in the British Intelligent Service and one of the original CIA advisers, from Beirut to Cyprus and ultimately to the Soviet Union. This defection shook Whitehall and the Western world, handing the Soviets a major victory. Kim Philby was a collaborator of McLean-Burgess et al., the Soviet moles in the British Intelligence Organization.

The Arab world was oblivious to this defection except for Saudi Arabia, which paid a passing attention to the event only because they knew his father, Kim Philby senior, who had converted to Islam and assumed the name “Abdullah.” He had been a mole and a top adviser to the Saudi Royal Family. He had been an influential strategist in the battle over Saudi “Baba Gurgur.”

In Kirkuk, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Club, for instance, was a theater for Soviet propaganda. This most nationalist, noble, benevolent, conservative, and capitalist Armenian Union, which was established by Boghos Nubar Pasha (the onetime Armenian Prime Minister of Egypt), was hijacked by the Armenian Communists, in the name of love for, and loyalty to, the fatherland.

As a teenager I used to go there. They used to sing and teach the youth songs praising the Soviet way of life. Soviet movies shown to us were about the accomplishments of the Soviet regime: the happy life in the kolkhozes, the giant combines, the rich harvests, the contented farmers, the valiant workers of Soviet Armenia, the gymnasts, the healthy vineyards, the famous Armenian cognac factories, and finally, the brave Soviet soldiers standing on guard to protect the beloved fatherland.

AGBU events started by singing Soviet Armenia’s national anthem Sovetagan Azad Ashkhar Hayastan (Free World, Soviet-Armenia). The hammer and sickle studded red flag displayed on stage had substituted the historic red, blue, and peach-colored flag of nationalist Free Armenia.

They told us about how great the Soviet regime has been for Armenia since 1921, when the Bolsheviks toppled the three-year-old free and independent Armenian Republic, and took over the country. They despised the Free Armenian Republic, which in 1918 had risen from the ashes of millennia-old Armenian history and had enjoyed America’s patronage; they spat on its tricolor flag. They were proud of the fact that the Reds of Armenia, in collaboration with Lenin’s forces, had axed to death thousands of incarcerated nationalists who had waged the failed February Uprising against the regime. They were proud of the Sovietization of Armenia! AGBU was so involved in towing the Soviet line, that the opposition labeled them KGBU. Like Philby’s case, Armenian Communists were highly instrumental in the workings of the International Communist movement, and were actively involved in the cold war, which in the Middle East reached its zenith in 1956.

That year, in Beirut, the hub of international espionage and the most important cold war theater, there was a big struggle for control of the Armenian Catholicate, the Great House of Cilicia. They were to elect a new Catholicos. This was of paramount importance to the superpowers because control of the Catholicate meant control of the churches in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Cyprus, the all too strategically important countries for the superpowers. Control of the churches, in turn, meant control of its parishioners and supporters, thus denying the Soviets bridgeheads in these countries.

The Soviet and the United States Embassies in Beirut were intimately involved in this duel. The negotiators on both sides, those who preferred the Soviet candidate and those who opposed it, had open lines to their perspective Embassies, receiving minute-to-minute instructions. Finally, after days of haggling, the Soviets lost. Thus, America won another round in the cold war.

Source: The Struggle for Kirkuk: The Rise of Hussein, Oil, and the Death of Tolerance in Iraq

The Sharafnama of Bitlisi: manuscript copies, translations and appendixes

by Anwar Soltani

Presented to the International Conference on the Sharafnama in Berlin, 1-3 May, 1998


Soon after the completion of the Sharafnama in August 13, 1797, several copies were made by various scribes of kings and amirs, both in Iran and in the Ottoman Empire. The oldest copy known to us was made almost two years after the completion of the book (now held at St. Petersburg, Russia) and the latest made in the nineteenth century (BL. Ms. Add.22698, etc.). Through an extensive search, I traced 18 different manuscript copies of the Sharafnama in the libraries of England and France, and 21 additional copies introduced in the Catalogues of Oriental libraries throughout Europe and the Middle East. They are the well-known Ms. Copies of the Sharafnama, which have survived to our time. (See: A. Soltani, 35 Manuscript Copies of Sharafnama in the International Collections, Arzan Books, 1997, Sweden (in Kurdish).

 The first manuscript copy to arrive in Britain (and Europe) was probably obtained by Sir John Malcolm, the first political representative of Great Britain to Iran between 1800 and 1810. It is now preserved in the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (See: W. H. Morley's Descriptive Catalogue of the Arabic and Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the RAS, London, 1854. (Its old reference number, CLIX, has now been changed to CLIIX). For further information on Sir John Malcolm and his copy of Sharafnama, see Dr. Kamal Mazher Ahmed, "A Preface for the Kurdish edition of Sharafnama," translated by Hazhar, Baghdad, 1972, pp. 160-176.

Six Persian and three Turkish manuscripts are held in the British Library alone, (Or.4830, Or. 4900, Add. 22698, Add.23531, Add. 23532, Add. 27246 in Persian and Or. 1127, Or.7860, Add. 18547 in Turkish).

Further copies, including the important master-copy hand written by the author (MS. Or. Elliot. 331), containing twenty colourful miniatures, together with two others (Ms. Or. Elliot.332 and MS/ Or. Huntington Donat. 13), are held in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. The last copy known to us, held by the libraries of Great Britain, is the manuscript that once belonged to the late Prof. Edward Browne, now held by the library of Cambridge University (Browne Ms. H 10 (12).

Outside Britain, one can trace additional manuscript copies of the Sharafnama in other international collections. Two Persian copies (mss. 1320 and 1336), together with one Turkish translation (Ms. 1337), are now held in the Biblioteque Nationale, Paris. At least three Persian copies and one Kurdish copy can be found in St. Petersburg, Russia (Nos. 576 and 576a) in the Academic Asiatic Museum, one from A. Jabber, another from Khanicov. and the Kurdish ms. copy by Mahmoud Bayazidi.

Three copies belonging to the late Prof. H. A. Barb are held in the library of the University of Wien, from which I could trace only one copy (No. 111, 11697). Three other copies are held in Iran in the old Royal Library (No. 165), the library of Parliament (No. 3176) and in the "Malik Library," all in the capital city of Tehran.

In addition I spotted additional copies of Sharafnama far from the homeland of Amir Sharaf in Aligra, India, in the library of Mawlana Azad University (No. 233); Matinederan Library, Yerevan, Armenia; the Library of Torino, Italy (MS.Or.12); Tiblisi, Georgia (Kekelidza Collection, G.T.P.67); Cairo (formerly the property of the late Kurdish writer Soreya Badir Khan); the People's Library, Diyarbakir, northern Kurdistan, Turkey (No. 42) and in the former Ottoman School in Aleppo, Syria, etc.


Down through the centuries, the book has greatly influenced the national awareness and political life of the Kurds. Both the Kurds and the ruling dynasties have struggled to keep Kurdish territories free of interference from the Iranian and Ottoman Empires. Because of the importance of the book in Kurdish political life, some Kurdish rulers and chieftains considered it a holy book. Even those who could not read it ordered their scribes to copies of the Sharafnama and read it to them. Soon after the book's completion, and by the time of the historic division of Kurdistan with the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, Kurds living in the Ottoman Empire, and unfamiliar with the Persian language text of the Sharafnama, endeavoured to translate it into Turkish. Therefore it is not surprising to find the first translations appearing in Turkish, the formal language of the Ottoman Empire.

1669 -- The first translation into Turkish was carried out by Mohamed Bey, son of Ahmed Bey, exactly 68 years after its completion. A native of Bitlis, he was the scribe of Amir Sharaf Khan II, grandson of the author (BL. MSS. Or.1127 and Or.7860).

1684 -- Fifteen years later, the second translation, also in Turkish, was carried out by "Sham'i," a native of Agil and the scribe of Mostafa Bey, the Kurdish ruler of this small town north of Diyarbakir in northern Kurdistan (BL. MS. Add. 18547).

1853-9 -- Almost two centuries later, Western Orientalists came on the scene. The third translation of the Sharafnama and the first into a European language was the work of German sociologist, Dr. H. A. Barb. He used it as a source in preparing his "History of Sociology," and began to translate and publish parts of it between 1853 and 1859 (See: "Bidlisi," in the Encyclopedia of Islam; also see Tarikh al-Akrad Bekannte Kurden-chronik Von Schaeref, Von Professor Dr. Barb, Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1853, Wien, Austria).

1858 -- The first translation of Bitlisi's work into Kurdish (Kurmanji dialect) was carried out by Mahmoud Bayazidi, a scholar acting as Kurdish language teacher for Alexander Jaba, the Russian Consul in Van, northern Kurdistan. The translation was carried out in 1858 and published in Moscow in 1986 (See: Mala Mahmoud Bayazidi, Tawarikh-e Qadim e Kurdistan (The Olden Histories of Kurdistan), (Book 1,Moscow, 1960).

1862 -- Together with the first edition of the original Persian text (in 1860), Vladimir V. Zernov published his Russian translation in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1862. Some 36 years earlier, Wolkow, another Russian scholar, published an article on Sharafnama in Journal Asiatic (1820). This marks the beginning of serious European serious interest in the work (See: "Scheref-nameh ou Histoire des Kourdes," par Scheref, Prince de Bidlis publiee pour la Premiere fois. Traduite Annotee par V. Veliamin of-Zernof, (Tom 1, St. Petersburg, 1860).

1869 -- The French translation of the Sharafnama, which was also published in St. Petersburg, was carried out by F. B. Charmoy.

1953 -- The silence of nearly a century was broken with the appearance of the first translation of the book into the Arabic language. The translator was Kurdish historian M. Jamil Roj-bayani, who published his translated text of the Sharafnama in Baghdad.

1958 -- The second translation into Arabic, by Kurdish scholar Mohamed Ali Awni, was published in Cairo

1971 -- Both of the Turkish translations (parts 1 & 2), were written in the old Ottoman Turkish, and in the Arabic script; therefore the need for a new translation into modern Turkish. Using the Latin script, M.A. Boz-Arsalan published his translation in the modern Turkish language. His main source for the translation was the Arabic text of Awni.

1972 -- Using the Persian text (edited by M. Abbassi, Tehran, 1955), together with the Arabic translation, the well known Kurdish poet and scholar A. Sharafkandi (Hejar) successfully translated the book into Kurdish (Sorani Dialect). The first edition of Hejar's translation was published in Najaf, Iraq in 1972 and the second edition in Tehran in 1980.

1998 -- Another Kurdish (Kurmanji) translation in the Latin script was published by Ziya Avci, a Kurdish writer in Sweden.



From the period of completion of the Sharafnama, Kurds and other nationalities in the region considered the book an important document on regional history. Several copies were taken by respective scribes in a number of cities--from Yezd in the south, to Ardabil in the north of Iran; and from Salmas, in the east, to Argil in northern Kurdistan.

Some Kurdish rulers considered it as a reliable historic source for their own dynastic history. Over the centuries, they asked their scribes to use the text as a basis for writing the continuation of their beginning where the Sharafnama ends, in 1597.

These odd additions were usually made to a particular copy of the Sharafnama in the possession of the particular ruler. These addition, were given the Arabic name of "Zail" (Appendixes). To the best of my knowledge, there are at least eleven appendices, which have survived to this day, each written in a different period in a different part of Kurdistan; two are in Turkish, one in Kurdish and the rest in Persian.

  1. The manuscript copy of the Sharafnama is preserved at the Asian Academic Museum (576a), St. Petersburg, Russia. The subject of this appendix is The history of Ardalanids. Although there is no clear information on its contents, it has been described as a reliable source. V.V. Zernof, (1862), ibid, preface (indicates this additional chapter).
  2. The continuation of The history of the rulers of Agil, northern Kurdistan (Turkey), written by "Sham'i" a scribe of Mustafa Bey, the ruler of Agil and the second translator of the Sharafnama into Turkish. Sham'i completed his work in 1684, exactly 87 years after the completion of Bitlisi's work. During the translation, he added further information on recent events in the political life of Agil to the Sharafnama (Ff.59a-60b, part 1, chapter 2, book 3). The unique copy of this translation, including the appendix, is now preserved in the British Library, (Ms. Add. 18547). It contains almost 78 years of history of the rulers of Agil, between 1597 and 1684. Working with another scholar, I have translated it into Persian and Kurdish (Sorani dialect). The text and both translations will be published in due course.
  3. The continuation of The history of the rulers of Palou, written by the same translator, and added to the same copy of the Sharafnama, BL. MS, Add. 18547, part 2, chapter 2, book 3 in the Bitlisi's work.
  4. The additions of M. Bayazidi to his Kurdish translation in 1859 are spread throughout the book. Over the course of translation, he added further information. In order to measure the extent of his additions, it should be compared with the original Persian text of the Sharafnama. This has yet to be done (See: M. Bayazidi, The Olden Histories of Kurdistan, Moscow, 1986).
  5. The continuation of The History of the Ardalanids, written by M. Ibrahim Ar-dalani, the scribe of Amanolla Khan of Ardalan in 1810, ordered especially for Sir John Malcolm (see above), and added to his own copy of the Sahrafnama, ff. 34a-40a. This Appendix contains 213 years of the history of Ardalan, between the completion of the Sharafnama in 1597 and the time of Amanolla Khan, 1810, (RAS, and MS. CLIIX). I translated the text into the Kurdish language and my translation appeared in a Kurdish magazine in Denmark, in 1993 (Darwaza, I, Copenhagen, pp. 36-53). Now, both the original Persian text, and the Kurdish translation have been prepared jointly by my wife, N. Borna, and myself, and are due to be published by Nawroz Publications in Sweden, next month.
  6. The History of Mokrian (Iranian Kurdistan), written by M.Mahmoud Banei, in 1842, was added to a copy of the Sharafnama. Nothing is known of its whereabouts. Our unique source of information on this appendix is the valuable work of Kurdish scholar M. Hozni Mokriani. He published the original Persian text of it, together with the Kurdish translation in his own book, Ruparek la Diroki Mokrian (A Page of the History of Mokrian) in Baghdad in 1947. The History of Mokrian originally forms part 3, chapter 2, book 3, in Bitlisi's masterpiece.
  7. The Life of Abdolla Khan of Mokri [tribe], written by Mirza Ismael Shewa-zouri in 1842, some 245 years after the completion of the Sharafnama. Both the original Persian text and the Kurdish translation were published by H. Hozni Mokriani, in the same source (part 5), in 1947.
  8. The continuation of the history of The Rulers of Galbaghi [tribe] in Iranian Kurdistan is a short history written by F. Zaki al-Kurdi and added to his own publication of the Persian text of the Sharafnama, second to Zernof's edition, Cairo, 1958.
  9. The most detailed appendix to a printed copy of the Sharafnama is the addition by M. Jamil Roj-bayani, in his first translation of the book into the Arabic language, Baghdad, 1953. Roj-bayani's intensive work includes most parts of the text.
  10. A detailed appendix to another Arabic translation was done by Kurdish Scholar Mohamed Ali Awni. His remarkable additions to much of the text appear in his own translation, Cairo, 1958.
  11. The addition of Hejar Mokriani to many parts of his own translation of the Sharafnama into Kurdish (Sorani Dialect), Najaf, 1972. Hejar translated and transferred the Arabic appendices by Roj-bayani and Awni (above, Nos. 11 & 12) to his own addition of the Sharafnama.


The drowning of the Kurdish historical and artistic heritage

By Prof. Mehrdad R. Izady

The late Dr. Henny Harald Hansen (1900-93) will long be remembered for her many authored and co-authored works on Kurdish women. What is little known of her is that Dr. Hansen first introduction to Kurdistan at the ripe age of 57 was when as a member of a Danish team she visited the historic sites in Raniya plain and the middle Zab river valley east of Arbil which the Dokkan hydro-electric dam was soon to drown.

In the ever-more thirsty Middle East, the rich water resources and effluent rivers of Kurdistan are treasures coveted by all. To optimize the use of Kurdish water, the local states have rushed to dam every and all myriad rivers that meander through Kurdistan. Over a dozen of major dams and scores of smaller ones have thus been built since Henny Hansen visited Dokkan in 1957. Since there is plenty of rainfall in Kurdistan—whence the abundance of rivers—the dams are built to expressly benefit other peoples outside, not the Kurds inside that land. As shall be seen, even the well-trumpted GAP project in Turkey is not excluded from this basic rule.

Dams are naturally built in the river valleys. It is well known that river valleys are where human civilization first took hold, Kurdistan not being an exception. With every valley that is flooded behind a dam in Kurdistan, is therefore drowned a part of its history.

This destruction of Kurdish past has happened every time a dam has been thrown up and a historic Kurdish valley turned into a lake. Never has the drowning of Kurdish historic sites generated any thing like the international enthusiasm in the late 1960s which saved the Egyptian historic monuments from the rising waters of the Asswan dam on the Nile. Dams built for the benefit of the non-Kurds are drowning Kurdish heritage every day. But no international or Kurdish outcry has been ever heard.

The policy on archaeological study of a given place before its flooding has varied from state to state, and time to time. Even when the archaeologists are called in to excavate the to-be-flooded site, they can obviously work only until the dam is completed. Never has the reservoir of a completed dam been left unfilled for the sake of any archaeological work that might have been going on at the time. These archaeological studies are therefore hasty and rudimentary. Now-a-days, these “archaeological studies” have ceased to be studies at all. They have become organized looting parties that hack and rip what they can from the site, justifying it by the fact that what is not removed is drowned.

Once drowned, the loss of an archaeological site is permanent, even though the dams themselves are not. Under the best of conditions, the useful life of a dam—any dam—hardly ever exceeds 75 years. Due to natural silting process, a vast majority have shorter life spans. Silt and top soil washed by rainfall and deposited into a river, accumulate behind any dam man makes. In time, the silting reduces the reservoir capacity of a dam to the point where it ceases to be useful. Even if such a silted-up dam were to be torn down at great cost, any archaeological material that has not been destroyed by water, would be buried under hundreds of feet of silt, and lost to prospecting for ever.

Usually, when a dam is silted up, new dams are built down stream to repeat the self-defeating process. Judging by the ever-increasing thirst for water in the Middle East, in time, one should expect for every river valley in Kurdistan and its archaeological wealth to be destroyed in this way. Thus while the damming of the Kurdish rivers benefits primarily non-Kurds and for a finite period of time, it exclusively destroys the Kurdish historical heritage and for ever. This destructive process must stop now.

Dam projects in Iraqi Kurdistan

Coming back to the Dokkan, the hasty archaeological digs showed the area to be the most important valley in the mid-course of the Lesser Zab river—one that was the heartland of two ancient kingdoms of Simurrum and Kharkhar. From the pre-drowning excavations and simple browsing on the Raniya plain (a 4,100-year-old royal rock inscription of Simurrum was “found” by just looking up at the cliff walls), were discovered enough material to reconstruct a portion of the history of these two states, including partial king-lists. The discoveries at the Shemshara Mound there, has since become one of the milestones in the prehistoric archaeology of the Middle East and the world. Dokkan destroyed Shemshara and the rest of that historic valley, for ever eliminating the chance of uncovering any direct information about those two kingdoms from the Hurrian phase of Kurdish history.

Tellingly, the name “Dokkan,” meaning “grotto,” refers to the ancient grottos and chambers carved into the cliff faces in that area, serving as the royal tombs. They all are now under water.

We need not involve in measuring the extent of importance of those two ancient kingdoms to the history of the Kurds. Suffice to say that the within radius of 50 miles around Dokkan Dam are found—today—Kurdish clans with revealing names such as Karkar, Khorkhora and Gargar. The Kharkhars are still around, and living today as constituent parts of the Kurdish nation, while their ancient home was forever destroyed before our uncaring eyes by the Dokkan.

After Dokkan, Iraqi authorities continued on with their damming program. Being an arid country, Iraq depends for nearly all its water resources on the Kurdish highland rivers. Tigris and Euphrates are just the two most important ones. Lesser and Greater Zab rivers, and Sirwan-Diyala are three major tributaries of Tigris that are for an appreciable part of their course inside the Iraqi sector of Kurdistan. To secure a more reliable water flow, Iraq had embarked on damming all these highland rivers to the fullest extent. Baghdad nevertheless found it in its heart to call in archaeologists to dig and salvage what they would, before an area was drowned.

Similar last-minute archaeological expeditions were carried out at the site of the Darbandikhan and Hamrin dams on the Sirwan-Diyala river, and Bekhma on the Greater Zab. Darbandikhan dam west of Halabja is in the heartland of the historic district of Shahrazur that has served as the cradled of numerable Kurdish dynasties and religious movements. The region was known for its dense habitation and rich economy, as early as the time of the Sumerians. It served as one of the centers of the Hurrian culture. Hurrian immigrant from Shahrazur district were responsible for the construction of the city of Arap’he which now after 3,800 years is known as Kirkuk.

Archaeologist E. Speiser reminds us that in that district “the number of ancient mounds…is probably larger to the square mile, than anywhere else in Iraq.”(Speiser, 1928:26) Realizing the renown richness of archaeological mounds in the Iraqi lowlands, Speiser’s observation is not short of astounding. The Darbandikhan’s reservoir ultimately covered most of the area described by Speiser, drowning one of the richest archaeological sites in all of Kurdistan and, if Speiser is to be trusted, perhaps the world.

Remains of two more ancient Hurrian Kurdish cultures of Zamua and Namri thus were obliterated behind Darbandikhan. But it was not Hurrian Kurdistan alone whose history was being obliterated. Naturally, along with ancient layers of each archaeological site, there was also drowned records of the subsequent millennia of culture that had overlaid them. The heartland of the historic district of Shahrazur, the area had been celebrated for its wealth and urbanity by Muslim authors since the 7th century, which is now known as the district of Sulaymania. It is ironic that while the ancient records and heritage of the district was being drowned, its living cities like Halabja were being simultaneously bombed or gassed by the Iraqi army.

To the southwest of Darbandikhan, the archaeological digs at Hamrin dam site near Khanaqin were carried out in much more haste than usual. Under orders from impatient President Saddam Hussein, the construction of the Hamrin dam was given highest possible speed, as it directly regulates water and hydro-electric power coming into Baghdad metropolitan area, only 50 miles away. The hasty archaeological digs unearthed material telltale of an overlap between Zagros cultures such as those of the Lullubi and Hamban and the Mesopotamian such as Ishnuna, Akkadia and Babylon. The ancient layers were topped by remains of the classical Kurdish kingdom of Shatrapan and the medieval Ayyarids. Of the Shatrapan culture and kingdom we perhaps, shall never know any thing more than its name, now that its very heartland lies at the bottom of the vast Hamrin reservoir. Of the medieval Ayyarids, fortuitously we have more information, since their cities in the neighboring river valleys are not similarly drowned—yet.

Dams in Iran and Syria

The dams in the Iranian Kurdistan have been few and very small in comparison to those in Iraq and Turkey. Small dams near Hamadan, Saqqiz and Mahabad did not even see the minimum archaeological prospecting and digging that Iraqis afforded their dam sites. Even though these Iranian dams did not drown any known archaeological sites, from their location alone one would be safe to presume losses of historical importance. While Mahabad and Saqqiz are located at the heartland of the historic Manna, Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana), was the capital of the Medes. The renown archaeological sites of Hassanlu and Ziwiya are at the stone throws from Mahabad and Saqqiz respectively. Hamadan is simply besieged by ancient mounds, rock inscriptions, mausolia, exposed ruins etc. What these nearby dams drowned shall never be known beyond reasonable assumption that they did destroy a part of the Kurdish past.

In Syria, some minor dams in the Jezira region—the largest Kurdish enclave in that country—have been constructed. None has seen any known archaeological prospecting before filling their reservoirs. The train of spectacular findings in that Kurdish region to include early Hurrian cities like Urkish with impressive remains and earlier Halaf archaeological sites, all point to the historic richness of the region and the perils of building dams. In north-central Syria, the huge Assad dam on the Euphrates drowned primarily Syria’s own past, Arab as well as pre-Arab Aramaean, Eblan and even Hurrian. It did cause, however, a disruption of the Kurdish community of the Mahmudis who occupied the territories to northeast of the resultant reservoir, the Lake Assad. Most were summarily removed from their ancestral farmlands and dispersed into Arab dominated town of Raqqa and villages built by the government for housing the displaced peoples. The Mahmudi Kurdish community is thoroughly disrupted and is unlikely to avoid assimilation in the face of their thin dispersal.

Turkey and the GAP project

All the destruction committed against Kurdish historical heritage in the Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian sectors of Kurdistan fade into insignificance in comparison to the apocalypse taking place in Turkey.

In what follows, you will encounter the adjectives “world’s oldest” and “worlds’ first” far too often. This is neither an accident nor an overstatement. Being one of the primary loci for humanities first experimentation with settled life, domestication of basic farm crops and animal, earliest copper and bronze works, weaving and fired pottery, development of earliest cities, invetion of token systema of record keeping which evolved into invention of writing, significance of Kurdistan a place in need of utmost care in preserving of its archaeological sites.

As early as 1882, Encyclopaedia Britannica notes: “It may indeed be asserted that there is no region of the East at the present day which deserves a more careful scrutiny and promises a richer harvest to the antiquarian explorer than the lands inhabited by the Kurds, from Erzeroum to Kirmanshah.” (9th edition). The results of scanty excavations taken place prior to all the drowning listed below, give credence to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s proposal. But let the “antiquarian explorers” hurry before all is drowned.

In 1967 the first of the major dams in Turkish sector of Kurdistan was in the process of being built in front of the mighty Euphrates at Keban. Impressed by the trends of the time such as the Danish team’s work at Dokkan, an archaeological expedition was arranged by the University of Ankara to investigate the historic remains of the area that the mammoth Keban was to flood. The archaeological team from Ankara University was so euphoric that it invited another one from the University of Michigan. Rich remains of the ancient Hurrian Kurdish kingdom of Hazo of the 2nd millennium BC, turned up in profusion. Here laid the remains of a culture and kingdom hitherto known only through occasional mentioning in the early Mesopotamian tablets. The Hazo/Hadho are the people who in the subsequent two thousand years spread out to form the kingdom of Adiabene (Hadhabani) in central Kurdistan (in Iraq), and become the forbears of king Saladin and the Ayyubid dynasty. Beneath the Hazo layers were found those of the world-renown neolithic culture of Kurdistan, while above it was the remains of the subsequent cultures of classical, medieval and early modern Kurds. By 1970, 256 square miles of northwest Kurdistan and these archaeological remains were deep under Keban water.

Meanwhile, the joint discoveries of these two archaeological teams at Keban proved to be too good for their own good—and that of the Kurds’. Papers appeared from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University with incriminating titles such as, Doomed by the Dam: a Survey of the Monuments Threatened by the Creation of the Keban Dam Flood Area (Ankara, 1967), listing a shocking number of standing cultural monuments that were being doomed. The Michigan group, meanwhile, produced a survey of the buried cultures and, ancient mounds (Ann Arbor, 1979). The Anakra team even suggested the erection of a small, inexpensive diversionary earthen dam at the entrance to Altinova plain east of Elazig that could have saved from flooding some of the richest of the discovered archaeological sites. None of these “meddling” were viewed by amusement in Ankara. As a consequence, the Karakaya Dam and later the Ataturk dam saw little archaeological activities before works on the dam itself had begun.

The large dams on Euphrates had their counterparts built on the Tigris, with the largest being the great Ilisu dam shortly below the confluence of the Bokhtan river and the Tigris. It is hard to assess the magnitude of the archaeological loss in the areas flooded by the Ilisu, as no true archaeological expedition short of the official and semi-official looting were carried out. The dam however, came to drawn a city, and the city turned out to be the living museum town of Hasankeyf—a well-preserved jewel of Kurdish urban architecture and the last capital of the renown Ayyubid dynasty.

Hasankeyf consisted of a fort, perched on an enormous rock that protrudes into the Tigris flood plain from the south, whence the more accurate form of the city’s name, Hisn Keyfa, “castle of the rock.” The city per se, including mosques, churches, mausolea, caravanserais, colleges and bazaars were below the castle on the Tigris flood plain. The city was connected to its suburbs on the north bank by a massive but richly decorated stone bridge, much commented on by medieval geographers like Yaqut, who described it as one of the most beautiful architectural works he had ever seen in the Islamic world. Even though the cliff-top fort contains some smaller Ayyubid monuments of various types and the Artuqid-Ayyubid palace, most of the Ayyubid monuments were naturally in the town below. Until 1992, these included in addition to the bridge, the richly decorated multi-domed, congregational mosque of Ayyubid king Sulayman I and the additions made to it in 1351; the grand mosque and its 100-foot-high ornate minaret, built in 1409 by Sulayman II, many beautifully carved-stone or tiled mausolea, including that of Zaynal Beg and the vast college of Imam Abdullah. The extensive monuments and some excavated sites were given to the due looting prior to their drowning, giving the as-ever unsuspecting Western visitors the impression of “archaeological” study of aplace (Ward 1990).

When faced with the defiant protest of the Kurdish citizens of Hasankeyf over the callousness of a government that permits historical and artistic vandalism on such scale as drowning a living museum town, the mayor of Hasankeyf, Esref Basaran, and apparently a Kurd, stated sadly to the American reporters of the National Geographic Magazine in May of 1994: “I want to stay here for my children and my grandchildren. Something has to be done to save [Hasankeyf].” “When I talked to the visionaries of GAP, they saw little hope.” added the National Geographic reporter. “Takeoff! We are in takeoff.” were roaring the euphoric Turkish engineers, “That dam is at the best site in terms of hydroelectric power generation.” Lacking any industry to consume the generated hydroelectricity, Ilisu power is indeed being taken off and out of Kurdistan via three 380kw power lines to Ankara and western Turkey. Ilisu was constructed for the sole purpose of generating 1.2 megawatts of cheap hydroelectricity annually for western Turkey’s “takeoff.” The drowning of the east’s heritage was irrelevant.

A year later as the wretched inhabitants watched from the hill top, the ancient city with all its history and monuments began to sink below the rising waters of the Ilisu dam. The town and all its historic monuments were gone by 1995, leaving only the cliff-top castle like a tombstone for what was buried below.

Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights,— A city in the twilight dim and vast, With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights,— And hear above me on the autumnal blast The cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.

Henry Longfellow
“Mezzo Cammin”

Ilisu is just the biggest of the dams on the Tigris. Many others have drowned vast portions of that river’s historic basin. Below Ilisu, Cizre dam drowned among others, the remains of the Biblical Kurdish cities of Bazabda and Baqarda alongside the historic sites belonging to the longevous Kurdish Bokhti dynasty of the medieval and early modern times. Above Diyarbakir, Devegecidi, Dicle, Kralkizi and Dipni dams drowned regions represented by the archaeological site of Cayunu—the world’s oldest “industrial site”—where evidence for world’s earliest copper, bronze and fired pottery works are coupled with man’s oldest records for domestication of many of our basic farm products such as goats, sheep, wheat, barley and oats. The Bataman tributary, meanwhile, has been dammed by Kayser, Silvan and Batman dams. Being constructed at the entrance to some flat valleys, these have flooded an inordinately large areas of the historic Silvan/Miyafariqin region. Here was born the medieval Kurdish dynasty of the Marwanids, followed by the Slimani, Sasoon, Ziriqi and Hazo dynasties in the early modern times. Of the earlier historical sites, we shall never know the full extent, as little scientific digging was afforded before flooding these rich valleys.

In 1994, an international team lead by Michael Rosenberg of University of Delaware, Richard Redding of University Michigan and Mark Nesbitt of University College, London, reported to have discovered at Hallan Cemi, a Neolithic site north of Silvan, the world’s oldest evidence for domestication of pigs, dated to 10,400 years ago. Their discovery became even more of a landmark in human history when it became apparent the community at Hallan Cemi had become a settled “agricultural” community without, strictly speaking, engaging in agriculture. By domesticating and raising pigs, the community was providing for its basic nutritional needs. This discovery turned the common understanding of formation of settled village communities based on cereal plantation upside down. Here we had a Neolithic community in Kurdistan inventing village life based on animal husbandry. This is more fascinating when realizing that 100 miles west of Hallan Cemi at Cayunu and a thousand year earlier, the ancestors of Kurds had already established the oldest known farming communities on this planet, based on more conventional cereal plantation. The discovery at Hallan Cemi of “an alternative way” to human settlement than plantation and farming, and so early in time, has now fully revised the old, very narrow view of the origin of food production and human settlement. Hallan Cemi showed that transition from foraging to farming did not necessarily include intensive use of cereals as a crucial first step.

The “excavations” at Hallan Cami and neighboring mounds scheduled to be drowned in the Batman river basin involved a good deal more surface collection than digging: There was little time or money to do a systematic excavation of such a vast area of about 80 square miles that was going to be drowned. Remember, these were last minute “search and seize” operations, allowed in only after the construction of a dam had begun, lest the authorities might face an unforeseen discovery that might call for the postponement or cancelation of the precious hydroelectric dams. Despite the haste, among the remains of 10,000 years old small stone houses at Hallan Cemi were found exquisitely executed sculptures, including those of pigs and goats. Evidence for long-distance trade also surfaced at Hallan Cemi.

True to the practice, the reports which appeared in the news of the landmark discovery were devoid of terms “Kurd” or “Kurdistan,” but unabashedly referred to the Hallan Cemi as “Neolithic Turkish village of 150 inhabitants.” (NYT, 5/31/94) Thus while Turks were busy drawing the peerless Hillan Cemi, they were receiving honor and credit by the discoveries.

Back on the Euphrates, meanwhile, two new dams were ringing the death knells for other segments of Kurdish past. About 40 miles below Keban dam was constructed the Karakaya whose reservoir backs up all the way to the foot of Keban, in effect creating a continuous abyss of doom stretching from the Karakaya’s base all the way to the city of Palu behind Keban dam, drawing many historic valleys and their archaeological heritage for over 100 miles. Meanwhile, the most destructive of all these dams, the Ataturk, was still being completed below Karakaya at Samsat.

Of all dams in the GAP project, Ataturk stands out for the enormity of the loss it inflicted on the Kurdish past heritage. This is as much the result of measuring the value of the known archaeological sites drowned by this dam as by scanty knowledge available on the other dam sites: Ataturk drowned several world-class archaeological sites, living historic cities and standing monuments that needed no excavations to reveal their value.

The work began on the Ataturk in mid-1983. The archaeologists—and looters—from around the world were allowed in the same year. The area designated for drowning was 315 square miles—one third as large as the country of Luxembourg. Hundreds of known and suspected archaeological were heading for certain doom. The diggers divided into many teams, digging at various archaeological cites, and carrying off, truck loads after truck loads of artefacts, marbles, with little or no study of the trench context or the relational matrix of the sites. The area was being given to a loot and vandalism than archaeological study. Diggers—the archaeologists included—had five years to do all they could with this one of the richest and least known archaeological sites in the upper Mesopotamia.

At Nevali Cori, the earlier excavations conducted under the supervision of Harald Hauptmann from University of Heidelberg had unearthed a rich 9000 year- old temple which contained numerous cult sculptures. Astonishingly, the structure at Nevali Cori proved to be the world’s oldest methodically-built structure with a preconceived floor plan. This world treasure and landmark monument in the development of human civilization and architecture awaited drowning behind the Ataturk while hasty excavations—complete with hacking and pillaging—were being carried out with frenzy down river at Samsat.

Southeast of Adiyaman and west of Urfa on the Euphrates laid ancient Samosata modern Samsat, the capital of the Kurdish kingdom of Commagene and the birth place in AD 120 of one of the greatest Kurdish literati of all times, Lucian. The ancient city was of Hurrian foundation, and already around 4000 years old when it was rebuilt by the Kurdish Zelanid king of Commagene, Sames II, circa 130 BC. He renamed the city after himself, Sames Sate, old Kurdish for “Sames’ city.” It was further adorned with many monuments and palaces by Sames III Antiochus (64-38 BC). The city continued to live and accumulated archaeological records and monuments until 1990.

By 1985 the 180 feet high ancient citadel of Samsat “layer upon layer, of artifacts of at least six millennia of history,” had been uncovered. This included the famed palace of Sames III Antiochus himself. Many mosaics and frescoes from the palace were reportedly removed to the near-by town of Adyaman, with hand-drawn sketches and photographs being all that was to be left of royal Samsat itself, so briefly revived from the earth before its ultimate destruction by water. “Under normal conditions,” stated Nimet Ozguc, an archaeologist from the University of Ankara who directed the excavation at Samsat, “I would make an archaeological program of more than 50 years. But we had to make a fast program.” (NYT, 9.2.95)

This meant a mere three years of digging instead of 50. None of the archaeological aspects of the site had been discussed in the many years the dam was under study, and for a simple reason. This is not the Turkish history in Anatolia that is being annihilated. Theirs began a mere 800 years ago, and has not had time to become “archaeological.” It is Kurdish heritage which stretches to the down of human civilization and the invention of agriculture in its river valleys 12000 years ago that is being drowned. To a state that is openly bent on destruction of Kurdish identity, this is a welcome bonus, not a loss. “This is the largest [dam in the GAP] project, and nobody thought about archaeology.” crowed Ozguc, “Now everybody is weeping….” Henry Kamm, the New York Times’ reporter at the dam site mildly bemoaned: “Gains in human well- being in this region where much of history was born are achieved at immense cultural loss.” The vast palace and its architectural remains were at last left to the looters who carried off what they could in the face of the rising water.

What did we learn from these last minute “archaeological” digs under the Turkish supervision? The chief archaeologist Ms. Ozguc summarized the information gathered thus: “Surface finds at the mounds went back to the chalcolithic age of the 4th millennium BC. Finds dating to more recent ages have show the presence, among others, of Byzantines, Frankish crusaders, the Turcomans, Umayyad and Abbasid Arabs, Seljuks and finally Turks.” Seemingly, Ms. Ozguc found no evidence of Kurds—the indigenous inhabitants of the region and the founders of the city—anywhere in her digs. We can hardly contest this oddity, since Samsat is now 300 feet under the waters of the Ataturk. One may come to almost believe the British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler who once wrote, “Archaeology is not a science, it’s a vendetta.”

What were and are the Kurds doing when all these are happening? In diaspora, nothing; at the sites, naturally participating in the looting of what had been pronounced by the esteemed archaeologists digging the site, as belonging to anyone from the Frankish crusaders and the Turcomans to the Abbasid Arabs and Turks, but never the Kurds.

All these were happening at a stone-throw from Cayunu. It is numbing to guess what insight into humanity’s past were drowned without a study, in order to light the bulbs cheaply in western Turkish cities. It is a tragicomic irony, that the dam that caused so much damage to Kurds’ history and cultural legacy should bear the name of the man whose legacy has caused the greatest damage to the Kurds’ life in this century.

It is befitting to remember at this point the most famous son of Samsat before closing the page on that city for ever. One of the stars of the Graeco-Roman literature, Lucian was born a “Suran” Kurd, learned Greek by working at a Roman villa in Samsat, and dazzled people for generations to come with his whit, insight and humor. Despite his prominence in the Graeco-Roman world, Lucian never fails in his writings to invoke the name of his lovely home town of Samsat with special affection, and take pride in his ethnicity which he reiterates every chance he gets (Harmon, ed., 1991). The Latin form of his name, Lucian, means “light,” as does his probable Kurdish name, Roushin. In 1990 light was for ever put out from Lucian’s beloved Samsat, and without a flicker from his modern compatriots or others.

The Last of the looters.

Down river from Ataturk, two new dams are now being constructed at Birecik and Carchemish. Upon completion in 1997, Birecik dam will drown the magnificent ruins of the twin classical cities of Apamea-Seleucia, known to the Graeco-Roman authors simply as Zeugma, “bridge.” This name was given to it by the outsiders in reference to the only masonry bridge that spanned the mighty Euphrates river in its entire course. The twin cities rose on both sides of the bridge during the reign of Seleucus I, the founder of the Seleucid Empire in the 4th century BC. He renamed the already existing town on the west side after his beloved aristocratic Zelanid Kurdish wife, Apamea, and built a matching city on the east bank, naming it after himself. The bridge jointed the two cities, as the classical authors wrote romantically, “as if the couple were reaching out with their arms, holding hands over the Euphrates.”

The strategic bridge soon turned the twin city into a major international commercial emporium, bringing in enormous wealth. This in turn propelled vast construction projects and artistic decoration of the city. Zeugma surpassed both Samsat and Aleppo in importance, and only behind Antioch. The rich city was inherited by the Kurdish Zelanid dynasty of Commagene, when Sames III Antiochus, annexed it to his kingdom. The Romans took over the city in 73 AD, and turned it into a major garrison town, which brought even more wealth into it. The city was sacked by Persian king Shapor I in the 3rd century, and gradually lost its importance as the imperial borders moved eastward. The famous bridge, however, only fell some times in the 11th century. The ruins of Seleucia and Apamea are now respectively overlaid by the little Kurdish villages of Belkis and Tell Musa. The land around is covered by pistachio and olive trees, “among which one can find marble column drums, pieces of statuary, finely cut masonry blocks, and sometime part of a bath building, cistern, fallen triumphal arch, or aqueduct…” (Kennedy, 1995:55) Ruins of villas, farmsteads, temples, family mausolea, aqueducts, and civic centers abounded in the area. Inscribed stone blocks littered the ground.

A last minute “archaeological expedition” was called in in 1992 from University of Western Australia, University of Glasgow and Antep museum to see what can be learned at the sites while this looting of the historic heritage of the Kurdish nation was going on at Zeugma. Their activities, admittedly compromised by the lack of time, turned out to be the same looting only by another name. They removed through quick tunneling a wealth of bronze and marble statuary and art objects that less scientific looters had not yet cared to remove. The head of the expedition informs us that a mosaic panel of similar artistic sophistication as those at Zeugma, but of much later Byzantine age, had been just sold for $1.08 million in the black arts market in the West. The chances of Kurds ever seeing what is being hacked and ripped from their archaeological sites in here must be dim indeed.

Realizing the immanent drowning of remains of this magnificent city, it has been given to the usual loot. Archaeologists D. Kennedy, P. Freeman and the director of the museum in the nearby Antep, Rifat Ergec, document this pre-drawing looting. Perfectly preserved mosaic panels, some as large as 23 by 11 feet, were hacked out and stolen. In case of the larger panels, only the faces and upper bodies were ripped away, leaving behind the rest. No one in the local administration is said—implausibly—to be aware of the identity of the looters who continued their activities unmolested by the police or the army.

What was learned from the this last-minute archaeological expedition to Apamea-Seleucia is just that here is being drowned a magnificent city with all its wealth in information and material. A part of the history of the Kurdish nation is again being destroyed, with the last-minute looting taking the place of a study. “Our excavation was exploratory,” admit Kennedy, Freeman and Rifat Ergec, “the preliminary work for future seasons. A great new dam is being built across the Euphrates only 180 feet downstream. Eventually a lake more than 12.5 miles long will flood the site. Only the higher part of Seleucia and its acropolis will remain above water; the rest, plus Apamea and other sites upstream, will be under water. Time is running short. Our efforts and those of our Turkish colleagues would benefit from private or international assistance.”

Meanwhile, few miles north of Zeugma at Hacinebi a team lead by Gil Stein of Northwestern University had discovered the remains of a major commercial city over 5000 years old. The city compared to the oldest cities of lower Mesopotamia such as Uruk and Ur, and was in sustained commercial contact with them. William Sumner, the director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago was quick to call the finds at Hacinebi “the first opportunity for archaeologists to investigate the role of indigenous [mountain] societies in these trading centers and determine their relationship with the foreign [traders].” Up to the finds at Hacinebi, it has been the staple of the established archaeology and history to presume that it was lower Mesopotamian cultures such as the Sumerians and Akkadians who introduce high urban culture into Kurdistan and neighboring regions. Hacinebi gives a lie to that.

Faced with complex indigenous constructions and material culture, the team leader of Hacinebi’s excavations, Gil Stein, observed that the finds “could undermine the assumption by many scholars that Mesopotamian trade and colonization led to the emergence of complex societies in these resource-rich… regions of Anatolia. Ruins of monumental public buildings, the kind usually associated with more advanced urban centers, suggests that these local people had evolved a much more complex society than we have given them credit for up to now.” (American Archaeology, June 1993)

Recalling the local seals on business clay records, Stein adds one more iconoclastic observation that the “local people and not just Mesopotamians, participated in an official capacity in the trading system. Several lines of evidence suggest that existing models of the Uruk [lower Mesopotamian] expansion [into Kurdistan] may have underestimated the role of the local cultures. First, the locals were already relatively developed before contact with the Uruk culture. Second, they were not pawns in the trading system, but more or less equal partners. So you see, the classic colonial model does not really work.” (Ibid.).

G. Johnson went further in destroying the old model which depicted the mountain cultures in Kurdistan subservient to the lowland cultures of Mesopotamia, and presumed to have been, at times, a colony of the latter. “The colonial hypothesis simply does not hold water.” observed Johnson. “Scholars tend to forget that this was a period of severe population decline in many southern Mesopotamian cities. When you are losing half your population something nasty must be going on, and the collapse could be behind the sudden appearance of Mesopotamian settlements in the highlands. It was not an empire expanding, but people escaping [to Kurdistan].”

Hacinebi added a new page to the ancient history of Kurdistan, one that shows for the umpteenth time that mountain cultures were neither subservient nor inferior to those of the lower Mesopotamia. This nothwithstanding, the resilient old view still is held by many dogmatic historians and archaeologists. Hacinebi is not, however, going to be around to produce further proof to convince these traditionalist, die-hard group. As these lines were being written, Zeugma, Hacinebi and all other irreplaceable archaeological sites in the area were being drowned behind the Turkish dam at Birecik.

A new dam is under construction farther down from Birecik, practically on the Syrian border, at Carchemish. When finished, it will drown the Mitanni and Neo-Hittite ruins of the Biblical Carchemish, one that was once visited and serenaded by T.J. Lawrence.

What now?

The entire archaeological heritage and many living towns and communities of the Kurds in the upper Euphrates valley, from Turkish-Syrian borders to Dersim and Palu have now been annihilated under a continuous, winding lake created by five dams listed above. On the Tigris, only 100 miles of the river immediately above and below Diyarbakir remains not drowned at present. From Cizre on the Iraqi-Syrian-Turkish border to Bismil is all drowned. The simultaneous damming of the tributaries of Tigris and Euphrates has nearly completed this destruction of all that were to be found in way of artistic and archaeological remains in western and northern Kurdistan.

At an enormous cost to the Kurdish heritage, history and dislocated populace, reliable hydro-electricity to light up the homes and run the industry in western Turkey is now flowing smoothly and cheaply. The expensive irrigation projects trumpeted as the main benefit to the local Kurds, meanwhile, remains illusive. As ever, Kurdish water is benefiting non-Kurds: in this case, hydroelectricity for the Turks, water for the Arab Harran plain.

Why with all the dams?

The Southeast Anatolian Project (or GAP, from its Turkish acronym) was conceived, we are told by the Turkish government and all Western writers on the project, to help lift the lot of the Kurds in eastern Turkey. The utterances to this effect are too cliche and uniform to have been generated by the authors and reporters themselves: they all seem to be repeating the “wish list” of some official source, naturally the one in Ankara. None have thus far looked for themselves into the veracity of all these Turkish claims. “For the best interests of the Kurds,” for “the manifold expansion of Kurdish agriculture,” for “industrialization of Kurdistan” are phrases most commonly parroted in every report on GAP.

Lost in all the grandiose media claims are the facts on the ground: 1) 1300 square miles of productive Kurdish farmland on the river banks—an area one sixth of State of Israel—has been drowned to be sure, while the GAP-irrigated farms are yet to even match these farmlands that were drowned; 2) single largest chunk of land to be irrigated by GAP is outside Kurdistan and in the Arab-inhabited plains of Harran on the Syrian boarder; 3) the only tangible production by the dams has been electricity—24 megawatt hours of it—or more than half of Turkey’s needs. Kurdistan uses less than 5% of the electricity of that state. Turkish industry flooded by cheap electricity of GAP has been booming since 1990. And since 1990, to defend the GAP facilities against Kurdish insurgence, several thousands Kurdish villages and towns have been violently depopulated and destroyed by the Turkish army. Reportedly 2.5 million peasants have been herded off the rural land and pushed as refugees into major cities of Kurdistan and western Turkey. One may wander: Are these the same Kurds whom the media have so long called the main beneficiaries of GAP?

In short, of all the ‘bestest’ and ‘mostest’ trumped for GAP—the biggest dams in the world, the vastest construction sites, the hugest machinery, the bestest opportunity for Kurdish progress, the mostest bloated ambitions by Ankara—only two have come to pass, and neither one were included in the original list: 1)The single most destructive act committed against the humanity’s cultural heritage since the WWII, and 2) creating the world’s largest group of internal refugees—far larger than those in Rwanda or former Yugoslavia—to safeguard the power generated by GAP for the industrial western Turkey. Meanwhile, the purportedly “main aim” of GAP—to uplift the Kurdish economy—remains words of fantasy generated for the benefit of the Western media and writers. There is a gaping gap separating the real achievements of GAP and the media hype created by paid Western public relations firms and fanned the Western writers on GAP—paid and unpaid.

Meanwhile, the world’s and Kurdish indifference:

The list of historic cities, archaeological sites, monuments, records and documents that have drowned in the past three decades since Dokkan project is simply horrific. The only thing more horrific has been the utter indifference of the Kurds and international community and academic circles to these monumental acts of vandalism. Here is being drowned Kurds’ equivalent of national archives, national museum, and national library, not to mention their single most important deed to their native land, and no Kurdish organization, group or individual have protested. Not a minute of the Kurdish satellite television, MED-TV, has be dedicated to discussing this national calamity. A precious few Kurdish intellectuals have shown any thing like a concern for this. In a study of Kurds’ opinion over the GAP project in the Turkish sector of Kurdistan, Carl Nestor finds among twelve prominent Kurdish figures and organizations in Europe, North America, and Australia, some mild “concern” over “GAP…destroying historical sites in attempt to obliterate the Kurdish presence.” (The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, 9, 1-2, 1996). Hallelujah!

A primary cause of this manifest Kurdish callousness is history itself. After four generations of state-sponsored concealment of their history and artistic heritage, the Kurd simply is not sure what is his, even if the thing in question is dug up from underneath his feet. Kurds feel they are inheritors of big things; what big things exactly, none seems to know. None have been given the needed education on their extent of their heritage or the course of their history. They are losing vast portions of their historical records without even knowing they are. The loss is, however, as much that of the Kurd as the rest of humanity. Open any recent archaeological publication, and Kurdistan looms large in their pages. In the last three years alone the Kurdish homeland has revealed evidence for world’s oldest planned architecture, oldest evidence for common weaving, oldest records for making of wine and beer, oldest evidence for domestication of hogs, discovery of cities in Hurrian Kurdistan vaster than their contemporaries in Sumerian Mesopotamia…etc. The reckless obliteration of so many archaeological sites of obvious importance to all humanity should shock not just the Kurds but everybody. But it has not. We are engrossed in superlatives churned up by western public relation firms like the London-based Saatchi & Saatchi in support of the Turkey’s achievements. Iraq, meanwhile, is implicated in so many of the real or imaginary vices in the world, that its drowning of the Kurdish past is not high on the list of its accusations.

World however, is not just indeferent or too busy to care: it is openly encouraging the perpetrators of the distruction. Only a few months ago a United Nation’s world conference on human habitat was held in Istanbul. A conference presumably aimed at improvement of the habitat for humanity, by omission or commision bestowed indirect approval on the horrific distruction of humanity’s collective heritage in the river valleys of Kurdistan and the parallel immulation of Kurdish habitant per se.

Was, or is, the world uninformed? No. I met personally with some of the participants to the UN conference—a group of “concerned architects and urban planners”—to whom I gave chapter and verse on what has been transpiring and forewared them of what would their mere presence bestow on the perpetrators of all that distruction. Munching away at their designer sandwiches, they found listening to my passionate admonitions concerns enough to justify the name of their group. They all then proceeded to Istanbul to munch at the exotica lavishly prepared for them by the state. If they uttered any words of concern over destruction of the Kurdish habitat or drowning of its heritage there, it must have drowned in the clicking of the toasting chalices.

Is it the duty of civilized people at all to prevent such vandalism? Perhaps. For the Kurds, however, it is the matter of their identity, proof of their native habitation of their homeland for which the evidence is being so hurriedly drowned. Sites like Dokkan, Hacinebi, Hasankeyf and Samsat are primary pages to the Kurds’ national book of identity. Let Kurds and non-Kurds abort this destructive curse upon the Kurdish and human heritage. Let there be peaceful mass protests by Kurds on the model of American and European environmentalist and concerned citizens that were mounted against felling of old forests, pulling down city monuments, and bulldozing old cave dwellings. There is not much left from all the drowning. Let us save what is left before it is too late. There must be some one who cares.

There is no solace to this calamity befallen the Kurdish national heritage. Lucian’s 1800-year-old words in a piece he calls “My Native Land,” is probably the most fitting eulogy to the drowning of his home town of Samast and other pieces of his mountainous mother-country which he praises—like a true Kurd—above all the afluent plains of foreign lands he had seen:

“Those who have a real mother-country love the soil on which they were born and bred, even if they own but little of it, and that be mountainous and impoverished. Indeed, when they see others priding themselves on their open plains and prairies diversified with all manner of growing things, they themselves do not forget the merits of their own country, praising its fitness for breeding men. To such an extent do all men seem to prize their own country that lawgivers everywhere, as one may note, have prescribed exile as the severest penalty for the greatest transgressions. In battle no other exhortation of the marshalled men is so effective as ‘You are fighting for your native land!’ No man who hears this remains a coward, for the name of the native land makes even the dastard brave.”


Archaeology magazine (May/June 1996) reports that twenty people were arrested for looting archaeological treasures in Iran’s western Kurdish province of Ilam. Authorities confiscated a second-century BC sword and various statues. “Last year Iran introduced the death penalty for people convicted of illegal trade in antiquities,” adds Archaeology.

In its March/April issue, that magazine featured a complete story on the drowning by Turkey of the entire archaeological remains of the ancient twin city of Zeugma in western Kurdistan, west of Urfa. Anticipating the immanent destruction by the filling of the Birecik dam on the Euphrates, the two-square mile archaeological site (now known as Tell Musa-Belkis) was visited by an Australian archaeological team. In their report they report of open looting of Zeugma’s marbles, mosaics and frescoes by civilians and local officials, using jack hammers.

At the time when the records of the Kurdish past, their role in formation of human history and culture, and proof of their native habitation of their land are being literarily drowned, in western and eastern institutes of higher education, they are being figuratively drowned under the flood of appropriation unleashed by the advocate area-studies academicians and vacillating Kurds. These last, I am sure, would be the first to deny Lucian his Kurdishness in fear of being labeled “Kurdish nationalists.”

Perhaps Lucian was wrong after all: men do forget the merits of their own native land, specially when it is being drowned by water and ignorance.


  1. Synopses from Lucian are from the set, entitled Lucian, ed. A.M. Harmon, (Cambridge: Harvard Loeb Classical, 8th edition, 1991). Also, Faculty of Architecture of Ankara University, Doomed by the Dam: a Survey of the Monuments Threatened by the Creation of the Keban Dam Flood Area (Ankara: Middle East Technical University, Publication, No. 9, 1967);
  2. Kennedy, David, Rifat Ergec, and Philip Freeman, “Mining the Mosaics of Roman Zeugma,” Archaeology 48, 2 (1995);
  3. Nestor, Carl, “Dimensions of Turkey’s Kurdish Question and the Potential Impact of the Southeast Anatolian Project (GAP), Part II,” The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, 8, 1-2, (1995);
  4. Speiser, E. “Southern Kurdistan in the Annals of Ashurnasirpal and Today,” The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 8 (1926-27); Ward, Diane Raines, “In Anatolia, A Massive Dam Project Drowns Traces of an Ancient Past,” Smithsonian 21 (August 1990);
  5. Whallon, Robert, An Archaeological Survey of the Keban Reservoir Area of East-Central Turkey (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1979).

 Source: M. Izady, "The drowning of the Kurdish historical and artistic heritage", the Kurdish Life, Number 19, Summer 1996,

The first documented resettlement of Kurds

The First Documented Resettlement
of Kurds into Western and Southwestern Anatolia
circa 181 BC

By: M. R. Izady, July 1998

During the Seleucid/Macedonian period that followed the conquest of the Persian Achaemenian Empire by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, at least one major episode of resettlement of Kurds into western and southwestern Anatolia can be historically evidenced. This is for the period circa 181 BC.

A fairly long rock inscription at Telmessus (modern Fethiye) on the southwestern coast of Anatolia by the Pergamese king Eumenes II (r. 197-154 BC) provides a glimpse into the life and history of the resettled Kurds. The inscription is in Greek and is commonly known as the “Cardaces Inscription.”1 This single inscription constitutes the primary historical document for the episode. But despite its terseness, the inscription also contains some detail of the harrowing impact the resettlement had on the affected populace, who turn out to be of the historic and populous clan of Kardakan (Greek Kardakoi, Latinized into Cardaces). Fortuitously, the clan is still with us today.

Life among the deportees.

The ‘Cardaces Inscription’ is the verbatim copy of a letter sent by the Pergamese king Eumenes to Artemidorus, the prince/governor of Telmessus (or perhaps, all of Lycia), in response to a petition for relief filed by the affected Kurds. The reason for the oddity of having the royal letter subsequently engraved into the face of a mountain for all to see, may have been Artemidorus’ attempt to force king Eumenes to keep his commitment of relief for the beleaguered populace. It reads:

“King Eumenes to Artemidorus. I have read the comments you appended to the petition submitted by the settlers in the settlement of the Cardaces. Since after investigating, you find that their private affairs are in a weak condition, as their trees are not yielding much fruit and their land is of poor quality, give instruction that they may keep the piece of land they bought from Ptolemy and the price they did not pay because most of them have no resources left, and give instructions not to exact the money: and since they must pay for each adult person a poll-tax of four Rhodian drachmas and an obol, but the weak condition of their private affairs makes this a burden to them, have them exempted from the arrears of this tax for the sixteenth year [of Eumenes’ reign], and of one Rhodian drachma and one obol from the seventeenth year, and for all those whom the [Cardaces] introduced from the outside, have it that they be granted exemption from all taxes for three years, and for those who have previously left the area but now wish to return, exemption for two years; and have it that they may repair the fort they previously had, so as to have a stronghold, so long as they provide themselves the rest of the expenditure, while I myself pay for a skilled craftsman. Year 17, the fourth day from the end of Dius [181 BC].” 2 (emphasis added)

What is clear is that upon arrival in Telmessus/Fethiye region, the Kardakan build an eponymous colony/settlement and a fortress as their headquarters. They purchased farmlands and planted orchards. This undertaking, however, did not flourish, either because of the poor soil and/or growing condition, or due to lack of sufficient manpower, as the Kardakan men were frequently called upon to serve under arm and on various battle fields. The military conditions at the time was fluid everywhere, and the Kurdish settlers must have been hard-pressed to find the time needed for developing their newly settled mountainous land in Lycia in between their military duties.

The colony’s poverty, therefore, may have been as much due to excessive military conscription as to the poor agricultural land and their strangeness in their new settlement. As indirectly pointed out in the Inscription, some of the Kardakan had in fact escaped the poor condition of the colony, but later returned, possibly attracted to the tax exemptions they had been promised and duly recorded in the Inscription.

What is most fascinating is that these fighting men were joined later by their kin and possibly, more clan folks joining them in the Lycian colony--a fact also recorded in the Inscription. This phenomenon is encountered, and far better documented, in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries Persia, where hundreds of thousands of Kurds were forced to resettle on the far eastern borders of the that empire in Khurasan, and defend it against the steppe nomads and foreign armies. This latter episode involved by the Persian administration first sending the elite Kurdish warriors into Khurasan, where they fought and cleared swats of defensible and productive lands in that strategic region. They followed this by occupying or building fortresses. Only then the Kurds brought their families, clan kin folks and livestock to settle their new homes. How different could the Cardacian/Kardakan colony of Lycia have been from this Khurasani episode of 16-17th century (which, oddly, included some of the same Kardakan clansmen)?

Historical background of the affected group:

The first mention of the affected clan’s group name--the Kardakan--appears in the early Akkadian records, particularly those found among the Amarna archives in Egypt of 14th century BC. The later Babylonian sources make mention of the “Kardaka” in various contexts in the 7th century BC. 3 There is, e.g., a mention of the Kardaka who provided mercenaries and guards for the Babylonian royal house. 4 From one Neo-Babylonian business record dated to 515 BC, one learns of a trader named “Lukshu the Kardaka” 5 Lukshu the Kardaka is clearly a single man who belonged to the Kardaka ‘clan.’ Flavius Arrian, meanwhile, notes that in the army of the last Persian Achaemenid king, Darius III (in 332 BC), were 60,000 ‘Persian’ heavy infantry, who he adds were “known as Cardaces.” 6 Sekunda and Chew rightly surmise that the Cardaces/Kardakan “though non-Greek, were not Persians either, and [were] a separate body from the Persian National Army.” 7

The resettlement episode discussed herein is also the last mention of the Kardakan in any detail until their reappearance in late medieval, early-modern times when the Kurdish historian, Prince Sharafaddin Bitlisi in 1597 provides a relatively detailed history for them in his Sharafnâma. Although not mentioned in the inscription, the original home of the Cardaces/Kardakans can therefore be surmised with good accuracy by using that source. The Kardakan is presented in the Sharafnâma as a clan and a princely house ruling from an area west-southwest of Bitlis (ancient Baris/Balis), in the western Lake Van region of Kurdistan. 8

At present, the Kardakans can be found in pockets in various corners of Kurdistan (such as the Mount Ararat region), 9 but also among a yet another populous community of Kurds resettled as frontier guardsmen, this time, in the aforementioned, 450-year-old Khurasani Kurdish exclave in northeastern Iran and southern Turkmenistan. Somehow, resettlement for military services and the Kardakans seem to have entered into a dangerous historical marriage.

The resettlement history.

The episode unfold sometimes before 181 BC when a large number of Kardakans are brought to settle in the strategic region of Lycia as a reservoir for military conscript and frontier guardsmen. As to who brought these Kurds into Lycia, when and how, two possibilities present themselves.

The most likely is that it was the Seleucids who settled these Kurds in Lycia for the stated military purposes, possibly in the last decades of the 3rd century BC. Lycia possessed an acute strategic importance within the elongated territories of the Seleucid Empire in Anatolia. It formed the land bridge joining the Seleucids’ rich Aegean possessions in the west to the rest of that empire in the east. Lycia cut off would have translated into an immediate loss of all Seleucid lands on the Aegean, including their winter capital of Ephesus. (see the map below)


Being aware of this, during the decisive campaigns between Rome and her allies against the Seleucids at the Battle of Magnesia (190 BC. Modern Manisa in western Anatolia), Romans accordingly landed their seaborne troops at Telmessus in Lycia, placing the Seleucids with a fait accompli regarding their Aegean territories. The Peace of Apamea two year later in 188 led to the loss of all Seleucids Anatolian provinces west  of modern Antalya. The Kurdish military presence in the region could have been to prevent this exact same faith. The Seleucids--most likely Antiochus III, could have thus transplant an entire community of Kurds into the region whose warriors had earlier proven valuable in many documented wars waged by the Seleucids. They may have been instrumental in keeping Lycia under guard against the native Lycians as well as outside threats until the aftermath of Magnesia.

Antiochus III per se was no stranger to the military value of the Kurdish troops. Kurds routinely played an important role in the Seleucid east, from Media 10 to Palestine to Anatolia. For the year 190 BC—only nine short years before the Cardacian Inscription was executed in Lycia, the Roman historian Livy records the presence of several thousand Kurdish soldiers fighting in the army of Antiochus at the same historic Battle of Magnesia against the Romans and the Pergamese. Describing the makeup of Antiochus’s army, he records that:

“The extremity of the [right] flank consisted of 4000 mixed Kurdish slingers and Elymaean archers (mixti Cyrtii funditores et Elymaei sagittarii)… [On the left flank were] four thousand targeteers: these were Pisidians and Pamphylians and Lycians; then auxiliaries of the Kurdish and Elymaean [peoples] equal to those stationed on the right flank (tum Cyrtiorum et Elymæorum paria in dextro cornu locatis auxilia) 11 …”

Arraying of various ethnic troops together in the Seleucid army normally implied linguistic affinity between them. This was for the practical reasons to facilitate communication and cooperation; hence the grouping of the Pisidians, Pamphylians and Lycians who shared the same Luvian language. Likewise, the placing together of the Kurti and the Elymaeans (Lurs-Bakhtiyaris)12   may be interpreted to imply linguistic affinity between them--one that still largely exist today! But, can this not lead us to seek the source of these Kurdish troops in southeastern Kurdistan in the neighborhood of Luristan and Bakhtiyari, instead of the Kardakan/Cardacian colony in Lycia? Not necessarily.

If we were to believe these Kurds/Cyrtii at the Battle of Magnesia were the neighboring population to the Elymaeans in their origin (hence their employment next to one another in that army) then these Kurds should have come from southern or central Zagros from the neighborhood of Elymaeis (Luristan and the Bakhtiyari mountains), nearly 1000 miles away. If this was a viable option, then what would have been the reason behind the massive (and inevitably, costly) transplantation of the Kardakan Kurds into Lycia by the Seleucids at about this same time? The reservoir of Kurdish troops could have been tapped into much closer to these battle zones of western Anatolia than drawing them from such long distances in central and southern Zagros. Further, placing the Kurti/Cyrtii immediately next to the Lycians by Livy may be a clue that we are dealing with Kurdish troops drawn from the same transplanted Kardakan/Cardacian colony in Telmessus, Lycia.

The name “Cardaces” or “Cardacian” is encountered for sometime during the Seleucid times before and after the Cardacian Inscription. There are in fact some circumstantial evidence to point to the possibility of a Kardakan presence in that general area of central and southwestern Anatolia decades before the writing of the Cardacian Inscription. At the Battle of Rhaphia in Palestine in spring of 217 BC between the Seleucid king Antiochus the Great (r. 223-187 BC) and king Ptolemy of Egypt

This arraying of the Cardacian and Lydian javelin-throwers under a Gaul commander (from Galatia, central Anatolia) in the army of Antiochus III might imply the drawing of the Cardacian troops from that western Anatolian source as well.

“At the beginning of the following spring, having all preparations for war completed, Antiochus and Ptolemy determined to bring their claims to Coele-Syria to the decision of a battle… Being informed of his approach, Antiochus drew his forces together. These consisted of Daae, Carmani, and Cilicians, equipped as light-armed troops to the number of about five thousand… In addition to these there were Agrianes and Persians, who were either bowmen or slingers, to the number of two thousands… There were also a mixed force of Medes, Cissians, Cadusians, and Carmanians, amounting to five thousand men, who were assigned to the chief command of Aspasianus the Mede… Antiochus had also fifteen hundred Cretans commanded by Zelys of Gortyna. With these were five hundred Lydian javelineers and a thousand Cardaces (Kavrdake") under Lysimachus the Gaul.” 13

But there is a second, albeit less likely possibility. It may have been the Pergamese king Eumenes II who established the Cardacian presence in Lycia. By the articles of the peace treaty of Apamea in 188 BC, Seleucids ceded Lycia to Rome which immediately handed it over to its ally, Pergamum. Lycia became the easternmost frontier province of the Pergamese kingdom, bordering on the Seleucid Empire to the east which still stretched all the way to modern Antalya. The Pergamese could have been the ones who established the Kardakan Kurdish community in Lycia after their annexation of it in 188 BC, for exactly the same purpose as noted above for the possible Seleucid origin of the colony. This time, however, the resettled Kurds were expected to defend Lycia for the Pergamese against their former masters--the Seleucids--stationed at Antalya. The colony continued to be a source of conscripts to King Eumenes II at the times of war, in addition to providing permanent frontier guardsmanship.

In 171 BC—exactly 10 years after the date for the Cardacian Inscription—Kurdish troops are found in the army of the same Eumenes II fighting in Europe. Eumenes was assisting the Roman Republican army under Licinius Crassus and Quintus Mucius in their attempt to conquer Greece for Rome from the Macedonian king, Perseus. The battle took place on River Peneüs (modern Piniós) in Thessaly, central Greece. Describing the composition of the allied troops, Livy writes:

“Before the standards of the center were arrayed two hundred Gallic [Galatian] cavalry, and three hundred of Eumenes’ auxiliaries from the Kurdish people (Cyrtiorum gentis).” 14

These must have been largely, if not totally, drawn from the Lycian Kurdish military colony of the Kardakans. What is of paramount importance to note here is that while the Cardacian Inscription records the settlers by their clan name Cardacian/Kardakans, the Roman historian Livy simply calls them “the Kurdish people” (Cyrtiorum gentis).

But, where could Eumenes have gotten all these Kurds to settle in Lycia in the first place, if he were indeed the founder of the colony? Pergamum near the Aegean Sea coast is far from Kurdish inhabited lands, even at the time of these events. These Kurds could have been partly those captured after the Battle of Magnesia from the ragtag retreating army of the Seleucid king Antiochus III. These Kurdish troops were later joined by their kin and family who moved into Lycia, as is remarked in the Inscription.

Upon the death of Eumenes in 159 BC, Lycia regained its independence for a short time, before being regained by the Pergamese to eventually pass into the Roman orbit in 133 BC. 15 Strabo records the process in brief:

“Eumenes received this place [Lycia] from the Romans in the Antiochian War, but when his kingdom was dissolved, the Lycians got it back again.”  16


Although it is not possible to definitively state which of the two—the Seleucids or the Pergamese—were responsible for the creation of the Kurdish colony in Lycia, the evidence weighs far more heavier towards the Seleucids. Several other circumstantial evidence point to an earlier, Seleucid origin for the colony, including the Inscription itself. In there the Pergamese king Eumenes declares that the Cardacians “may repair the fort they previously had…” One can read much into the word “previous” in here. At the time of the writing of the Inscription, Pergamum had ruled Lycia only for a short 7 years. Although not impossible, it is improbable that the Kardakans had time to build a settlement and a fort, desert them, and then return to revitalize them with their kin and folks—all in a short few year. Only further investigation, however, may provide an answer this question.

Whatever the origins, the Kardakan/Cardacian resettlement in Lycia falls into a larger pattern that is witnessed for the following two millennia: Kurdish warriors (along with their families and kin) being transplanted by central state governments to serve as largely unpaid permanent frontier guardsmen. These transplanted communities faced and defend their own household against outside enemies trying to cross their new home territories. It was rightly calculated that by extension they would also provide security for state’s territory to their rear.

What happened to the Kardakan community of Lycia after this, is unknown to me at this time, but they do not seem to have survived very long. The eponymous town that was built the Kardakans/Cardacians, finds no mention two centuries later in the monumental historical geography of Strabo, who being a native of Amasea/Amasya, provides an exact historical geography for all of Anatolia. The settlement and its fortress could hardly have escaped Strabo’s notice if it still existed as a place of any consequence in AD 17 when he finished his work.


  1. Or “Cardaches Inscription.”
  2. F.G. Maier, Griechische Mauer-bauinschriften I (1959), no. 76.
  3. A. Leo Oppenheim, Letters from Mesopotamia (1967), 192 no. 143; A.T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (Chicago, 1948), 193.
  4. A.T. Clay, ed., Babylonian Records in the Library of the J. Pierpont Morgan (New York, 1932), i.71
  5. Ibidem.
  6. Arrian, Anabasis. II.viii.6.
  7. Nick Sekunda and Simon Chew, The Persian Army, 560-330 BC (London: Osprey, 1992), 51-53. Sekunda (the author) is uncertain as to considering the Kardaka an ethnic group or a professional group. He is lead in this by Stephen Hirsch’s belief that the Kardaka and Qardu were one and the same name and stood for the professional, “mercenary” troops hired into the Persian Achaemenian Army. But Hirsch commits the common mistake in assuming an etymological connection between Qardu, Kardaka and the Old Persian word gard, meaning “house,” or “household”, following by its borrowing into Neo-Akkadian, where it is presumably transferred into “Kardaka.” Based on this erroneous assumption, Hirsch suggests the meaning of Kardaka to be “those (troops) of the (Royal) Household.” Others have tried to derive the etymology from the Old Persian word korta/gord, “manly, warlike” but they have not been able to account for its very early existence in Akkadian. Strabo, in fact has a fascinating account to give regarding the Kardaka and the “meaning” of it, which has thus far escaped the notice of all who could have spared themselves the task. Describing the boot camps in which young Persian noble boys were trained, he observes that such trainees “are called Cardaces, since they live on thievery, for “carda” kavrda means the manly and warlike spirit.” (Geography, XV.iii.18) This fascinating—and erroneous—2,100-year old folk etymology by Strabo indicates that he (and his probable Persian informant) were obviously trying to derive the word carda from korda/gord—which is an etymological impossibility.
  8. Sharafnâma, III.vii.4
  9. In modern literature on Kurds the name Kardakan is often intentionally corrupted into “Kurdakan.” This is purely aetiological. Those authors who do, presume the need for the name to conform with the element “Kurd.” This is thoroughly wrong, and should not be attempted, as the two names are etymologically unrelated. The modern form, Kardakan, is correct and preserves the historic name in its pristine, ancient form with its original vowels still intact.
  10. Polybius places a special status for the Kurdish warriors in the army of Molon, the Macedonian satrap of Media who rebelled and lost his life opposing the Seleucid king Antiochus in 220 BC. He notes that Molon was hopeful of his success “…because he had great confidence in his corps of slingers called Kurds.” (“…to; pisteuvein tw'/ plhvfei tw'n sfendonhtw'n tw'n prosagoreuomevnwn Kurtivwn.”) (History, V.lii.7)
  11. Livy, History, XXXVII.xl.9-10.
  12. The Elymaeans should not be confused with the ancient Elamites. Classical Elymaeis corresponds directly to modern Luristan and Bakhtiyari territories, neighboring southeastern Kurdistan. Modern Iranian province of Ilam (southeastern Kurdistan) still preserved this historic name.
  13. Polybius, History, V.lxxix.7-11. I have not been able to find support for the assertion made by Bar Kochova (1989) and cited by Susan Sherwin-White and Amélie Kuhrt, that: ”the ‘Cardacians’ used to provide 1,000 light infantry for that Hellenistic [i.e., Seleucid] royal army (From Samarkhand [sic] to Sardis: A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 54. Polybius’ statement cited above is only for this single occasion, and I am not aware of any other classical citation.
  14. Livy, Hist., XLII.lviii.14. This is a doubly valuable information, because it may imply the knowledge of Livy of the ethno-national quality of the term Kurd/Kurti, under which the Kardakans/Cardacians and others could be placed.
  15. Strabo provide a very useful and succinct account of the life of Eumenes and what followed immediately in the region: “Eumenes fought on the side of the Romans against Antiochus the Great and against Perseus, and he received from the Romans all the country this side of the Taurus that had been subject to Antiochus… After a reign of 49 years [actually, 38 years, 197-159 BC] Eumenes left his empire to Attalus, his son by Stratonice, the daughter of Ariarathes, king of the Cappadocians. He appointed his brother Attalus [Philadelphus] as guardian both of his son , who was extremely young, and of the empire. After a reign of twenty-one years [159-138 BC], his brother died an old man, having won success in many undertakings; for example, he helped Alexander, the son of Antiochus, to defeat in war Demetrius, the son of Seleucus, and he fought on the side of the Romans against the Pseudo-Philip, and in an expedition against Thrace he defeated Diegylis the king of the Caeni, and he slew Prusias [of Bithynia] having incited his son Nicomedes against him, and he left his empire, under a guardian, to Attalus. Attalus, surnamed Philometor, reigned five years [138-133 BC], died of disease, and left the Romans his heirs. The Romans proclaimed the country a province, calling it Asia, by the same name as the continent [133 BC]. ” (Geo., XIII.iv.1-2)
  16. Strabo, Geo, XIV.iii.4.


Watery graves

Gaziantep, Turkey, The Economist, April 29th 2009

When Turkey's Birecik dam begins filling up at the end of the month, thousands of archaeological treasures are likely to be lost. Does anyone care?

A CORAL-PINK prawn, a frolicking dolphin. With each gentle prod of the pick, another brilliantly coloured sea creature springs from the earth to reveal an elaborate mosaic floor featuring Oceanus, a mythological god of the seas. The mosaic lies within the atrium of a lavish villa in Zeugma, a strategic port city of the classical period that was built on a terraced hillside overlooking the Euphrates river.

With a bit of luck, and much painstaking work, the small clutch of archaeologists that is working on the site will soon lift the panel and remove it to the museum in the southern city of Gaziantep. But countless other treasures-some recorded, others still awaiting discovery-will be buried under the waters of the Euphrates when the newly completed Birecik dam, just 500 metres downstream, starts filling up on April 29th. At least 82 other sites, some dating as far back as the Palaeolithic period, will also be engulfed. So, too, will nine villages, displacing thousands of local inhabitants.

The Economist:Zeugma, Gaziantep, Turkey

Archaeologists who have studied Zeugma believe that the size and richness of the site make it unique. "We are about to witness a great tragedy," says Catherine Abadie Reynal, a French archaeologist who has been digging there since 1996. "A second Ephesus is about to be lost. And no one seems to have lifted a finger to stop it."

While Mrs Reynal and her fellow archaeologist, Daniel Frascone, are speaking, Hakki Alhan, director of the Gaziantep museum, is furiously working the telephones to secure official permission for the pair to join the Turkish excavation team for a last minute effort at salvaging what they can. "Their papers are in order, the foreign ministry has them our culture] ministry has them, but the Security Directorate in Ankara says they don't," Mr Alhan explains, throwing his hands up in despair. Earlier this month, the French team was given 15 days to work in Zeugma; five have gone already.

The scene is an example of the sort of bureaucratic inertia which has allowed so many of Turkey's historical riches to disappear, including the remains of Samosata, the glorious regional capital of the Roman kings, which was submerged in the early I990S under another Euphrates dam, the Ataturk.

Back in Ankara, Guzen Koksal, a culture ministry official, insists that the "real problem" is not red tape and negligence, but a shortage of funds. "Don't ask me why," she said. "But our budget is shrinking all the time, and nobody ever consults us before they decide to build darns." The ministry's share of the national budget has been reduced this year to an all-time low of 0.02%. "We can barely afford to pay our employees let alone finance excavations," said Mrs Koksal. "We are helpless."

Zeugma has attracted little international attention over the years; few Turks, let alone foreigners, are even aware that it exists. The only recent Turkish reference to its imminent demise appeared last month on the back page of a Little-read Islamic newspaper. Yet western scholars have known for more than two centuries that Zeugma was built by Seleucus I (358~280 BC), one of Alexander the Great's successors, as the site of a crucial bridge linking Anatolia and Mesopotamia on the silk route to China. To secure the bridge, he also founded another city on the river's opposite bank, naming it Apamea after his Persian queen.

Later, Zeugma (a Greek word for "bridge") was taken over by the Romans and turned into an opulent fortress city that housed 5,000 soldiers and stretched across an expanse twice the size of Roman London and three-and-a-half times that of Pompeii. In the 19th century, looters began removing Zeugma's mosaics, some of which are now to be found in museums in Berlin and St Petersburg. Ironically, it was not until 1992, when a local peasant discovered a looter's tunnel leading to the remains of a Roman villa, that the Turkish authorities were alerted to the significance of the site. The splendour of the mosaic floor depicting the "Wedding of Dionysus and Ariadne", which was stolen six years later (see next story), galvanised the Gaziantep museum into action. Three more villas were uncovered when the first official excavations were begun.

"It was around that time that we heard the dam would be built," recalls Rifat Ergec, a former director of the Gaziantep museum and an archaeologist who has worked at Zeugma. "We were horrified." Despite calls for additional funds to speed up and broaden the excavations, it was not until 1996, when the dam began to be built, that the culture ministry launched an international appeal to help save Zeugma's treasures. Dr Reynal was among the first to respond. Over the past four years, more than 15 mosaic panels have been rescued, together with scores of bronze figurines, tens of thousands of clay seals and other artefacts now on display at Gaziantep. Among the new treasures still being uncovered is a voluptuous ivory statuette of Aphrodite.
"The big question now," says Dr Ergec, "is whether the tragedy will be repeated." He is referring to Hasankeyf, a medieval town straddling the Tigris River (see page 51). With the exception of a citadel and some troglodyte dwellings, much of the site, including the remains of a stone bridge that once linked the two parts of the town, is set to vanish once a proposed darn four times the size of Birecik is built there by a British-led consortium.

Unlike Zeugma, Hasankeyf has elicited a flood of international sympathy, in part because it lies within the Kurdish heartlands. A widely publicised campaign mounted by Kurdish activists and British environmentalists and expediently embraced by a group of Conservative MPS, is already causing a stir. The Labour government recently indicated that British export credits for the multibillion pound project would not be released unless the Turkish government first submitted "a detailed plan to preserve as much of the architectural heritage of Hasankeyf as possible". Cansen Akkaya, a senior Turkish official linked to the project, says: "We fully accept that condition. Preserving what we can of Hasankeyf has become a matter of our national pride." sadly, this is not true of Zeugma.

The glazed bricks from Bukan: new insights into Mannaean art

Yousef Hassanzadeh; Antiquity Vol 80 No 307 March 2006
Mannaean studies as an independent field began with the discovery of Ziwiye in 1936 and the initiation of scientific excavations there (Boehmer 1964, 1988; Postgate 1989; Levine 1977). The archaeological site at Ziwiye was at first identified as Izbie, one of the important Mannaean provinces in the Iron Age of Iran. After this, great efforts were made to discover Izirtu, soon identified with Qaplanto near Ziwiye (Godard 1949, 1950: 7). But these identifications have since been discarded. In 1956, R. Dyson from the University of Pennsylvania began his extensive excavations on the Hasanlu mound, proposing Hasanlu IV as a Mannaean settlement. In a short time, the presence of Mannaean at Hasanlu became abundantly apparent (Boehmer 1964; Dyson 1989; Dyson & Muscarella 1989).
Figure 1. Map of north-west Iran, showing the Manneaen sites mentioned in this paper.
Between 1979-1985, illegal excavations were carried out on a massive scale at the site of Qalaichi Tappe, 7km north of Bukan (Figure 1). Some unique glazed bricks were discovered, which soon found their way to antique auction rooms, and were subsequently purchased by private collectors and foreign museums (National Museum of Tokyo, Ancient Orient Museum of Tokyo, and Middle Eastern Cultural Center of Japan).
In 1985, an archaeological team under the direction of E. Yaghmaee was sent to the site. During one season of rescue archaeology the team excavated many glazed bricks and a unique 13-line Aramaic inscription (Yaghmaee 1985). Since the translation in 1988 and subsequent publication of the inscription by Bashash (1996), there has been growing interest and study by linguists, with publication of further interpretive articles (Lemaire 1988, 1998, 1999; Ephcal 1999; Sokoloff 1999; Teixidor 1999; Fales 2003).
Figure 2. Plan of the architectural remains at the site of Qalaichi (Kargar 2004, with some modifications).
The Qalaichi inscription indicates that the place in which the glazed bricks were found was dedicated to Haldi (god of war), and Hadad (god of storm, lightening and thunder). Moreover, the Qalaichi Inscription says that the temple is located in a place called Zatar (Bashash (1996) associates the word Zatar with Izirtu the capital of the Mannaeans). In regard to dating of the inscription, Ephcal places it in the eighth or early seventh century BC (1999: 117).
Excavations at Qalaichi restarted in 1999, under the direction of B. Kargar, and have revealed architectural structural remains covering one hectare. In this complex, a columned hall of 19x35m, and some spaces thought to have religious function have been discovered (Kargar 2004) (figure 2). These buildings were decorated internally with red mud, and for external decoration of the temple, glazed bricks were used.
The archaeological site of Qalaichi and its inscription provide valuable information on the recognition of customs and ideologies of Mannaean society. This paper announces preliminary analysis of the newly accessed glazed bricks from this period.
Figure 3. Façade of dedication platform from Qalachi.
Glazed bricks of Qalaichi
The inscription and glazed bricks from the 1985 excavation, alongside those recovered from looters total 450 pieces, now accessed by the National Museum of Iran. A joint project between the National Museum of Iran and Department of Archaeology at Tehran University started in July 2003, with the aim of studying the glazed bricks. This research programme has ten phases, of which we have completed the following four:
Laboratory study including chemical study by XRD, Pixe and Thermo luminescence.
Raw material sourcing in the Bukan area.
3D architectural reconstruction.
Drawing of all motifs seen on the glazed bricks.
The glazed bricks of Bukan can be divided into two groups from the viewpoint of placement of motifs:
A: Bricks with motifs on the lateral side.
B: Bricks with motifs on the upper face.
Figure 4. Glazed bricks from Qalaichi, showing the body of a lion,
wing of an eagle, and a human face, from Urmia Museum, Iran (Kargar 2004).
In terms of visual coherence, the bricks cover a wide spectrum, from those made unintelligible due to damaged glaze, to intact highly vivid images. In this research, the motifs have been divided into six different groups: A- Botanic, B- Zoomorphic, C- Anthropomorphic, D- Combination (human and animal), E- Geometric, F-Anonymous.
These artistic traits can be attributed to 'Zagross Artistic Style', which covers a vast area from Marlik, west of Alborz mountain ranges, to Luristan in the central Zagross. This style blossomed in late second millennium BC and reached its highpoint during the first millennium BC. It is seen on archaeological sites at Marlik, Ziwiye, and Luristan. Throughout its use this artistic style utilised animal motifs intensively, and arguably influenced the tastes of local governors and their supporters. This natural style with its freedom of action, contrasts noticeably with the formal and more restrictive art of Mesopotamia (Charlesworth 1980: 52). These glazed bricks are being compared with contemporary images in Assyrian and Urartian Art, and also with the newly discovered Mannaean glazed bricks from Tappe Rabat (15km from north-east Sardasht, discovered and damaged by looters in 2004, excavated in 2005 by B. Kargar).
Figure 5. Glazed brick from Bukan depicting a winged goat from
the Ancient Orient Museum Tokyo, Japan (Tanabe 1983).
This ongoing research project is expected to provide new insight into Mannaean art and different influences of other regional artistic styles.
Figure 6. One of the glazed bricks being studied at the National Museum of Iran
I would like to thank M. Kargar, director of the National Museum of Iran for his support and help with the project, K. Abdi, H. Molasalehi, and M. Malekzadeh for their comments, F. Biglari for his help, R. Yousefi and A. Vahdati for translation and R. Arab for correcting the translation.
In 1985, an archaeological team under the direction of E. Yaghmaee was sent to the site. During one season of rescue archaeology the team excavated many glazed bricks and a unique 13-line Aramaic inscription (Yaghmaee 1985). Since the translation in 1988 and subsequent publication of the inscription by Bashash (1996), there has been growing interest and study by linguists, with publication of further interpretive articles (Lemaire 1988, 1998, 1999; Ephcal 1999; Sokoloff 1999; Teixidor 1999; Fales 2003).
  1. BASHASH, R. 1996. Decipherment of Bukan Inscription, in Shiraz (ed.) The proceedings of the first symposium of inscriptions and ancient texts: 25-39. Tehran: Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization Press (in Farsi).
  2. BOEHMER, R.M. 1964. Volkstum und städte der Mannäer. Baghdader Mitteilungen III: 1-24.
  3. - 1988. Ritzverzierte Keramik Aus Dem Mannäischen (?) Bereich. AMI N19: 95-115.
  4. CHARLESWORTH, M.F. 1980. An Ivory Plaque from Ziwiye. Kand-o Kav (journal of Institute and Department of Archaeology of Tehran University) 3: 51-56.
  5. DYSON, R.H. 1989. East of Assyria: The Highlands settlement of Hasanlu. Expedition 30/2-3: 1-127.
  6. DYSON, R.H. & O.W. MUSCARELLA. 1989. Constructing the chronology and Historical Implications of Hasanlu IV. Iran 27: 1-27.
  7. EPHCAL, I. 1999. The Bukan Aramaic Inscription: Historical considerations. Israel Exploration Journal 49: 116-121.
  8. FALES, F.M. 2003. Evidence for West-East Contacts: The Bukan Stela and the Shigaraki Beaker. Paper given at Continuity of Empire: Assyria, Media, Persia, in the Intellectual Heritage of Assyria and Babylonia in east and west, Padova, 26-28 April 2001.
  9. GODARD, A. 1949. Izirtu, La capitale du pays des Manneens, Zibie et Armaid. Comptes de Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres: 312-313.
  10. - 1950. Le Trésor de Ziwiyè. publication du service archéologique L'Iran.
  11. KARGAR, B. 2004. Qalaichi: zirtu: Center of Manna, Period Ib, in M. Azarnoush (ed.) Proceedings of the International Symposium on Iranian Archaeology; Northwestern Region: 229-245. Tehran: Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (in Farsi).
  12. LEMAIRE, A. 1988. Une Inscription Araméenne Du VIIIe S. AV. J.-C. Trouvée À Bukân (Azerbaïdjan Iranien). Studia Iranica 27: 15-30.
  13. - 1998. L'inscription araméenne de Bukân et son intérét historique. Comptes rendus L Academie des Inscriptions & Belles-Lettres: 293-301.
  14. - 1999 La stèle araméenne de Bukân: mise au point épigraphique. Nouvelles Assyriologiues Breves et utilitaires LVII: 57-58.
  15. LEVINE, L.D. 1977. Izirtu. Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Arch&aumlologie. Bd, V, life.3/4: 226.
  16. POSTGATE, J.N. 1989. Mannaer. Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie. Bd.7, life.5/6: 340-342.
  17. SOKOLOFF, M. 1999. The old Aramaic Inscription from Bukan, A revised interpretation. Israel Exploration Journal 49: 105-115.
  18. TANABE, K. 1983. Animals in the arts of ancient orient. Catalogue of the Ancient Orient Museum. Tokyo: Ancient Orient Museum.
  19. TEIXIDOR, J. 1999. L'inscription araméenna de Bukân, relecture. Semitica 49: 117-121.
  20. YAGHMAEE, E. 1985. Discovery of a three thousand year old temple at Bukan. Keyhan newspaper Thursday, 12th March, p.6.
Yousef Hassanzadeh: Researcher, History & Luristan department, National Museum of Iran, Tehran, Iran (Email: hasanzadeh_y@yahoo.com).


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Biographies analyse and interpret the events in a person's life. They try to find connections, explain the meaning of unexpected actions or mysteries, and make arguments about the significance of the person's accomplishments or life activities. Biographies are usually about famous, or infamous people, but a biography of an ordinary person can tell us a lot about a particular time and place. 

Many biographies are written in chronological order. Some group time periods around a major theme in Kurdish history. Still others focus on specific topics or accomplishments.

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  1. Primary sources are things like letters, diaries, or newspaper accounts.
  2. Secondary sources include other biographies, reference books, or histories that provide information about the subject of the biography.
  3. To write a biography you should:
  4. Select a person you are interested in
  5. Find out the basic facts of the person's life.
  6. Think about what else you would like to know about the person, and what parts of the life you want to write most about. Some questions you might want to think about include:
  7. What makes this person special or interesting?
  8. What kind of effect did he or she have on the Kurds and Kurdistan? or other people/places?
  9. What are the adjectives you would most use to describe the person?
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  12. Did he or she overcome obstacles? Take risks? Get lucky?
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