"> Ahmadi Khani’s Theory of Kurdish Nationalism in Mem û Zin


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August 31, 2012

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Ahmadi Khani’s Theory of Kurdish Nationalism in Mem û Zin

Kurdishaspect.com - By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli


Perhaps pseudo-Kurdologists, Euro-centrists and Oreintalists, in Edward Said’s sense of the word, would be annoyed by just seeing this title let alone my argument for the fact that there is a comprehensive theory of nationalism regarding Kurdish nation in Ahamdi Khani’s Mem û Zin (finished writing it in 1690). Yes there is a complete theory including Khani’s specific innovative theoretical Concepts, which act as strategic interpretive elements for the explanation of nationalism in general and Kurdish nationalism in particular; there are nationalist themes and issues specific to Kurdish nation; there is Khani’s clear expression that he is thinking as a nationalist Kurdish intellectual and he has dedicated al his life, labour and his work Mem u Zin in particular to explain and embody the cause of Kurdish people and their need for national leadership, national cultural revival, national liberation and a sovereign state of their own; and finally there is the actual epochal work of Mem u Zin which is a marvellous dramatization of Kurdish country, culture and way of life, the character of Kurdish men and women and Kurdish issues and aspirations.

However I do not believe in projecting my own understanding and ideas into Khani’s text or any text for that matter. The best scientific objective methodology is to let the text speak for itself, reveal its content and connotations and its own inner logic and thematic constructions. Khani has made all this very easy for anyone who understands his immensely erudite language and style. His work is very self-conscious. He predicts various readers reactions to his work so he in advance offers, among other innovative techniques, an elaborate critical discourse, to help the readers especially Kurdish patriots to read his work with sympathy and understanding.

Thus, the following discourse analysis, which is part of my comprehensive academic study of Khani’s work entitled Love and Existence, Analytical Study of Khani’s Tragedy of Mem u ZIni, which will be published soon, is based on three steps: 1. Transcribing Khani’s original texts in Roman alphabet (for Arabic words I have used normal standard pair sound combinations such ad /gh/ and /dh/ for words such as ghilman, dheheb), literal line-by line and word-by-word translation of the verses into English and then offering a discourse analysis of the themes and ideas in each section. This I hope, will ensure the best methodology to give justice to Khani’s ideas and arguments for which he has so passionately pleaded. Khani’s Theory of Kurdish Nationalism: Discourse Analysis of his Prologues


1.1 Why did Khani write his story in Kurdish?

(235-237) Khani j kemalê bêkemalî

Meydana kemalê dîtî Xalî

Ye'nî ne j qabilî w xebirî

Belki b te’essub w a'shirî

Hasil j ‘inad eger ji bê dad

Ev bida'te kir Xilafe mu'tad

(235-237)) Khani out of his perfect lack of perfection

Saw the arena of perfection vacant

Meaning not out of competence and expertise

But because of te’essub and ‘esîrî

In short, from stubbornness, maybe unjustified,

Made this 'bida't' (custom- breaking innovation) contrary to what is customary

(357-361) Kurmanc im û, kûhî u, kenarî

Van çend xeberêd Kurdewarî

Imza bikirin b husnê eltaf

îsgha bikin ew b sem’ê însaf

Eshabê gherez ku guh bidêrn

‘Eyba b kerem li min vesêrin

Ava rûyê sai’ri nerêjn

Ger mumkine yêke qenj bebêjin

Sehw û gheletan nekin te'eccub

Ta’wil bkn, j bo te’ssub.

(357- 361) A Kurd, a mountaineer and a frontier-man (kenari)

[Recorded] some of the tales of Kurdewari

 Stamp it with your kind-heartedness

Listen to it with ears of fairness

Those who listen to it with purpose

Let them be generous, and hide my flaws

Let them not insult the poet

If possible, say good things [about it]

Don’t be shocked by flaws and mistakes

Interpret them, for the sake of te’essub.

Khani mentions the important words of te’essub and ‘esîrî as the most impelling factors for what he himself calls his exceptional innovation: bida’ (which is, as we shall see, the rewriting of a Kurdish folk story 'fsana' as a dramatic mathnawi in Kurdish." He also asks his fellow Kurds to make a “with- te’essub” or a patriotically partisan reading of his work and hide his flaws.

Playing on the Arabic work kemal which is one of the names of God and has several sublime meanings such as perfection, fulfilment, achievement and excellence, Khani says that he saw the arena of Kurdish 'perfection' vacant, though 'perfectly' aware of his own 'imperfection', because of his te’essub and ‘esîrî and not out of 'competence and expertise' he went against the customary course of affairs and created a bid'at which is a term used by Islamic traditionalists to describe any new idea that breaks with well-established traditions or customs. So bid'at is what Khani has done; and te’essub is the reason for it, and ‘inad (stubbornness) is his personal unshaken determination to fill in the gap of 'perfection' in the area of Kurdish written literature. Khani's word te’essub is from the same Arabic root ‘e’sab, which Ibn Khaldun has used in his al-Muqaddima to coin his sociological concept of ‘esabiyye. This is ' a type of integrative ‘esabiyye. Ibn Khaldun views as instrumental for dynastic rule and state-making to be produced and reproduced." (Akbarzade (2003), p. 31)

Ibn Khaldun's description of ‘esebiyye expresses a sort of 'community solidarity' aimed at underpinning a dynastic political power that represents the interests of that community. It has been translated as social solidarity or tribal solidarity or community spirit, etc, as it is primarily based on blood or close geographical ties. Ibn Khaldun writes: "Social solidarity [‘esebiyye] is found only in groups related by blood ties or by other ties which fulfil the same functions. This is because blood ties have a force binding on most men, which makes them concerned with any injury inflicted on their next of kin. Men resent the oppression of their relatives, and the impulse to ward off any harm that may befall those relatives is natural and deep rooted in men." (Issawi, 2002, p.103). 

Khani's te’essub means having ‘esebiyye and he also uses ‘esîrî' (feeling for or commitment to e’shiret, tribe) in that sense. But as we shall see Khani's te’essub and ‘esîrî go beyond the elementary condition of kinship to include both concrete and conceptual national constituents such as idea of common homeland, shared culture, shared history and most importantly shared national cause in the face of the other. In this sense the most natural element of kinship relevant to Khani's work, as described by Ibn Khaldun is "resenting oppression and deep-rooted desire to ward off harm". This in Khani's case means putting an end to the historical oppression of all those kinships that he conceptualises as his people, the Kurds. What Khani sees is lacking in the area of 'perfection' is the use of native language as an instrument of self-representation, self-expression, communal solidarity, love epics and knowledge. He makes the task of filling this gap and 'achieving perfection' in this area, his Grand Narrative, his great national enterprise. So Khani's t'assub can be translated as 'national solidarity’, rather than social, tribal, or community solidarity. He provides perfect enough description of his enterprise, to warrant this conclusion. At the end of his exposition, Khani describes himself as a simple mountain Kurd who has recorded the tales of his folks. He mentions the cultural word Kurdewari, which is a very old term used by the Kurds to describe their lands, culture and communities. While Kurdistan means the land of the Kurds, Kurdewari means the regions where the Kurds live and their language, habits, and customs prevail. (The word is a noun formed of Kurd and the suffix –ewari meaning in the manner of). Wahbi and Edmonds (1966) define it as " the Kurdish world, something typically Kurdish.” Kudroev and Isupova ((1983) give a similar meaning as well as 'Kurdish country'. I have translated it as Kurdish cultural milieu or country. It has also been translated as 'Kurdish culture'. Thus while Kurdistan is a purely geographical name, Kurdewari has for the Kurds strong cultural and sociological content. Contrary to the views of Kurdish adversaries who insult the Kurds for being inhabitant of mountains and uncivilised, Khani expresses his pride in being so. The only thing he wants is that his fellow Kurds would receive his product with the same sense of national solidarity, te’essub, with which he wrote it, despite its possible deficiencies.

1.2 What is the historical context of Khani's enterprise?

Ez meme di hikmeta Xudê da Kurmanc di dewleta dinê da Aya bi çi wechî mane mehrûm Bilcumle ji bo çi bûne mehkûm? Wan girti b sîrî sehrê suhret Tesxîr kiirn biladê himmet Her mîrekî wan bi bedhlê Hatem Her mêrekî wan bi rezmê Rostem Bifikir Ji ‘Ereb hetta ve Gurcan Kurmancî ye bûye subhê burcan Ev Rûm û ‘Ecem b wan hesarin Kurmanc hemi l char kenarin Her dû terefan qebilê kurmanc Bo terê qeza kirine amanc Goya ku li ser heddan kilidn Her taife seddekn, sedidn Ev qulzumê Rûm u behrê Tacîk Hindi Ku bikin xuruc û tehrîk Kurmanc dibin bi xwên mulettax Wan Jêkve dikin misalê berzex (216-225)

I am puzzled by the wisdom of God The Kurds among [all] the countries (dewleta) of the world Have, for what reason, been deprived? Why have they all been subjected? (mehkum) They have seized with swords the cities of fame And controlled the countries of courage Everyone of them is in generosity a Hatem

Everyone of them in bravery is a Rostem 

Look from Arabia to Gurjan (Gurjistan) Kurmanci they are who have become like towers. These Rûms (Turks) and Ecem (Persians) are shielded by them 

Kurmanc are in all the four ends Both sides have made the Kurmanc tribes The target for the arrows of accident Claiming they are keys at the borders Each tribe of them is a barrier, a wall This sea of Rum and the sea of Tajik Whenever they start out and move Kurmanc are stained with blood They separate them from each other like isthmus

The aloneness of the Kurds of 'owning no books' is in fact the facet of another more serious fatal fault, which is lack of independence and self-government, a difficult question that Khani tries to comprehend and answer. Here, Khani expresses an existential contradiction regarding his people and he is puzzled by the enigma behind the wisdom of God to put his people in this fatal geo-imperial disadvantage which made them subjected and unable to have dewlet (sovereign country) like all other peoples in the world. Even worse, the Kurds had (geo-politically, in today's sense) become preventive dams and protective walls for others. Whenever the Persians and Ottomans move against each other, it is the blood of the Kurds which is shed to shield them. They have kept the Kurds as isthmoid tribes and buffers between them. The puzzling contradiction to Khani is that the Kurds deserve better for as character and courage, they are examples of generosity of spirit like the legendary Arab Hatem, and embodiment of endurance and courage like the legendary Aryan Rostem mentioned by Firdewsi. But the Kurdish bravery, rather than becoming a factor for independence, it has become a factor for maintaining the very geopolitics that has ensnared them. The Kurdish historian Sharafkhan Bedlisi also refers to this geo-imperial peril. But for him Kurdish bravery was not entirely negative. For him, coupled with the mountainous character of the land, it made the foreigners desist from occupying the land, being content with getting gifts or using Kurds for their own defence. He writes: "Great princes have not targeted their country and had not intended to occupy it. It was sufficient for them to receive gifts from them. Otherwise they ignored them and left them to their own. And if they are engaged in war they use the Kurds to fight their enemies for them."(Sherefname, p.38)

 (To be continued)

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