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 Ahmadi Khanis Theory of Kurdish Nationalism in Mem Zin - Part I

 Opinion  Analysis 
  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


Ahmadi Khanis Theory of Kurdish Nationalism in Mem Zin - Part I ‎ 30.8.2012 
By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli

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Dr Kamal Mirawdeli, a prominent Kurdish writer and Kurdistan Region Presidency Candidate 2009, he was the strongest rival of the incumbent president of the region and was the second winner in the elections.
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August 30, 2012

Read: Part I | Part II


Perhaps pseudo-Kurdologists, Euro-centrists and Oreintalists, in Edward Saids 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 Khanis Mem Zin (finished writing it in 1690). Yes there is a complete theory including Khanis 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 Khanis 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 Khanis 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 Khanis work entitled Love and Existence, Analytical Study of Khanis Tragedy of Mem u ZIni, which will be published soon, is based on three steps: 1. Transcribing Khanis 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 Khanis ideas and arguments for which he has so passionately pleaded.

Khanis Theory of Kurdish Nationalism: Discourse Analysis of his Prologues


1.1 Why did Khani write his story in Kurdish?

(235-237) Khani j kemal bkemal
Meydana kemal dt Xal
Ye'n ne j qabil w xebir
Belki b teessub w a'shir
Hasil j inad eger ji b 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 teessub and eşr
In short, from stubbornness, maybe unjustified,
Made this 'bida't' (custom- breaking innovation) contrary to what is customary

(357-361) Kurmanc im , kh u, kenar
Van end xeberd Kurdewar
Imza bikirin b husn eltaf
sgha bikin ew b sem nsaf
Eshab gherez ku guh bidrn
Eyba b kerem li min veşrin
Ava ry şairi nerjn
Ger mumkine yke qenj bebjin
Sehw gheletan nekin te'eccub
Tawil bkn, j bo tessub.

(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]
Dont be shocked by flaws and mistakes
Interpret them, for the sake of teessub.

Khani mentions the important words of teessub and eşr 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- teessub 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 teessub and eşr 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 teessub 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 teessub is from the same Arabic root esab, 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 teessub means having esebiyye and he also uses eşr' (feeling for or commitment to eshiret, tribe) in that sense. But as we shall see Khani's teessub and eşr 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, teessub, with which he wrote it, despite its possible deficiencies.

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

Ez meme di hikmeta Xud da Kurmanc di dewleta din da Aya bi i wech mane mehrm Bilcumle ji bo i bne mehkm? Wan girti b şr şehr şuhret Tesxr kiirn bilad himmet Her mrek wan bi bedhl Hatem Her mrek wan bi rezm Rostem Bifikir Ji Ereb hetta ve Gurcan Kurmanc ye bye şubh burcan Ev Rm Ecem b wan hesarin Kurmanc hemi l char kenarin Her d terefan qebil kurmanc Bo ter qeza kirine amanc Goya ku li ser heddan kilidn Her taife seddekn, sedidn Ev qulzum Rm u behr Tack Hindi Ku bikin xuruc tehrk Kurmanc dibin bi xwn mulettax Wan Jkve dikin misal 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 Rms (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)

Read Part II

Kamal Rasul Mirawdeli (Dr), a prominent Kurdish writer and the former presidential candidate in 2009 Iraq's Kurdistan Region elections.

Copyright 2012 



  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


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