A Summary of Kurdish Linguistic Problems
In the Light of a Persisting National Question
By : Ismet Sherif Wanli
My name above as author of the present article is written as it should be in the Kurdish Roman script as modified according to my proposals of June 1992 , while my usual name as author and Swiss citizen is Ismet Chériff Vanly. Any reference hereafter to my work as author will be done under the initials ICV.
The reader would allow me to use, in parts of this paper , the 1st pronoun ‘I’ for recalling some significant events I have personally experienced . I was advised to write the paper in English to make it understandable by the largest number possible of educated Kurds .
This paper is constituted of two parts. While Part II , divided into subtitles, corresponds to the general topic of the paper, a summary of Kurdish linguistic – dialectical and alphabetic – problems , posing in the long run the question of unification of the written Kurdish , in the light of a persisting national question, Part I , consisting of glimpses of the Kurdish historical and geographical heritage, does not. It is related neither to today’s Kurdish linguistic problems , nor directly to the national question. No need, however, to say how fundamental is the historical and geographical heritage of a nation in the making , for its future. That is a topic on which , beside a few published articles, I have actually written tow manuscripts, one already several decades old , typed in French (that I today see as insufficient) , and the other, written in 2002 in English , which would still need some research work. I ignore whether I shall have the opportunity to do this research. That is why these glimpses of the Kurdish heritage figure as Part I of this paper, somehow by way of ‘introduction’ , or rather a selection about the Kurdish and the proto-
Glimpses of the Kurdish Historical and Geographical Heritage
To put it summarily, the Kurds are a large people of the Near East speaking an Indo-
The Hurrians were a people native of the area of today’s Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan -
See other and more recent information in : ‘
The Hurrians represented only one link in a continued chain of peoples and tribes speaking Japhetic , extending from the Sind Valley in India to Iberia and the Basque country, across Iran, Kurdistan, Armenia, Asia Minor, southern Europe , Greece and its islands, and the Etruscans of Italy . They all spoke kindred languages from the same group, which was neither Semitic nor Indo-
By the 11th century BC , the Iranic-
The ‘orderly states’ coveted by the Iranic nations, their eastern neighbours, were three . In the centre, we had Assyria which, after its liberation from the Hurri-
Media rose as a Great Power in Iranian Kurdistan and, in 612 BC , the Median king, Cyaxare , occupied Niniva and destroyed the Assyrian empire, once for ever, in alliance with Babylonia. Cyaxare advanced westwards across the former Assyrian possessions, at Harran, into Lydia , in Asia Minor . According to the peace agreement concluded between him and king of Lydia , says Herodotus, the western frontier of Media was fixed up on the Halys River , present Kizil-
The fall of Assyria and Urartu created a ‘vacuum’ that was to be filled . In Xenophon’s
Professor Vladimir Minorsky developed the thesis advanced by the German academics . To put it briefly, he says the origins of the Kurds go back to two kindred Iranic tribes or peoples, the Kurti and the Mards, who advancing westwards , from Atropatenian Media, present Azerbaijan, on the steps and under the protection of the Median army , profited from the fall of Assyria and Urartu to occupy a new homeland (see Minorsky’s articles
The Greek geographer Strabo, from Asia Minor, who lived at the time of Christ (c. 64 BC-
The Greek classical historian Polybius , in his
Richard N. Frye , professor of Iranian at Harvard, dedicates his book ‘The Heritage of Persia’ (London, 1962) ‘to my (his) Iranian Friends : Afghans, Baluchis, Kurds, Ossetes, Persians, Tajiks’ . This does not mean the nations he mentions are Iranian in today’s understanding of the word ; it means they speak Iranic languages , abstraction being made of their political condition, somehow as English, Swedish and German are presented as Germanic languages, or Russian and Polish are Slavic. Belonging to the northwestern branch of Iranic family , Kurdish had its starting point in Azerbaijan. This should explain the close historical kinship between Kurdish and Gileki , the Iranic language spoken (or which was spoken) in Gilan (Guilan , area of Recht), on the southwestern mountainous coast of the Caspian.
While the Kurtians settled in what was to become , perhaps from the 4th century BC, the kingdom of Korduene (or Kordyen) , roughly in the same area as the former Hurrians, the Mard tribes settled in the area to the east and north of Lake Van , but were not organized as a kingdom, living on agriculture and, more especially, on breeding . For Marquart , quoted by Minorsky, the name of Mard was perhaps just a nickname for the northern Kurtians , living as wild tribes . As to the Kadussi mentioned by Strabo, they were apparently to be scattered and lost amongst other tribes.
As in Herodotus , the Armenian people were originally a fraction of the Phrygians of western Anatolia. According to the Armenian traditions, after the destruction of Phrygia, a Phrygian tribe , or section , led by a legendary chief , the eponymic Haïk , left Phrygia looking for a new country eastwards to settle. with his people. Whence the national , or ethnic name of the Armenians as they call themselves, the Haï People, and their country, Hayastan . The normal and sole path leading from Anatolia to future Hayastan
is between the Pontic mountains and those overlooking the Upper Euphrates (Qara-
Till about the 1960s, all the western , Russian (Minorsky included) and modern Armenian authors who wrote about ancient Armenian history could not but suppose it was the Armenians who destroyed Urartu , annihilated or assimilated the Khaldi people (Urartians) of the
It may seem paradoxal, a puzzle, that the names of
The Armenian modern authors do not agree between themselves as to the ancient history of their people and their relationship with the Kurds . Nicolas Adontz (1875-
The Armenian kingdom lived in the shadow of the Iranian Parthian empire (247 BC-
When Lucullus was pusuing Tigranes in the upper plateau to the north of Lake Van, in the summer heat of 68 BC , he had to protect himself and his units against attacks by the armed horsemen of the wild Kurdish Mard tribes, who were in their annual summer pasture highlands with their flocks of sheep, alongside the Arsanias River (Murad-
In the wild Mardastan ,Lucullus and his army had nothing to eat but the sheep of the Mards, who just defended themselves by attacking the Roman invader (see Louis Dillemann . ‘Haute Mésopotamie orientale et pays adjacents’, pub. by Inst. Français d’Archéologie de Beyrouth , and Librairie Geuthner, Paris, 1962, pp. 96, 269 , with detailed maps and full references to Greek and Roman classics, such as Plutarch, Tacitus, Strabo , Themestius , Dion Cassius.)
To whom belongs , between the Roman and the Parthian empires , the suzerainty over the Armenian king at Artaxata, on the northern bank of the Araxes ? Whose vassal is he ? The Armenian king had a Parthian, royal ascendance, but was he a Parthian or a Roman client ? That was the question trusted, in AD 59 , under emperor Nero , to general Corbulo , with full power to resolve it and settle the Roman military affairs in the Orient . He had fought the Germans on the Rhine , with efficiency.
Corbulo marched straight ahead into Artaxata, and levelled it to earth. He thus cut his supply point from the north. Many Armenians were killed , or fled into the mountains. Then he advanced southwestwards, contrary to Lucullus , on the plateau to the north of Lake Van , the pasture highlands of the Mards , in full summertime. The legionnaires soon found themselves short of supply and had to sustain themselves on the sheep flock of the Mards. These were excellent mounted archers and, besides, armed with spears, shields, and wore a helmet (according to engraving). Once more, they defended themselves by attacking the Romans , as their fathers had done against Lucullus . The legionnaires much suffered , and Corbulo was so weary that he sent his second in command, general Paetus, in a punitive expedition against the Mard villages, somewhere on the slopes of the Ala-
In AD. 114, the Roman emperor Trajan led personally a campaign over three years against the Parthians and their allies , to establish a ‘Roman order’in the Orient. According to the Roman and Greek classical sources, and modern authors, not always convergent , or presenting gaps, mentioned and discussed by L. Dillemann (op.cit.. pages 271-
One of his generals, Lusius Quietus, in his return way, had to fight , said Dillemann, ‘the courageous Mards’, by the Arsanias River . These northern Kurds had memory and , once more (the 3rd time since Lucullus and Corbulo), they resisted the intrusion of a roman army in their country , the violation of their vital space. Trajan spent the winter 114-
In the Armenian literary tradition, which begins by AD 5th century , the names of
Prior to the Islamic conquest , the Kurds were known under different names , according to the areas of their extensive and mountainous country, then more covered with forest than today. They had, however, a geographically continued country over which they had been ruling , sometimes within the framework of larger empires , the same way of life, living in small fortified towns and villages, on agriculture and breeding . They had a tribal organisation that was to continue under Islam , and spoke a language of their own. It was the early Arab Muslim writers , like al-
The main Arabo/Muslim medieval geographers were edited , and annoted , in Arabic, by the Dutch M.J. De Goeje, in the second half of the 19° cent. , in the series Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum (BGA) , Brill, Leiden . The British Guy Le Strange , in his scholarly work The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate , Cambridge , 1905, proves to be a useful author for the comprehension of the toponymy of the Abbasid lands , which has changed since.
If the Kurds are entitled to claim the heritage of Media -
In the 12th century sultan Sinjar of Persia, who ruled from the Hijra year 511 to 548/ AD 1118-
In the oriental medieval historiography , we have other examples of a country called Kurdistan . In AD. 1387 , the Tatar invader Timur-
In AD. 1032 the Kurdish Merwanid prince Nasr-
Sultan Sinjar’s Kurdistan did not include Azerbaijan , which was also known as “Media Minor”, or Atropatenian .Yet the presence of the Kurds in Azerbaijan, and in Armenia, is attested from ancient times . Whence the Armenian equation : “Mar = Median = Kurd” . Moses of Khoren , who would have lived in AD 5th century, author of a History of Armenia (full with legends and anachronism) , and considered as “the father of the Armenian historians’ (but not by all), refers to the Mar/Medians/Kurds as neighbours on the slopes of the Ararat , or prisoners of Armenia . Vladimir Minorsky , in his book ‘Studies in Caucasian History’ (London, 1953, p.127) , writes about Khoren and his Mar=Medians on the slopes of the Ararat : “There is no doubt that the term Mar (Medians) refers to the Kurds. 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 AD 1446, a prayer in Kurdish figures as a specimen of ‘the language of the Medians(Mar)’ and such a use of the term is still attested in dictionaries”. Minorsky has published the text of this Kurdish-
As said above , the Haic Armenians , who had their early kingdom, all their successive capitals and the residence of the Armenian church, on the northern bank of the Araxes River and its northern tributaries, were not to be limited to this area . At different epochs their restless and combative feudal aristocracy settled elsewhere , including in Kurdish areas. An enlarged Armenia was recognized as a vassal state by the Abbasid caliphate , to which it had to pay an annual tribute. A new Armenia was even to be created in the Byzantine province of Cilicia, which was to be paid for the passage of the Crusaders (See J. Laurent , ‘L’Arménie entre Byzance à L’Islam, depuis la conquête arabe jusqu’en 886’ , Paris, 1919) . In the enlarged Armenia , vassal under the caliphate , says J. Laurent (p. 2-
The Ardzrouni nobility took the town of Van, possibly in the 9th century, from the Kurdish Mards and created in this part of former Mardastan an Armenian principality called Vaspourakan , whose history was written by Thoma Ardzrouni , member of the governing family, in the 10th century, on the demand of its chief, prince Grigor .
We owe M. Brosset , French orientalist working at Saint-
In the same series of Armenian historians translated and annoted by Brosset , we find Arakel de Tauriz (Tabris) , author of ‘Livre d’histoires’, who lived in the 17th century . For him too, the Mars (Medians) and the Kurds are the same people
By the end of the 9th century the power of the Abbasid caliphate was shrinking to be confined in Arab Iraq. The Arabs who, just after the Islamic conquest, established with their families as Lords among the Kurds or the Persians, had been assimilated by their human environment . As an example the Arab family of Abu Dulaf who came from Kufa or Basra with the Islamic conquest and established among the Kurds in the so-
The medieval Shaddadi Kurds , who were Muslims , crossed the Araxes River most probably from Azerbaijan and ruled over the area called by the Russians Eeastern Transcaucasia , between the Araxes and the Kur Rivers , that is present-
Another manifestation of what Minorsky calls the “Iranian interlude” , that I would rather call a Kurdish interlude (account being made of the role of Saladin and the Ayyubid Kurds), is represented by the Kurdish Merwanid state in northern Kurdistan , heir to ancient Korduene mentioned above. In 524 H/ AD 1130 , the Kurdish Shaddadi prince Fadlun III of Dvin lost his life before an attack by a Turkic raider, while he was defending his capital city of Dvin, still for the most inhabited by Armenians. One of his Kurdish generals , Shadi son of Merwan , born in the Kurdish village of Ajdanakan , near Dvin , unhappy because of the death of has master Fadlun (Minorsky, 1953) , left Armenia with his two sons, Ayyoub and Sherkuh , seeking Baghdad, where he had friends serving the Abbasid caliph . Shadi was made ‘dizdar’ (commander of a fortress) of Tikrit, in Iraq . He died in Tikrit and his eldest son, Ayyoub, succeeded him as dizdar. Salaheddin Yusuf , son of Ayyoub, was born in Tikrit in 1138. This Salaheddin, son of a Kurdish émigré, says Minorsky , was to become “the mightiest king of Islam” (Saladin).
The Kurds owe a lot to professor Minorsky , but I would allow myself to be in disagreement with him when , in the chapter “Prehistory of Saladin” of the same1953 book, he thinks that Saladin’s grand-
The name Râwand is a Kurdish and pre-
We have had , above , some news about the Kurdish Korduene kingdom , constitued apparently in the 4th century BC , on the upper Tigris, which extended westwards beyond the Euphrates . We know that, under Islam, the Kurdish Merwanid state occupied almost the same area and was, in a way, heir to ancient Korduene .
We have had a few information on the kingdom of Adiabene , to the southeast of Korduene, and member of the Parthian federation . It covered present day Badinan, Mosul, the area around Mount Sinjar, Arbil , which was its capital , and its area , perhaps part , if not all of the area of Sulaimaniya (the city itself is modern, built in 1199 H /AD 1784).
Adiabene is an old pre-
At springtime , the Kurdish Adiabene tribes , or rather their ruling aristocracy , leaving their millenary-
We do not need to have recourse to Iranian legends of old to tell how old the name of Rawendiz is . The Romam historian Pliny the Elder , who lived in the 1st century (circa 23-
Before the Saljukid danger , Byzantium preferred to rely on the Kurdish Muslim principalities and to obtain from the Armenian nobility to abandon its possessions in the East for honours at Constantinople. In 1021 , that is what emperor Basil II obtained from the Armenian Ardzrouni dynasty of Van , the end of the principality of Vaspourakan for a golden life at the Byzantine capital. In 1042 , emperor Constantine Monomach concluded an official treaty , under the imperial Golden Bull, with the Kurdish Shaddadi Abul –Aswar , prince of Dvin , in Armenia, encouraging him to invade the territory of Ani , what he did (see Minorsky, 1953 : 52-
In 1514, the battle of Chaldiran, in northern Kurdistan (not far from the northeasten edge of Lake Van), opposed the Ottomam sultan Selim 1st , and with him, in his camp, most of the princes of Kurdistan, who had joined him with their own forces , to the Safavid shah Ismail of Persia , who was defeated . The sultan was so satisfied that , in 1515 , he sent his Kurdish counsellor , Idris Bitlisi al-