Since the break-up of the Median Empire (five hundred and fifty before Christ) the Kurds have fought against the Ottomans, the Persians, the Arabs etc. for the survival of their identity, culture, their naked existence even.
The well-known Turkish historian Evliya Chelebi describes how the Ottoman Empire robbed the palaces of the Kurdish ruler Ebdal Khan, in the region of Bedlis at the beginning of the seventeenth century, not only of silver and gold, but also of its comprehensive library and archives.
It is also significant that the four copies of the famous Kurdish history book Sherefname written by the Kurdish ruler Sheref Khan in fifteen hundred ninety seven, is kept at four locations outside Kurdistan (one of these is the Bodleian Library at Oxford and another is in Saint-Petersburg in Russia). So, the Kurds do not own a copy themselves, and even if they did, where would they keep it…?
Another exemple: the archives of Bedir Khanis, an autonomous region in the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century, have been destroyed for ninety eight percent by the Turkish authorities (and their castle became subsequently a ruin).
The same story in Iran, Syria and Iraq: archives are destroyed or impounded and brought where to, nobody knows. For instance the limited collection of photographs on the Kurdish risings in Iraq and Iran: where is it? The same goes for many periodicals, brochures produced at the time of Simkoyê Shikak, in Iran. Part of it was originally saved by Simko’s son, Tahir Xan, and hidden a village, Cohniyê, but was still being burned, together with the village, by the Iranian pasdarans in nineteen seventynine. Tahir said afterwards: “when I saw the archives reduced to ashes I felt as if my father was murdered for the second time round”.
After the Iranian army defeated the new Kurdish republic of Mehabad, they also took, on direct orders from the Shah in Teheran, with them letters, photographs, newspapers, reports and so on and burned the books, periodicals and other publications that were left. Only a little collection of periodicals was saved and smuggled into Iraqi Kurdistan, where they were reprinted.
So, of the governments the Kurds have had of their own over the centuries, no or very little administration and governmental archives have survived.
And the destroying continues until present times: for instance in Brussels, the Kurdish Institute (founded in ninteen seventy eight) has contributed a fair share of its time to the establishment of an archive and library. But as a result of the refusal by Europe to extradite the leader of the PKK, the political party that wages war against the Turkish state, and of the subsequent call to arms by the Turkish government against Kurds abroad, the building of the Kurdish institute was set fire to in nineteen ninety eight, destroying in no-time eigthy five percent of its library and archives and thus twenty years work.
Therefore, certainly a national library and archives has been a chimera for a long time. Until now, perhaps…: as the political situation seems to be ameliorating, the will to establish such institute is steadily growing. But in the meantime, Kurds have been and are taking initiatives on different locations to safeguard their heritage. For instance, the aforesaid Kurdish Institute in Brussels deposits copies of their library at the ADVN, the archives, documentation and research centre in Antwerp. And is now also transferring part of its archives to it.
The Kurdish Institute in Paris has from the beginning in nineteen eighty three been collecting archives of Kurdish organisations and personalities: Bedir Khani’s, Rya Teze and Radio Yerevan (the Voice of the Kurds), the radiostation and other cultural organisations in Georgia, archives of the Kurds in Libanon, Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, London, Paris, Vienna etcetera. Other Kurdish institutes see also collecting as part of their field of interest, as that of Bonn (in Germany, founded in nineteen eighty four), as well as Kurdish departments at universities (for instance in Paris, Berlin, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Yerevan and so on).
And in South Kurdistan, in Iraq, the Universities, the Ministery of Culture, Parliament, and large cities as the capital Hewlêr or Arbil, are right now beginning to take initiatives; in Norther Kurdistan, in Turkey, the the first Kurdish library, named Kitêbxaneya Mehmet Uzun has opened in its capital Amed (Diyarbekir).
But as you can guess, these are all very dispersed and not in any way concerted initiatives. And the Turkish governments has always been heavily lobbying against Kurdish archival formation not only at home but also abroad. Also: the first officially named Kurdish library, established in nineteen ninety seven in Stockholm, Sweden, with financial backing by the Swedish Ministery of Culture, has seen its grants diminishing year after year and has for the moment very few means to survive.
And even more importantly, there is a cultural problem which hinders archival awareness to really take root. Because of the persecutions not only written culture was destroyed, but also because the Kurds fled to the mountains, they remained more often than not without decent education, their culture over the centuries becoming an oral one, meaning story telling and folk music. The storytellers and musicians are still now considered as being the bearers of Kurdish culture, history, song and dance. Eevery village, tribe, region had its own storytellers and singers, every story and song was handed down from generation to generation. At every opportunity, Kurdish songs and music was recorded, for instance over a very long period in the studios of Radio Yerevan in Armenia (an for a smaller part, at Radio Bagdad). Since 1995 ROJ TV, the Kurdish television company, continues this work. Some have even said that the oral archives of the Kurdish is the largest for any single people in the world.
So, there were and still are many impediments for the establishment of a Kurdish archives and library, national or not. But not for want of trying. Perhaps NISE and this conference will contribute in a way to remedy this situation.
Let us hope so.