When the Kurdish poet Ahmad-î Khânî (1651-1707) wrote the epic Mam û zîn (Mam and Zîn) in 1694, he not only told a most beautiful love story, but also expressed his own political and philosophical ideals and described the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of a very important period in Kurdish history.

Khânî wished for the Kurds to have their own master, a master possessing his own throne and carrying his own crown, a master who knows how to appreciate science, art and poetry, learned books and dîwân". He expressed own ideal role as a poet and a thinker in this way:

Then I would hoist the flag of rhymed speech to the sky. I would resurrect Malâ-y Jazîrî,bring ‘Alî Harîrî to lifeand give Faqe Tayrân such joythat it would fill him with admiration for ever."

Khânî was an outstanding pioneer within many fields, including Kurdish literary history. When Xânî in his epic mentioned the Kurdish poets Malâ-i Jazîrî, ‘Alî Harîrî and Faqe Tayrân, it was the first reference to Kurdish literature ever given by a Kurd or a non-Kurd. However, this was no more than a reference, and a fuller recording of Kurdish literature was not to come for yet another century.
Literary history: First attempts

Any literary scientist who wants to research Kurdish literature will face great difficulties. This is because no comprehensive recording of Kurdish literature yet exists. Recorded Kurdish literary history consists of a number of articles and pamphlets and a few books, all written during the last 120 years. Furtherance all the existing recordings suffer from two important shortcomings. Firstly, it is obvious that they are the first attempts at scientific research in this field, lacking back up material, literary sources and models. Consequently the works are rather superficial, incomplete and unsystematic. Secondly the works generally include merely certain periods of Kurdish literature, often restricted to a certain genre of literature from a certain part of Kurdistan.

There is of course also a whole set of external social and political reasons for this situation; negative conditions which impede the development of the Kurdish society and culture -, today may be more than ever.

The most important works of Kurdish literary history are, as follows:

– The literary data given to the Russian consul August Jaba by the learned.

Malâ Mahnûd Bayazîdî in Erzurûm at the end of the 1850s. The data was recorded and published as a book by Jaba in 1860.

– Amîn Fayzî: Anjuman-î Adîbân (Assembly of Writers), Istanbûl 1920. This book describes in 147 pages the lives of some Kurdish poets with quotations from their poetry.

– Rafîq Hilmî: Shi’r û adabiât-î Kurdî (Kurdish poetry and literature), Baghdad, (Vol. 1 – 1941) and Vol. 2 -1956. This work is normally classified as literary criticism, but it also includes historical material, like biographical data and description of different periods in Kurdish literature.

– Alauddîn Sajjâdî: mêzhû-y Adab-î Kurdî (Kurdish literary history), Baghdad, 1st ed. 1952, 2nd ed. 1973: This has been one of the most important sources of Kurdish literary history to the present day. Apart from studies on 24 Kurdish poets it also includes studies on Kurdish history, the tradition of the Kurdish epic, Kurdish mythology, Kurdish journalism and a series of comparative literary studies of old Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Indian and Hebrew literature.

– Dr. Izzuddîn Mustafâ Rasûl: Realism in Kurdish literature. Beirut 1968: This is an Arabic translation of Dr. Rasûl’s Russian doctoral thesis, describing Kurdish literature from a Marxist point of view.
– Sâdiq Bahâ’ ud-dîn Amedî: Hozânvanet Kurd (Kurdish poets), Bagdad 1980. This book contains biography and poems by 19 Kurdish poets who wrote in the North Kurmanjî dialect.

– Prof. Qenate Kurdoev: Tarix-a Edebiyet-a Kurdî (Kurdish literary history), Stockholm 1983 (2 Vol.). This is similar in many ways to Sajjâdî’s Kurdish literary history.
The beginning of Kurdish Art Poetry: a scientific controversy

Apart from the lack of source material there are also other circumstances which limit scientific literary work and make it difficult. Many of the difficulties derive from the fact that Kurdistan is divided up between several countries where the conditions are different and where the political, social and cultural development has reached different levels.

A direct result of this division is the lack of common standard for the written language. Kurdish is therefore written in two main dialects, and in no less than three different alphabets: modified Arabic characters are used in Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan, the Latin-Turkish alphabet in Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan and the Cyrillic alphabet in the Soviet part. In addition there is also some Kurdish literature written in Hebrew and Armenian characters. The culture of the dominating peoples in the region has of course influences Kurdish culture and language in many ways.

From a Kurdish point of view this influence has been negative and complicates the language situation to an even greater extent. This complicated situation is still the cause of numerous linguistic controversies concerning the origin and classification of the Kurdish language and its dialects. One of the dialects which is causing dispute is the Luri (or Lori) dialect. Most Kurdish literary critics and historians consider Kurdish art poetry to have started with the poet Bâbâ Tâhir Hamadânî (935-1010) who wrote in this dialect. Many European Orientalists, however, classify Lurî as southwest Iranian language, unlike Kurdish, which belongs to the north-western group of Iranian languages. Due to the complicity of this situation, the classification of the Iranian languages and dialects cannot yet be regarded as completed.

28 February 2009