Love and Existence: Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of Mem û Zîn – Preface

By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli:Analytical Study of Mem û Zîn

Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of  Mem û Zîn (‘Love and Existence’), with original translations of the text

KT is pleased to announce that, over the coming months, it will exclusively serialise Dr Mirawdeli’s scholarly study of Ahmadi Khani’s Mem û Zîn, the most famous and the most important text of Kurdish classical literature.

You will be able to follow all the instalments via the Mem û Zîn link in the above navigation bar.

“This record, if good or bad, I have exerted lots of hard work,

It is a fresh first product, a baby of little weight, weak

But I have not gone to try the tastes of other fruit gardens,

Like a thief, look for other people’s possessions.

This shoot is the growth of my own heart’s garden

It is pure, immaculate, self-made, and fresh

A fresh produce, sweet or bitter, like a new child, has its own character

I hope that right-minded and pure-hearted people will not label these children ugly

If this fruit is not juicy to the right degree,

Just recognize it is Kurdish. I could only do so much

This child even if not pretty, she is my first child and very dear to me

This fruit, even if not sweet and delicious, is my child and very much loved by me 

She, her clothes, shoes, earrings, are made by me, I have not borrowed them

These words, meanings, phrases, constructions, structures, signs, subjects, topics, narration, symbols, eulogies and approaches

Style, attributes, interpretations and sounds

I have never borrowed from foreigners

They are all the product of my thinking; they are virgins, new brides, never touched before.”

Ahmadi Khani (1650-1707)


This work is a scholarly study of Ahmadi Khani’s Mem û Zîn, the most famous and perhaps the most important text in Kurdish literature. The study is totally original and is based on methodical close textual analysis of the work, which necessarily includes the translation for the first time into English of large parts of Khani’s poetic production.

The book starts with an introduction to Khani, his life and work and presents a brief history of the work and a critical review of the views of Orientalists and others who have published, commented on or studied the work followed by an exposition of the various editions of the book so far. Then the study reconstructs, in the light of Khani’s own critical insights, ideas and description of his enterprise and based on word-by-word translation and content analysis of his verses, Khani’s various national, literary, philosophical and Sufist discourses. For the first time the full sections in which Khani talks about the plight of his nation, the Kurds, and his concept of national identity and liberation, are fully translated, analyzed and discussed as well as Khani’s critical assessment of the nature of his work and the way he has constructed it.

Khani identifies three levels of his work:  fsane, which is the folk story of Mem û Zîn from his country Botan, using its love theme and characters as a behane (pretext) for other integrated super-texts and multiple subtexts including his philosophical discourse expressing his own Sufist, and philosophical ideas; and the buhtan or bid’at (tekhne), or dramatic, literary and intellectual devices he has used to transcend the story and present it as an original innovative literary product. He also mentions Kurdewarî, that is Kurdish heritage, culture and way of life, as a source of his ideas, knowledge and imagery. To all this, he embeds his underlying political views about the role of power and the nature of princes. As the setting, landscape, language, sentiment and perspective are all Kurdish, the whole enterprise of Khani represents a universal representation of Kurdish culture, thought, character and historical and existential mode of existence.

The textual analysis of the body of the narrative or story of Mem û Zîn itself is based on defining the story as a dramatic text, a tragedy, rather than a national epic. The author agrees with Chyet (1998) that Mem û Zîn is not an epic in the traditional or classical sense of the term. In spite of the formal masnawi verse form of the poem, the author describes its genre as tragedy in the way Aristotle has defined the genre and after having established the formative elements and nature of tragedy, he applies all these criteria to Mem û Zîn, establishing its genre as tragic drama in terms of its transformative recreation of life, unified plot, characterization, dramatic progress, lyrical poetry, language and rhythm, spectacle and catharsis. This makes it possible to analyze and reconstruct the structure of the work and at the same time define the unique original and innovative ways in which Khani establishes his own theosophical worldview and conception of human love, both physical and spiritual, the opposition between good and evil and the role of free will and divine order of things in deciding not just the destiny of man but the meaning of existence too.

Khani’s work is so rich, so sophisticated and so overfilled with imagery, thought, emotion and meaning that it is impossible to summarize. The best way to understand Khani’s Mem û Zîn is to live with it, to experience every bit and breath of it. This work is a preliminary attempt to do this by providing a literary translation and in-depth general reading of Khani’s Mem û Zîn. But it only opens a window, a wide window, I hope, to Khani’s world which is too deep and diverse, too broad and beautiful, and too difficult and daunting to be explored in one study.

‘Love and Existence: Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of Mem û Zîn’ is published by the Khani Academy in association with authorhouse, uk. The hard cover, soft cover, or the electronic edition of the book can be ordered from:

Dr Kamal Mirawdali at workKamal Mirawdeli is a Kurdish academic, writer and poet. He has obtained BA in English from Baghdad University, MA in Philosophy and PhD in Literature (Orientalism) from University of Essex, UK and MSc in Economy and Political Science from London School of Economics (LSE). He has taught literature, philosophy and language and has written extensively about Middle East issues, and Kurdish literature and politics. He has also worked for many years in the Voluntary Sector in Britain providing management, training and consultancy for the development of civil society organisations and institutions.

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