Mem û Zîn Analytical Study*: 3. Mem û Zîn editions

By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli:

Portrait of the characters Mem and Zîn

Portrait of the characters Mem and Zîn

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

Chapter Three: Mem û Zîn editions

Although Khani’s Mem û Zîn was written at the close of the seventeenth century, it was not until the end of the World War 1 that it was first published. The first edition was printed in Istanbul in Arabic script, with an introduction signed by Hemze. The front cover of the book (photocopy reprinting by Rasul 1979) carries this information at the top: j neshriyat jvata m’arif w neshriyat Kurdan hjmar: 1 (‘Publication of the society for the knowledge and publication of Kurds. No 1’). According to Martin Van Brussen (2003, p. 51), this association was an affiliate of the nationalist Kurdish association, Kurdistan Te’ali Cemiyeti , established in 1918 in Istanbul by Kurdish aristocrats and intellectuals.

The first and the only book published by this association was Ahmedi Khani’s Mem û Zîn.  The title Mem û Zîn is written in Arabic orthography. The author Ahamdi Khani is described on the cover as: sertaj udebay Kurdan, sergahiya ‘ilm w ‘irfan w iftikhara hemyan Ahmad Khani (‘the crown of Kurdish literates, the source of science and knowledge and the pride of everyone Ahmad Khani’.) The date that appears on the cover is 1335-1337.  It is generally believed that this edition was never circulated widely as most of the books were burnt by the Turks (Rasul, 1989 – the cover is reprinted on page 504 of his book).

A second printing came out in Aleppo, Syria in 1947: This is apparently an offset reprinting of the first edition. Two more printings of the 1919 Istanbul edition have appeared in 1954 and 1968. The late Soviet Kurdologist M.B Rudenko produced a second edition in 1962, consisting of a critical edition of the text in Arabic characters. Van Brussen (op.cit., p. 43) describes Rudenko’s edition as, ‘the scientific edition [of Mem û Zîn] based on nine different manuscripts, the oldest of which was written in 1732-1732) (p.43). These manuscripts were housed in the Institute of Oriental Studies in Leningrad, plus a Russian translation. According to Chyet (1991, 30-31), this edition includes two introductions, one in Russian by Rudenko and one in Kurmanci Kurdish in Arabic script by Qenete Kurdo [Kurdoev].

Rudenko’s introduction, mirrored closely by Kurdoev, gives a publishing history of Khani’s Mem û Zîn, some biographical information about Khani, a brief explanation of the prosody of the poem, and a detailed description of each of the manuscripts upon which the critical edition is based. M.E. Bozarsalan published a third edition of Khani’s Mem û Zîn in Istanbul in Latin orthography and with a Turkish translation. A second printing of this edition appeared in 1975.

The first Kurdish source that paid attention to Mem û Zîn was the first Kurdish newspaper, Kurdistan, published by the Kurdish nationalist aristocrat and intellectual Miqdad Midhat Bedirxan in Cairo. The first issue appeared on 22 April 1898. In the second and following issues of Kurdistan, he published the prologue of Mem û Zîn. At the same time, the German Orientalist Martin Hartman paid attention to Mem û Zîn too. (M. Hartman, 1898, S 107).   However, as Martin Strohmeir rightly asserts, “from the very beginning, proponents of Kurdish nationalism have been almost exclusively interested in the part of the poem which later came to be known as the prologue (dibacha), under the title Derde ma (‘Our suffering’).  This so-called introduction, but without the chapter heading was published in the eighth issue of Kurdistan.” (Strohmeier (2003), p. 28).

Strohmier also relates that “Celadet Bedir Khan wrote in 1933, in an open letter to Ataturk, that his father, Emin Ali, brother of Midhat and Abdulrahman, had tried to have Mem û Zîn published in 1894 but that the committee in charge of granting permission censored large parts and so Emin Ali did not publish it”. (Ibid. p. 28, Bedirxan, (1922), p. 28).

In 1941, the Kurdish magazine Hawar in Syria published some parts of the story with a glossary and an article by the Kurdish nationalist intellectual, Celadet Bedirkhan. In his article entitled Klasiken me (‘Our classics’) he compared Khani to Rumi and described him as “the prophet of our national belief, the prophet of the doctrines of our race” (pexember e diyaneta me a mili, pexembere ola me a nijadin). A few years later, in 1947, a reprint of the Istanbul edition appeared in Halab.  In 1976 an edition of Mem û Zîn appeared in Baku translated into the Azerbaijani language by the Azerbaijani researcher and linguist (of Kurdish origin), Shamil Askarov. The Kurdish scholar and writer Jamal Nabaz published a translated summary of the poem in German in 1961. The Kurdish Islamic scholar Mala Ahmad Al-Zevengi published a comprehensive interpretation of the poem in Arabic, published in Qamishly, Syria in 1959.

Few South Kurmanci versions of Mem û Zîn were produced in the 20th Century. One was an early (1925) dramatized version in verse by the Kurdish veteran poet and modernizer, Peeramerd. According to Rasul (1979), he based his version on South Kurmanci oral versions known to him. His version is also in masnawi verse and it is more an adaptation of the folk story for his own ideas and style than a reproduction of a specific text. He is especially keen to use the story to defend love against reactionary social practices and to promote the rights of women.  (Sulaymaniyah, 1925). Hemin, in his introduction to the Kurdish edition of Oskar Mann’s collection, criticizes Peeramerd for Westernising the text by making Zîn commit suicide in his version, considering this a non-Kurdish practice in terms of Kurdish customs as women, especially in Kurdish folk literature, have an equal or a big role in deciding the course of the events [Hemin, 2006, p.57).

The other Mem û Zîn was a straightforward poetical rendering of the poem by the late Kurdish Mukiri poet and scholar Hejar Mukiryani (Baghdad, 1960). Hejar uses a sophisticated spontaneous pure Kurdish language based on his Mukiri sub-dialect, rendering Khani’s text verse by verse, keeping all Khani’s original plot, characters, events, pure Kurdish vocabulary and dramatic elements; but he has simplified the text (in order to be understood by ordinary readers and get rid of non-Kurdish words, he writes) and failed to keep the Sufist and complex structural and intellectual elements and philosophical constructions of the original text. The work also has an interesting introduction which focuses on explaining Khani’s nationalism and patriotism.  Hejar writes: “Three hundred years ago Khani introduced to us the idea of liberation. Khani is the inventor of (the idea of) nationalism in the Middle East.” About his own rendering he says: “What made me think of rendering Mem û Zîn was that the book is full of hard Arabic and difficult Persian vocabulary. We must not blame Khani for this because this was the common practice in Khani’s time. One’s artistic ability was attested by the number of the hard-to-understand Arabic and Persian words. Khani proved his merit then by following these standards” (Hejar, 1989, p. 233).

In fact, Khani consciously and necessarily used Arabic and Persian vocabulary and terms because they were/are part of the common spiritual and cultural product, milieu, material and conceptual Mem û Zîn instruments of all the Islamic nations and he needed them to construct his own philosophical vision.

However, Hajar accomplished a superb, well-researched, neat Kurmanci edition of Khani’s Mem û Zîn, with word-by-word explanation in South Kurmanci Kurdish. This edition was published by the Kurdish Institute of Paris in 1989. This is the best-ever complete Kurdish edition of in Arabic transcript. Hejar has depended on all the available editions, including Rudinko’s. He also had at his disposal a copy of the 1919 Hamza edition of Istanbul. Hejar has also republished his 1960 Mukiri version of the story with this edition.

In 2000, Professor Izzeddin Mustafa Rasul published a full Arabic translation of Mem û Zîn, in 375 pages with a short introduction based on his previous study of Khani.(Rasul, 2000).

In 2007, (the writer of this study) Kamal Mirawdeli published a full South Kurmanci prose version of Mem û Zîn (excluding the prologue) with a general introductory textual study (Sulaymaniyah, 2007). The last two books were published in Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.  Kamal Mirawdeli has also written a dramatic text play, in standard South Kurmanci, based on Khani’s literary text, keeping and developing its philosophical, political and dramatic elements and themes. This dramatic text, called Shorsh î ‘Ishq Trajidiyay Mem û Zîn, (‘Revolution of Love: Tragedy of Mem and Zîn’), which was published in Sulaymaniyah in March 2012, is over 45,000 words written in poetic prose and lyrical poetry.

I have used Hejar’s 1989 edition for this study. All references in the text refer to this edition.

* ‘Love and Existence: Analytical Study of Ahmadi Khani’s Tragedy of Mem û Zîn’ by Dr Kamal Mirawdeli 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:

One Response to Mem û Zîn Analytical Study*: 3. Mem û Zîn editions
  1. kuvan
    March 19, 2013 | 14:16

    Mem U Zin were two true pure innocent decent lovers.They loved each other truthfully without any conditions.They left everything behind ,all their personal dreams,religious and none religious beliefs, money,friends family,and struggled,suffered ,hurt, starved,just to make it and end up together ,but alas a religious sick man called Bako and the backward traditions and beliefs of the society and people at that time became the reason that these two pure innocent decent lovers didn’t make it and died innocent.I personally believe that if two people, man and a woman love each other, no power ,whether it be religion ,beliefs, money ,family ,friends ,authority, or any another power,should not stand in the way and stop them from reaching each other or else it is not love.

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