Mem û Zîn Analytical Study*: II, 1 – Khani’s theory of Kurdish nationalism

Analytical Study of Mem û Zîn

By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli:

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

Part II, Chapter 1: Khani’s theory of Kurdish nationalism

Perhaps pseudo-Kurdologists, Euro-centrists and Orientalists, in Edward Said’s sense of the word, would be annoyed by just seeing this title let alone my argument for the fact that there is a comprehensive theory of nationalism regarding the Kurdish nation in Ahamdi Khani’s Mem û Zin (he finished writing it in 1690).  Yes there is a complete theory including Khani’s specific innovative theoretical concepts, which act as strategic interpretive elements for the explanation of nationalism in general and Kurdish nationalism in particular; there are nationalist themes and issues specific to the Kurdish nation; there is Khani’s clear expression that he is thinking as a nationalist Kurdish intellectual and he has dedicated all his life, labour and his work, Mem û Zîn in particular, to explain and embody the cause of the Kurdish people and their need for national leadership, national cultural revival, national liberation and a sovereign state of their own; and finally there is the actual epochal work of Mem û Zîn which is a marvellous dramatization of the Kurdish country, culture and way of  life, the character of Kurdish men and women and Kurdish issues and aspirations.

However I do not believe in projecting my own understanding and preconceptions into Khani’s text or any text for that matter. The best scientific objective methodology is to let the text speak for itself, reveal its content and connotations and its own inner logic and thematic constructions. Khani has made all this very easy for anyone who understands his immensely erudite language and enigmatic style. His work is very self-conscious. He predicts various readers’ reactions to his work so he in advance offers, among other innovative techniques, an elaborate critical discourse, to help the readers, especially Kurdish patriots, to read his work with sympathy and understanding.

Thus, the following discourse analysis is based on three Steps:

1. Transcribing Khani’s original texts in Roman alphabet  (for Arabic words I have used normal standard pair sound combinations such ad /gh/ and /dh/ for words such as ghilman, dhat), literal line-by line and word-by-word translation of the verses into English and then offering a discourse analysis of the themes and ideas in each section.  This I hope, will ensure the best methodology to give justice to Khani’s ideas and arguments for which he has so passionately pleaded.

1.1          Why did Khani write his story in Kurdish?

(235-237) Khani j kemalê bêkemalî

Meydana kemalê dîtî Xalî

Ye’nî ne j qabilî w xebirî

Belki b te’essub w a’shirî

Hasil j ‘inad eger ji bê dad

Ev bida’te kir Xilafe mu’tad


(235-237)) Khani out of his perfect lack of perfection

Saw the arena of perfection vacant

Meaning not out of competence and expertise

But because of te’essub and ‘eşîrî

In short, from stubbornness, maybe unjustified,

Made this ‘bida’t’ (custom-breaking innovation) contrary to what is customary


(357-361) Kurmanc im û, kûhî u, kenarî

Van çend xeberêd Kurdewarî

Imza bikirin b husnê eltaf

îsgha bikin ew b sem’ê însaf

Eshabê gherez ku guh bidêrn

‘Eyba b kerem li min veşêrin

Ava rûyê şai’ri nerêjn

Ger mumkine yêke qenj bebêjin

Sehw û gheletan nekin te’eccub

Ta’wil bkn, j bo te’ssub.


(357- 361) I am a Kurd, a mountaineer and a frontierman

[Recorded] some of the tales of Kurdewarî

Stamp it with your kind-heartedness

Listen to it with ears of fairness

Those who listen to it with purpose

Let them be generous, and hide my flaws

Let them not insult the poet

If possible, say good things [about it]

Don’t be shocked by flaws and mistakes

Interpret them, for the sake of te’essub.

Khani mentions the important words of te’essub and ‘eşîrî as the most impelling factors for what he himself calls his exceptional innovation: bida’t (which is, as we shall see, the rewriting of a Kurdish folk story ‘fsana’   as a dramatic mathnawi in Kurdish).  He also asks his fellow Kurds to make a with- te’essub or a patriotically partisan reading of his work and hide his flaws.

Playing on the Arabic work kemal which is one of the names of God and has several sublime meanings such as perfection, fulfilment, achievement and excellence, Khani says that he saw the arena of Kurdish ‘perfection’ vacant, though  ‘perfectly’ aware of his own ‘imperfection’, because of his te’essub and ‘eşîrî  and not out of ‘competence and expertise’ he went against the customary course of affairs and created a bid’at which is a term used by Islamic traditionalists to describe any new idea that breaks with well-established traditions or customs. So bid’at is what Khani has done; and te’essub is the reason for it, and ‘inad (stubbornness) is his personal unshaken determination to fill in the gap of ‘perfection’ in the area of Kurdish written literature.  Khani’s word te’essub is from the same Arabic root ‘e’sab, which Ibn Khaldun has used in his al-Muqaddima to coin his sociological concept of ‘esabiyye. This is a type of integrative ‘esabiyye.  Ibn Khaldun views this as instrumental for dynastic rule and state-making to be produced and reproduced. (Akbarzade (2003), p. 31)

Ibn Khaldun’s description of ‘esebiyye expresses a sort of ‘community solidarity’ aimed at underpinning a dynastic political power that represents the interests of that community. It has been translated as social solidarity or tribal solidarity or community spirit, etc, as it is primarily based on blood or close geographical ties. Ibn Khaldun writes: “Social solidarity [‘esebiyye] is found only in groups related by blood ties or by other ties which fulfil the same functions. This is because blood ties have a force binding on most men, which makes them concerned with any injury inflicted on their next of kin. Men resent the oppression of their relatives, and the impulse to ward off any harm that may befall those relatives is natural and deep rooted in men.” (Issawi, 2002, p.103).

Khani’s te’essub means having ‘esebiyye and he also uses ‘eşîrî’ (feeling for or commitment to e’shiret, tribe) in that sense. But as we shall see Khani’s te’essub and ‘eşîrî go beyond the elementary condition of kinship to include both concrete and conceptual national constituents such as idea of common homeland, shared culture, shared history and most importantly shared national cause in the face of the other. In this sense the most natural element of kinship relevant to Khani’s work, as described by Ibn Khaldun is “resenting oppression and deep-rooted desire to ward off harm”. This in Khani’s case means putting an end to the historical oppression of all those kinships that he conceptualises as his people, the Kurds. What Khani sees is lacking in the area of ‘perfection’ is the use of native language as an instrument of self-representation, self-expression, communal solidarity, love epics and knowledge.

He makes the task of filling this gap and ‘achieving perfection’ in this area, his Grand Narrative, his great national enterprise. So Khani’s t’assub can be translated as ‘national solidarity’, rather than social, tribal, or community solidarity. He provides perfect enough description of his enterprise, to warrant this conclusion. At the end of his exposition, Khani describes himself as a simple mountain Kurd who has recorded the tales of his folks. He mentions the cultural word Kurdewarî, which is a very old term used by the Kurds to describe their lands, culture and communities. While Kurdistan means the land of the Kurds, Kurdewarî means the regions where the Kurds live and their language, habits, and customs prevail. (The word is a noun formed of Kurd and the suffix –ewari meaning in the manner of).  Wahbi and Edmonds (1966) define it as ” the Kurdish world, something typically Kurdish.” Kudroev and Isupova ((1983)  give a similar meaning as well as ‘Kurdish country’. I have translated it as Kurdish cultural milieu or country.  It has also been translated as ‘Kurdish culture’. Thus while Kurdistan is a purely geographical name, Kurdewarî has for the Kurds strong cultural and sociological content. Contrary to the views of Kurdish adversaries who insult the Kurds for being inhabitants of mountains and uncivilised, Khani expresses his pride in being so. The only thing he wants is that his fellow Kurds would receive his product with the same sense of national solidarity, te’essub, with which he wrote it, despite its possible deficiencies.

1.2  What is the historical context of Khani’s enterprise?

Ez meme di hikmeta Xudê da

Kurmanc di dewleta dinê da

Aya bi çi wechî mane mehrûm

Bilcumle ji bo çi bûne mehkûm?

Wan girti b şîrî şehrê şuhret

Tesxîr kiirn biladê himmet

Her mîrekî wan bi bedhlê Hatem

Her mêrekî wan bi rezmê Rostem

Bifikir Ji ‘Ereb hetta ve Gurcan

Kurmancî ye bûye şubhê burcan

Ev Rûm û ‘Ecem b wan hesarin

Kurmanc hemi l char kenarin

Her dû terefan qebilê kurmanc

Bo terê qeza kirine amanc

Goya ku li ser heddan kilidn

Her taife seddekn, sedidn

Ev qulzumê Rûm u behrê Tacîk

Hindi Ku bikin xuruc û tehrîk

Kurmanc dibin bi xwên mulettax

Wan Jêkve dikin misalê berzex (216-225)


I am puzzled by the wisdom of God

The Kurds among [all] the countries (dewleta) of the world

Have, for what reason, been deprived?

Why have they all been subjected? (mehkum)

They have seized with swords the cities of fame

And controlled the countries of courage

Everyone of them is in generosity a Hatem

Everyone of them in bravery is a Rostem

Look from Arabia to Gurjan (Gurjistan)

Kurmanci they are who have become like towers.

These Rûms (Turks) and Ecem (Persians) are shielded

by them

Kurmanc are in all the four ends

Both sides have made the Kurmanc tribes

The target for the arrows of accident

Claiming they are keys at the borders

Each tribe of them is a barrier, a wall

This sea of Rum and the sea of Tajik

Whenever they start out and move

Kurmanc are stained with blood

They separate them from each other like isthmus

The aloneness of the Kurds of ‘owning no books’ is in fact the facet of another more serious fatal fault, which is lack of independence and self-government, a difficult question that Khani tries to comprehend and answer. Here, Khani expresses an existential contradiction regarding his people and he is puzzled by the enigma behind the wisdom of God to put his people in this fatal geo-imperial disadvantage which made them subjected and unable to have dewlet (sovereign country) like all other peoples in the world. Even worse, the Kurds had (geo-politically, in today’s sense) become preventive dams and protective walls for others. Whenever the Persians and Ottomans move against each other, it is the blood of the Kurds which is shed to shield them. They have kept the Kurds as isthmoid tribes and buffers between them.

The puzzling contradiction to Khani is that the Kurds deserve better for, as character and courage, they are examples of generosity of spirit like the legendary Arab Hatem, and embodiment of endurance and courage like the legendary Aryan Rostem mentioned by Firdewsi.  But the Kurdish bravery, rather than becoming a factor for independence, it has become a factor for maintaining the very geopolitics that has ensnared them. The Kurdish historian Sharafkhan Bedlisi also refers to this geo-imperial peril. But for him Kurdish bravery was not entirely negative. For him, coupled with the mountainous character of the land, it made the foreigners desist from occupying the land, being content with getting gifts or using Kurds for their own defence.  He writes: “Great princes have not targeted their country and had not intended to occupy it. It was sufficient for them to receive gifts from them. Otherwise they ignored them and left them to their own. And if they are engaged in war they use the Kurds to fight their enemies for them.”(Sherefname, p.38)

 1.3 What can bring about Kurdish salvation?

Qet mumkin e ev ji çerxê lewleb

Tali’ bibtin j bo me kewkeb?

Bexte me ji bo mera bibit yar

Carek bibtin ji xwabê hişyar

Rabit ji me jî cihan penahek

Peyda bibtin me padşahek

Şîrê hunera me bête danîn

Qedrê qelema me bête zanin

Derdê me bibtin ‘îlacê

‘îlmê me bibtin rewacê

Ger dê hebûya me serfirazek

Sahebkeremek, suxennewazek

Neqdê me dibû bi sîkke meskûk

Nedma wehe bê rewac û meşkuk

Her çendi ku xalis û temizin

Neqdên bi sikkeyê ‘ezizin

Ger dê hebûya me padşahek

Laiq bidiya bixwedê kulahek

Te’yin bibûye j bo wî textek

Zahir vedibû j bo me bextek

Hasil bibûya j bo wi tacek

Elbette dibû me jî rewacek

Xemxwari dkir li me yetiman

Tinane derê j dest le’iman

Ghalib ne dibû li ser me ev Rûm

Ne dibûne xerabeyê di dest bûm

Mehkumê ‘ eleyhi û se’alik

Meghlûb u mutî’ê Turk u Tacik (194-207)


Is it ever possible that this helical time

Would bring into sight for us a star

Our luck for us would become a yar (lover, supporter)

And just for once would awake from her slumber

Would rise for us a someone we can trust in this world

And appear among us a King

The sword of our art would be recognized

The value of our pens would be known

Our ills would find a cure

Our science would be appreciated

Oh, if we could have a dignified leader

Compassionate, generous, well-spoken,

Our coins (words) would be stamped with value (minted)

And would no longer be so suspected and without market

Though our words are pure and excellent

The two metals (gold and silver) are made dear by being minted

If we had a Mîr who would see himself worthy of a crown

And for him a throne would have been identified

Then fortune would have showed its face to us

If for him a crown could be had

Perhaps for us a value would obtain

He would take care of the orphans

Would take us out of the hands of the villains

These Turks would not have had a sway over us

Our land would not have been made ruins under the owl

Would not have been ruled by the Eliyyis (Safavids) and thieves

Subjugated and made obedient by the Turks and Persians.

Here Khani clearly puts the Kurds’ sameness in sharp contrast to the otherness of their subjugators. The differentiating elements are both political and cultural. But it is the political factor that is paramount. Kurds can only come out of their historical predicament by having a royal authority, a King, of their own. Then the Kurdish words will have value; their pens, science and art will be appreciated; their poor and orphans would be taken care of and above all they will be liberated: they will be no longer under the yoke of those who Khani clearly believe are below the Kurds in qualities of nobility, generosity and courage.

1.4 Khani on the relationship between political power and cultural revival

Ger dê hebuya me ji xwedanek

‘Alikeremek, letifedanek

‘Ilm û hunar û kemal u idha’n

Şi’r û xezel û kitab û diwan

Ev cins biba li ba wi me’mûl

Ev neqd biba l nik wi meqbûl

Min dê ‘elema kelamê mewzûn

‘Ali bikira l bane gerdûn

Bînave rûha Melê Cizirî

Pe heyy bikira: ‘Eli Herîrî

Keyfek we bda Feqiyê  Teyran

Hetta bi ebed bimayî heyran


If we had for us an owner

Highly-generous, versed in good speech,

Science, arts, perfection and prudence,

Poetry, lyrics, books, and verse collections (diwan)

These genres would become common pursuits

This currency would become acceptable to him

I would see the banner of rhythmic speech

Would be raised high on the top of universe

I would have brought back to life Melê Cizirî

Resurrected Eli Herîrî

Would have given such pleasure to Feqiyê  Teyran

That forever he would have stayed overwhelmed with joy.

Khani’s dream for an independent Kurdish monarch is not an abstract will. It is the result of his own experience as a highly-conscious, superbly-educated, deeply-frustrated Kurdish intellectual in a Kurdish dynasty whose Mîr does not give a damn to arts, poetry, literature (See 1.6) or any sort of speech, knowledge and deeds that might protect and promote the essence and content of Kurdishness, all elements of which are and have always been ancient, abundant, inspiring but abandoned and neglected. He needs only to reverse the situation and dream of a Kurdish power, Mîr, who proudly claims the ownership of his nation (to be equally owned by them) to envisage what a different beautiful world would be born! The qualities that Khani wants for this Mîr are mostly intellectual: to be (intellectually) generous, versed in the art of speech, who would appreciate arts, sciences, poetry, books and establish them as normal genres and acceptable social and intellectual currency. This would have created opportunities and conditions of possibility that would have brought back to life the deceased and forgotten Kurdish poets such as Melê Cizirî, ‘Eli Herîrî and Feqiyê Teyran, the Kurdish poets that had preceded Khani but had already been forgotten in his time.

He could see in his happy imagination that the banner of the sublime Kurdish poetry would shake on the roofs of the universe for everyone in the world to see the proof of the product of Kurdish perfection and intelligence.  But the products of intellect like any other goods need a market and someone who could do the marketing for them. In the historical context Khani wrote only those in the position of power and owning wealth and will, could do this. They were the Kurdish Mîrs. They could empower, encourage and inspire Khani and poets like him to create miracles. But Khani was deeply disappointed by their performance and propensity. (See below).

1.5 Who are responsible for the Kurds’ predicament?

Emma ji ezel Xudê wisa kir

Ev Rûm û ‘Ejem li ser me rakir

Tebi’iyyetê wan eger çi ‘are

Ew ‘ari l xelqê namadre

Namûse li hekim û emîran

Tawan çiye şa’ir u feqiran?



Çibkim! Ku qewi kesad e bazar

Ninin ji qumaşê ra xerîdar

Xasma di vê e’srê da ku hemyan

Me’şuq û hebib e bo me hem’yan

Ye’nî ji teme’ê dirav u dinar

Her yek ji me ra we bûne dildar

Ger ‘ilmê temam bidiye polek

Bifroşi tu hikmetê bi solek

Kes nakete meyterê xwe (Camî)

Ranegrtin kesek (Nizamî)



But God made it like this from the beginning of life

He let these Rum and  ‘Ejam (Turks and Persians) have power over us

Although to be their subordinate is a shame

This shame belongs to the notable people

Shame upon the rulers and Mîrs

What is the crime of the poets and the poor?


What can I do, the market (for Kurdish intellectual genres – see 1.6) is very much stagnant

The fabrics have no customers

Especially in this age (‘esr) when all of them

The lovers and the beloved all (or the pun: money wallets)

That is for the greed of money and dinars

Everyone of us has become a lover

If you give away the whole of science for one shilling

And sell wisdom for a slipper

No one would hire Jami as a horse keeper

And keep Nizami as a servant

Khani believes in pre-destination but at the same time he shares the Zoroastrian belief in man’s free will in making choices between good and evil, and what is right and what is wrong in terms of human welfare. It is an act of God that, perhaps by putting the Kurds in a certain existential geographical space, that other nations have power over the Kurds, but the Mîrs can do something about it by using the same means that have made other nations powerful and worldly, mainly the combination of the power of sword and power of word and providing a good leadership as mentioned above. Therefore while the existentiality of subordination is a predestined given, to accept this situation or reject it is a human choice. Perhaps God has wisdom in putting the Kurds in that predicament. Perhaps God has atoned this disadvantage for them by giving them nobility of character, extraordinary bravery and power of intellect. The majority of the Kurds, their poor and poets, make the natural choice of rejecting the foreigners’ subjugation. It is the political elite of Kurdistan namely the rulers and princes, who disgracefully accept subordination by Turks and ‘Ejems. What they promote is the culture of greed and worship of money. Love is no more that human spiritual experience sought by ‘ashiqs and ‘arifs (passionate lovers and Gnostics). All has become lovers of wallets and dinars. There are no markets, no customers and buyers for science or those who give it. People do not hire Jamis and Nizamis  (two iconic Persian poets) even as horse-keepers and house-keepers.

1.6 How is royal authority, normally, achieved?

Herçi bire şiri destê himmet

Zebt kir j xwe ra bi mêrê dewlet

Lewra ku cihan weki ‘erus e

Wê hukm di destê şirê rûse

Lê ‘eqd û sedaq û mehr û kabin

Lutf û kerem û ‘eta û bexşin

Pirsî j dinê min ev bi hikmet

Mehra te çî? Gote mnku ‘ himmet’

Hasil: ku dinê b şir û ihsan

Tesxir dibit  j boyî insan.


Anyone who held the sword in the hand of courage

Established dewlet (royal authority) for themselves with their courage

Since the world is like a bride

Her decision is in the hand of the naked sword

But [about] contract, charity, dowry, and wedding money

Gentility, generosity, gifts and presents,

I asked the world as a man of wisdom:

What is your dowry? Said to me: “courage!”

In short: The world with swords and compassion

Will be made available for the benefit of man

Again like Ibn Khaldun, Khani thinks that physical resilience and courage provide the core power for obtaining royal authority. Examples of time show that all the groups that used courage, achieved their own royal authority. He presents this as the accumulated wisdom articulated by the bride of the world herself. While a matrimonial fulfillment may involve marriage contract, dowry, gifts, etc, the only price for getting the bride of the world is courage.  But the Kurds do have courage, so why are they still deprived of their own worldly power embodied in their own Mîr with crown, throne and authority? That is where Khani has a problem with understanding God’s Wisdom and his people’s character.

 1.7 Khani on the contradictions of Kurdish character:

Ez Meme d hikmeta Xudê da

Kurmanc di dewleta dine da

Aya bi ç wechî mane mehrum

Bil-cumle ji bo çî bûne mehkûm?

Wan grtiî bi şîri şehrê şuhret

Tesxir kirin biladê himmet

Ciwamêri û himmet û sexawet

Mîrinî û ghiret û celadet

Ew xetme c bo qebîlê Ekirad

Wan dane bi şîr û himmatê dad

Hindî ji şeca’etê gheyûrin

Ew çend ji minnetê nefûrin

Ev ghiret û ev ‘uluuwê himmet

Bû mani’ê hemlê barê minnet

Lew pêkve hemişe bê tifaqin

Daim bi temerrud û şiqaqin

Ger dê hebuya me ittihadek

Vêkira bikira me înqiyadek

Rum û ‘Ereb û ‘Ejem temamî

Hem’yan j mera dikir ghulamî

Tekmil dikir me dîn û dewlet

Tehsîl dikir me ‘ilm u hikmet

Tamîz dibûn ji hev meqalat

Mumtaz dibûn xudan kemalat (225-234)


I am puzzled by the Wisdom of God

The Kurds among [all] the countries (dewleta) of the world

Have, for what reason, been deprived?

Why have they all been ruled by others? (mehkum)

They have taken with swords the cities of fame

And controlled the countries of courage

Nobility, courage and generosity.

Strength, fortitude and resilience

Are [qualities] sealed for Kurdish people.

They have done justice to sword and courage

They are as much jealous of their bravery

As they are unwilling to accept minnet

This courage and high self-esteem

Has prevented them from carrying burden of minnet

Thus they are always without agreement

Always having rebellion and discord

If we all together had had a union

All together had followed one leadership (kirdba inqiyadek)

Rum and Arab and A’jam all

Would have become servants to us;

We would have completed the religion and the royal authority (dewlet) ;

Would have obtained science and wisdom (philosophy)

All the discourses would have been differentiated from each other.

It is this question that makes Khani puzzled by the wisdom of God: God created men and gave them attributes. Courage and noble character are good God-given attributes that in all other nations have created self-government and royal authority. Kurds are proverbial for their courage and nobility. So why are they deprived of their own sovereign state and country?  To answer this question Khani looks inwardly. He finds out that the existential contradiction in the function of the Kurdish character is not only external (geographical, being exploited by others), it is also intrinsic. It is an element of jealous individualism and disunion rather than a factor of social solidarity in the face of the other.

Their characteristic courage makes them unwilling to ask help from each other even in the time of need so that they will not carry the burden of minnet, which means the feeling of compulsory gratitude because someone has done a favour or charity to you or offered you support. This implies that the side who gives help considers it as a debt of honour to be paid back in one way or another. In Kurdish there are two idioms that express this: ‘Çakekey le çawanda ye ‘The favour (minnet) is in his eyes’ means been grateful and ‘Çakekey be çawanda damewe’, meaning literally ‘he threw back the favour at my eyes’; that is someone unpleasantly reminded ME of the help, charity or something good he has done for me.  Perhaps this way of thinking has its root in the Zoroastarian idea of good that one must always do without seeking or expecting reward expressed by the Kurdish proverb: Çake bike w bîde be dem awe we, (Do something good and throw it to water). Minnet is not accepted because it is not an act of generosity per se as there is always a psychological expectation of paying back by being always grateful (keeping it in the eye) at least and this is what makes it like ‘carrying a burden’ as Khani describes it.

The other dimension of minnet semantics is related to tribal rivalry. To accept minnet means to accept that you are less brave and powerful than your rival. In this sense bê minetî, ‘accepting no minnet’ means being over-confident, self-sufficient, indifferent and courageous enough to face any difficulty without seeking the support of others. The result is jealousy, rebellious nature, lack of agreement, discord and loss of any opportunity for compromising and uniting around a collective cause. As a professional historian focusing mainly on the theme of the modality and function of political power in Kurdish dynasties from 12th to 16th century, Sharafkhan Bidlisi addresses this issue in clearer historical terms. He writes: “If the Kurds have a bad characteristic, it is that none of them accepts the authority of others. Each individually thinks of his own pride, they do not think collectively of their collective pride, they do not support each other and they do not unite. About this bad characteristic of the Kurds the learned professor Mala Se’deddîn who was the teacher of Sultan Murad has, in his history which he has written for the Ottomans, talked about the Kurds saying: ‘Every Kurd is an independent entity for himself raising the banner of arrogance and power, living freely in the mountains. If you look at their unity, solidarity and thinking they do not unite in anything else apart from the declaration of faith.’” (Sharafnama, pp .35-36). It is obvious that there is complete conceptual similarity between Bidlisi and Khani’s opinions.

This is a sort sociological conjuncture which Ibn Khaldun deals with in his theory of ‘esebiyye mentioned before. He establishes that community cohesion (‘esebiyye) requires political leadership for its organization, enforcement of its religious law and a rational political action. It requires a dynastic ruler who would be just, compassionate and kind, learned, a scholar, and the leader who accepts total responsibility of the ruled. But Ibn Khladun argues that political power is essentially needed to act as restraining force to contain disagreement and conflict and curb the natural aggression of men. Khani, in the same way, argued as we have seen above (1.4) that only a knowing, caring, able and courageous Kurdish power (Mîr) can end the saga of Kurdish disunity and subjugation by others.  But this is the vicious circle of Kurdish history: Kurds cannot have unity unless there is a political leadership, and this political authority cannot come to existence unless they unite around one. Kurdish character combined with external designs of those powers keen to keep them divided for their own interests, are the main factors that keep this cycle functional. Khani’s wishful statements about unity and obedience to one leadership (inqiyad : being led) are constructed in impossible conditionality. He does not use the probable: “If we had a union, we would”; he uses: “If we had had, we would have.” For his dream, even for a determined person like him, sounds impossible. Khani’s vision is this:  If the Kurds can unite and accept one single leadership among them, then all Arabs, Turks and Persians would accept to become their servants. They will create the conditions for completing the affairs of religion and sovereign country (dewlet). Kurds will be the people of science and philosophy. And this will lead to clarity and differentiation of discourses and encouraging excellence by those who own perfect competences.

Although the term dewlet – which is used by Khani as a clear term to mean a Kurdish country ruled by a Kurdish Mîr representing the dream and interests of the Kurds – is the Kurdish version of the Arabic word dewle which has generally being translated as ‘state’, it is obvious that Khani had the model of the Islamic states in mind. The word dewle in Arabic, according to Ibn Manzur in his Dictionary of Arabic Tongue (Ma’jem Lisan al-Arab) originally meant the exchange of money by hands and then the circulation of news. In the Quran it is used in the sense of ‘carrying from one place to another ‘as in the Sura al-Hashr (verse 7): But when the Abbasid’s came to control the Islamic state, they used the phrase: ‘This is our dewle“. Then the term was used by the historians as a term for dynasties such as ‘dewle el-Amewiyya’ (Amawid state) and ‘dewle al-Abbasiya’ (Abassid state), ‘dewla Harun-al-Rashid’,  the state of Harun al-Rashid, referring to a principality run by the head of a ruling family; and ‘dewle al-‘Alawiyyîn’, the ‘Alawite state, instead of Alawite dynasty.

Ibn Khaldun used the term dewle and mulk interchangeably and he theorized them. For Ibn Khaldun dewle is an expression and extension in place and time of the function of ‘esebiyye. The concept of ‘esebiyye (core solidarity based initially on blood ties and geographical proximity) can also extend and develop to include further ties of shared solidarity that are necessary to keep dewle protected once it expands its control. These can be cultural ties and even ideology. For, Ibn Khaldun opines, it was only religion that bound the Arabs together once the Islamic rule expanded. Therefore both ‘esabiyya and dewle are horizontally an expansion in space; that is, they are territorial. When one group who share original ties, territory, tribal culture and leadership, establish their power over a territory this is a ‘particular dewle’, ‘dewle xassa’, which remains an imperfect mulk or monarch, because it still depends on a larger dewle. But when this develops into controlling the territories and regions which do not belong to the ‘esebiyye itself but to other particular ‘esebiyyes and adds them to its territorial hegemony, this is ‘dewle ‘amma’ , a general state, which has a complete independent power.  This dewle differs from the notion of dewle xassa in that this is still contingent on the maintenance of the initial ‘esebiyye ties especially among the ruling families for its survival. Once these ties weaken over two or three generations, or threatened by a stronger power, then ‘esebiyye wanes and the dewle collapses to be replaced by a stronger emerging or expanding ‘esebiyye. (Rasul, 2004)

Khani’s use of the term is clearly territorial. His frequent use of alternative names and terms: Kurmanc, Kurd and the Arabic plural of the name ‘ekirad’, always implies the Kurds and their land. His dream is therefore clearly the establishment of a national dewlet with independent political power and national culture including first and foremost language, literature, religion, science, philosophy, becoming militarily a force-for-itself (for independence) rather than a force-in-itself (used by others), giving up jealous individualism and developing a consensus to accept one leadership. Another strong decisive elements of this core nationalistic ‘esebiyye is its existential and political self-definition in relation to the other: Kurds versus the three opposing dominant ‘esebiyyes: Turks, Persians and Arabs. Khani’s use of the words dewlet, Mîr and Kurd, are expressions of a national state, in essence if not in the modern form.

Khani criticises the particular dewlat  (dynasty) of Kurdish Mîrs which remains dependent on and serving ‘general dewles‘ of Arabs and Safavids and Turks. He wants a Mîr who sees himself worthy of having his own crown, throne and independent authority to serve his own people’s interests and culture and develop its own sciences and wisdom and system of religion and power which differentiate it from the discourses and ideas of others.  Khani, as his work demonstrates, had his own different interpretation or construction of the Islamic Sufism. It is clear that he wanted, if there was a Kurdish Mîr who would create opportunities for ulemeas like him, to excel, to make these ideas the basis for the completion of his Kurdish din u dawlat, religion and state. Still the Kurds find it almost impossible to achieve Khani’s vision but Khani has embodied and kept this vision alive for them in his Mem û Zîn.

Kurds always had ‘particular dewles’ which, for Khani, at least his contemporary one, had a shameful record, because it did not take care of the common people and did not promote Kurdish language and culture and more particularly because the Mîrs obeyed and served the Kurds’ historical others and oppressors. Khani’s ideas of national identity, national dream and power politics go beyond the narrow tribal-territorial definition of dewle offered by Ibn Khaldun. It includes almost all elements of modern Western-style nationalism. Forms of nationalism and nation states always existed in history from Greek and Roman states to different ancient Iranian, Median, Assyrian, and various Islamic and Christian states. The distinction is in form and organisation. The modern state is based on the separation of powers and institutions. The old states, to use Ibn Khaldun again, were based on limited ‘esebiyyes that remained centred around families, Mîrs and tribal confederations supported by religious discourses. Khani does not directly or indirectly include any element of religion, even in terms of religious duties of compassion and piety, in his national schema. Perhaps he is angry with God whom he says has from the beginning of time empowered the Turks and Persians to rule over them! Perhaps he knew that the Kurds had served Islam too much without getting what the Persians and Turks had got out of their using Islam as means of the expansion of their authorities or perhaps his progressive thinking  included even the separation between religion and state.

* ‘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:

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