Mem û Zîn Analytical Study*: II, 2 – Khani on Mem û Zîn

By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli:

Ahmadi Khani

Ahmadi Khani

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

Part 11 Chapter Two: Khani on Mem û Zîn

We have shown above (1.1) that writing Mem û Zîn in Kurdish was the result of a conscious stubborn determination to show the world that Kurdish language can be used for written books, Kurds can accomplish perfection and they do have natural passion for love. Khani’s words can better be understood if we take them, as they are, as a part of his overall philosophical vision for life, universe and being.

Khani, as indicated, believes in predestination but, at the same time in line with his strong underlying Zoroastrian beliefs, he believes in free choice between doing good or going on doing or accepting what is bad or harmful. The production of Mem û Zîn is described as a determined reaction against the claims of non-Kurds that the Kurds are ignorant and Kurdish is not adequate enough to express love stories or be a vehicle of knowledge. But it is also a practice of free choice and the ability of man to do something effective to redress the injustice and deficiencies of one’s (maybe predestined) social contemporary milieu.

In the previous part, I analysed what Khani has said about the external context of his literary enterprise. In this part I will analyse what he says about the work itself: its internal modality and construction. In other words, Khani’s view of his work as its creator and author.

2.1 Mem û Zîn enterprise is the production of a conscious, determined choice-making:

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)

Weqtê ku me dî zemane ev reng

Fil-cumle li ser dravî bu ceng

Hez kir me bbîne kimyager

Gava ku me dî nebû muyesser

Nisfiyye me pêlekê  ’emel kir

Tesfiyyeyê, cewherî deghel kir

Qelbê me nekir qebûlê hile

Qet bo Gherezê nebû wesîle

Din çû û neket b dest me dinar

Paşê neçareî bûne seffar

Sifrê xwe yê xeff me eşkera kir

Qirtasiye bû, me li du’ a kir

De’wat geriya bi sdqê îcabet

Bû wasiteyê qezayê hacet

Ev pol-i egerçi bê beha ne

Yekrûne û saf û be behane

Bê hîle û xurde û temam in

Meqbûlê mu’amela  ‘ewam in

Kurmanciye sirf e, bê gumane

Zêr nine bibên, spidemane

Sifrê meye sore aşikare

Ziv nîn e bibên ku “kem’eyar” e

Neqdê me mebêjî “kembeha ye”

Be sikkeyê şahê, şehrewa ye

Gerde bibûya bi zerbê menqûş

Ne dima wehe bê rewac û meghşuş

Mehbûbe bê kes ne namzade

Lew bextsiyah û namurade

Qirtasiyeya me bêpenahan

Bê zerbê qebûlê padişahan

Me’mûle li ba gelek ‘eliman

Meqbûle li ba gelek hekîman

Lê hekimê weqt ê me’rifetnak

Mesmû’î nekir bi sem’ê idrak

Mirê ku binavê Mirza ye

Mehza nezerê wi kimyaye

Qelbêd+I zeghel diket billûrî

Polêd I deghel diket filûrî

Sed bar-i hebin fulusê ehmer

Derhal-i diket bi yek nezer zer

E’layi diket biqehra edna

Ednayî diket bi lutfê e’la

Paşan digirit wekî esiran

Aza diketin wekiî feqiran

Her roj+I hezarê bênewayan

Her lehze bi lutfê sed gedayan

Zengin diketin bi destê himmet

Hikmet ew e naketin minnet

Ger dê wÎ nezer bida me carek

Iksîrê teweccuha mubarek

Ev qewl hemi dikirne eş’ar

Ev  pol hemi dibûne dinar

Emma nezera wi zêde ‘am e

Lew xas ji dil nezer neda me.

Ew rehmetê xas e bo ‘ewamî

Ya Reb tu bidî wî her dewamî.(258-285)


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

The fabrics have no customers

Especially in this age (e’sr) when all of them

The lovers and the beloved all (or money wallets)

It means for the greed of money and dinars

Every one 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 Jamî as a horse keeper

And keep Nizamiîas a servant

When we saw the times in such a manner

All people are fighting for money

We wished to become a chemist

When this was not possible for us

(260) We carried out the work by half

We purified the contaminated essence

Our heart refused to accept artfulness

To use it as a means to reach an aim

It ended that way, we did not get dinars

Then, reluctantly we became silversmiths

We revealed our hidden light copper

It was a notebook, on which we inscribed our prayers

Our prayers were for their truth accepted

And became a reason for fulfilling our needs

(265) These coins though are without value

They are one-sided, clear and without tricks

Free from deception, they are small money and complete

Are accepted in public transaction

They are Kurmanci, perfect, with no doubt,

They are not gold, to say they are spitman

Our copper is red, obvious

It is not silver, to say they are of low carats

Don’t say that our money is of no value

It has no royal mint, it is şahrewa

 (270-274) If it had been royally minted

It would not have stayed so impure and without attraction

This beloved Kurdish girl is no one’s fiancé

She has remained unlucky, unfulfilled

The stationary of us: the helpless

Without the stamp of the Mîrs’ approval

Is ailing according to many who know

Is acceptable according to many people of wisdom

But the ruler of the time , with knowledge,

Did not listen with discerning ears

 (275-285) A prince called Mîrza

His very look is chemistry

He turns the blurry  hearts into crystals

And turns fake coins into flurs (golden pieces)

If you have loads of red copper

With one look he changes them to gold at once

Turns high to low with his wrath

Turns low to high with his compassion

He arrests Mîrs like captives

And frees them like paupers

(280) Everyday thousands of the needy

Every moment with his compassion hundreds of beggars

He would make rich with the hand of generosity

Wisdom is this: He will make no minnet

If he paid attention to us once

The elixir of his sacred consideration

Would turn these words all to poems

Would change these coins all to dinars

But his attention is too general

He did not pay a special attention to us with his heart

(285) He is a special blessing for all

 May God protect him.

The section that starts with the question: Çi bikim? in the prologue comes after Khani allows his imagination to ascend to the highest point of universe to raise the banners of Kurdish literature under the sponsorship and support of an imaginary sympathetic, intellectual, understanding Kurdish monarch (See 1.4). But no sooner he cherishes his dream than he falls down back to the despairing reality.

Çi bikim?, meaning ‘what can I possibly do?, is used when one feels that the situation is so depressing, the conditions are so frustrating and the horizons are so bleak and dark that make one feel he can do nothing, nothing at all. It is the articulation of the abyss of despair and pessimism. How despairing for an intellectual of such high caliber as Khani to feel that his own government is paying no attention to him? His own society and culture have no market for poetry, science and wisdom. Even Jami and Nizami will have no place there even as servants. Love of money has replaced passionate love and human love. What can Khani realistically possibly do? It is not only about him, it is also about his people: their language and literature, their history and culture, their life and their future. It is about the position of love and truth in life. Can an isolated alienated ignored intellectual do anything when all the conditions are against him, when he might be ridiculed and degraded?

It is in the circumstances like this that Zoroastrianism believes in the responsibility of making a choice, of appreciating the beauty, the goodness, the hope that is already here inside you: your personal energy, capacity of love, and ability to will and will to do. And for Zoroastrianism hope is always there outside in the good common people and in all the abundant beautiful possibilities that life gives to explore and enjoy. Khani finds language itself a valuable resource, a valuable link between people, a means of public transaction rather than artfulness for making money, and determinedly he chooses to use it that way in spite of the elite audience and the lucrative market he would definitely lose.

Khani says that when he saw that money-making had replaced love, he tried to become a chemist to produce gold and become rich. He could do that if he chose to use his craftiness (his poetic talent) as a means to an end and accepted some self-deception in this way. He means that he could actually strike gold if he wrote in a language (such as Arabic and Persian) that are valued as gold in relation to his own language which is Kurdish and devalued as simple copper. But Khani says he refuses to accept this dishonesty, deception and two-facedness. Instead he chooses to write in Kurdish which is one-faced, simple, clear, complete and truthful. Although his Kurdish currency is not a royal mint and does not receive royal approval, it is enough for Khani that it is accepted by common people as a means of public transaction (mua’mela a’wame) that is collective communication. His copper is his notebook in which he has written his prayers in Kurdish and they are accepted because they are truthful and they are useful to meet the needs of writing and the needs of the people. His language is Kurdish. It is not gold. It is not silver to be devalued as having few carats. But it is not without value. It could have become gold and would not have been viewed as contaminated (meghshush), if it had received royal assent. But it is like a beautiful innocent girl who for her bad luck has remained without a fiancé.

Still Khani does not despair and does not surrender to the traps and temptation of money and getting rich by compromising his beliefs and his commitment to the common people. He sees himself as belonging to the helpless (be penayan: those who do not have a shelter or supporter) whose stationary (writings, ideas) does not receive the stamp of the Mîrs. Still it is accepted by many wise people. This is the opinion that Khani’s contemporary Kurdish ruler, though called Mîrza (which is an honorific name used for the learned strata in the feudal society) does not listen to with attentive ear and in spite of his power, wealth and authority, which Khani describes, he does not pay a special attention to Khani and his project. His attention is too general. He does not appreciate what Khani is doing. But Kahni, nevertheless, proceeds with his project with faith, te’essub u ‘eşîrî, determination, stubbornness and perfection, and with much suffering: for the sake of his people, the common people.

 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


Khani out of his perfect lack of perfection

Saw the arena of perfection vacant

Meaning not out of competence and experience

But because of te’essub and ashiri

In short, from stubbornness, maybe unjustified,

Made this ‘bida’t’, contrary to what is customary       

Endured suffering for these common people.


2.2 What is Khani’s enterprise? What has he done?

Safi şamirandi, vexwari durdî

Manendê Derî, lisanê Kurdî

înaye nizam û intizamê

Kêşaye cefa j boyî  ‘amê

Da xelqi nebêjitin ku Ekrad

Bê me’rifetin, bê esl û bunyad

Enwa’ê milel xudan kitêbin

Kurmanc tenê di be hesêbin

Hem ehlê nezer, nebên Ku Kurmanc

‘Işq –l nekirin, j bo xwe amanc

Têkda ne di talibin ne metlûb

Vêkra, ne muhibbin ew, ne mehbûb

Bê behrene ew ji ishqbazy

Farigh j ieqiqi w mejazi

Kurmanc ne pr d be kemaln

Belki d sefil w be xudanin.



 (238) [Khani] extracted the pure, drank the dregs,

Like the [Persian] Dari, brought the Kurdish tongue,

To order and construction,

Suffered trouble for the common people

(240-246) So that others would not say that the Kurds

Are without knowledge, having no origin and base,

All the nations own books

Kurrmanj alone are not counted.

And less people of opinion would say that Kurds

Have not made love their aim

Altogether, they are neither seekers nor sought after

They are neither lovers nor loved

They have no natural gift of loving

Bereft of real and metaphorical love

(245) Kurmanc are not without merit

But they are leaderless (orphans, yetim) and without opportunities

Generally, they are not ignorant and without knowledge

But they are degraded and without owners. 

So the immediate and paramount aim of Khani is to take what is best from various Kurdish dialects (he will state this more directly in other places) and give the Kurdish language order and construction to a level that can be compared with the Persian language. Khani’s mention of Dari or Farsi-yi Dari is important in terms of his historical knowledge of the revival of non-Arab languages in the Islamic world and also as a key to explain his intention and the nature of his enterprise.  It is an established truth now that “Persian was the first language in Muslim civilization to break through Arabic’s monopoly on writing. Already under the Sāsānians a standard form of Persian had come into being that was called Fārsī-yi Darī (“Persian of the Court”). From the centre of the empire it had spread to the provinces.. In the course of the 9th century this prestigious variant of Persian emerged again as a written language in the Iranian lands that were farthest from Baghdad, the centre of ʿAbbāsid power.’ (EB:  Online version, 2010).

So it is very important that although the prevalent name in Khani’s time for the Persian language was Farsi, Khani has used the historically-developing term. This shows that Khani was aware that the Kurdish language had still a long way to go to reach the level of Persian in terms of its institutionalisation as the Court language. It also shows that he envisaged his own enterprise in this context hoping that Kurmanci would be accepted by the Kurdish Mîrs as the language of the Court. As Fārsī-yi Darī was a mixture of different Persian dialects with Arabic loanwords amounting to about half of the total word material of Persian. (Ibid). It seems that Kahni was greatly influenced by the experience of Persian revival.  He wanted to do the same to the Kurdish language: to extract the pure and bring the language into (formal, written) order and construction.

Literary works written in Persian were the closest examples that the first pioneering generation of Kurdish religious scholars writing in Kurmanci Kurdish used as a guiding example or competitive motive.  And this was the reason that, emulating the Persian poets, they did not hesitate in using Arabic words although they could easily find beautiful alternatives in the vocabulary-rich Kurdish dialects and Kurdish folk literature. The use of native language in poetic and prose books was in itself a sufficient historical departure from the dominant use of Arabic and Persian as the instrument of authorship. Before Khani, the Kurdish poet and theosophist Malay Jeziri , whom Khani acknowledges as a predecessor in Kurdish writing, had praised in a verse the ability of Kurdish to rival Persian in poetic construction:

Ger lu’lu’i menthur ji nezmi te dikhwazî
Wer shi’rî melê bibîn te b Şiraz ç hacet

If prose and verse pearls you require
Come see Male’s poetry, what is the need for Shiraz?

The Iranian city of Shiraz was the birthplace of the two most famous Iranian poets both carrying the surname of Shirazi: Sa’di Shirazi and Hafizi Shirazi. In this verse Jazirî refers to these two poets. In another frequently-quoted verse, Melay Jeziri , who was from the same native town of Ahmadi Khani, expresses his pride that as a Kurdish-writing poet he had become the fragrant rose of his paradise region of Botan and night-torch of his homeland Kurdistan:

Gulî baghî îremî buhtanim,
Şebçrahgî şebî Kurdistanim.

I am the rose of Botan’s heavenly garden (erem),
I am the night-torch of Kurdistan’s night.

Kurds and Persians are of one Aryan origin who had shared one civilization and the noble religion of Zoroastrianism or Mazdaism before the Arab Islamic invasion of their realm and the disastrous destruction of their common spiritual treasurers written in their native languages or dialects. Only a small but significant fraction of the huge annals of Zoroastrianism has survived indicating its primordial originality, astonishing complex intellectual system and humanistic grace.  Buttressed by this deep-rooted historical civilization, the Persians were the first among the conquered nations of the Islamic empire, to start reviving their language, literary traditions and, to some extent, Zoroastrian religious elements and beliefs. Due to the close historical, geographical, linguistic and cultural affinity between the Kurds and the Persians, it is not surprising that these Persian writings, especially the poetry of great classical poets such as Hafiz and Sa’di became the source of knowledge, entertainment and inspiration for Kurdish intellectual elite who were educated in Arabic and Persian in the ubiquitous Islamic medreses (usually mosque-based religious schools).

The second qualitative step of these medrese-eduacted elite – was to differentiate themselves as Kurdish poets by a conscious act of the other-ization of the Persians and Arabs and competitively using their mother tongue for writing as a medium for this distinctiveness. This, in my view, had been facilitated by the following factors:

  1. The ever-present geo-political factor of the oppression of the Kurds by the more dominant Persians and Turks. This was exacerbated by their turning Kurdistan into either a human buffer or a battleground for their ideological and political rivalry and wars. This situation, which is poignantly described by Khani and also by the Kurdish historian SharafKhani Bedlisi in similar terms, definitely gendered ‘esebiyye in Ibn Khaldun’s sense and created oppositional national self-consciousness in relation to the oppressing others.
  2. In Kurdistan, in the autonomous Kurdish emirates, hundreds of medreses appeared which became the established ground for a growing readership of Islamic didactic and reference books. According to Çelebei (1979) a major 17th century source on Kurdistan, mosque schools (medreses) and primary schools (mektebs) flourished in Kurdish towns and villages at this time. The town of Bitlis (about 36,500 inhabitants) had some 110 large and small mosques five of which were also important schools. (pp.109-110). Diyarbekir had fourteen mosques each of which housed two schools (p. 44). The city of Van had six mosques  (pp. 213-4). Travelling in Kurdistan, Çelebei, met a large number of learned mullas, scholars and poets in these towns. Hassanpour (p.77) writes: “It is not possible to estimate the percentage of literary population in any part of Kurdistan though we know that in 1597 the town of Bitlis nurtured some 500 religious scholars and students. (Bidlisi 1597:447-55). As the shagirds (learners) in these madrasas were Kurds and needed explanation, guidance and eventually books in Kurdish, the Kurdish malas (as the learned people were generally called) realised the necessity of using mother tongue in teaching and then in writing. In addition to Mem û Zîn, Khani wrote a small Arabic Kurdish dictionary called Nobarê biçûkan for Kurdish children in verse. He also wrote E’qida Iman (Principles of faith) in Kurdish to teach Kurdish students in medreses the principles of the Islamic faith in Kurdish.   Mawlana Khalidi NeqishbendÎ produced the first ‘Book of beliefs’ in Kurdish.
  3. Historically the emergence of great Kurdish-writing poets was concomitant, in any stage of Kurdish history, with the emergence, continuity and consolidation of Kurdish self-rule as represented by Kurdish Mîrs (Arabic: emîrs) and emîrates. The first group of Kurmanci-writing poets appeared in the prosperous Kurdish emîrate of Botan in the sixteenth century.  Khani mentions three pioneers:  Ali Harirî (1530–1600), Faqe Tayran (1563–1641) and Malay Jeziri  (1567–1640).  Jeziri ‘s relationship with and pride in Kurdish Mîrs is reflected in his poetry. Khani – using the more important criteria of national identity, culture and interest as well the moral virtue of caring for the poor and the common people, and not just the fact of saltanat (practising of power) and support of ulama (the religious educated elite), which the Mîrs often did – blames Kurdish Mîrs for the wretched conditions of his people and especially the neglect of Kurdish language and culture and lack of support for vanguard intellectuals. Guided by the example of the Persians, he almost equals national identity and political power with language revival and knowledge or more specifically books written in Kurdish language. It is logical to say that the emergence of Kurdish poets was a necessary historical parallel to the emergence of autochthonous Kurdish political power. This relationship however was, for obvious political realities of Kurdish history, never institutionalised although Khani aspires to provide an ideology, linguistic instrument and a general context of national pride and dreams of having a Kurdish Mîr who appreciates and adopts his project. He describes the Kurds as towering among the Turks and Persians. But his effort remained orphaned and we would have no trace of it unless for his Kurdish Mem û Zîn.
  4. Islamic erudition was a shared milieu which all Muslim uelemas participated in as a collective enterprise. Arabic, being the language of the Quran, was the shared medium of written knowledge. Once other nations, especially the Persians as the pioneer models for the Kurds and the Turks, started to write poetry and books in their language, the common-sense question imposed itself: why shouldn’t Kurdish ulemas do the same? On the other hand, perhaps some like Melay Jeziri and Feqe Teyran wanted to get an extra advantage in their drive to emulate dominant poetic icons like Hafiz and Sa’di by resorting to their own language, an extra medium of knowledge, and drawing on the immense resources of their own language and lore. No doubt that Khani’s motive is clearly nationalist. He concludes his enterprise with stubbornness and accepts suffering for the sake of his people. Perhaps another motive was his reaction to a sort of direct or indirect derision the Kurds might have received from dominant Arabs and Persians, taunting the Kurds with the imperfection of Kurdish and its incompetence to be a perfect instrument for authorship as well as Kurds’ lack of civilization and known origins. Such taunts, in fact, were not uncommon. SharafKhani Bidlisi mentions some examples in his book on the history of the Kurds. As to the origins of the Kurds he relates biased demonising opinions of Arab and Persian historians (Kurds being the offspring of devil. or of cohabitation between human beings and monsters) without any comment. No doubt that as an encyclopaedic scholar Khani was aware of these opinions. It is clear from what Khani says that he is not just acting but he is reacting too:

I suffered trouble for the common people

So that the others would not say that the Kurds

Are without knowledge, having no origin and base,

All the nations own books

Kurrmanj alone are not counted.

While lack of books is an external condition relating to language and reality, lack of capacity for love and being loved is a more serious matter. It means a spiritual deficit that is capable of negating all other positive characteristics of a Kurd. Thus, what Khani says here is important. He tells a love story to prove that the Kurds have the natural and even the divine gift to be both real and metaphorical lovers, in terms of Sufist theosophy.  In this, as Dr Izzzedin Rasul states, he also defends his people against allegations by their enemies that the Kurds know nothing more than the art of fighting and bloodshed.”   (Rasul, 1979,  p.42). By choosing two Kurdish lovers and their popular tragic story as the subject of both love (muhibbat) and ‘Ishq (passionate love) symbolising spiritual love, love of God, Khani wants to open up a very broad thematic, eventful and dramatic space to project his effective demonstration of Kurds’ capacity for love and also express his own theosophical concept of love in a way that it would become embodied in Kurdish character, dramatised as Kurdish history and eternalized as a proof for the Kurds’ ability to love and sacrifice for love.

By doing so, Khani hopes that he will prove that the Kurds, as people and as individuals, are not without merit and drive, but the problem is that they are like children without parents, they are not owned by anyone, they do not have the leaders they deserve. This deficit of ownership, leadership and guidance of course works only to exacerbate the individualistic non-cooperative habitual nature of the Kurds, (see 1.4), hindering the unity needed to establish their own independent political power.

2.3 Why did Khani choose the Kurdish tale Mem û Zîn for his enterprise?

Khani in the prologue of his book says that he uses the traditional Kurdish tale of love between the Kurdish prince Mem and Kurdish princess Zîn as a behane for facilitating other discourses and texts into the story. Behane in Kurdish means ‘excuse’ but a more perfect English word is ‘pretext’. In fact the story is only a pre-text that is an initial first text, to introduce and incorporate at least three more parallel overlapping texts into his drama: the literary dramatic text of Mem û Zîn’s love, an elaborate philosophical text and an ethnological/nationalist text as well as his political views.  I shall deal with his narrative in terms of its content, construction and style. Although the work has the style of an epic poem, in fact it is a well-accomplished sophisticated philosophical drama with all the elements, requirements and clues needed for its production as a theatrical presentation.

Being a well pre-planned work written with ‘stubbornness’ and multiple lofty aims, Khani’s reflection on his own work does not exclude his clear explanation of the dramatic nature of his work. As I already said, Khani uses the story of Memi Alan (the original folkloric tale of Mem û Zîn) as a pretext to provide a context, dramatic structure and content and philosophical and national symbolism to express his own ideas and concerns.  He writes: (verses 320-327)

(321) Let me explain the sorrows of heart in a story (fsane)

And make Zîn and Mem a pretext for this

I will elicit the hidden melody

And resurrect Mem û Zîn

These lovers and ‘ashiqs have been ill

Today, as a skilled doctor,

I will cure their ailment

I will bring back these helpless people to life

The pain of the suffering Mem

(325) The agony in the heart of Zîn

That innocent and pure honourable lady

Sinless and beyond suspicion

I will make them famous with style and method (terz û uslûb)

So that the lover and beloved will excel (in goodness)    

Here Khani explicitly states that his aim from reviving the story is to portray the noble character of the lovers, demonstrate their innocence and moral integrity and make them ‘excellent’ dramatic characters. He does this by means of (artistic) ‘method and style’.  By making his characters the main elements in the construction of his story and present them better than they were or treated in the real life and after death, Khani in fact provides a structural dramatic element for his story. But why does he do this? What is the purpose of a drama? Further explanation comes in the next verses: (328-335):

(328) In this way I will make them celebratory again

So that the watchers would come to see them

Lovers would cry for Mem

Ashiiqs would be amused by Zîn’s pain

Those who share the pain would be cleared by [watching] them

Those who have no trouble, would be perplexed

People with clear heart and mind

Pure-natured and conscientious ones

All would praise our work

And say: ‘It has been well-recorded.”

Here, I believe Khani anticipates the readers to see the drama of the lovers, if not on stage, then through their own imagining of the actions, dialogues and monologues of the characters. He does not talk of readers of his book, he talks about nazar bazan which exactly means ‘onlookers’ or watchers who would come (da bên) for looking (temashayê). He also anticipates the effect of the watching on the audience. Lovers will cry for Mem and be saddened by the suffering of Zîn. This would have a catharsis effect on those who share the pain of the characters. His exact words are these: hemderd bikin b wan safayê. Hem is a prefix equivalent to the English prefix ‘co’. Derd means suffering or disease. Biken means ‘to do, to achieve’. Sefaye means ‘recovery, well-being, being cleared.’

What Khani says is nothing less than Aristotle’s concept of ‘catharsis’ as the main effect of tragedy on the audience. Khani adds to this outcome the feelings of awe and astonishment and also critical assessment of the performance. In the other verses Khani talks about lovers who would ‘come to hear the story hikayet so that this would make them ‘comforted’. (feramosh). Khani says he will achieve this dramatic representation and impact through ‘method and style’. An important aspect of his method and style, as we shall see, is that the plot, the operation of the events, the representation of the characters and the consequence and suspension of the events are in a way that can easily be acted on the stage. The creative manner of the use of dialogues and especially monologues and soliloquies is one of the significant techniques of the work.

The whole tragedy is an ideal work for theatre or cinematic production. The events and heroes as Khani indicates are to be watched and shared by the audience to enable empathy and catharsis. The emotions and inner dimensions, qualities and conflicts are all externalised, are enacted and presented for seeing and hearing. All these are part of the method. And most importantly the method is informed by philosophical ideas and interpretations.

I will demonstrate through a discursive textual analysis of Khani’s work, that his work is not only a tragic drama but also a philosophical drama, the nature of whose events and characters is conditioned by underlying philosophical ideas. Khani ‘s aim is not just to tell a love story in Kurdish. His intellectual ambition goes far beyond this. His method and style, as he says, are original. His Kurdish language, as he himself explains, includes a combination of several dialects. He chooses Kurdish lovers and characters with Kurdish names as the heroes of his drama. He does not only make love the thematic elements of his tragedy. He represents love from his own theosophical and national Kurdish viewpoint. But his unique unprecedented achievement is that he has represented his world vision and philosophy of love and life by producing a compact sophisticated dramatic text. He is even present as a critical author in his text to elucidate, analyze and comment of his own work.

* ‘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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