Remembering Professor Kamal Mazhar Ahmed

Professor Kamal Mazhar Ahmed, circa. 1980

By Arian Mufid:

We are re-publishing this obituary on the first anniversary of Professor Kamal Mazhar Ahmed’s death.

Professor Kamal Mazhar Ahmed, born on the 14th of February 1937 in the town of Akjalar, which belongs to the city of Kirkuk He was born to a father who was a civil servant and born on Valentine’s day. This is the probable reason for his lifelong love and passion for his own people. It is not easy to analyze and evaluate the distinction of the greatest professor of the Kurdish nation, who was for (almost) 6o years devoted his work; his work was always conducted in pure academic rigor and thus some did not understand him or read his work properly. His first essay was written when he was in secondary school. He pinned it on the notice board titled “Read me.” In that essay he asked students to consider a school and its teachers like their home and family.

He was an inspired, urbane, and charming man. He arose from humble origins to eminence as a prominent Kurdish historian, becoming a first student holding the qualification of NWK in Kurdish history. He finished this primary and achieved a first-class honors degree in history in 1959 from the University of Bagdad. He had been a member of The Youth Iraqi Communist Party in 1954 and participated in a lot of demonstration against the rulers in those days and was subsequently arrested and had to pay a sum of money to be bailed out to avoid going to jail. His perceptions on communism changed when he started studying in Russia.

During the same year he had been offered to pursue postgraduate education in Russian at the University in Baku capital of Azerbaijan, Soviet oriental studies. Successfully he completed his PhD in 1963 and the title was “Kurdish contemporary history of the south of Kurdistan between 1918 to 1932”.
The completion of his PhD created big discussions amongst academics and researchers. Notably, Hubert Evans highly promoted Dr Mazhar in the Middle East Journal in 1968. He did his second PhD (Nawek) under the title of “Kurdish Nationalist Movement 1918 to 1958” which he successfully completed (DSC) in 1969 in Moscow where he was the first Kurdish student to obtain that qualification. It was the biggest contribution on Kurdish history to the Russian library and internationally, comprising 735 pages in three books. A huge achievement especially considering that in those days very few references could have been obtained on the Kurdish movement in the Russian language.

Dr Mazhar (‘KMA’) often said that, “The duties of a historian is to depict the time and place of the event correctly and their duty is to write exactly what happened not what his heart wants it to be.” The Kurdish nation was often the latter. His work takes a scientific methodology, this underpins the reasoning and there is a flow from his ideas to the conclusions. For this reason, Dr Mazhar’s thesis has forced Armenian writers such as Manvel Arsenovich to revise their ideas on the Kurdish movement. His supervisors concluded that they changed their mind about a lot of positions on the history of Kurds and Kurdistan as Dr Mazhar put it all in order. His PhD thesis was printed in 1967 in Russian as a book in the Russian library for references; KMA’s thinking was that he would facilitate the work of other historians. He came back to Iraq in 1970 and he became a Lecturer at The University of Bagdad. During his stay in Russia, he was writing articles for different Asian and African journals and some others in Russian on the cause of Kurds and Kurdistan. He was fluent in Kurdish, Arabic, Russian and English.

One of his students, Jabar Kadr, who also completed his PhD in Russian, wrote of his memory of Kamal as follows: “KMA was always a prudent and prominent figure among the Russian and non-Russian writers in the USSR due to his professionalism and taking the line of pure academic approach to the Kurdish cause. I was relying on all his thesis in Russian language on Kurdish issues in the south of Kurdistan. Although he brought more documentation to these days when the Kurdish movement commenced in twenties, thirties and forties. Personally, I couldn’t be the man I am without his help and support”. He continued: “when KMA came back to Bagdad he became the big figure among the oriental schools and Kurdish writers during that time. I was in my third year of a degree in history, I always remember him for his profound respect for students and I was impressed by him from early days, and he was the only person who motivated me to love and pursue my PhD in history. He was a
man with integrity and he loved his people and his country of Kurdistan. In response to criticism, Dr Kamal clearly said ‘I don’t accept that anybody is more dedicated to the Kurds and Kurdistan than me’.”

Obviously Talabani and Barzani and Nawshirwan Mustafa asked him to be part of the Iraqi president council, which was set up by American administrator Paul Bremer; he clearly refused and told them the pen of historian must not be biased. Therefore, he had a reason to not accept that anybody was more dedicated to Kurdish the cause than himself. KMA contributed the biggest work after the work and research of Vaceleva to the Kurdish library. He is a father of Kurdish history after the Kurdish historian Sharafkani Batlisi and Mohammed Amin Zaki Beg; he transformed Kurdish history from tribal and religious struggle to the historical science of Kurdish struggle coupled with contemporary Kurdish society. He was the active historian, in 1970 with some of his colleagues Masoud Mohamed, Dr Abdulrahman Kasmlow and others, when they set up the Kurdish Scientific Journal. It was the biggest educational reference resource in the Kurdish language. The Journal managed to collect the references of hundreds of Kurdish writers and poets and was set up with a proper library in Baghdad during these days. The great Kurdish philosopher Masoud Mohammed said of KMA on his sixtieth birthday celebration, which was organized by his students in Bagdad in 1997: “For the first time in my life I found myself confused and had difficulty to describe and define him … the man and his life is a superlative tree, supported by a layer of bark, which is rooted from life and supported by ornaments, with shining and lighting reflecting on their surroundings, with their larger leaves and branches. When you look at it from a distance, you cannot distinguish between the trees, flowers, leaves and the actual tree, all of these are beaming together and will brighten the lives of all of us.“

In addition to publishing several important works of library criticisms he wrote book reviews and articles. His first printed book in Kurdish was under title of History and he dedicated the book to the prominent Kurdish historians, Batlishi Bayazidi and Zaki Beg. He had a daily column in the Arabic daily news AL Taki which was sponsored by Kurdish democratic parties in those days. He made contributions to another five Kurdish periodicals in Baghdad. He was always analyzing the Kurdish movement in the south of Kurdistan and the role of Kurds during the revolution of 1925 in Iraq. He took the new step of analyzing issues comprising: the Russian October revolution and the Kurdish issue, the Sevres Pact and Kurdish issue, Kurdistan the land of revolution, utopia and hope, Kurds and Kurdistan in the Russian Wikipedia. He concluded that the Russian revolution has not benefited the Kurdish nation as the world divided between Socialism and Capitalism, none of them for the sake of Kurds and their homeland could be usurped by Turks, Arabs and Farsis. The true Kurdish renaissance was between 1970 to 1974, the time when the Kurdish nation of the south of Kurdish enjoyed relative peace and prosperity during the ceasefire between Iraq and KDP for four years. During that time KMA was anchoring that period and shining light on the dark sky of the Kurdish history. In 1973 he forwarded the blueprint for rewriting the Kurdish history of the Kurdish nationalist movement and their stumbling blocks to two international conferences: the first one in Baghdad between 25-30 March the second one in Paris between 16-22 July 1973. KMA’s effort and role was obvious from the success of the conferences and their conclusion. In April 1973 he became an assistant professor.

In March 1974, the war broke out between the Iraqi state and Kurdish nationalist movement and diverted the Kurdish fate into different directions. KMA joined the Kurdish revolution leaded by Mustafa Barzani Kurdistan Democratic Party and he was the head of Kurdish media for one year until the collapse of the movement in 1975. According to one of the Kurdish leaders, KMA worked very hard to save the historical document of these days and he sent them to Beirut but unfortunately these documents have been destroyed in the Lebanese civil war.

When he came back to Baghdad, he pursued his research and work under different circumstance, his life was more difficult due to his previous decision to join the Kurdish movement but he was always dedicated and keep publishing new highlights of Kurdish history and did not bow to the pressure of the Iraqi regime. In 1975, he published his famous book in Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish, French and English “Kurdistan during the first world war”. In this book he clearly revealed the role some of the Kurdish feudalists and Aghas in the Armenian genocide.; but not the Kurdish people, and on the contrary brought evidence of how some Kurds saved the lives of many Armenians. KMA was bombarded with criticism from some backward Kurdish nationalists under the pretext that he should not put the blame on the Kurdish nation at all.

During the Iran-Iraq war years, he was working at Baghdad University and was busy writing. When Saddam’s regime collapsed in 2003, I met him in July that year with my wife which is his niece, and I noticed he was working tirelessly ten hours a day. His rare library consisted of almost 35 thousand books; I remember it took me one day just to go though one section of his library. That library has been transferred to Erbil, the capital of the KRG, since 2012. His routine was that work started at 2am and he went to bed at 9pm; for that reason, his hard work caused him a lot of ill health, his sitting on chairs writing caused him deadly back pain. He printed a book that year on “Realistic understanding of Kurdish journalism”; then he published “The woman in Kurdish history”, dedicating this book to the Kurdish women who sacrificed themselves to the Kurdish cause and struggle. He always reminded his readers that we must pay attention to the International issues and for that reason he printed in 1981 “Some international issues in the Middle East”. Most of these books were in Arabic. He academically supervised more than 200 papers for dissertations, MSc and PhD research students in Baghdad. On 3rd February 1981 he became a professor in History. Professor KMA had a genius for offering a combination of elegance and informality. He was an ardent admirer of Karl Marx and his works but never advocate the socialist economic regime. He was selected as an academic expert for assessing research papers of staff candidates for promotion to assistant professors and professors in various universities. He participated in the teams discussing some papers for PG Diplomas and numerous dissertations. He published several other books on the Renaissance in Europe and Machiavelli and the role of Kurdish intellectuals in renaissance. We are talking about almost thirty years ago and these books were a window for the Iraqi readers, Kurds and Arabs, to become familiar with these histories. He published in 1985, “Contemporary history of Iran”, a big part of which was dedicated to the Kurdish cause in the East of Kurdistan. Against this background, KMA expertly documents the historical legitimacy of the Kurds’ claim to Kirkuk.

The revolution of 1920 of the Iraqi people is one of the topics of KMA’s work. He published “The role of Kurds in 1920 revolution” after the collapse of the Iraqi regime when he printed some of his most valued works which he secretly started when Saddam the dictator was in power. “Kirkuk: The judgement of History and Conscience, A documentary study of the Kurdish Issue in Iraq” has been printed in Arabic and English. Since the end of the first world war, Kirkuk has been the key obstacle to a solution to the Kurdish issue in southern Kurdistan. Iraqi governments have tried relentlessly to change Kirkuk’s demography and Saddam’s regime savagely pursued ethnic cleansing. After the fall of dictator in 2003 the new Iraqi state and the Kurdish regional government continue to dispute its status. Around 1985, KMS stated in one of his interviews with Aso magazine that he was proud of his Book entitled ‘The history of Iraqi working class’ because very little has been written on the Iraqi working-class struggle. He highlighted the Kurdish role and position in that struggle.

He met the Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein in 1999. It was part of a program designed by Saddam to meet all the historians in Baghdad. Every evening he invited a group of historians, and in a discussion with one group, about Iranian contemporary history, Saddam asked them, “where did you learn all this from?” They told Saddam that, “our Professor KMA taught us about the history of Iran”. When Saddam heard that, he was surprised and said “this is the first time I heard this”. Therefore, Saddam asked one of his secretaries to invite KMA, who later described, “The dark night because I wasn’t sure what my fate would be. My wife begged me not to talk too much so I could return home safe. I arrived at the Presidential palace and was taken from there in another car with dark windows to another location where I met him, and he put me on his right-hand side with the Iraqi Ambassador to China and a member of his revolutionary guard on his left side.”

When the Kurdish civil war broke out in 1994, he didn’t want to take any side and that was always the reason for his hesitation to come back to the Kurdish homeland and why he preferred to reside in Baghdad rather than Kurdistan. Due to his acute back pain and illness, he managed to travel to the UK on 15th August 2006 to start his treatment, and after several months of successful treatment at a Manchester hospital, he managed to return to his work. The Kurdistan Regional Government sponsored him to review all documents in connection with Kurds and Kurdistan in the archive center in Kew Garden, Richmond, London. In 2008, he published the first part of “Kurds and Kurdistan in the UK archive center”, totalling 821 pages. In 2014 he published the second part of the book, with 834 pages; altogether it came to around two hundred thousand words. His grand narratives show how history benefits from being written from evidence and documentation.

Kamal Mazhar was married twice: to Russian Tamara in 1967 and Shala Hadariy in 1978. He leaves a son from his first marriage, Lawk Ahmed, a nuclear engineer in Russia. He passed away on the morning of 16th March 2021 after a five-year illness, in the hospital in Bonn, Germany, coinciding with the 33rd anniversary of the Halabja chemical bombardment.

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