Where possible I have linked the source of the image. Just click on the image to be taken there.
After Sheikh Ubeydullah’s downfall, Kurdish insurrections lessened in occurrence and were only limited to local outbreaks. The cost of rebellion had become too high for many residents, and few leaders emerged to expand the tensions with the government beyond local issues. Certain groups resorted to brigandry and resistance against the government, and caused harsh retaliation upon them. One such example was the Hamewand tribe that lives around Chamchamal, many of whom were deported to Ottoman Libya and Adana in 1889. Interestingly, even among those deported to Libya, they gradually made their way back to their ancestral homes over the next 10 years.
The Ottoman Empire however still struggled to find a substitute for the emirates they had disbanded to integrate the Kurds more effectively into the increasingly more unitary Empire. The Emirates, while not completely under the control of the Ottomans, at least afforded a degree of stability that the Ottomans could not achieve otherwise in its current, more unitary style of governance.
One solution was one that would be repeated for many decades afterwards, and had already been done before- co-opting Kurdish notables to help them in administrating the realm. The Ottoman Sultan at the time, Abdul Hamid II, ruled at a time when the Ottoman Empire was in deep decline, and further cemented its reputation as the “Sick Man of Europe” as it began to collapse from the Balkans and suffered internal insurrections. Abdul Hamid II sought a different approach with the ever troublesome Kurdish tribes by finding a way to incorporate them as partners rather than ruling over them.
Kurdish lords, encouraged by ties of a common religion, received important positions in the new order and indeed some were related to previous rebel leaders. Kendal Nezan provides several such examples in his contribution to “A People without a Country” on page 25- a son of Badirkhan, Bahri Bey, found himself as an assistant to the Sultan. Abdul Qadir, Ubeydullah’s son, was President of the Ottoman Senate in 1908 and later on the Ottoman Council of State (the ministries). Even the descendants of the Baban Emirate found ways to be accepted in the new order.
However, not all Kurds could feasibly be incorporated into the ruling structure without obviously upsetting the dominance that the government had over the region. Moreover, what could be done about the numerous smaller lords and notables? This issue was important for the Ottoman Empire to resolve as it was interwoven with their own grasp on their frontier regions.
The answer to this dilemma emerged from the the Ottoman Empire’s erstwhile enemies, the Russians. The Russian Empire, much like the Ottoman Empire, was filled with many ethnic and religious groups, and administration was (mostly) through a Russian-centric bureaucracy, much like the Turkish-centric one in the Ottoman Empire. For a long time the Russians had employed the Cossack Calvary units to help it keep order in its frontier regions along the Caucasus and Central Asia, granting them a great deal of autonomy in exchange for maintaining the Russian Empire’s territorial claims along the Ottoman border. The Ottoman Empire saw the need for a similar unit along its Russian border where Armenian rebellions were becoming more and more frequent, and so they sent off an edict in November 1890 announcing the formation of these special cavalry units. Taking their name from Abdul Hamid, the cavalry were known as the Hamidiye.
The Hamidiye drew people from various backgrounds in the Ottoman Empire, but it was distinguished by being one of the first organized Kurdish units within the Ottoman Empire. Kurds had served in the Ottoman military long before- they are known to have been deployed against Albanian insurrections in the 1800s and with other disturbances in the Balkans before that. The importance of the Hamidiye were that they were commanded and organized by Kurdish notables along tribal and family lines, and this meant by extension that for the first time Kurds were exposed to military tactics and protocol that they were not accustomed to. The exposure to these from their education played a role in fermenting Kurdish identity later down the road.
The Ottoman Empire used the Hamidiye in different occupations, but it was in the eastern parts of the Empire they got recognition internationally. As you might already guess though, this reputation was hardly desirable, and much like previous coverage of Kurdish issues at the time. Some examples follow:
The events take place in the 1890s, where the first major conflict between Armenian fighters (Dashnaks) and the Ottoman Empire took place, culminating in killings of thousands of civilians that foreshadowed the genocide that would take place 20 years later. The Hamidiye were utilized here, being the major force in the region, to fight against Armenian fighters who were believed to be supported by the Russian Empire. Here the Hamidiye showed another source of value to the Ottoman Empire- plausible deniability. As it had done before, the Ottoman authorities could blame these disturbances on local “brigands” rather than any policy of its own and distance itself from more unsavory policies.
The focus of the Hamidiye in this capacity ignores what other ways it affected Kurdish people. As I mentioned before, the exposure of Kurds to a more organized military structure and the education along with that played a major role in exposing a generation of Kurds to the liberal values and nationalism. Of course there were others who simply utilized this position for their own benefit, and indeed continued to benefit from a treacherous relationship with the later Republic in Ankara. At the same time though, there were others that would take their training to create a basis to Kurdish rebellions in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and onwards.
This being said, on the whole the Hamidiye were more or less following the whims of the Ottoman authorities, having been deployed not only to put down Armenian insurrections, but disturbances that occurred in Southern Kurdistan (modern day northern Iraq) as well as among the Kurds of Dersim and Arab tribes. The loyalty to their family and tribal units were matched only by their devotion to the Sultan due to his standing as the Caliph, which would have the consequence of hampering Kurdish identity from within the Empire. As such, the passionate calls for Kurdish self-determination often came from intellectuals either attempting to pursue reform from within the Ottoman administration, or those who had gone into exile such as the Badirkhans.
And no, this isn’t my birthday, but rather the birthday of a significant amount of people living in Southern Kurdistan/ Iraqi Kurdistan. While July 1st may have grabbed their attention due to the Euro 2012 Final (and man, the Italy fans must be pissed), for older Kurds who were born in Iraq, it was their birthday.
But how could July 1st be the birthday of so many Kurds? As a young child I did not give much thought as to why both my mother and father shared the same birthday, July 1st. I simply thought it was a coincidence and left it at that, and I would continue believing that until I saw that about every single one of my uncles and aunts were also born on July 1st.
I was probably 12 or so when I asked my father why they were all born on the same day. About this time I had begun to be aware of my Kurdish roots and exactly what it was my parents went through when I was in Iraq. My father explained to me then that they had all been registered that way in the Iraqi government. I didn’t give it much thought then, but as I learned more about the way Kurds had lived in Iraq, the reason for this became more clear. There was another aspect to this that involved the marginalized position Kurds occupied in Iraq since its creation.
When Iraq had began as a Kingdom, the central government mainly relied on forming close ties with the local notables more than providing any sort of services to the people beyond collecting taxes. Public education was nonexistent, and the isolation of people from the central government was probably the greatest in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where villagers tucked away in the sleepy countryside did not give much thought to the central government. As insurrections against Baghdad came and went, the people had become more distrustful of the authorities and avoided any interaction with them. Consequently, many Kurds went by unregistered and thus the government could always release very low figures of Kurdish population figures from those few in the cities like Mosul, Hawler, and Kirkuk that did bother to register.
If a Kurd registered with the government, they could risk many problems- if they were wanted by the authorities for participating in a revolt or otherwise fighting the government in some way, going through to register themselves and their family would have invited arrest. Other Kurds who may have been more nationalistic minded may have balked at the idea of registering themselves as a citizen of a nation that had oppressed and ignored their rights. Some had, in between the numerous revolts and the uprooting that caused, had their mind on more important matters. Ultimately, registering as a citizen brought little advantages to them, as they had seen little benefit from tax collection, no public schools, infrastructure development, no hospitals, nothing.
This trend carried on into the 1950s, where tensions between Kurdish liberation groups and the monarchy grew and many people did not trust the government which they had seen by that point as only interested in serving the needs of the British and the Hashemites. When the coup against the monarchy occurred on July 14th, 1958, a Republican government under the leadership of Colonel Abdul-Karim Qassim was created. In the years afterwards, even after the overthrow of Qassim and the reign of the Arif brothers in much of the 60s and the Ba’ath later on, the government attempted to register all Iraqi citizens, a matter they saw as important in creating a modern administration. Kurds who took up this offer found that they were, many times, unaware of where their birthday would be by the modern calendar. Westerners may take it for granted with the association around a birthday, but for many people outside of Europe and United States in those times it was not really important to get it down to a day as long as they remember when it occurred. As such most Kurds were aware of what year they were born in and roughly what season and sometimes month it was in- this was the way most Kurds recognized the passage of time. Others knew exactly what day they were born in, even by the western calendar reckoning, but this would not be taken into consideration. In the end, a Kurd was more concerned about the family they were born into and their ties to the land more than getting down their birth to a date.
When it came down to the government however, Kurds trying to declare what day they were born on was not important. To expedite the process of registering the hundreds of thousands of Kurds into public record, the government had made everyone born on July 1st. There may have been other “default” days used, but July 1st is the one I am aware of. Consequently whole generations of Kurds found themselves with the same day of birth as a result of the government’s desire to quickly register the large amount of Kurds.
There could be another angle here that once again the Iraqi government had manage to take ownership of yet another aspect of a Kurd’s identity. It would be a common theme starting from the days of the monarchy for any regime in Baghdad to view Kurds as its rightful subjects and nothing more.
Those Kurds that eventually emigrated out of Iraq in the coming years would on their arrival to their new homes in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere, would show from their identification that they were born in July 1st. Few bothered changing this and as a result many Iraqi Kurds who emigrated out of Iraq before the 1980s tend to share the same birthday. It had almost become an inside joke among the Iraqi Kurd diaspora communities about the many birthdays on July 1st, and even large cakes were made for this occasion. It was interesting to see what had essentially been a cold decision by the Iraqi bureaucracy into another way Kurds could unite around a common experience of oppression, one of many at least.
I’m currently writing up the next installment here, concerning the formation of the Hamidye cavalry and the years before the first World War. I saw this story on BBC- rare a Kurdish story ends up on sources outside the Middle-East- which drives home the sheer ridiculousness of the Turkish criminal system. I won’t comment any further because I think you’ll get the idea once you read it:
Turkey: Kurd with lemon accused of supporting terror
A Turkish prosecutor has demanded that a Kurdish man who is deaf, illiterate and unable to speak be jailed for 25 years for supporting terrorism.
Possession of a half-lemon was cited as evidence against Mehmet Tahir Ilhan. Lemon can ease the effects of tear gas.
Mr Ilhan is charged with making propaganda for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and with taking part in an illegal organisation.
Mr Ilhan, a bazaar porter from the city of Mersin, denies the charges.
Using sign language at a hearing in the south-eastern city of Adana, he said he had got caught up in a violent pro-Kurdish demonstration.
Under Turkey’s anti-terrorism law it is an offence to show any sign of support for the PKK.
The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul says Turkey’s judiciary often administers harsh penalties on bafflingly slight evidence.
However, even by Turkish standards, this case is extraordinary, he says.
If Mr Ilhan is found guilty, the court is expected to pass a sentence close to the 25 years that the prosecutor has asked for.
Over the past 18 months, hundreds of Kurdish activists, journalists and politicians have been detained under anti-terrorism legislation.
The use of Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws has been widely criticised. The Council of Europe said it was having a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech.
Our correspondent says the Turkish government is trying to encourage Kurdish moderates with such concessions as Kurdish language classes in school, while at the same time isolating the more hard-line PKK members.
But the sometimes incomprehensible actions of its judiciary will inevitably undermine such efforts, he adds.
Participating in Kurdish demonstrations, particularly those that get into confrontations with police, creates a pretext for police to throw people into jail for supporting “terrorism”. Many people in Kurdish areas of Turkey have fallen to this in the past year, despite the government’s claims of making an “opening” to Kurds. No one is free from this- even children. The evidence thrown in later, like this brother’s lemon, just adds to the ridiculous nature of the oppression Kurds face in Turkey. More idiotic is the world’s continued silence towards the Kurdish issue.
Shivan Perwer’s song “Yezdan Sher Beg”
Yezdan Sher (sometimes rendered as Yezdansher, Yezdin Ser, Ezdin Ser, Ezdin Ser Beg, etc.), led what could be seen as a swan song of revolts initiated from Kurdish princes. In my last post about Bedrkhan, the Botan Emirate fought against the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Bedrkhan, and were beaten by the brutal Ottoman expedition sent against him.
After the fall of Badrkhan in the late 1840s, Yezdan Sher had reign over the remains of the Botan Emirate. Yezdan Sher would enter into direct conflict with the Ottoman Empire in the 1850s, when yet another war with the Russian Empire began.
There are a number of wars that occurred between the Ottoman and Russian Empires in the 19th century, and these wars often had such an effect on the Ottoman Empire to cause instability and provide an opening for attempts to assert greater independence from Istanbul. Like his uncle had down with Ottoman disarray with the revolt of Muhammad Ali (which Mir Kor had also taken advantage of), Yezdan Sher also took advantage of this weakness from the Ottoman Empire. (Un)fortunately for Yezdan Sher, the particular conflict he would rise up was one that would involve powers beyond Russia and Turkey- the year of 1855 was also in the middle of the Crimean War.
The Crimean War saw the conflict between the Ottoman and Russian Empires escalate into one that resulted in the intervention of the British, French, and various other European powers on the side of the Ottomans in order to check Russian expansion and growing strength of the Tsar. In the west, the study of the Crimean War highlights the importance of logistics and tactics, as well as the introduction of various technological advancements. More importantly, it was one of the first wars that received extensive coverage in international press, as well as some of the subject of early photographs. Unfortunately for those interested in what Kurds were doing such treatment was not applied in the events of Yezdan Sher or the front between Russia and Turkey in the Caucasus.
At any rate, the demands the war took on the Ottoman Empire was enough to cause the military to move many garrisons in the area to the frontlines. The vacuum this created resulted in Yezdan Sher to rise up and rally some 2,000 men to his side, where he ejected the Ottoman-appointed governor of Bitlis. As I discussed before, Bitlis was the home of one of the great Kurdish principalities which had sided with Badrkhan in his revolt, only to be destroyed as the Ottomans crushed the old polity. The defeat of an Ottoman garrison rallied Kurdish people to Yezdan Sher’s banner. He marched on garrisons in Siirt, where the Ottoman garrison in the Kurdish region was based; the fall of the garrison (defended by forces from both Siirt and the Baghdad Wali) saw Yezdan Sher come into the possession of arms which enabled him to further his campaign. The size of Yezdan Sher’s forces swelled to 100,000 strong according to some estimates, and had even begun to threaten the major cities of Mosul and Baghdad. Jazira too, the same city he had abandoned before, now was under his control. Much of Ottoman Kurdistan had become unstable and Yezdan Sher was proving to be trouble some for the Ottoman authorities.
For his part Yezdan Sher is believed to have attempted to move himself in league with the Russian Empire, which was fighting in the north in the Bayazid province (which also was home to a good number of Kurds who were in turn fighting the Russians for the Ottoman Empire). Due to the distance and separation between Yezdan Sher in essentially what is the modern-day border region of Turkey and Iraq, such requests was not recognized by the Russian Empire. To the European powers who intervened on the side of the Ottoman Empire, Yezdan Sher could prove to be troublesome. The Russian Empire’s interests in Eastern Anatolia, more specifically Armenia and Kurdistan, could be advanced by a pro-Russian kingdom under the control of Yezdan Sher. With Ottoman armies fighting a pitched war against the Russians along its Caucasus frontier, it threatened to cause further problems for the Ottoman Empire which would not be beneficial to their difficult struggle against Russia in the Crimea and elsewhere.
A response to Yezdan Sher’s rebellion could not be dealt with by the Ottomans beyond a few inconclusive battles, which they had presented as major victories to the press. In reality Yezdan Sher’s strength was such that he had controlled the plains north of Baghdad right up to Lake Van and even Diyarbakir/Amed, and the Ottoman Empire was unable to breakthrough this due to much of their forces tied up in other fronts with the Russian Empire. It was only until the winter of 1855 when Ottoman forces had a reprieve when the fighting entered a lull. Now, the Ottoman Empire and its allies could focus its attention on removing an internal problem in the Ottoman Empire. A direct intervention was decided against, and rather a more ‘diplomatic’, if not deceitful, approach was decided upon. The British Emissary to the Ottomans, Nimrod Rassam, a Christian based out of Mosul, was dispatched with resources to neutralize allies of Yezdan Sher. For Yezdan Sher himself, Rassam promised an audience with the Imperial Court in Istanbul to negotiate a Kurdish state. Yezdan Sher could be seen as naive for seeing such an offer seriously and at face value. For his part, Yezdan Sher had not received any responses from the Russians, and seeing how the Greeks and Egyptians relied on European support against the Ottomans, had thought this was the next approach.
And so Yezdan Sher went with Rassam to Istanbul. Instead of the conference he thought he would get, he was promptly apprehended and imprisoned, where he would die later. Kurdish forces who were told to lay down arms by Rassam did so and ended their revolt. Those who continued ended up as brigands until they too did not become a threat.
Yezdan Sher was indeed the last of the Kurdish ‘princes’ to launch an insurrection. From this point forward, Kurdish culture had returned back to the tribal level which meant a greater influence of religion in their viewpoints, rather than the more accepting and larger worldview of the princes.
Source: A People Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan– The Kurds under the Ottoman Empire Yezdan Sher. Nizam Kendal, Gérard Chaliand.
I’m still trudging through old history, but I think it is worth commemorating that today is the anniversary of the Halabja chemical bombing that occurred on March 16, 1988. It was this particular chemical bombing that would remain one of the most chilling examples of the Anfal Campaign, one that most of the world ignored at the time.
The Halbja Bombing occurred in the later stages of Anfal, which was concurrent with the slow end of the Iran-Iraq War. Citing the cooperation of Kurdish pershmerga with Iranian forces, the Anfal Campaign was initiated as a means to halt an Iranian breakthrough from the north of Iraq. Of course the reality was that the regime took the opportunity to decisively solve the ‘Kurdish problem’ which had been a thorn in many Iraqi governments since the days of the puppet Kingdom. Anfal took many shapes of ethnic cleansing, from out-straight murder to forcible relocation of Kurdish civilians, with many zones under the direct control of the Iraqi military which gave orders to kill in designated areas which they considered to be peshmerga hotspots.
I will get into the Anfal Genocide in detail later, but today I concern myself with Halabja. Halabja was not the only Kurdish village that got gassed (indeed, hundreds more got gassed in all the major areas of Kurdistan, including as far west as the Badhinan villages), but for various reasons it became the most visible and prominent one used for years. Discussion of whether the event has been exploited for personal gain can be set aside for later and I’d rather not get into it just now. I was born after Halabja, though both my parents recall when they got news of what happened, which was already bad news on top of more bad news with Anfal. My father recalls that on CNN, there was no mention of the event beyond a quick blurb running across the news ticker on the bottom, merely saying that there had been an attack on that village, with no blame given. The CIA would later take the position that Iran had in fact caused the bombing, reasoning that based off the reported physical features of the deceased, it was not in line with the kind of chemical weapons Iraq was capable of making. It should be recalled that during this time the United States saw Iraq as an ‘ally’ in its regional fight with Iran, and to that end supplied it with all manner of aid, from surplus Soviet arms through Egypt and Israel (bear spares) to help with financial credit, the United States was actively involved in helping Iraq. Chemical agents marked as ‘necessary’ medical research ultimately enabled the regime to carry out its gassing of many Kurdish villages.
Halabja’s pain did not end there unfortunately, with the village and its surroundings occupied by Islamist elements until the late 90s, and until 2003 in smaller surrounding communities in the mountains. This made it difficult to adequately address the problems of the village as were being done in other gassed areas, and as such Halabja had many birth defects and other problems in its populace that could not be treated for some time. Even now some villagers still feel slighted by the government’s focus on highlight the tragedy with out much attention to their more immediate and important needs.
Many years later in the run up to the second gulf war, the White House would justify their operation in Iraq by stating that Saddam had gassed his own people, taking up the mantle of Halabja where previously they had disavowed and attempted to suppress any news of it. As I said earlier, where there had been a quick blurb on CNN’s news ticker it was now coming straight out of the administration’s mouths. Indeed, considering what may have been American complicity in this event, it is not surprising they would be careful in when they chose to highlight and use it for their own purposes and act as good friends of the Kurds. On the flip side, some of those who had positioned themselves against the war decided to insist the US had actually pinned it on Iraq later as part of their smear campaign, most notably one Stephen Pelletiere, a former CIA analyst who stands by the original CIA report on the attack. To me this is sheer lunacy and revisionism of the highest degree (others had pinned the blame on Iraq after the attack, though these often came from Europe) but unfortunately they were given air time to legitimize their views.
At least 5000 people perished, many thousands more were injured due to exposure. These scars run deep in the region, and unfortunately there are still those who are affected by it. It will be a mental scar in all Kurds for some time to come, as will the entire experience of Anfal.
I’m sure for those of you who’ve looked at the web address might wonder who (or what) Lepzerin is. I chose Lepzerin intentionally for my site because he is an interesting figure in Kurdish folklore, one that ties intimately with our political experience in the last century.
To those who have long oppressed the Kurds, figures like Lepzerin were written off as fanciful inventions by nationalists to create a ‘legend’ among Kurds where there had never been none. This is most notable within the Turkish state which also holds the same position towards Newroz as being manipulated for political purposes, with the stories often portrayed as a struggle of Kurds against a more powerful force, typically the predecessor of those governments that exist now.
Was Lepzerin a real person? History would at least indicate that there was indeed an Amir Khan Lepzêrîn who rebelled against Iran, during the reign of Shah Abbas I. This revolt lasted from November of 1609 to the summer of 1610, the entirety of which consisted of the siege of the DimDim fortress. The revolt was put down, the leaders killed, thousands of people massacred, and the survivors forced from their homes to distant corners of the empire.
Amir Khan Lepzeirn (Emîr Xan Lepzerin in latinized Kurdish) was a ruler of the Baradust in northwest Iran, in the Kurdish regions around what is now Urmia. “Lepzerin” was a popular title affixed to his name, which is typically translated as “Gold-handed” (‘Lep’ being ‘hand’, ‘zerin’ being ‘golden’, derived from ‘zer’ or yellow’). This period in Iran was a troublesome one, with the Iranians coming off a series of defeats against the Ottoman Empire which saw their territories in modern day Iraq and Turkey ceded to the Ottoman Empire, and much of what is modern-day northwest Iran occupied by Ottoman forces, including Tabriz. Shah Abbas I took power in October 1587, following a coup against his weak father Shah Mohammed I after disastrous defeats from the Ottomans and Uzbeks that saw losses of territory. Abbas I proved to be much more strong and capable than his father, setting out to fight back against the numerous invaders of the old empire and regaining some conquered territories of Iran, bringing it to its modern-day territories.
Kurdish tribes were looked upon with suspicion due to the defections of those in the empire’s former Mesopotamian and Anatolian provinces after the Battle of Chaldiran in in 1514, which I mentioned in the post about Kurdish principalities. Amir Khan was the rightful, hereditary ruler acknowledged by the Shah, though the entire region at the time was not solidly in either the Ottoman or Iranian control. Both contested for control here, and in a way the imperial court in Iran hoped to secure the loyalties of local rulers in order to strengthen their position against the Ottomans. In this way they tolerated the moves of some Kurdish notables to expand their powers hoping they would stay loyal to the Iranians rather than defect to the Ottomans.
Lepzerin controlled a swath of territory to the in the regions south of Urmia, between that city and Saujbulagh (present day Mahabad). On the nearby mountains there existed an old fortification that was believed to have been there from before Islamic conquest, and it was this mountaintop fortification that Lepzerin took and re-purposed. The current day location of DimDim is south of Urmia along the road to Oshnavieh near the village of Balanj. I have attached a (crude) screenshot I made from Google Earth showing the location.
If you want to look at them yourself, the coordinates of the marker are 37°21’37.91″N, 45°11’11.89″E. You can also look at the same location on Google Maps. As you can see, the region is mountainous and is bounded on the west by the Zagros Mountains, and on the east Lake Urmia. Lepzerin picked this location presumably due to its location near a pass on the road between Urmia and Oshnavieh, two cities in the region. Lepzerin wanted to assert his power and independence, against both Ottoman and Iranian authorities as it appeared that both could not effectively administrate the region directly.
Lepzerin’s moves to fortify the citadel were seen as a sign of treachery by Shah Abbas, who moved against him and his supporters, who were drawn from Kurds in the Urmia region as well as those from the Mokri tribe who swore allegiance to him. The siege was an especially protracted one, going through the winter of 1609 and lasting until the summer of 1610, at which point the defenders were exhausted and overrun. This struggle was lopsided, with the Kurdish defenders far out numbered by imperial forces, their only advantage being the mountaintop fortification. After putting up a valiant resistance, the fall of the castle the following summer saw all of its defenders massacred, along with peasants that supported them. Lepzerin is believed to have perished during this struggle. The rulers of Baradust continued to hold their positions and lands, though with less and less power, with low-level revolts taking place around the castle once again.
The last of these battles would come to an end not with the Baradust struggles, but rather the confrontation between Iran and the Ottomans over the Urmia region, in which the fortress was utilized by Ottoman forces attempting to seize control of the Urmia region over 100 years later in the early 1700s, with Iranian forces led by the future Nader Shah. By this point the local Kurdish princes were a shadow of themselves, having taken no significant role in the battle. After this confrontation the castle was destroyed, and as such today little to no traces remain of DimDim.
The most evident and lasting legacy of this struggle was not the castle itself; again, little to nothing exists of the fortress. Rather, it was the deportations of Kurds undertaken by Shah Abbas I to break the power-base of the Baradust rulers and lessen the likelihood of a future revolt in a sensitive border area with the Ottomans. Many of these Kurds were settled on the northeast frontier of the empire to serve as a buffer against raids from Central Asia, in what is now the border with Turkmenistan. To this day nearly 2 million Kurds live there, having been able to preserve their language and customs for over 400 years now. More notably they speak mostly speak the Kurmanji dialects, which was the dialect of the Kurdish villagers in what was Baradust of Iran, rather than the mostly Sorani speakers in the rest of Iran. You can see this population of Kurds in many maps showing major population centers:
The other lasting legacy was from the folklore that emerged from the battle. The first was from one of the great figures of Kurdish poetry, Faqi Teyran, who collected the story of DimDim along with other legends and folklore in his “Qewlê Hespê Reş”, or the “Words (sometimes songs) of the Black Horse”, which would persist well into the modern-time. Teyran also lived during the time of the revolt, though as a young child, and his poetry could be considered a contemporary account of the events in DimDim. In the Soviet Union, there was the Kurdish author Arab Shamilov who in the 1960s published a historical epic-style book covering the events of DimDim. Kurdish movements from the 50s and onwards revived widespread knowledge of figures like Lepzerin and DimDim, and considering their own struggle against regimes in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, stories of those past leaders who stood against the conquests of regional powers provides a strong parallel between struggles of today and those in the past. It is for that reason that governments in the area despised the story of DimDim and Lepzerin, not because they were ‘invented’, but because of how the stories of heroic resistance against tyrants by Kurds served as a powerful rallying tool and raising awareness of one’s Kurdish heritage.
Saladin is a peculiar figure in Kurdish nationalist dialogue. On the one hand, he is arguably the best known Kurdish person to the world, even if they are not aware he is Kurdish. On the other hand, he did not do anything to advance Kurdish nationalism, but rather a fighter for the Islamic world. Those interested in Kurdish culture generally take two positions towards Saladin- one that he did not care for Kurdish people at all, as he showed with his relocation from Kurdish regions to Egypt and Syria. Another a recognition that nationalism did not factor in during those days, but a common Islamic identity and the advancement of family and tribal interests did. They point out that despite this, Saladin is an important historical figure Kurdish culture should acknowledge and embrace. Ironically, it is within Arab Nationalist circles that Saladin finds the most warm reception, with leaders from Nasser in Egypt (acknowledging Saladin’s role in the growth of Cairo) to Saddam in Iraq (Saladin’s home) adopting imagery associated with Saladin to advance pan-Arab aspirations, seeing Saladin as the last great leader to ‘unite’ the Arab peoples against foreign conquest.
Saladin was born in either 1137 or 1138, and died in 1193- living the entirety of his life in the 12th century. It was a tumultuous time in the Middle-East. The Abbasid Caliphate’s collapse left many small kingdoms in its wake, and the creation of Turkic kingdoms – the Zengids and the Seljuks- the latter the predecessor to the Ottoman Empire. Saladin’s family originated from the Rawadid tribe, which was a branch of the Hadhabani tribe, who had originally exerted power in the Caucasus region. As I mentioned before in the Medieval principalities, Saladin’s family moved to Tikrit and became assimilated into the Arab circles there.
Saladin took advantage of the crisis in the Middle-East, still reeling from the formation of the Crusader States in the Levant, to take control of the Shi’a (Ismaili) Fatimid Egypt. Originally sent with his brother Shirkuh, by the Zengid ruler Nur-ad-din to help in a power struggle in Fatmid Egypt, Shirkuh seized power in Egypt and Saladin assumed control following his death. With the death of Nur-ad-din, Saladin forged a kingdom uniting realms in Syria with Egypt. In the years that followed until his death, Saladin provided some of the strongest challenges the Crusaders faced until then. Saladin’s forces was distinguished by his use of Kurdish chiefs in leadership roles which he used as a counterweight against Arab and Turkish notables in the region to solidify his power base. By means of his action and disposition, Saladin earned a reasonably warm reputation in European circles for years to come, which had apparently existed long enough for Kaiser Wilhelm II to visit the tomb of Saladin in Damascus and gift the Ottoman Empire a marble coffin, which is in Saladin’s tomb alongside his original one.
In the Middle-East Saladin’s image was more heavily invoked by Arab Nationalists, particularly those that pursued pan-Arab aspirations in the framework of republican revolutions across the region. Saddam Hussein notably invoked it the most in building his regime, despite his actions against Kurds that Saladin came from. Saladin’s eagle was a common symbol in Ba’athist insignia (as it was in Nasser’s Egypt), and Saddam even designated the term to Jash (pro-Ba’ath Kurdish militias) that fought against the Peshmerga. Saladin was largely ignored by Kurdish nationalists due to his heavy use by Arab nationalists, as well as the truth that Saladin couldn’t be considered a Kurdish ‘patriot’ or figured into any sense of the Kurdish legends, which often involved stands against the empires that would come to occupy the region of Kurdistan.
Saladin could not be expected to be a ‘patriot’ as nationalism was not a force in those years- indeed ‘nationalism’ as an appreciable force would not be seen until the years of the enlightenment in Europe , especially in the late 1700s and onwards. Saladin pursued his interests as well as those of his family, and his allegiance was to Islam. This is important to take in mind, both to those Kurds who try to glorify the Ayyubid Dynasty as a Kurdish Empire, and those that chastise Saladin for not taking the chance to declare a “Kurdish” empire. Both seem to not realize the world that Saladin lived in, and rather try to apply our modern politics and relations to a world from over 800 years ago.
Saladin’s name can be seen in Kurdish areas- north of Hawler where much of the KDP’s political structure exists at Sari Rash is known as “Masif Selahaddin”, as is some universities. The Golden Eagle traditionally associated with Saladin (also used in Egypt and Iraq) can be found on the seal of the President of the KRG, as well as the KRG in general.
Saladin should be examined more by those constructing history- not so much as an example of Kurdish nationalism, but simply to understand the progress of Kurds in the region. As I’ve mentioned before, Kurdish activities and history before 1500 is difficult to research, and further examination into Saladin (and his own past), can help to bridge the gap that exists in the early days of Kurds under Islam, and what exactly had preceded them.
What did you say? Curd? Like a cheese curd? People? I’ve never heard of them.
I’m sure every Kurd in the diaspora has at least once in their life had to explain to people what a Kurd was and where they come from. The war in Iraq has increased the world’s familiarity with Kurds, though it’s not uncommon to still find people completely clueless about who Kurds are, much less other cultures outside their country.
I remember especially before 2003 my parents would both get excited at just the mention of “Kurds” anywhere, be it on a news broadcast or down to a simple book that mentions Kurds in passing. For many Americans in the 90s, if they heard Kurds at all, it was typically in two flavors. Those with memories of the chaos of Anfal and the media storm over the Kurdish refugee problem in 1991 could remember images of the Kurds crowded on the Turkish border in Iraq attempting to flee from the tumults of Iraq’s counter-attack on the peshmerga groups and genocide against the Kurds themselves. For a few months the world was acquainted to what Kurds had experienced for years- but had been ignored in mainstream western media for the sake of preserving Iraq’s image, a strategic ‘ally’ of sorts against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war for the United States and others. People were treated to the dire straits of the Kurds, one that the United States and others would eventually use among other things (check out Nayirah al-Sabah and her sensationalist testimony regarding Kuwait) to drum up support for intervention. Once this was gone, the world predictably forgot about Kurds, and they faded back into the shadows.
The other reference to the Kurds in the 1990s came in the form of the struggles of the Kurds in Turkey and the PKK. Though often times it was overshadowed by the wars in the Balkans and the Israel-Palestine conflict, the media would occasionally turn to the Kurds themselves. Predictably though this was in a negative manner, which had more or less followed the line established by the Turkish government regarding the Kurdish situation in Turkey. If someone was to hear about Kurds here, it was in the form of ‘terrorism’, not the real issues the people were facing there. Only a few took notice of this outside of Kurdish communities, such as Noam Chomsky. The other issue that compounded this was the divisions between Kurdish groups themselves- my family did not have much sympathy for the PKK and received news of Ocalan’s capture much differently than a Kurd from Turkey would have (for the most part).
Kurds are not well known to put it simply. I’m not sure if even what I do here will matter much, but even if one person comes across this, it is a start. Kurds are becoming important players in the Middle-East, for better or for worse, and they simply can not be kept in the shadows any longer. In the coming days I will expand upon different parts of Kurdish culture and history to those interested. I hope it will be informative.