Although no records exist of pre-Islamic Kurdish literature and much undoubtedly has been lost because of the ceaseless conflicts that have ravished Kurdistan, it is possible to mention a few important works and authors. In the first place, there have long been Kurdish authors who wrote in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, while in modern times many Kurds use Western languages. Such usages obscure their Kurdish origins. Many early dates are also uncertain, and the frequent employment of a nom de plume further complicates matters.
   Kurdish folklore has taken various forms, including stories, fables, fairytales, epics, lyrics, proverbs, anecdotes, and riddles; it also includes numerous themes such as love, patriotism, war, and hospitality, among others. The dengbej (in northwestern Kurdistan) or shair (in southern Kurdistan) is a Kurdish troubadour or bard who specializes in reciting popular Kurdish legends and stories. Kurdish storytelling is often simple and humorous. Other examples, however, can illustrate great narrative skill. The story of Suto and Tato, for example, relates the fierce passions produced by a blood feud arising from one tribe oppressing another. The blood feud proceeds against a background of cruelty, treachery, and desperate courage. According to the noted Russian Kurdologist Basile Nikitine, the story provides a vivid picture of the Kurdish mentality. Kurdish poetry is the most prominent part of Kurdish literature because, in an illiterate society, it does not require the literate audience demanded by the novelist, playwright, or essayist.
   The 13th-century Kurdish historian and biographer Ibn al-Athir wrote in Arabic, while at the beginning of the 16th century Idris Bitlisi's Hasht Behesht (The Eight Paradises) traced the early history of the Ottoman sultans in Persian. Sharaf Khan Bitlisi's Sharaf-nama, a history of the Kurdish dynasties up to the end of the 16th century, was also written in Persian. Melaye Cizri was a famous sufi poet in the early part of the 17th century who declared: "I am the rose of Eden of Botan; I am the torch of the knights of Kurdistan." His poems remain popular today. Other early Kurdish authors included the famous 14th-century Islamic historian and geographer Abu al-Fida; the great poet of the Turkish language Fuduli (died 1556); Eli Heriri; Mele Ahmed of Bate; and Mir Mihemed of Mukis, surnamed Feqiye Teyran.
   Under the patronage of the Ardalan court, a number of excellent Kurdish poets also wrote in the Gurani Kurdish language. This list covers the period from Mulla Muhammad Pareshan in the 15th century to Mulla Abdal Rahim Mawlawi in the 19th century and also includes Ahmede Texti, Sheikh Mistefa Besarani, Khanay Qubadi, and Mahzuni.
   In the 17th century, Ahmad-i Khani was the first author to broach the subject of Kurdish independence in his epic, Mem u Zin. This Kurdish national epic was based on the popular Kurdish epic Mame Alan. Bayti Dimdim deals with the Persian siege of the Kurdish stronghold of Dimdim in 1609-1610 and is considered by many as a national epic, second only to Mem u Zin. One should also mention such 18th-century poets as Serif Khan of Culamerg from the family of the Hakkari mirs and Murad Khan of Bayazid.
   The 19th and 20th centuries saw so many noteworthy writers that it is impossible to list all of them. A partial roll would include the great patriotic poet Haji Qadir Koyi; the much-adored patriotic journalist Haji (Piremerd) Tewfiq; the incomparable Kurdish-Syrian scholar Muhammad Farid Kurd Ali; the vibrant patriotic poet Sexmus Hesen Cegerxwin; Faiq Abdallah Bakes; Abdallah Mihemed Ziwer; Ahmad Shawki, the Kurdish-Egyptian who was known as the prince of poets; the Kurdish-Egyptian brothers Muhammad and Mahmud Taymur; and Mihemed Sheikh Abdul Kerim Qani, among so many others.
   In 1898, Kurdistan, a journal published in Cairo by a group of Kurdish exiles, proved seminal in the development of Kurdish literature and modern Kurdish nationalism. Sheikh Rida Talabani (c. 1840-1910)—possessed with gifts of satire, improvisation, and an occasional obscene verve—is still remembered as one of the most popular poets of Iraqi Kurdistan. In the 20th century, Abdulla Goran experimented with stress rhythms, which imitated oral folk works. Tawfiq Wahby, a distinguished Iraqi politician and Kurdish scholar, introduced the Latin alphabet, an endeavor such foreign authorities as Vladimir Minorsky and C. J. Edmonds also supported. Jaladet Bedir Khan, one of the three famous Bedir Khan brothers, devoted himself to literary work and helped to develop a Kurdish alphabet in Latin characters. Contemporary Kurdish is now written in Arabic, Latin, and even Cyrillic scripts.
   Despite the obstacles put forward by the regimes under which the Kurds live, Kurdish literature continues to blossom. During the short days of the Mahabad Republic of Kurdistan, such poets as Abd al-Rahman Hezar and M. Hemin emerged, as well as writers like Heseni Qizilji, and 12 issues of the famous Nishtiman (Motherland) were published. In Turkey, Musa Anter and Mehmet Emin Bozarslan published occasional magazines in Kurdish and Turkish. The famous Iraqi Kurdish political figure Ibrahim Ahmed also wrote the novel Jan-i Gal (The Agony of People), about an imprisoned Kurdish patriot who discovered that his wife had died while giving birth to a child only after he was released. The book was forbidden during the time of Saddam Hussein but can now be read freely throughout the country and has even been turned into a successful film. Ahmed's Dirk u Gul (The Thorn and the Flower), 1992, dealt with such social concerns as women's rights, education, the family, and the exploitation of the peasants. Recently, poets like Sami Shoresh, Abdullah Pashew, and Sherko Bekas have stressed the motive of freedom and independence in their works. Backstay Ali's novel Gazonas and the Imaginative Gardens is an allegorical story that is highly critical of the current Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), yet 10,000 copies of it have been printed.
   In addition, a vigorous Kurdish literature exists in the diaspora. Sweden even allocates a generous budget to finance this development. The Kurdish author Mahmut Baksi became the first foreign member of the Swedish Writers Union's board of directors and was followed by Mehmed Uzun. The Institut Kurde de Paris was founded in 1983 to preserve and renew the language. The Internet has introduced a major new factor into the equation by enabling Kurdish authors and their readers to interact almost instantaneously across previously unbreachable state boundaries.
   In modern times, Basile Nikitine, Roger Lescot, and the Dominican Kurdologist Lucien Rambout (pseudonym Thomas Bois) were three prominent foreign authorities who did much to promote Kurdish literature. Joyce Blau, a professor of Kurdish language, literature, and civilization at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris, has contributed a great deal to the knowledge and renaissance of Kurdish literature in the West. In the United States, Michael Chyet has translated Mem u Zin. In 2003, he published his monumental Kurdish-English Dictionary/Ferhenga Kurmanci-Inglizi. Vera Saeedpour offered earlier support to these developments with her Kurdish Library in Brooklyn. Mehrdad Izady has recently translated and published a significant portion of The Sharafnama. Amir Hassanpour (among numerous others that space does not permit mentioning) has also made important contributions.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .


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