Poetry Has the Cure

11/6/2018 1:08:25 PM

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Mohammed Kamaran Shexany
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Kurdish literature, and particularly poetry, has always been an assistive tool in enhancing and fueling national struggle, even if the period in which the poems flourished the situations were miserable and depressing. Each society has developed and develops its literature, whether poetry, dramas, or novels, based on its cultural and societal relations and interrelations. Moreover, in addition to being reflective of a society’s patterns, literature diagnosis the goods and the ills of that society, and, surprisingly maybe, often suggests solutions. Concerning Kurdish literature, and chiefly poetry, it has mostly been shaped by discourses on national integration and liberation since 17th century, when its firsthand flower was starting to blossom after centuries of silence.

Kurdistan in 16th century had been virtually divided between Ottoman and Safavid empires, both which took advantage of geographical division to create factions among them in the form of principalities under their hegemony, and to push them against each other; hence the issues national integration and liberation were deeply embodied in Kurdish poetry, and the Kurdish literature has been striving to find solutions to fulfil them since then. In this descriptive, and to an extent analytical article, I will go through some principal aspects of the poetry of Ahmadi Khani, Haji Qadiry Koyi, and Abdulla Pashew, to historically explain the development of national sentiments in Kurdish literature. And the reason why I focus on these three is that I see a steady-historical trend in their methods; indeed we do not have Euripides kind of poets in Kurdish literature.

In the introduction of mem u zin, Ahmadi Khani, the fore-founder of Kurdish nationalism in 17th century, presents a question that disturbs his spirit and consciousness: Why Rome (Ottoman Empire) and Persia (Safavid Empire) have dominated the Kurds despite the valor they have, and they made them their inferiors? “Whoever resorts to his sword, [should] have all the desired things in his disposal”. In the poem he drunkenly grips the man’s hand that pours wine in his cup and asks him this question: Why Kurds should have this destiny while they are extraordinarily brave?  Khani attributes this unpleasant fact to the absence of a powerful king and the disunity among Kurds, as sicknesses: “If only there were harmony among us, if we were to obey a single one of us….We would perfect our religion, our state, and would educate ourselves in learning and wisdom.” [Translated by Michael M. Gunter, The Contemporary Roots of Kurdish Nationalism in Iraq, 2013.] Moreover, Khani for factionalism and subordination to foreign powers blames the ruling-fragmented ‘princes’, not the poor and artists, like him: “It is a shame for princes and notables, the poor and artists are not to lift the indictment”. Therefore, we notice from Khani that a righteous king, who unites the Kurds for the national purpose and who appeals to his and his counterparts’ wisdom and arts, is indispensable as a solution; and that the courage of the Kurds is not adequate and they can be exploited, otherwise. These tokens and observations of Khani are still familiar today. Actually, what makes mem u zin immortal, besides the imposed de facto, is its mythical nature; Khani did not tie it up to historicity and chronology, he gave a natural justification to a phenomena to which a nation went through. We are in debt to the breakthrough he materialized, but his patterns are only applied as a big picture, because simply it is a myth; however we see Haji and Pashew take the lead of maintaining and promoting nationalism afterwards, and funnel down to detect and assess the solutions, based on their lifetime events.   

Almost 200 years later Khani’s successor, Haji Qadiry Koyi, went further on to cure the illness of being enclosed by the two empires, and the paradox of being their inferior while having descent courage. Having witnessed his homeland consequently and persistently plundered by these empires, and that Kurds are not united, he developed a revolutionary-causal sequence: first unity, next arm raise, finally a comprehensive revolution. However, Haji elaborated on Khani’s chanting for a king and civic intellect, but his difference is that he had found both pre-requisites in his time: Yazdansher as a king, and himself as a man of intellect; “He [Yazdansher] is the source for hope and happiness today, no body except him is the survivor of Kurdish people”. Nonetheless, he preferred affirmative action upon education in that time; “Through sword and pencil State is superb, I do have pencil but the sword is missing”. Thereby, Haji appeals to the people to raise arm and struggle for integration and liberation. No wonder we find this seemingly radical rhetoric in Haji’s poems, because, except witnessing what Khani had witnessed two centuries before, his lifetime was parallel with the rise of European nationalism (19th century) by which he and the Kurdish elites (Sheikhs) were influenced to push for national liberation, as almost all the nations did; and the Ottoman Tanzimat system which intensified these sentiments further among the nationally homogenous people.

One-hundred years after Haji, Pashew emerged. For him, the events were precarious: the Kurdish factionalism has intensified, which, at the peak, it led to a civil war (Brother-Killing War as he calls it) in 1990s, and the national values has been decaying. Pashew, too, realizes that disunity and the surrounding-hostile countries are the major concerns; but with this age of globalization and modernity, Khani and Haji’s solutions (a king and revolution) are not completely compatible. Therefore, as a remedy, he has resorted to strengthen patriotism to be the fundamental instinct inside Kurdish people and their political leadership, as foundations for a state. For this purpose, he embraced the rhetoric of shifting affiliations from parties to the homeland; hence he has been trying to influence the youth as he felt disappointed of the old generation, particularly, when he saw the latter spilled their brothers’ blood: “Come to this world you millennials [in 1994], if you don’t, new blood would not move in Kurds’ nerve”. Still, this may be a tautology of Khani’s ‘civic education’, but, while Khani meant literacy, Pashew stressed patriotic intellect and intimacy. For the Kurdish leadership, however, Pashew has usually appeared offensive and critical, blaming them for the continuity of the domination and humiliation of the surrounding countries. Meanwhile, he observed that the two empires besides territorial invasion they have penetrated in our minds too; through their clothing fashions, Islamic ideologies, and media, all of which strikingly harmed Kurdish language and culture. And he blames Kurdish political players for not being responsive for such vindictive deeds. So for Pashew, unlike Haji, the righteous leader yet hasn’t emerged and still people are not patriotic enough to have a revolution. Eventually, saying that Pashew is a nihilist and antagonist is a subtle judgment; for his rhetoric is a plausible reaction to the calamity that his nation suffers, namely the losing confidence to be recognized nationally and the favoritism of other cultures. Therefore, in brief, and for now, the cures are patriotism and national confidence. Adhere to them.


Mohammed Kamaran Shexany is a senior at the The American University of Iraq - Sulaimani, majoring in International Studies. This piece was originally published in "AUIS Voice"