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In the Footsteps of Ehmede Xani – The Relevance of His Poems Today

Kurdish Herald Vol. 2 Issue 1, February 2010 -

by Seyhmus Yuksekkaya


Ehmede Xani, a pioneer of Kurdish literature, was one of the first to eloquently address the serious issues that haunt the Kurdish as a nation to this very day – the interdependent phenomena of oppression and division. In the late 17th century, as today, an independent Kurdistan existed only as a dream. Long before the emergence of modern nationalism in the Middle East, Xani perceived the sad situation of his people and sought to understand why the Kurds remained oppressed and dispossessed.


Long before the emergence of the myriad of political groups claiming to work for the Kurdish people, Xani addressed this issue in a very direct way, bemoaning the current state of affairs and castigating his own people for failing to unite in the his poem "Derd û Kulê me Kurda" ("The Afflictions and Pain of us, the Kurds"):

Civamerî û cavfireyî û himmet
Miranî, merxasî, hem ji xirat…
Ji ber ve yeke ye ku ew tim ne li hev in
Tim ji hev cuda ne u tim li dije hev in…
Hevgirtin u yekitiya me hebuna eger
U em hemî li pey hev biçuma eger
Rom û Ereb û Ecem bi temamî
Hemîyan de ji ma ra bikira xulamî


It is the spirit of independence and exalted benevolence,
That has become the obstacle to
Shouldering the burden of obligations;
Always without unity it is because of
This divided and pinched against one another they stand.
If we had unity amongst ourselves,
If we all together obeyed one another,
The Turks and Arabs and Persians
Will all together be in our servitude.


Ehmede Xani, pioneer of Kurdish literature

In order to survive and maintain Kurdish national identity and unity, Xani saw the necessity of the creation of an independent state. Centuries after he first expressed his ideas, it seems that the sad reality of the present-day Middle East only confirms his worst fears. Today, pan-Kurdish unity is a fanciful concept to be found only in slogans, and the possibility of a united Kurdistan seems far from reality. Today, centuries after Xani, deliberate policies of full scale assimilation and oppression practiced for decades by the states that were born with the rise of modern nationalism in Mesopotamia and Anatolia have divided and wounded the Kurdish nation. Xani’s prescient words are no longer a warning, but a narrative of the tragedy that has befallen the Kurdish nation.


Xani’s most famous work, the epic Mem û Zîn (Mem and Zin), is a Romeo and Juliet-type story which was intended to provide a metaphor for the division of the Kurdish people long before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Mem and Zin, two lovers with pure and noble hearts, are separated from each other by the evil Bekir (also known by the shortened form of his name, Beko), just as the Kurdish nation has been victimized by its neighbors and divided into different pieces and governed by different states.


Artistic display of Mem and Zin.


Despite his tireless efforts and noble intentions, Mem is never able to be together with his love Zin due to a conspiracy perpetrated by the villain Bekir, who is presented in an uncompromisingly negative light and labeled repeatedly as "evil (seqi)" or "mutinous (mufsid)". Raw, intense emotions, sorrow and heartbreak, flow through Xani’s words as he explains the tragic story of the doomed couple in classical Kurmanci-Kurdish.

Serha xemê dil bikim fesane
Zinê û Memê bikim behane

I will record the story of my heart’s desire
I will make Mem and Zin a pretext [for my aim]

(Mem û Zîn 7:70)


His aim, of course, is to tell the story of his nation, and the tragic ending of Mem u Zin, in which the lovers die apart against their will, seemingly portends a worst case scenario for the divided Kurdish nation.

Using Mem and Zin as metaphor for Kurdistan, Xani’s dream of a united and independent Kurdistan has been dashed by regional conflicts among the Kurds, who were then divided between two empires, and now are being used by the similar states against one another. Indeed, from the time of Xani to today, examples of Kurds being used against one another to destroy any semblance of a strong, united Kurdish national movement abound, whether we study the Hamidiye Cavalry of the Ottoman Empire, or the Fursan of the Anfal, or the village guards still being used in Turkey today. Today, even after the Kurds have gained some measure of power in the Middle East, Ahmede Xani’s story and message are very relevant to the Kurdish nation and this would undoubtedly disappoint the late poet and scholar if he were alive to see it.


Seyhmus Yuksekkaya recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston with a degree in Sociology and Political Science.


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