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Literature: Ahmad Khani, founder of Kurdish nationalism

Extract from Ahmad Khani’s poem Mem and Zin, the national epic of Kurdistan.

Ahmad Khani was a Kurdish intellectual, scholar, mystic and poet who lived between 1650 and 1707. He is usually considered the founder of Kurdish nationalism. 

His most important work is Mem and Zin, the national epic of Kurds. Mam and Zin is based on a true story, laid down from generation to generation through oral tradition. The story has multiple facets among which are the presence of Sufi discourse and Kurdish nationalism. It tells the tragic story of two young people in love. Mem, a young Kurdish boy of the “Alan” clan and heir to the City of the West, who falls in love with Zin, of the “Botan” clan and the daughter of the governor of Botan. Their union is blocked by Bakr of the Bakran clan, who is Mem’s antagonist throughout the story and is jealous of the two star-crossed lovers.

Other important works include Nûbiharan Biçûkan and Eqîdeya Îmanê. These works were studied in Kurdish schools from the time of Kani until the 1930s.

Khani supported an independent Kurdistan. In a mathnawi from 1964, he chose not to devote parts of the introduction to praise the rulers of his time, which was typical in classical Oriental literature. Instead, the preface of the mathnawi was dedicated to his opinions on Kurdish nationalism. He explained the subjugation of Kurds by the Ottomans and the Safavids, their occupation of Kurdistan which he argued had become a reality because of the lack of a Kurdish monarch who could rule Kurdistan. 

In the epic Mem and Zin, he writes:[5]

If we had unity amongst ourselves,

If we all, together, obeyed one another,
The Turks, the Arabs and the Persians,

Would one and all be in our servitude,

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