From the Book:
The origins of the Kurds and their language
Taufiq Wahby (1891-1984)
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All through the Seleucid period, the government was unable to control the nomadic and semi-nomadic people. Under the Seleucids’ successors, the Arsacids, whose loose rule ended in 224 AD, the local feudal rulers were more powerful, and the nomadic domination increased over the peasantry. It seems that towards the end of Parthian rule the Aryan Kurds predominated in and around the mountainous parts of Media.
This suggests itself as the reason for the attack on and subjugation of Media as the first goal of the first Sassanian King, Ardashîr i Pâpakân (225-241 A D.), when he set out to impose his rule throughout the Parthian empire. The Kârnâmak i Arthaxshîr i pâpakân a mixture of history and legend, which records Ardashîr’s conquests, shows clearly that the two names ‘Mâsî’ (Mâdî) and Kurd denoted one and the same nation. At least this was so at the end of the sixth century AD, the date attributed to the Kârnâmak. The work, written in Pahlavi, and giving details of Ardashîr’s attack on the Medes narrates: “Ardashîr (after killing the Parthian King Ardavân V) collected a large army from Zâbul and went to fight Kurdân Shâh i Mâsî (Kurdân Shâh the Median); V-1”
The Kârnâmak, in the same chapter, says: “The Median army believed that they were safe from Ardashîr who was defeated and had retreated to the Persian country.” The narrative continues: “Ardashîr prepared four thousand men and made a surprise raid on them (the Medians). He killed of the Kurds one thousand men, took prisoner the remainder who were broken and wounded, and captured from the King of the Kurds and his sons many goods”; (V-9-11).
It is to be understood from the above quotations that the Kârnâmak’s author of the end of the 6th century looked at the Metes and the Kurds as the same people, as we have already mentioned.
According to a fifth-century Aramaic History of Erbil “The Sassanian King Shâhpuhr 1, in the first year of his reign (242 AD) fought the Medes of the mountains and conquered them in a violent battle”.
These mountaineer Medes must be Kurds.
Among fourth-century Aramaic ecclesiastical records of Erbil, I have found a personal name suggesting an affinity between Kurdish and Medic. The name is Kor-kshêd, who was governor of Erbil in 372 AD. His name is developed from ‘Xvar-Xshêd’ which derives from Avestic ‘hvare xshaeta’ (the shining sun). Here ‘x-’ has developed to ‘k-’, a development characteristic of the Kermânjî language.
Among the Middle Persian documents in the Turfan trove, this same word is given in its Persian form ‘xor-shêd’.
The Avestic ‘hvare xshaeta’ in Sassanian Pahlavi developed to ‘xorshêt’ and in New Persian to ‘xurshîd‘ (sun). The governor’s name indicates that he was not a Persian. UnPersian in form, his name is familiar to Kurdish. If not actually a Kurd, he was a Mede.
In modern Kurdish, ‘sun’ is ‘xor’ with the original xv-˂hv-. But Kurdish still keeps the form ‘kor’ to mean (sun) in such words as ‘kelâw-qořî’ (sun-hat), ‘qořî’ or ‘qorîtân’ (chameleon): qorî˂xori (related to the sun)
Another interesting name, found in an Aramaic martyrology of 362 AD, is the place name ‘Qsatrâ Bêt Zabdây’. ‘Qsatrâ˂qshatra˂xshatra’ is developed for Avestic (Median) ‘xshathra’ (kingdom, dominion). But ‘qshatrâ’ could also mean district or town. Bêt Zabdây of the Aramians being a district in the classic Corduene, it may have been identical with the Kurdish town Stalka˂*Xshatra-ka on the Tigris mentioned by classic Armenian writers.
‘Qshatra’ (Kshatra) would then have been a Kurdo Median pronunciation of the fourth century AD.
The areas where the Kurds imposed themselves were to become the modern Kurdistan in the widest meaning of the term. But the Kurds did not impose their name on all Medes. In what became Northern Azarbayjan, a part of the inhabitants were later to become Turkified.
Other areas around the north west and western shore of the Caspian Sea and in Central Iran were not Called Kurdish, although some of these dialects are related to Kermânjî. But over a wide area, the name of Kurd embraced that of Mede and of other Aryan tribes. I would suggest that the name Mede was absorbed under the Kurds in a way reminiscent of developments in France, where the name of Frank superseded that of Gaul.
After the disappearance of the name ‘Mâd’, we do not know exactly when a distinction began to be made between the Kurds proper, as it were, and the sedentary Kermânjs.
The first, calling themselves ‘Kurd’, referred to the sedentaries as Kermânj. The name ‘Kermânj’ has continued to be used by the people themselves.
The Zâzâs call themselves ‘Kerd’, while they call the Kermânjs ‘Kerdâsî’ (Kemal Badilli, Kürtçe Grameri, p.6, n.2.). Perhaps ‘-âsî’ is derived from ‘âsâ’, if it is so, then ‘Kerdâsî’ may mean ‘in the manner of Kurds, similar to Kurds, Kurdish’.
In the Sorân and Mukrî provinces, villagers today are referred to as Kermânj, but as used by tribal people and town-dwellers, the name connotes ‘Serf’. The people of the Iranian province of Kurdistan that is of Sena and the people of Khânaqîn refer to those living to their respective west and north (other than the Gorâns) as ‘Kermânj’. The people of Sulaimani and Karkuk have forgotten the name, although the non-Goran sedentary elements of those provinces were doubtless Kermânj. Those who have forgotten the name Kermânj, call their villagers (serfs), ‘Meskên’ which may have meant (dwellers of village). The Kurds north of the greater Zab, in particular, describe themselves as ‘Kermânj’ and their language as ‘Kermânjî’.
The author of the epic Mam u Zîn (1693), the greater Kurdish poet Ahmad i Khânî, writing in Northern Kermânjî uses the names Kurd and Kermânj interchangeably:
Dâ xalq na bîzhaten ku akrâd, Bê Mârifaten, bê asl u benyâd.
Let men not say that the Kurds, Are without knowledge, without origin.
Befker, zhe Arab hatâ va Gurjân. Kermânjî ya, bû ya shebh i burjân.
See, from the Arabs as far as the Georgians, There are Kermânj who are become like towers.
The name Kermânj is being replaced throughout Kurdistan by ‘Kurd’. As this social and linguistic change continues, the word Kermânjî may be preserved in use by our application of it to the greater Kurdish dialect. This greater Kurdish dialect is divided into three main groups:
1. Northern Kermânjî (Bayazidi – Heba’ri’ – Botani – A’shiti – Badirani etc.).
2. Southern Kermânjî (Sorânî – Mukrî – Sulaimani – Senayî).
3. Kirmanshahî (Kalhurî – Lakî – Peshtkûhî).
The boundary between the Northern and Southern Kermânjî runs approximately from the southern end of Lake Razâiyya to the nearest point on the Great Zâb, and thence along that river to its mouth. I have mentioned the distribution of the dialects to check the widespread present mislocation of Sorânî. I first described in detail this distribution in my article on the Kurdish dialects in the Magazine of Galâwêzh, No. 4 April 1940, Baghdad.