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Kurdish literature in the former Soviet Union Republic of Armenia

By Farhad Pirbal, The Kurdish Globe, 07 Aug 2008

Although Kurdish literature and culture in the former Soviet Union and especially in Armenia do not have a long history, they do have a distinct identity in the first quarter of the last century, and they did play a role in the development of Kurdish literature in general.

The Kurdish population in the former Soviet Union republics of Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and others numbers about one million.

Most historians believe that Kurds were in Caucasia before the 11th century in districts around Armenia and Georgia, which means Kurds lived there before the era of Salahadin Aiyobi and before Russia conquered Armenia and Turkmenistan. Some Kurds later migrated to Armenia from Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Beginning in 1813, after the agreement of Gulistan, part of Georgia and Azerbaijan came under the power of a Russian tsar. In 1921, all Caucasian districts came under Russia's power. These events, oppression, and the displacement of Kurds were the reasons Kurds gathered in Armenia and Georgia. Most of the Kurds living now in Georgia and especially in Armenia are Yazidis, and there are 50,000 Kurds presently living in Azerbaijan who have no right to practice their national culture and freedom.

Kurds in the former Soviet Union had partial freedom and the right to write and publish works in the Kurdish language. Only there had Kurdish cultural life developed.

The relationship between Kurds and Armenians involved not only a shared neighborhood in the Soviet Armenian Republic, but also a social and cultural relationship between them dating back to old times, similar to the relationship in parts of Turkish and Iranian Kurdistan.

From the mid 19th century onward, prose style and translation in Kurdish literature began in earnest with assistance from the Armenians.

In 1857, the Bible was translated into Kurdish for the first time. It was translated from Greek into Kurdish Kirmanji and printed in the Armenian alphabet in Istanbul by Armenian missionaries and saints.

The second edition of the second translated book titled Alpha Be Jeya Kirmaniji and Armenian is in the Kirmanji dialect, in the Armenian alphabet, and again was published and printed in Istanbul with the assistance of Armenian authors and saints. The book is in both Kurdish and Armenian.

This translated book had many firsts: It was the first educational book for children; the first book to interpret the Bible; the first book to write history in Kurdish; the first book to include illustrations in Kurdish; the first Kurdish book in the Armenian alphabet; and the first Kurdish-Armenian dictionary. The dictionary contains more than 300 Kurdish-Armenian words.

Thus, the Kurdish-Armenian relationship began before 1917 and before the founding of the Republic of Armenia in the Soviet Union.

The 1917 Russian October Revolution represented the rise in the life of Kurds in Soviet Armenia, which resulted in strengthening ties between both peace-loving nations. The Armenians gained the freedom to write in the Republic of Armenia. Meanwhile, under the decree of Lenin, Kurds were allowed to read and write in Kurdish and also have their educational curriculum and publications in the Kurdish language. In brief, since that October Revolution, Armenians took great care in developing Kurdish literature and language in the Republic of Armenia.

Armenians living in the Republic of Armenia and Turkey really wanted Kurdistan to become an independent state after World War I.

The Bulletin Armenian magazine (1920, vols. 19-20), which was published in Paris in French, wrote: "Sharing the same religious attitude by Kurds and Turks is not an excuse; that to make Sharif Pasha think of giving Kurds autonomy, and also he thinks that this autonomy is better to be under the attendance of Turkey, because such a kind of autonomy is not more than conspiracy (ploy). Religion has a weak relationship with national independency and freedom. The struggle of the Armenian nation is not religious. The only aim is that the Armenian nation achieve their own national independence?we hope the Kurdish nation continue in their struggle for independence."

One of the good deeds of the Soviet Union in Lenin's era was that in 1921 onward, a campaign was established to eradicate illiteracy among Kurds. So, beginning in 1921, all Kurds sent their children to schools. According to historical sources, before 1917, 90% of Kurds were illiterate. After the 1930s, all Kurds were literate, and at the end of the 1920s, 44 Kurdish schools existed in the Soviet Union.

Under the order of Lenin in 1923, the Kurdish districts, as a political independent center, received autonomous administration and self-management in what was called Red Kurdistan; its capital city was Lachine, in the district of Nagoron-Karabakh.

For five years, the autonomous region of Red Kurdistan released a newspaper called Red Kurdistan (Sovetskia Kurdistan). After 1929, when the dictator Stalin took power, Kurds lost their autonomous region; he did not recognize the rights of ethnic minorities, and Kurds' cultural rights were violated. Stalin ordered that the region of Red Kurdistan be administered by Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Thus, the displacement and torture of Kurds began again, especially in Azerbaijan.

In 1921, Armenian author Hagob Gazarian Lazo, in Echmiadzin city (near Yerevan) in the Soviet Union, formulated the Armenian alphabet into the Kurdish language and published it in an illustrated book titled Shamis; special Kurdish phonetics were added to the Armenian alphabet in the book. From 1921 onward, Shamis became a basic source for the Armenian alphabet in Soviet Armenia. Many schools were inaugurated, like Lazo School and the Kurdish Club. In these schools, the Kurdish language in the Armenian alphabet was practiced. In 1928, with the assistance of Armenian author Orbeli, the Latin alphabet replaced the Armenian alphabet in writing in Kurdish. The Latin alphabet was formulated by Arabi Shamo and Mara Golif. On January 1, 1930, the Latin alphabet was officially practiced and used in Armenia and Georgia, but the practice of Kurdish culture, language, and writing was forbidden in the Republic of Azerbaijan. In Baku, the first Kurdish book was printed in 1930. In the years 1933-36, only six Kurdish books were printed in Turkmenistan.

Kurds were very comforted in Armenia, more than in any other Soviet republic. From 1929 onward, the number of printed books increased in Armenia. What played an effective role in spurring Kurdish journalism, translation, and literature was a weekly newspaper titled Reya Taza (1930-38 and 1955-93), which was released by the Armenian Communist Party.

Before that date, in 1927 in the Soviet Union Republic of Armenia, a Kurdish film titled Zare was produced. The silent, 72-minute, black-and-white film was directed by Beg Nazarov and produced by Armenkino. It talked about the life of Kurdish Yazidi nomads on the Soviet Union borders (Turkish Kurdistan at 1915). In the years 1931-32, in the Republic of Armenia, more than nine books were translated from Armenian and Russian into Kurdish. And in 1932-33, there were 40 Kurdish schools with 71 Kurdish teachers and 1,936 pupils. An institution for teachers was opened, and in 1932, a branch for Kurdish authors was founded within the Armenian Authors Union. Their first published work was the novel Shvane Kurd by Arabi Shamo. After that, they published a 664-page book about Kurdish folklore. It is a fact that 1932-38 were the golden-age years in developing Kurdish culture in Soviet Armenia. In 1934, a conference was held for Kurdish authors about writing in Kurdish and Kurdish literature. In 1937, a radio program in Kurdish was broadcast. Several other films were produced in Kurdish.

From 1938 on, at the beginning of World War II, caring about Kurdish culture and language gradually dissolved; Reya Taza was shut down, and printing Kurdish books no longer occurred. Above all, during the years 1944-45, the new policy of dissolving the Kurdish culture and language was practiced in the Soviet Union. At that time, we see the Latin alphabet was no longer used and instead replaced by the Cyrillic alphabetic (the Russian alphabet), and authors like Arabi Shamo were sent into exile by Stalin.

After the death of Stalin in 1956, the process of printing Kurdish books began anew. The Kurdish radio program and Reya Taza reactivated their programs and printing. Music, painting, and especially theatrical activities were revived in Armenia and Georgia. In 1961, more than 130 Soviet Kurds were studying at Moscow, Yerevan, Leningrad, and Baku universities.

During this short period of time, dozens of Kurdish academics, journalists, authors, and artists in Soviet Union republics, especially in the Republic of Armenia, appeared and became famous in all four parts of Kurdistan. Michael Rashid published his poems in 1925 and onward. Appearing were Karlini Chachan in 1929, Amini Avdal in 1932, and then in 1934 on, storywriter Jasme Jalil and novelist Arabi Shamo. Others like Haji Jundi, Waziri Nadri, Qachaghe Murad, Lady Jamilay Jalil, Shakroy Khido, Ordikhani Jalil, Tosin Rashid, Askari Buik, and Dr. Jalili Jalil also appeared.

Source: Farhad Pirbal, The Kurdish Globe, Thursday, 07 August 2008

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