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What is the root of the term Kurmanjí?

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DRoshani's picture
Joined: 9 May 2008

One of the most common term used in Kurdish Language and linguistic studies is the word Kurmanjí. Although many Kurdish words is relatively easy to identify and breakdown to its historical roots but no one has been able to logically present any etymological representation for the word Kurmanjí. 

I have been looking for an answer and done laods of research. I have queried many experts in Kurdish linguistic but no one is certain about the root of this term in Kurdish. In fact many stated that the term Kurmanj is one of the great puzzle in Kurdish history/linguistic. 

Among Kurdologist who has tried to breakdown the term Kurmanjí, names such as V. Minorsky and Muhammad Amin Zaki Bag are noted. Reading their views I have come to believe that the term Kurmanj does not have a Kurdish root and we need to look into history of languages such as Assyrian, Armenian, Greek and Mongolian and their influence on Kurdish terminology. 

Here I have initiated this discussion to collect as much information as possible. Please let me know what your logical explanation is. 

- Alfabéygí Yekgirig/Yekgirtú careseri bineyíg erra girifteyli zuwani Kurdí ye!
- "We must become the change we want to see" [quote: Mahatma Gandhi]

Admin's picture
Joined: 7 May 2008
Anonymous contribution via e-mail

The final "j" is superfluous addition. So, it is Kurmaan that should be the subject of study, not Kurmaanj. It is good to remember that by 1850s, the name Kurmanj had almost totally replaced "Kurd" It is amazing the term Kurd was revived, because very few, and then only in extreme south, called themselves Kurds by 1850s. From Anatolia to Caucasus, from Garmiyan to Khurasan, they all called themselves Kurmanj! Kurd was almost history. Only the Kurds in extreme southern Kurdistan--the old heartland of Media, still called themselves Kurds!  It is interesting to note that Bitlisi, although he considers the "Kurmanj" as one of the four subdivisions of the Kurd, he nearly lumps four-fifths of the Kurds under the Kurmanj rubric when he lists the other three as being, the Guran, the Kalhur and Lur/Lak--all of whom being concentrated in district of May/Mah--the old heartland of Media, in the Hamadan-Kirmanshah-Khanaqin axes. All others were put under the rubric "Kurmanj" by him in 1597!

The term Kurd  came back from near death only because of the events in 1848 and 1867 in Ottomania and Persia (destruction of Kurdish independence and/or autonomy) that awakened the 'Kurdish' intelligentsia to the dire state of their nation and the need for its preservation and revival. The poetic/academic term "Kurd" was fully revived and oddly, replaced "Kurmaanj" in all literature. It is the term Kurmaanj that now needs to struggle for survival as the term "Kurd" is marching on to replace it and all other designators for the unifying 'Kurdish Nation'.

No, there is no relationship between Kirman and Kirmanshah. They are just homophones (meaning, they sound the same, but are not related). Carmania (Kirman) was around by the same name at the time of the Achaemenids. 

I am slowly being convinced that Kurmaanj is a parallel to Turkmaan, with the element "maan" being the same in both, derived from Persian (and Kurdish), standing for "quasi-" "-like." When the Turkmaan showed up in southwest Asia, they had the culture and behavior of the "Turk", but no quite. So, they were called quasi-Turk (or Turk+maan) by the Iranics. The Kurmanj, when they burst out of the Hakkari Heights, may just have resembled Kurds in their mountain habitats and their habits,  but not totally, whence the same compound: Kurd+man, i.e., "quasi-Kurd," "Kurd-like". The terminal j in the name is superfluous addition, common to this part of the world. Logically, it also makes sense, because at the time of their inception, the Kurd+maan/ Kurmanj were hardly referred to as Kurds. In fact, until the 20th century, they refused calling themselves Kurds, while the outsiders did. The Turkmens of modern Turkmenistan call the Kurdish regions of Khurasan as "Kurdistan"! That is fascinating. But what is more fascinating, is that no one in that Khurasani "Kurdistan" called themselves Kurds, but only "Kurmanj." The voluminous works of Safi-zadah Buraka'i on the Kurds of Khurasan are good sources to consult on this.

It would settle this issue once and for all, if we were to find a written record of this people being called Kurdman (with the medial "d" still preserved), then it will be solved. Until such time,  however, this should remain just a theory.

Admin's picture
Joined: 7 May 2008
Mad changed in to Mang, Mas

This section from the article (Kurdistan: Toward a Cultural-Historical Definition) is related to this topic. please read..

"Hence, some Kurdologists, such as Soane and the late Kurdish scholar Taufiq Wahbi, believe that the present appellation of Kurdmanji is a combination of the name Kurd and Mad. Soane writes (1913:xi):

Kurdmanji, a word probably originally kurdmahi (many words ending in or a or in ah in old Persian appear in Kurdish as ang or inj), and the syllable mah has been thought by some authorities to mean “Mede”… that theory here receives strong and unexplained confirmation, for the peculiarity of the name of the race itself had up to the present remained undetected.

Wahbi (1965) argues that after the Sassanid period the name Mad changed in to Mang, Mas, and in the Islamic period into Mah. Then the name gradually disappeared but the people survived. The Parthian King Ardashiri Papakan considered the conquest of the Medes as his greatest enterprise, and he mentions the Medes and the Kurds together as one nation. According to Wahbi, until the 6th century A.D. the Kurds and Mad were mentioned as one people. Then, probably the name Kurd gradually assimilated the name Mad to create the new word Kurdmad- Kurdmah- Kurdmanj.

According to Minorsky (1923:1134): about the period of the Arab conquest a single ethnical term Kurd (plural Akrad ) was beginning to be applied to an amalgamation of Iranicised tribes . Among the latter some were autoch- thonous… some were Semits… and some probably Armenian."

The whole article is accessed here (Click to view)

zimanzan's picture
Joined: 16 Sep 2008
Etymology of "Kurmanj": Exploring the Origins of Kurdish

The term "Kurmanj" is what the bulk of Kurds may refer to themselves. It's a sort of an alternative national name, something to gratify Kurds within their privacy while singing a folklore Kurdish song before all those firm mountains and their snowcaps scrapping the Mediterranean clouds.

As a general knowledge, we all are aware that Northern Kurdish speakers, namely Kurmanjí speakers who comprise the largest Kurdish linguistic group, alternatively refer to themselves as "Kurmanj" or "Kormanj" (used by Khorasani Kurds in Northeastern Iran). Also Central speakers, Soraní ones, pronounce the term as "Kirmanj" and apply it to nomad or rustic people in a general sense. It's while the Eastern Soraní speakers, particularly those of Erdellan region, use the term "Kirmanj" in order to name their northern Soraní speaking neighbors of Mukryan region. Besides these, the central Zaza speakers resolutely refer to themselves as "Kirmanj". The varieties of this term as follows:

Northern: kurmanj, kormanj (Khorasani Kurdish), kurmanc (name of a mountain)

Central: kirmanj

Zaza: kirmanj

However the term is still kind of unfamiliar within the Orient, but it received a pretty good scale of western attention no sooner than the last century. That was because the modern scholars got acquainted with Kurdish language through Ottomans and later Turkey, wherein nine persons out of per ten Kurds speak Kurmanjí for sure. I should confess this acquaintance cannot be considered as a fortunate one since it ushered into such a misleading that made most western linguists to blunder by giving the general sense of "Kurdish" to "Kurmanjí". They exactly slipped up and reckoned their theories and articles on Kurdish language without Southern and Central dialects.

One of the first assumptions about the etymology of "Kurmanj" tells on a probable proto form "Kurdmanj". Then explains that it consists of two words: "Kurd" and "manj". The first one is clear but the second one should be an altered type of "majh" ~ "Pre-Islam Iranian clerics with sorts of magical power", as the assumption asserts. Therefore the term "Kurmanj" or "Kurdmanj" should be representing a "sacred clergy class amongst Kurds". But it ain't going to match with the reality anyways. First there are no explanations how come the Soraní speakers drop the "-u-" in "Kurd-"* and started off pronouncing it as "Kir-" without the faintest trace of spelling "Kurd" as "Kird" in all Central and Southern dialects. Also the suggested definition doesn’t make sense at all. It tells on "the clergy class" whilst the "Kurmanjí" speaking Kurds were chiefly nomads with a tough tribal society. And this reality about their lifestyle just coincides with the Central significance of "Kurmanj": "nomad Kurds". Also as an obvious fact in this case it's evidently Northern dialect which has changed the original "Kirmanj" to "Kurmanj". Since an at hand but famous example tells us: Northern "kurm", "qurm" ~ "worm", while Central and Southern "kirm" (also Persian "kérm").

The other hypothesis about etymology of "Kurmanj" proposes a "Kirman-j" combination and the all it adds on "Kirman-" is just a wondering whether it has to do something with the Iranian city of "Krmana", (modern "Kerman") mentioned in the Achaemenid inscriptions, or not.

For me it sounded more reasonable than the earlier assumption. I tried many thoughts and ideas in order to disclose its mystery. I even attempted to research probable connections between "Kurmanj" and another term with an obscure root: "German". However the lack of proper information debarred me from going too far in that case.

I should recite that during inquiring the etymology of "Kurmanj"/"Kirmanj" I was prosecuting my work on etymology of Kurdish lexical treasure. And I was getting exhausted of distinguishing Kurdish words and linguistic features which either seemed closer to the Southwestern Iranian characteristics or mostly you had to explain them entirely outside of Northwestern and Southwestern definitions. The features and words belonging to the later matter were completely amazing and those which were resembling Southwestern characteristics didn’t seem to be wholly borrowed from Persian. They mainly sounded inherent features rather than foreign loans. Also I couldn’t appease my sense of curiosity by telling myself the story of "Northwesternness" and "Southwesternness". Since I believe it's just an implausible excuse to explain the dissent between the conventional linguistic believes and the reality of Iranian speeches.

Meanwhile I was incrementally getting aware of the exclusive likenesses between Kurdish (its all speeches) and Northeastern Iranian languages (such as Bactrian, Sogdian, etc.). This just led to a wider horizon as soon as I recognized the incredible similarity between Kurdish and Khotanese Scythian. The likenesses between these two, which I am going to talk about em in another topic, are too interesting and fully amazing.

But I still couldn’t realize what must connect Kurds with Scythians in that incredible manner? Thinking on it just helped me to discern the scintilla that a Kirmanshani friend of mine gave me: in our conversation I willfully asked him about the Southern Kurdish sub-dialects, namely Kelhúrí, Gerrusí, Pehlí (Feylí), Lekí, Zengene, etc. and harped on Kurdish language as I always do. A usual trouble which every single individual has to deal with in case of writing about Southern Kurdish sub-dialects is that there is no certain general name to refer to them as. Local Kurdish scholars used to refer to these sub-dialects as "Goraní" or "Gúraní" but it became a confounding term as soon as the western scholars titled Hewramí Kurdish and its relative speeches and dialects as "Goraní" (since Kurds conventionally call a kind of archaic Kurdish poetry as "Goraní" which benefits from a speech similar to Hewramí for the sake of inditing). Thereafter we always have trouble to name the mentioned Southern sub-dialects in a proper manner. But that Kirmanshaní friend just told me the most precious term I could ever anticipate: "Well, yes I am also introduced with other Southern sub-dialects: Kelhúrí, Gerrusí, Ílamí, Lekí, Zengene, Feylí, Xaneqíní, or as we use to refer to them generally "Kirmajhí""

It was really exciting to hear it. At first I hastily assumed that it might be a distorted form of a possible "Kirmanjhí". But when I measured it rationally I figured out it's impossible to assume that it's derived from "Kirmanjhí". Because if "Kirmanjhí" is going to be another form of "Kirmanjí" and "Kurmanjí", with a probable change of "j" > "jh", so what for the Northern sub-dialects which are stubbornly apt to change "j" > "jh" didn’t change it that way? Why still "Kirmanj" and "Kurmanj" are the predominant spellings over the populous territories of Northern and Central dialects and there is not any noticeable trace of "Kirmanjh"?

I got the final answer when I turn the pages of my motherland's history once again. Specially those chapters pertaining to Scythian tribes that left their homeland somewhere in the Volga steps and roamed all the way till to intrude the ancient land of Hurrians. We can read about their loots within Hittite cities and other Anatolian places, and their temporary alliance with Assyrians, or fraternizing with their Iranian cousins: Medes. The most interesting and well-known part of Scythian waves is what Assyrians and Georgians refer to as "Gimer"*. They didn’t leave a good impression on the minds of Anatolian people of the ancient times. So that they received the sense of "residents of the darkling land" or "Cimmerians" in the western literature!

The last thing we can read about them is that they never ever showed up again in the history. It would be the most puerile thing if we considered they disappeared just like that! For sure they didn’t suddenly vanish neither got on an alien spaceship probably to try a spatial-pillage! They just instilled into the body of the western Medes. After that there raises a new nation which is neither Mede nor Scythian, but a blend of them with a pre-Aryan background pertaining to Hurrians: Kurds.

However there are not too much stuffs about Scythian/Cimmerian language but the Khotanese Scythian (a type of Scythian spoken in ancient Khotan ~ modern Chinese Turkistan) texts evidence that the modern Kurdish speeches in some sorts are a unique relative of it as well as they explain those features of Kurdish which don’t match with Northwestern and Southwestern Iranian characteristics.

Also as someone mentioned before over the "Etymology Kirmashan" topic, the earliest Zoroastrian text, Karnamag-i Ardashir-i Babagan, points out a "Krma Khwaday" (in unified Kurdish letters: Kirma Xweday) that means "the Lord of Krma/Kirma" as the king of where we today call it "Kirmashan" (official Persian "Kermanshahan"). The term "Kirma" is they key. Something we can use to clue ourselves in figuring out the true etymology of "Kurmanj"/"Kirmanj". For sure no one can say it with any certainty that the varied forms such as "Kimeru"*, "Gimr"*, "Gimer"*, etc. are the true-local names which Cimmerians used to refer to themselves. These are all Greek, Assyrian or Georgian types which could be easily far from the original form (just compare the name "Cyrus" with its original form of "Kurosh", or "Achaemenid" with "Hakhamaenesh" ). I try to say that the original form evidently should be a "Kirma" as the Zoroastrian text along with modern Kurdish national names and toponyms vouch for it.

From "Kirme" To "Kirmanj"

The Old Iranian "cít" has an alternative function in Iranian language. That's to say besides being used in meaning of "too/ also", it also acts as a suffix indicating the state of pertaining to something. In Northernwestern Iranian languages it appears as "-sh" (archaic Daylami); "-íj" (Mazandarani, Gilaki, southern Talyshi), "-ijh" (Northern Talyshi, Sangsari), "-jí" (Central dialects), and surprisingly "-cí" (only northern Gilaki dialect of Anzali). The above mentioned are almost used merely in order to indicate belonging to a place: "Enzelící" ~ "from Anzal"; "Enberunijh" ~ "from Anbaran", "Rají" ~ "from Rey". The same thing also appears in Zaza: Southern "-ijh", Central "-ij", and Northern "-iz".

In modern Kurmanji, Sorani, and Southern dialects it appears to connect something to another. Sorts of the same role as English "-ish" I could example. It appears as either "-ijh" or "-ish": e.g. pakish, paqijh ~ "clean", from "pak" and "-ish", "-ijh". Also it shows up in the famous Kurdish suffix: "-íshk" (like in "keníshk" ~ "girl") which is the modern form of Old Iranian "cít-eke").

So the term "Kirma" receives this suffix and becomes "Kirmajh" which you can still find it amongst Southern speakers. There is another Kurdish feature which is exclusively Kurdish: "jh" > "nj". It appears in some words: tanjí < tajhí ~ greyhound; dirinj < dirijh ~ from Old Iranian "diruj" ~ "demon". Therefore we get the term "Kirmanj" which later undergoes a Northern change of "kirm-" into "kurm-" and becomes "Kurmanj". It retains the former shape in the Zaza speech however. It's worthy of mention that we can speculate the etymology of "Crimea", an ancient dwelling of Cimmerians, in the same way. So far the only etymology for "Crimea" is a Tatar "Qirim" ~ "my hill" which is too simple to be taken serious.

The term "Kirmanshan" however could be originally "Kirman-Shahan", the first one which consists of "Kirman" ~ "Kirm(a)-an" (like "Sor-an", "Hewram-an", "Gor-an", "Eyr-an" ~ "Iran" etc.), as the official Persian name confirms too. The other pronunciation "Kirmashan" must be a dropping of the middle "-n-" due to the final one. The later form of "Kirmasha" is either dropped a middle "-n-" from original "Kirmanshah" or occasionally lost the final "-n" (as also happens in Lekí accents, and a phenomenon among Luri dialects).

There is another noticeable toponym, a place not too far from Kirmanshan, named "Kirmend" which is comprised of "Kirm-" and "-ente".

By the way the Scythian invasion toward Kurdistan left linguistic impacts besides ethnic one, which owe both fortunate and unfortunate consequences. These linguistic impacts later enhanced during the Parthian reign and the introduction of Parthian as the official language: diversities between Kurdish speeches. The contemporary Kurmanjí, Soraní, and Southern speakers who speak the same language from a linguistic outlook, seem to speak a variety closer to that of Scythians. It's just my initial hypothesis. At least they have kept the second national title, Kirmanj, in a wider range. More inquiries are required over this issue. But for beginning this knowledge can be really helpful in case of reconstructing the Proto Kurdish language.

By the way according to the above I prefer to classify Kurdish speeches into two major groups:

Kirmanjí* group:

Northern Kirmanjí or Kurmanjí

Central Kirmanjí or Soraní

Southern Kirmanjí or Kirmajhí

Pehlewaní group:

Goraní ? : Hewramí, Gúraní, Kakeí, Shebekí, Síwendí, etc.

Zaza**? : Southern or Dimbúlí, Central or Kirmanjkí, and Northern or Aléví

(Kirmanjí*: since the wide and extensive use of "-nj" instead original "-jh", I suggest to admit it

Zaza**: this is allegedly a scornful term of Armenian origin without any reasonable etymologies outside of that. Unfortunately this silly and disrespectful term has received a huge attention thru articles of misunderstood scholars and continuous efforts of some malevolent fellows over Turkey and their nerd moles)

I will remark the Scythian (which I believe is related with Cimmerian speech) elements in the Modern Kurdish speeches in an independent topic.

Blessed Are The Meek

Hesen's picture
Joined: 21 Aug 2008
My theory

My theory is, that Kurmanji comes from this developing:

Kerman > Kirman > Kurman

Only this "j" is a mystery. I Think the variant "Kirmanj" is older, also Alevi Zazas call themselve "Kirmanj".

Some linguists like Jost Gippert call the langauge group which includes Kurdish "Kermani".

DRoshani's picture
Joined: 9 May 2008

It is hard to follow folk etymology ( as a historical evidence. I can not imagine that the word Kurmanjí has not changes over the centuries. We can assume that the word is the same since it was created or adopted. One should not forget that coining word a 20 centuries phenomena before that people repeated words over long period before it found its place. Now you can imagine for nation without written history how words has travelled and changed face.

If the theory of Kerman ( is real then you need to look at role of Ardeshir I, founder of the Sassanid Empire and his relation with choosing the word Kerman. Did he call the city Kerman right from the beginning? or tody's name has been evolved out of something else?

Can it refer to Karewancí, people who led the Caravans through the mountains? Can we explore the root in other languages? Why do we assume it has Kurdish roots?

- Alfabéygí Yekgirig/Yekgirtú careseri bineyíg erra girifteyli zuwani Kurdí ye!
- "We must become the change we want to see" [quote: Mahatma Gandhi]