Essays on Kurds

Historiography, Orality, and Nationalism

by Amir Hassanpour (Author)
Monographs XX, 346 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Tables
  • Foreword: The Renewal of Kurdish Studies
  • Acknowledgments
  • PART I Historiography and Orality: Theory and Method
  • 1 Orality and Nationalism
  • 2 The Absence of Peasant Revolts in the Middle EastA Historiographic Myth
  • PART II Language and Cultural Rights
  • 3 The Politics of A-political LinguisticsLinguists and Linguicide
  • 4 The Indivisibility of the Nation and Its Linguistic Divisions
  • 5 The Making of Kurdish IdentityPre-twentieth-century Historical and Literary Sources
  • 6 Language Rights in the Emerging World Linguistic OrderThe State, The Market, and Communication Technologies
  • 7 Diaspora, Homeland, and Communication Technologies
  • 8 Satellite Footprints as National BorderMED-TV and the Extraterritoriality of State Sovereignty
  • PART III Gender and Cultural Relations
  • 9 Nation and Nationalism
  • 10 The (Re)production of Patriarchy in the Kurdish Language1
  • 11 “The Morning of Freedom Rose Up” Kurdish Popular Song and the Exigencies of Cultural Survival1
  • 12 Wanderings in “Adalar Sahilinde”
  • References
  • Index


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

About the author

Amir Hassanpour (1943–2017) is a renowned Marxist scholar of Kurdish Studies. He received his PhD in Communication Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He taught at the universities of Windsor and Concordia before joining the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, Canada. He was a prolific author, a popular teacher, and a Marxist revolutionary thinker who left us a rich body of knowledge to rethink and rebuild theories of culture and language rights, nationalism and class struggle, and the politics of resistance movements in the Middle East.

About the book

The essays in this collection offer robust theoretical analysis of language and cultural rights, class and gender, policy and politics, history and historiography, nation and nationalism, and Marxism. They continue to remain original to a vast array of debates and contestations in these areas. The book includes unpublished pieces and some key contributions that are most relevant to the contemporary debates on theory and method of nation/nationalism, and the struggle of national minorities for sovereignty, cultural and political rights. Each chapter provides original data and are written over a span of decades, but significantly, they offer a radical break with the colonial, orientalist, and nationalist traditions of knowledge production. This book is an exemplary exploration of nation and nationalism in a Marxist dialectical, historical materialism.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

←x | xi→

Foreword: The Renewal of Kurdish Studies

The new book series, Kurds: Politics, History and People, is initiated at an auspicious time. Today, there are unprecedented levels of Kurdish scholarly activity including book publishing, journal articles, handbooks, conferences, course offerings, and doctoral and master level theses. Social media-based productions such as podcasts, weblogs, websites, and TV and radio programs have populated digital highways. Artists have been equally prolific in film, theatre, and musical productions as well as in the realm of literature and creative arts. As such, one can argue that there currently is a transnational knowledge explosion in Kurdish studies in comparison to two decades ago. Despite the recentness of this increase in knowledge, its impact is already palpable in the range of debates that it has provoked. Kurdish studies seeks to reconfigure itself so as to overcome the theoretical and political limitations of Orientalist, masculinist, or colonialist approaches in which Kurdish people, history, and politics are often tribalized, primordialized, and homogenized and social differences such as gender and class are erased in order to congeal the unity of the nation. Scholars of Kurdish and non-Kurdish origin are vigorously involved in this remaking of Kurdish studies.

This book series also commences during a globally volatile period in which the Middle East region is densely implicated. Globally, conservative forces are on the rise and religious and secular authoritarianism is increasingly becoming ←xi | xii→the dominant mode of governance. The capitalist economy is fueling wars and is dispossessing and displacing people across the region and throughout the world. Yet again Kurds are dispersed across borders and Kurdish women’s lives are in the crossfire of patriarchal forces. Even under these harsh conditions, Kurdish knowledge production is thriving. The forced exile of Kurdish intellectuals from the region—and in particular from Turkey—into Europe and North America has created an opportunity for younger scholars to engage with key current theoretical debates on nation/nationalism, indigeneity/ethnicity, (de)colonization/(anti)colonization, feminism/queer/nationalism, and matters related to genocide, borders, space, community, solidarity, language, and collectivity. These scholars can initiate a rigorous theoretical conversation with other area studies (in particular with Iranian, Turkish, Palestinian, and Arab studies) on ways to de-Orientalize and decolonialize area studies. At the same time, they can challenge themselves to think through the epistemology and methodology of Kurdish Studies in order to problematize the land (Kurdistan), the people/nation (the Kurds) and so their lives and struggles, their forms of resistance and organizing, notions of nationhood and sovereignty as a nation mostly on the move (dispersal, diaspora), incarcerated, exiled, subject to genocide, and often the target of centralist state atrocities. There are many young male and female Kurdish politicians, scholars, teachers, students, or artists who are currently languishing in Turkish or Iranian prisons. Under these transnational conditions, perhaps we should ask how to study “Kurds” not as part of some “Kurdish question,” but as an answer to crucial questions of how to free the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region from local and transnational forces of subjugating patriarchal capitalism.

It is important to note that European languages no longer dominate the proliferation of Kurdish knowledge production. In spite of cultural and linguistic suppression on the part of dominant nation-states, written materials in both Sorani and Kurmanji, the dialects of the Kurdish language, are also thriving. This includes, for example, the rising number of papers by Kurdish students on university campuses in Rojhalat (the Kurdish region of Iran) and the increasing number of journals, magazines, and publishing houses both there and in Başûrê (the Kurdish region of Iraq).

The renewal of Kurdish studies is a form of resistance and defiance, though not all that is produced is oppositional. Orientalism, sexism, and political conservatism still loom large in Kurdish studies. I accepted the invitation to be the series editor on the basis of this broad understanding of the status of Kurdish studies. As a non-Kurd scholar of Kurdish studies, in particular as a Marxist feminist, I have a deep theoretical and political connection to the struggle of the ←xii | xiii→Kurds. In recent years my work on Marxist feminist theorization of revolutionary consciousness, learning, and organizing has been a ground for revisiting the key questions of gender, nation, class, sovereignty, and autonomy as well as matters related to identity, indigeneity, and ethnicity. This theoretical approach, for example, has shaped my analysis of the case of Rojava (the Kurdish region of Syria), in particular the role of women in the resistance movement against theocratic, capitalist, and autocratic patriarchal forces. The rapid political changes and shifts in the political power structure in the region demands a serious analysis rather than impressionistic or journalistic accounts—which abound—or the traditional theorization which relies heavily on theories of Cold War international politics or militarized masculinity. The complexity of the lives of Kurds, constrained within the internal and external boundaries of gender, nation, class, culture, and capitalist imperialism, deserve sophisticated theoretical and methodological analysis.

The acceptance of the editorial role coincided with a huge loss in my life. Professor Amir Hassanpour, my life partner, colleague, and comrade suddenly succumbed to his illness. Amir’s absence is deeply personal for me, and his intellectual absence is widely felt and shared by many. Thus, I took this role to follow Amir’s dialectical path of continuity and discontinuity in knowledge production—that is, to historicize, materialize, and be methodical in producing knowledge, but then to revisit and renew theoretical and conceptual scaffoldings through the lens of Marx’s “ruthless criticism.” He passionately, consistently, and politically adhered to this frame of analysis. Therefore, I was delighted when the editorial board of Peter Lang Publishing accepted my proposal to inaugurate the series with a collection of Amir’s writings, writings that he was planning on publishing in order to make his influential pieces widely available in an anthology format. Rereading, formatting, and editing the chapters that are included in this anthology was a sorrowful joy of coming to know again about the life of a renowned Kurdish scholar who had an unwavering commitment to understanding and explaining the troubled life of the Kurdish people and their history, culture, and politics. Below, I quote at length Amir’s affable words in a proposal he wrote entitled “The Protection of the Kurdish Cultural Heritage” for an archival project which never got off the ground due to budgetary and political constraints. He wrote:

This is a project to collect, document, preserve, restore, and make available the rich cultural heritage of the Kurds, which is predominantly oral but has been subjected to censorship and repression throughout much of the twentieth century.…The goals of the project are: (1) to collect what is already recorded and kept in private possession or available in some Western archives; (2) to record ←xiii | xiv→oral poetry, ballads, stories, riddles, and other forms of verbal art, which are in the process of decline due to changing conditions of life in the region, including war, displacement (of rural populations), forced urbanization, and the advent of new communication technologies such as satellite television and the internet; (3) encouraging oral historical studies; (4) to make these material available to researchers, cultural activists, musicians and anyone interested; (5) to promote research and publishing on oral traditions; and (6) to cooperate and contribute to the collection and study of the oral traditions of other peoples living in Kurdistan, such as Armenians, Assyrians, and Jews, whose verbal art has not been collected or has been suppressed.…

Over the past 100 years, most nations have taken steps to recognize and protect their national cultural heritage. These measures include the development and support of relevant research and teaching and, in particular, the establishment of facilitates to collect, preserve, restore, study, teach, and otherwise make accessible their national heritage in the domains of the traditional arts, crafts, oral literature, music, and dance. These expressions of a people’s identity are highly valued but are always threatened in their existence because they depend on knowledgeable and willing individuals (performers) for realization and transmission.…For the Kurdish nation, the case is particularly important and urgent.…There is now no central institution that could serve to collect, preserve, restore, study, and make accessible the national heritage of all Kurds in the domain of the traditional arts, in particular, oral literature, music, and dance.…It is imperative that the comprehensive collection and maintenance of the Kurdish national cultural heritage be centralized and put into professional hands.…The establishment of such a central institution is urgent because, due to the effects of linguicidal and ethnocidal policies, and violence in some countries where Kurds live, the living practice of the national Kurdish cultural heritage is seriously threatened.…

The collection of Amir’s writings in this book directly address and theorize the themes articulated in this unachieved project, such as historiography, orality, linguicide, cultural rights, cultural survival, dispersal and diaspora, and the making of Kurdish identity. He always reminds us that nation and nationalism are political, historical, and cultural theoretical categories and praxes. Therefore, they are not free from or independent of social relations of gender, class, race, sexuality, and all the other social fragments constituting the social whole.

←xiv |

This Book

The book consists of previously published and unpublished writings of Professor Hassanpour. They were written over a span of decades as a “living archive” of the Kurdish people, their history, culture, and struggle. In this book they are organized thematically: “Historiography and Orality: Theory and Method;” “Language and Cultural Rights;” and “Gender and Cultural Relations.” Here again I resort to one of Amir’s unpublished notes as he reflects on the status of Kurdish historiography that is not “conscious of class and gender and other internal contradictions of Kurdish society.” He states:


XX, 346
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XX, 346 pp., 8 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Amir Hassanpour (Author)

Amir Hassanpour (1943–2017) is a renowned Marxist scholar of Kurdish Studies. He received his PhD in Communication Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He taught at the universities of Windsor and Concordia before joining the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, Canada. He was a prolific author, a popular teacher, and a Marxist revolutionary thinker who left us a rich body of knowledge to rethink and rebuild theories of culture and language rights, nationalism and class struggle, and the politics of resistance movements in the Middle East.


Title: Essays on Kurds