The Political and Cultural History of the Kurds

by Amir Harrak (Volume editor)
©2022 Monographs XX, 272 Pages


This volume, a contribution to the emergent interdisciplinary field of Kurdish Studies, is an engagement with the politics, culture and history of the Kurds. Sections of the book treat the Kurds in medieval and modern history, including the contemporary ‘Arab Spring’, as well as their language, culture and geography and historiographical issues. Individual chapters focus on the rich cultural history of the Kurds, their language, literary history, their political struggle for self-determination and the participation of women in the resistance movement, and on the encounters of missionaries with Kurdish society as well as on the poetics and politics of the Kurds and Palestinians. The first section examines the contribution to Kurdish scholarship of Professor Amir Hassanpour to Kurdish scholarship, and this anthology is dedicated to his memory. Professor Hassanpour was a prominent Marxist scholar whose revolutionary commitment to preserve, enrich and expand Kurdish history, culture and struggle is inspirational.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword by Timothy P. Harrison
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contributors
  • Chapter One: A Revolutionary Commitment: Amir Hassanpour’s Vision and Achievement in the Preservation of Kurdish History, Culture and Struggle (Blair Kuntz, Daniela Ansovini and Mahdi Ganjavi)
  • Chapter Two: The Kurd and the Wind: The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian–Kurdish Affiliation (Abdel Razzaq Takriti)
  • Chapter Three: Kurds and the State in Modern Syria (James A. Reilly)
  • Chapter Four: Sub-state Actors and U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: The Case of Kurdish Forces in Iraq and Syria (Hashem M. Karami and David Romano)
  • Chapter Five: ‘Fighting Side by Side with their Men’: The Mount Ararat Uprising and the Erasures of (Some) Histories of Women’s Resistance (Susan Benson-Sokmen)
  • Chapter Six: Kurdish Historiography and Missionary Eyewitness Accounts of Kurdish Society and Culture in the Hattari Mountains and in the Headwaters of the Euphrates and Zab Rivers (Thomas M. Ricks)
  • Chapter Seven: Vedikim vs. Divekim: More on Neo-Aramaic Influence on Kurdish (Michael L. Chyet)
  • Chapter Eight: New Sources on the Memory of Saladin in Islamic History: An Explorative Essay into the Arabic Chronicles of the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period (Fadi Ragheb)
  • Chapter Nine: ‘Aqra of Iraqi Kurdistan: Its Geography and History in Cuneiform, Greek, Latin, Syriac and Arabic Sources (Amir Harrak)
  • Index

←vi | vii→


Amir Hassanpour was a widely respected scholar of the Kurdish language, its literature, culture and history, and a dearly beloved colleague and mentor to many. It is therefore only fitting and appropriate that this memorial volume should come together in his honour. The assembled papers, written by both colleagues and former students, reflect the wide-ranging scope of Amir’s scholarship and serve as an eloquent testimony to his impact on the field of Kurdish studies. They also make a compelling case for the scholarly importance of the field, long relegated to the academic margins of Middle Eastern studies, and the significance of this scholarship, both on its own terms, as a celebration of the rich cultural legacy and vibrant intellectual life of the Kurdish community, and in comparative and contextual perspective, as a vital part of the complex tapestry of contested histories and identities that comprise the modern Middle East of today.

Professor Hassanpour joined the faculty of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto in 1999, and he was an active member of the department until his retirement in 2009, after which he continued to maintain an energetic presence in the community until his death in 2017.1 Professor Hassanpour completed his doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989. His dissertation resulted in a widely influential publication, Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan, 1918–1985 (1992), a pioneering study of the role of the Kurdish language in fostering a Kurdish national identity, and the first such study by a Kurdish scholar. This was followed ←vii | viii→by a series of writings on orality, historiography and Kurdish culture that have been posthumously published, and some were reprinted in Essays on Kurds: Historiography, Orality, and Nationalism (2020). These contributions further cemented Amir’s standing as a leading authority on the Kurdish language and its fundamental importance in preserving Kurdish literature and culture. The themes introduced in these two volumes were further developed in ten lengthy articles, which collectively also provided a near-comprehensive multilingual bibliography of the Kurdish language, and they continued to guide his scholarship over the remainder of his life.

Professor Hassanpour’s intellectual interests extended beyond the field of Kurdish studies as well. He was especially drawn to politically fraught and contested topics such as genocide, terrorism, human rights abuse, ethnic and gender violence – in particular, honour killings – and their devastating impacts on the cultural and socio-economic fabric of Middle Eastern communities. Amir tackled these issues at both a theoretical and an ‘applied’ level, engaging in passionate debate at academic conferences while challenging prevailing views on social media platforms and through interviews with public media. In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, counting only Western media, Amir was interviewed no less than 27 times!

Amir Hassanpour was also a dedicated teacher and mentor and universally popular with his students. The 2006 edition of Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities, for example, named him one of the most popular professors at the University of Toronto. Amir combined a tenacious commitment to social justice and the intellectual imperative to challenge conventional wisdom and the dominant narratives and discourses of our times, in particular, within the colonial legacy of western scholarship on the Middle East, with a profoundly generous, respectful and gentle human spirit. It is a rare combination in our discipline, and a powerful testimony to his fundamental humanity.

To honour his legacy, this volume brings together papers on the key themes that animated Amir Hassanpour’s lifetime of scholarship, ranging from Kurdish language and literature to history, from antiquity through the medieval period and modern times. Collectively, they provide a fitting tribute to a colleague and scholar who eschewed the elevated trappings and privilege of the academy, yet was held in highest esteem by his colleagues and students. It was a true honour to know Amir Hassanpour and to call him a colleague and friend. I trust this volume conveys in no small measure the deep admiration and respect his colleagues and students had for him.

Timothy P. Harrison

Toronto, 21 December 2020

←viii |


1.For a more thorough academic biography, see A. Harrak, ‘Professor Amir Hassanpour: A Writer, Educator, and Advisor’, Derwaze 2 (2018): 39–43.

←x | xi→


The appreciation of the late Prof. Amir Hassanpour by his colleagues, former students and scholars of Kurdish and cognate studies led to the publication of the present collective volume titled The Politics and Cultural History of the Kurds in the series Kurdish People, History and Politics, edited by Prof. Shahrzad Mojab, for Peter Lang Publishing.

I have first-hand experience of Amir’s vast knowledge and academic interests, not only with regard to Kurdish studies but also to minorities, human rights, gender violence and other related subjects. I participated in some of his classes when he asked me to talk to his students about Christian and Yezidi minorities in the various countries of the Middle East. He also helped me in divulging a nineteenth-century Kurdish grammar composed in Syriac, entitled Ṭūrās Mamlā (Grammar of the [Kurdish] Language). It was written by the monk Ablaḥad of Alqosh while he was living in Sulaimaniyya in Iraqi Kurdistan.1 This unique book, as Amir once told me, highlights the friendly relations that existed (and still exists) between the Kurds and their neighbours, the Chaldeans and Assyrian people. Part of its uniqueness is that it contains declensions and conjugations, a list of Kurdish vocabulary, translations into Kurdish of short passages from the New Testament and especially a long list of Kurdish sayings, questions and riddles. Amir put me in contact with Dr. Michael L. Chyet of the Library of Congress, who was working on this popular wisdom literature. Dr. Chyet was not aware of ←xi | xii→some of the sayings and riddles! It seems that this manuscript was composed for Christians who spoke only Kurdish in the east region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

I am thankful to all the contributors for their scholarly articles on Kurdish studies. Most of the chapters deal with recent political history of the Kurds and rightly so; the largest minority scattered in Iraq, Syria and Iran has no state of its own, and worse, experienced the consequences of several wars as in Iraq in the second part of the twentieth century. These articles are by James Reilly (University of Toronto) and Hashem M. Karami (University of Garmian) and David Romano (Missouri State University). One collectively written article pertains to archival materials that Amir donated to the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library; this is a unique collection of written material related to the Kurds now available for scholarly study, especially for doctoral dissertations. Another article by Abdel Razzaq Takriti (University of Houston) compares the Palestinian question and the one of the Kurds, both of whom are stateless. Although these nations ‘have nothing but the wind’, the freedom they fight for is the same in every land. An article by Suzan Benson-Sokmen resurrects the memories of Kurdish women fighters in the suppressed uprising on the ancient Mount Ararat between 1926 and 1931. One article by Thomas Risks, a long-time friend of Amir, revives the memories of American missionaries who established schools and hospitals for the Kurds and the Christians, especially in the north of Iran. Fadi Ragheb (University of Toronto) exploited historiographical sources to discuss the memory of Saladin, the famous Kurdish commander who defeated the Crusaders in Jerusalem, while another by Michael Chyet (the Library of Congress) tackles the grammar of the Kurdish language. Finally, one article covers the ancient, Hellenistic and medieval history of the city of Aqrah located in Iraqi Kurdistan.

I am grateful to Prof. Timothy Harrison, Chair of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, who financed the preparation and publication of the current volume, and I thank him also for his preface detailing Amir’s contributions and publications. The Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations devotes a yearly lecture on Kurdish and cognate studies in memory of Amir. The impression that Amir has left in this Department is so immense that three out of eight articles are written by members of this Department.

I am thankful to the copy editor Stephan Dobson for his insights while going through all the papers, and especially to Dr. Shahrzad Mojab, Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, who followed every step in the preparation of the present volume. She also graciously included this volume in the series that she edits for Peter Lang Publishing.

It is hoped that the present book with its various articles will advance our knowledge of the Kurds: their history, geography, society, language and culture, and – not least – political endeavours and struggles, as in Iraq and Syria. It is also ←xii | xiii→a token of appreciation of Amir Hassanpour who promoted Kurdish studies as an academic field in its own right.

Amir Harrak

8 January 2021


1.A. Harrak, Catalogue of Syriac and Garshuni Manuscripts: Manuscripts Owned by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities and Heritage, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Subsidia, 126 (Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 28–34; see also A. Harrak, ‘Kurdish Garshuni in a 19th Century Syriac Manuscript’, in Scripts Beyond Borders: A Survey of Allographic Traditions in the Euro-Mediterranean World, eds. Johannes den Heijer, Andrea B. Schmidt, and Tamar Pataridze (Louvain-la-Neuve: Publications de l’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 2013), Vol. 62, 135–50.

←xiv | xv→


Daniela Ansovini

Daniela Ansovini is the Private Records Archivist with the University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services (UTARMS), where she is responsible for the holdings of individuals and organizations affiliated with the University of Toronto. She received her MLIS from McGill University in 2012 and has worked in archival positions across academic, arts and community environments. An aspect of her current role is dedicated to revisioning the collections strategy for private records at UTARMS, which includes developing initiatives to further uncover the nuanced history of the institution and the diverse contributions of its many community members.

Susan Benson-Sokmen

Dr. Susan Benson-Sokmen is currently a sessional instructor at the University of Toronto-Mississauga in the Department of Historical Studies. She completed her PhD in history at the University of Toronto in 2019. She is currently working on transforming her dissertation into a book, tentatively titled Poetry of the Past: Resistance and Remembrance in the Kurdish Borderlands of the Modern Middle East. It is inspired by the unbounded geography and ongoing temporality of the commemoration of the Mount Ararat Uprising (1926–1931) in Doğubayazıt, Turkey; the ‘descendants’ of the Kurdish rebels reclaim the uprising’s non-state ←xv | xvi→sovereignties as they place it in current struggles for Kurdish and women’s liberation. The book project examines how Kurds reanimate past defeat in order to reclaim its emancipatory possibilities for the present.

Michael Chyet

Michael L. Chyet is a Cataloguer of Middle Eastern languages at the Library of Congress. Formerly he was Senior Broadcast Editor of the Kurdish Service of the Voice of America and professor of Kurdish at the University of Paris and at the Washington Kurdish Institute. Dr. Chyet also has a PhD in Middle Eastern Folklore and in Middle Eastern Languages from UC Berkeley. He is currently teaching Kurdish via Zoom for Missouri State University (MSU). He does some private tutoring in his spare time. The second edition of Dr. Chyet’s Kurdish–English dictionary, Ferhenga Birûskî, appeared in January 2020. He has also published several articles on Kurdish and Middle Eastern folklore and on the topic of Kurdish linguistics. Folklore genres of particular interest to him include riddles, proverbs, folktales and romances, while threatened minority languages, including Kurdish and the Neo-Aramaic languages of the Christian and Jewish minorities of Kurdistan, are of special interest to him. He has also studied Irish (Gaelic), Basque and Cherokee – his first Native American language.

Mahdi Ganjavi

Mahdi Ganjavi has a PhD from the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, University of Toronto. His research focuses on the cultural Cold War, post-World War II transnational history of book, print, translation and education, politics of archives and historiography in the contemporary Middle East. He is currently working on his book Education and the Cultural Cold War in the Middle East: The Franklin Book Programs in Iran (forthcoming with I.B. Tauris). Dr. Ganjavi obtained his Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto; a Master’s degree in International Law from the University of Tehran; and a Bachelor degree in law from the Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran. Building on his experience working on describing, translating and sorting Professor Amir Hassanpour’s fonds at the University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services (UTARMS), he is completing a Master’s degree in Information Studies at the University of Toronto with a focus on personal archives and archives in exile. Dr. Ganjavi is a former PEN-CANADA writer-in-residence at George Brown College. His translation of Paula Allman’s On Marx: An Introduction to the Revolutionary Intellect of Karl Marx has gone through several reprints in Iran. Ganjavi’s scholarly writings have appeared in the International Journal of Lifelong Education, Encyclopedia Iranica, Iranian Studies, and Review of the Middle East Studies.

←xvi |

Amir Harrak

Amir Harrak is professor of Aramaic and Syriac at the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, Canada. He is the Chief Editor of the Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies (Journal of the CSSS) and the founder and the current president of the CSSS. He has a doctorate in Assyriology from the University of Toronto and two Licence degrees in Art History and Oriental Philology from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. His latest publications include The Chronicle of Zuqnīn Parts 1–II from the Creation to the Year 506/7 AD (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2017); The Monastery of Mar Behnam à la période Atabeg – XIIIe S.: L’Art au Service de la Foi, Cahiers d’Études Syriaques 5 (Paris, France: Geuthner, 2018); The Chronicle of Michael the Great: Books XV–XXI (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2019).

Timothy Harrison

Professor Harrison is the current Chair of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto. He conducted over thirty-five years of archaeological field research in the Middle East, directed excavations at the Bronze and Iron Age site of Tall Madaba (Jordan) and is currently directing the Tayinat Archaeological Project on the Plain of Antioch in southeastern Turkey. In 2012, he launched the CRANE Project, an international consortium of researchers and projects conducting research in the Orontes Watershed and Eastern Mediterranean. Professor Harrison has published extensively on the Bronze and Iron Age cultures of the Levant, including four monographs and more than 140 articles and papers. He served as president of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the leading international professional association dedicated to the study of the cultures and history of the Middle East, between 2008 and 2013.

Hashem Karami

Hashem Karami is a PhD candidate of international relations at Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran. He has been a lecturer at the University of Garmian (Kurdistan Region-Iraq) since 2012. He received his MA degree at the University of Allameh Tabatabaei. His Master’s thesis, in Middle East and North African (MENA) Studies, focused on ‘The Geopolitics of the Iraqi Kurdistan’. His research interest focuses on Kurdish issues in the Middle East. Hashem has translated five books from English to Persian and/or Kurdish and has written several political columns in Persian and Kurdish. He has been a member of the editorial board of the online Politeia Journal since 2018, which focuses on the Kurdish issue.

←xvii |

Blair Kuntz

Blair Kuntz obtained an Honour’s Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and a Master of Library Science degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1984. He worked as a librarian for the Canadian federal government, Departments of the Environment and the Department of Canadian heritage. While he lived in the Middle East between 1996 and 2001, he studied Arabic as a foreign language at Balamand University in Lebanon and Birzeit University in Palestine. He also studied Turkish and Persian at the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto. He is now appointed at the Department of Metadata Services of John P. Robarts Library, University of Toronto, and works as a Liaison Librarian for Arabic and Near and Middle Eastern Studies. He has presented and published internationally a number of peer-reviewed papers in the fields of library science, foreign-language learning, peace and conflict studies, e-learning and cultural studies.

Fadi Ragheb


XX, 272
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XX, 272 pp., 3. b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Amir Harrak (Volume editor)

Amir Harrak is Professor of Aramaic and Syriac at the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, Canada. He is the Chief Editor of the Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies (Journal of the CSSS) and the founder and the current president of the CSSS. He has a doctorate in Assyriology from the University of Toronto and two Licence degrees in Art History and Oriental Philology from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. His latest publications include The Chronicle of Zuqnīn Parts I–II from the Creation to the Year 506/7 AD (2017); The Monastery of Mar Behnam à la période Atabeg – XIIIe S.: L’Art au Service de la Foi, Cahiers d’Études Syriaques 5 (2018); and The Chronicle of Michael the Syrian: Books XV–XXI (2019).


Title: The Political and Cultural History of the Kurds
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
294 pages