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Essays on Kurds

Historiography, Orality, and Nationalism


Amir Hassanpour

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 The book includes unpublished pieces and some key contributions that are most relevant to the contemporary debates on theory and method of nation/nationalism, and the struggle of national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.

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4 The Indivisibility of the Nation and Its Linguistic Divisions



In his well-known article entitled “Dialect, Language, Nation,” Einar Haugen noted that “the French revolutionaries passed a resolution condemning the dialects as a remnant of feudal society. The dialects, at least if they threaten to become languages, are potentially disruptive forces in a unified nation; they appeal to local loyalties, which could conceivably come into conflict with national loyalty” (1966, 928). While the Kurdish nationalists of the twentieth century were not as radical as their French predecessors in opposing feudalism, they have not wavered in rejecting dialect divisions and equating national unity with the unity of language.

Kurdish is made up of at least four “geographic dialect” groups, which are sometimes labeled according to their location in Northern, Central, and Southern Kurdistan. Before the rise of Kurdish nationalism in the twentieth century, the geographic fragmentation of the language was not seen as a problem. The dialects were not politically or socially hierarchized into, for instance, literary and spoken, standard and vernacular, official and non-official, urban and rural, or su←81 | 82→perior and inferior. Linguistic and literary heterogeneity was, in fact, the norm in prenationalist Kurdistan before the twentieth century; dialect divisions were not seen as an obstacle to Kurdish unity insofar as political, linguistic, and cultural fragmentation was the order of the day in the predominantly rural feudal society. Two dialects, Kurmanji and Hawrami, had begun literary life independently in the sixteenth century followed by a third one, Sorani, in the nineteenth century. Even the transition from...

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