By Farhad Shakely
The Kurdish Globe
The situation of the Kurdish people and the concern for their liberation and freedom dominate to a large extent the epic of M&Z. The viewpoints of Khani in this regard and the message that he wanted to communicate to his people have been expressed in different ways, that we can classify as follows:
A. Parts that deal directly with the conditions of the Kurdish people, the political situation in Kurdistan at that time and refer to the possible horizons of the future. These parts can be described as political, in which Khani wrote entirely about political issues and the terms he used can be considered, if the time in which Khani lived is taken into consideration, political.
B. Parts that do not deal with political issues directly but the contents and aims of which, are in line with the the political views of Khani. These are the parts that deal with the Kurdish language, Kurdish literature, the anthropological aspects of Kurdish society and Kurdish history.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were crucial and hard times in the history of Kurdistan. Khani, who lived in the second half of 17th century and the beginning of 18th century, saw the results of the events and catastrophes that had taken place in Kurdistan and experienced them. The battle of Chaldiran between the Ottomans and the Safavids on 23rd August, 1514 A.D., ended with the defeat of the latter and resulted in the division of Kurdistan between the two empires. That division was the beginning of a long period full of tragedies and bitter experiences for the Kurdish people and its consequences have lasted up to the present day.
The appearance and development of several semi-independent Kurdish principalities, the continuous wars between the Ottomans and the Safavids and the fact that both sides used the Kurds against each other were characteristics of the situation then. In addition, the "official" borderlines were signed between the Safavid Shah Safiuddin and the Ottoman caliph Sultan Murad IV, in 1639 A.D., and led to the final official division of Kurdistan. The Ottomans did their best to use the Kurds in their wars against the Safavids, but, at the same time, they tried fiercely, to kindle rivalries among the Kurdish principalities themselves, lest they unite and potentially form a danger to their expansionist empire.
There were several principalities in Kurdistan at the time of Khani. It is obvious from his M&Z that he spent many years in the principality of Botan which was the most powerful Kurdish principality at the time.
In 1066 A.H. when Khani was still five years old, the great and powerful principality of Bidlis (also called Bitlis and Batlis) collapsed and te rule of the Bidlisi dynasty came to an end. This dynasty played a great role in the history of the Kurdish people; many prominent poets, statesmen and historians emerged from that family such as Mulla (or Hakin) Idris Bidlisi (d. 926 A.H.) who wrote the first history of the Ottoman empire, Hasht Bihisht (The Eight Paradises), and Sharaf Khan-I Bidlisi (1543-1604 A.D.) author of the famous history of the Kurds or the Sharafnama.
The Kurdish principalities were almost always divided and entered into violent rivalries against each other. For a Kurdish thinker like Khani, that situation manifested two different characteristics:
1. The miserable conditions of an occupied and divided country and an oppressed people.
2. The expectations that Kurdish rulers and princes would think of their country and the future of their people and would consequently try to unite in order to establish a united and strong state.
These were then the main characteristics of Kurdish nationalism as thought out by Ahmad-i Khani when he wrote his epic M&Z. he was the best one to express the conditions of his people in a literary way and the best representative of Kurdish nationalism at that hard and complicated period of the history of Kurdistan. C. J. Edmonds states: "Both before and after the suppression of the principalities there were frequent risings against one or other of the suzerain governments, in which the chiefs appealed to racial sentiments to rally their followers. Verses are quoted from the national epic Mam u Zin (the Kurdish Romeo and Juliet) of Ahmad-e Khani of Botan (1650-1706) as evidence that Kurdish nationalism has its roots deep in the past" 1.
Khani considered the main features of the circumstances in Kurdistan to be its occupation by both the Ottoman and the Safavid empires. Both empires turned Kurdistan into a battlefield and both spared no effort to destroy the country and humiliate its people. The greater part of Kurdistan was dominated by the Ottomans, particularly after the defeat of the Safavids in the battle of Chaldiran.
In spite of all that, Khani did not regard Kurdistan as part of any of these two empires. He regarded Kurdistan as an occupies country and the two empires as occupation powers.
Wars between the Ottomans and the Safavids lasted more than one century and brought about the destruction of Kurdistan. The empires, moreover, were
humiliating the Kurdish rulers and chieftains and were attacking them fiercely. The Safavids, under Shah 'Abbas II (1585-1628) fought against Amir Khan Yakdast, ruler of Biradost principality, who had built Qala-y Dimdim (Dimdim fortress) as his capital. The war lasted for several months, but, at the end (in 1017 A.H.), the Kurds, who ran out of ammunition and water, were defeated, but did not surrender. When the occupational army entered the castle they found that all the men were dead and the women had hanged or hurled themselves down the high walls of the castle lest they be taken captive by the enemy. There are now many folk songs composed about that tragic war and the bravery shown by the Kurds. The late Kurdish Soviet writer 'Arab-e Shamo, also called 'Arab Shamilov (1897-1978) based his novel Dimdim on the very event.2
1- Edmonds, C. J.: Kurdish Nationalism, The Journal of Contemporary History, 6 (1970), 2, pp. 88-89.
2- Shamo, 'Arab-e: Dimdim, Moscow, Sovetskii pisatel 1974. This book also was translated into Kurdish, Baghdad 1976.