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Kurdish Studies at the Institutes of Oriental Manuscript in Russia

Kurdish Studies was established in Russia as a special branch of academic Oriental Studies by the activity of a number of forceful scholars such as V.Dittel, V.A.Zhukovsky, V.V.Bartold, V.V.Veliaminov-Zernov, P.Lerkh, A.Zhaba, V.F.Minorsky, and V.P.Nikitin. However, the main role in the organizing and development of Kurdish Studies was played by I.A.Orbeli, the true father of the St Petersburg tradition of Kurdish Studies, the author of valuable papers on the history of the culture, literature, language and folklore of the Kurds.

In 1959, under the initiative of I.A.Orbeli at the Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, headed by him at that time, the Group for Kurdish Studies was founded. His founding statement read: “Taking into consideration the necessity to work out a schedule of academic work for the Department of Kurdish Studies, … from March 1, 1959 the group of Kurdologists, belonging now to the Iranian Department, should be selected so as to form an independent unit under my leadership and with the following members: K.K.Kurdoev, I.I.Zukerman, M.B.Rudenko, J.S.Musaelyan, E.I.Dementieva (Vasilieva) and the doctoral students I.A.Smirnova, Z.A.Yusupova, K.R.Eyubi and J.Jalilov. The group is aimed at the study of aspects of the history, culture and language of the Kurdish people”. Thus began a new stage of the development of Kurdish Studies in Russia and from this point until now they have been persued in the directions indicated out by I.A.Orbeli.

The first direction is the study of the language. First, Kurdish linguistics was especially important for the Group’s activities. The leading researchers of the Group, such as K.K.Kurdoev and I.I.Zukerman, and subsequently their pupils such as I.A.Smirnova (now a researcher at the Institute of Linguistics of the RAS) and Z.A.Yusupova, studied morphology, phonetics and syntax of the Kurdish literary language and its dialects, compiled some grammars and dictionaries, and edited folklore texts that contained rich language material, essential for the comparative dialectological researches.

An important period of the history of Kurdish linguistics was connected with the tireless activities by K.K.Kurdoev, whose pioneer researches was essential for the development of Russian Kurdology. K.K.Kurdoev wrote some fundamental works on the Kurdish language that proved crucial for the origin of the Kurdish linguistics, such as the first academic Grammar of Kurdish (Kurmanji) [Грамматика курдского языка (курманджи)] (published in 1957), The Kurdish Russian Dictionary [Курдско-русский словарь] (1960 ), The Comparative Grammar of Kurdish On the Basis of Kurmanji and Sorani Dialects [Сравнительная грамматика курдского языка по материалам диалектов курманджи и сорани] (1978). Among the unpublished works by K.K.Kurdoev the most interesting are The Study of the Zaza Dialect of Kurdish [Исследование курдского диалекта заза] and The Accounts On the History of Soviet And Russian Kurdology [Очерки русского и советского курдоведения]. Along with the all-encompassing study of Kurdish, K.K.Kurdoev researched into various aspects of Kurdish literature, history, religion and periodicals. K.K.Kurdoev contributed much to the preparation of academic cadres. His many pupils – linguists, historians, literary scholars – now work successfully in research centers of both our country and abroad. Over many years, from 1960 to 1985, K.K.Kurdoev headed the Group whose activity exerted great influence on the development of both Russian and foreign Kurdology.

The works of another well-known linguist, I.I.Zukerman, were devoted to the Grammar of the Kurmanji Dialect of Kurdish (spoken by the Armenian Kurds), among them The Accounts of Kurdish Grammar [Очерки курдской грамматики] (published in 1962),, dedicated to the study of the verbal system of Kurmanji, and the monograph Kurmanji In Khorasan [Хорасанский курманджи] (1986), that contains a description of one of the Kurmanji subdialects – that of the Turkmenian Kurds, whose ancestors lived in Khorasan. A paper by I.I.Zukerman and his student Shykoe Gasanyan (who died young) On the Irregularities of Passive Objective Forms In the Literary Texts of the Armenian Kurds [О нарушениях пассивно-объектного строя в литературных текстах курдов Армении] (1967) is especially worth mentioning.

From the beginning of the 1960s the Group’s fellows started the project of the study of those southern dialects of Kurdish spread throughout the territory of the modern Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan. Under the supervision of K.K.Kurdoev, three PhD dissertations were defended in this area, such as The Formation of Complex Verbs in Kurdish (Sorani) [Образование сложных глаголов в курдском языке (сорани)] by I.A.Smirnova, The Prepositions And Postpositions In the Southern Dialect of Kurdish (Sorani) [Предлоги и послелоги в южном диалекте курдского языка (сорани)] by Z.A.Yusupova, and The History of Kurdish Lexicography And Principles for the Compilation of the Russian-Kurdish Dictionary [История курдской лексикографии и принципы составления русско-курдского словаря] by A.Kh.Maruf (1972).

In the years that followed, the Group’s linguists published a number of monographs on the issues of order and lexicology of some southern dialects such as Sorani (by K.K.Kurdoev, Z.A.Yusupova), Mukri (by I.A.Smirnova, K.R.Eyubi), Awramani (by Z.A.Yusupova) and Gorani (by Z.A.Yusupova, N.G.Safronova). The description of Gorani and Awramani was made on the basis of literary texts that turned out to be a new method in the Kurdish Linguistics. The studies of these dialects were very important for Kurdish Dialectology since some Iranian scholars (such as D.McCenzie and J.Blau) and Kurdologists (R.Tsabolov) argue, without any solid reasons, that they have no relationship to Kurdish, as with the Northern Kurdish dialect Zaza, examined by K.K.Kurdoev and I.A.Smirnova (in cooperation with K.R.Eyubi). The works of the abovementioned scholars showed the invalidity of such a point of view.

The second direction of the Group’s academic activities was the study of Classical and Modern Kurdish literature. Especially valuable tribute to the development of this area was made by M.B.Rudenko who died untimely but who was the first scholar to scrutinize and edit some most important pieces of Kurdish literature such as Sheikh Sanan by Faqih Tairan from the 14th century, Yusuf and Zelikha by Selime Sileman from the 16th century, Mem And Zin by Ehmede Xani (or Akhmad Khani) from the 17th century and Leyla and Majnun by Haris Bitlisi from the 18th century. M.B.Rudenko compiled also the first comprehensive catalogue of the Kurdish manuscripts kept at the National Library in Leningrad/St Petersburg and the manuscripts collection of the Leningrad Branch oа the Institute of Oriental Studies (now IOM), published in 1961. These manuscripts had been acquired by Russian scholars and diplomats such as B.A.Dorn, V.V.Velyaminov-Zernov, A.Zhaba, etc.

The study of mediaeval Kurdish literature was carried on by J.S.Musaelyan, a pupil of M.B.Rudenko, in her PhD dissertation dedicated to one of the most important pieces of urban poetry — the poem entitled Zambilfrosh, from the 15th-16th centuries. Later the dissertation was used as a core for a monograph published in 1983. The edition contained the critical text of the poem, based upon six manuscripts from the National Library, and the text of the second poetical elaboration ascribed to a Kurdish poet from the 18th century. In the book some folklore versions за the poems are also treated.

Among the most important academic achievements of K.K.Kurdoev in the area of literature there is an anthology of Kurdish poetry in 2 volumes edited by him in 1983-85. It included poems by 21 poets from the 10th to the 20th centuries. K.K.Kurdoev supervised some PhD dissertations on the modern Kurdish literature such as The Works by the Modern Progressive Kurdish Poet Hazhar [Творчество современного прогрессивного курдского поэта Хажара] by K.R.Eyubi (defended in 1961), On the History of Kurdish Literature from the end of the 19th to the first half of the 20th century [К истории курдской литературы конца XIX — первой половины XX вв.] by M.Haznadar (he published also the monograph The Account of the History of the Modern Kurdish Literature [Очерк истории современной курдской литературы], in 1967), The History of Development of Modern Kurdish Prose in Iraq (from 1925 to the 1960s) [История развития современной курдской художественной прозы в Ираке (1925—1960 гг.)] by Haidari Jamshid (1977). Z.N.Vorozheikina supervised also a PhD dissertation The Lyrics of the the 19th century Kurdish Poet Maulawi Written In Gorani Dialect [Лирика курдского поэта XIX в. Маулави, писавшего на диалекте горани] by Anwar Kadir Muhamed (1986).

Along with the study of written literature, the Group’s scholars gathered, published and researched into Kurdish folklore, mostly in the northern dialect Kurmanji. Among the principal objects of their studied were both published and newly collected pieces of folklore such as songs of various genres, fairy tales, legends, proverbs, and jokes, acquired from local people during numerous journeys to the regions of the former USSR inhabited by the Kurds. I.A.Orbeli, K.K.Kurdoev and M.B.Rudenko made the first steps in this area. Especially valuable are the folk materials collected by I.A.Orbeli in the unavailable now for us Moks region, Turkey, during the expedition of 1911-14. On the basis of them I.A.Orbeli compiled The Kurdish Russian Dictionary [Курдско-русский словарь], published in Yerevan only in 2002. The dictionary was prepared for the publication by I.I.Tsukerman and J.S.Musaelyan. The latter edited also the book Kurdish Folk Songs [Курдские народные песни] (issued in 1986), using the A.Zhaba collection of Kurdish manuscripts kept at the National Library.

The M.B.Rudenko collection is especially valuable thanks to the funeral songs which she put down in October 1972 in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan and which were published posthumously, with the Russian translation and research paper, as a monograph The Kurdish Ritual Poetry. Funeral Deploration [Курдская обрядовая поэзия. Похоронные причитания], 1982.

O.J.Jalilov, an outspoken expert on folklore, focusened on the Kurdish historical songs, both well-known in the academic world and collected by him personally (partly, in cooperation with J.Jalili) during his numerous trips to the former Soviet republics in Transcaucasia and Central Asia. His long research in the area resulted in the monograph The Historical Songs Of the Kurds [Исторические песни курдов], published in 2003.

The 2004 edition by Z.A.Yusupova, The Southern Kurdish Folk Texts [Южнокурдские фольклорные тексты], included some oral texts of the Iraqi Kurds and their translation into Russian.

The third direction of the studies was in the area of history and historiography. Due to the generally insufficient knowledge of the sources, the study of history focusened only on certain issues and periods. Hence, the only historian in the Group, E.I.Vassilieva, paid a great attention to the edition, translation and research into a few present texts from the Middle Ages to Modern Time. E.I.Vassilieva made the first translation from Persian into Russian of the valuable text from the end of the 16th century, Sharaf-name by Sharaf Khan Bitlisi, the only historical source of the kind. Later she translated also the Chronicles of Ardelan, the Iranian Kurdistan, written by Kurdish historians from the 1st half of the 19th century.

The edition of a unique manuscript kept at the National Library that contains the only translation of Sharaf-name by Sharaf Khan Bitlisi into Kurmanji made by Mala Mahmud Bayazidi was a great contribution to the study of historical sources. It was published by K.K.Kurdoev and J.S.Musaelyan in 1986 under the title The Ancient History of Kurdistan [Древняя история Курдистана].

The modern history of Kurdistan was treated in a few PhD dissertations devoted primarily to the national liberation movement of the Kurds in the 19th to 20th century such as those by S.A.Shamzini, J.Jalili, K.N.Kaftan.

Ethnocultural and ethnosocial aspects were covered in numerous publications such as The Kurds [Курды] by K.K.Kurdoev, that treated both material and spiritual sides of Kurdish culture as well as some issues of the national liberation movement liberation movement (1957); Mala Mahmud Bayazidi’s treatise Traditions And Habits Of the Kurds [Нравы и обычаи курдов] edited by M.B.Rudenko (1963); the PhD dissertation by A.Mamednazarov (supervised by K.K.Kurdoev) The Historical Ethnographical Account of the Kurds of Turkmenia [Историко-этнографический очерк курдов Туркмении] (1964). The long project by E.I.Vassilieva and J.S.Musaelyan, and initiated by K.K.Kurdoev, is devoted to ethno-historical processes. The manuscript of more than 900 pages is ready to be published.

One of the aims of the Group was to compile the bibliography of papers on Kurdish Studies. It was fulfilled by J.S.Musaelyan who published such a bibliography in two volumes (1996). This is the fullest annotated list of literature on all aspects of Kurdish Studies, covering the period from the 16th century up to 1985.

In 2005 the structure of the Institute was reorganized and the Group for Kurdish Studies was absorbed by the Department of Near Eastern Studies (head. by O.F.Akimushkin). At the moment there are several Kurdologists at the Department such as E.I.Vassilieva, J.S.Musaelyan, N.G.Safonova, and Z.A.Yusupova.

Dr Z. A. Yusupova

Source: The Institutes of Oriental Manuscript in Russia


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