Printing in Iraq: The 1920-58 Period

Giw Mukriyani, the nationalist language reformer, journalist and printer, has claimed in several of his works (e.g., 1972: 13, 15) that the first Kurdish press was founded in 1915, in Aleppo (now in Syria) by his brother Husen Huzni Mukriyani (1893-1947), who had printed several books and journals before moving the press to Rawandiz in 1925. This claim has been uncritically accepted by many Kurds (e.g., Jabari 1970:70 and Celil 1985:111-12).

Giw Mukriyani, the nationalist language reformer, journalist and printer, has claimed in several of his works (e.g., 1972: 13, 15) that the first Kurdish press was founded in 1915, in Aleppo (now in Syria) by his brother Husen Huzni Mukriyani (1893-1947), who had printed several books and journals before moving the press to Rawandiz in 1925. This claim has been uncritically accepted by many Kurds (e.g., Jabari 1970:70 and Celil 1985:111-12).

There is strong evidence that this press did not exist. According to a notice in Diyarf Kurdistan (No.5, May 12, 1925, p. II), Huzni "was in the process of founding" a printing press in Aleppo in 1925, and was asking the Kurds, through this magazine, to pre-purchase a book on Kurdish history and society that he was going to publish. The book, Xuncey Beharistan (Blossom of Spring; cf. Fig. 6), was in fact printed on an Arabic press, al-‘ Asr al-Jadid, in Aleppo in 1925. It must also be noted that none of the bibliographies of Kurdish books (Edmonds 1937, 1945; Vil’chevsky 1945; Cumberland 1936; Nariman 1977) record anything printed in Aleppo before Xuncey Beharistan. It is moreover unlikely that any publishing, whether underground or otherwise, could have escaped the attention of the careful observer .of Kurdish affairs, Pierre Rondot (1939), the French Mandate’s specialist on Kurdish affairs. He does not mention any Kurdish printing effort in Syria.

A. The Government Press

The first press in Iraqi Kurdistan was set up in Sulaymaniya by the Mandate authorities in 1920. It was an old hand-operated letter-press called Chapkhanay or Matba’ay Hukumat (Government Press) which printed six books, 118 issues of the weekly Peskewun, 14 issues of Bangf Kurdistan, and 16 issues of Rojf Kurdistan between 1920 and 1923.

The press was, together with two schools, the most important intellectual possession of the autonomous government of Shaikh Mahmud, who often rebelled against Baghdad and declared himself King of Kurdistan. Like the new Kurdish state, the press had a turbulent life.

The leaders of the Kurdish government attached much importance to the printing press. Bangf Kurdistan (No.3, August 21, 1922, pp. 3-4) wrote that "printing machinery" was "a very effective means of unification of a nation’s thoughts and feelings", and also of protecting the science and literature of a people. The journal then called for donations by concerned individuals for buying a new press.

Much interest in the purchase of the machinery was shown by the town’s people, who had. not yet fully recovered from the economic devastation of the World War I period (cf. 3.1.7). An initial contribution of 1000 rupees was made by three members of the nobility. Later issues of the journal provide detailed lists of donations by government officials, merchants, shopkeepers, teachers and others in Sulaymaniya and elsewhere. Adding up all the contributions, they amounted to 7353 rupees given by 210 donors. Rolf Kurdistan (No.8, January 10, 1923, p. 3) made it known that the weekly could be published three times a week if a new printing press were to be purchased.

Before further action could be taken, relations between the Kurdish government and Baghdad grew tense. When Shaikh Mahmud and his fighting men were forced to leave the city for the mountainous countryside, they moved the printing press to the caves of Jasna in the Sourdash area to the northwest of Sulaymaniya. Three issues of a new journal, Bangf Heq, were published there. However, the revolt was put down by the Iraqi army which moved the printing press back to Sulaymaniya (Edmonds 1925:89-90).

Shaikh Mahmud was able to come back to the city and reassert himself after the troops had left (July 1923). The press had been damaged during the transfer, but by mid-September repairs had been made "through the efforts of some masters." A new weekly Umedi Istiqlal (Hope for Independence) appeared on September 20, 1923. Although the press failed several times, resulting in delays in publishing, readers were promised that printing would continue, motivated by "unity and national love" (No. 16, January 31, 1924, p. 4). Later on that year three stamps were issued from that press by "the Southern Kurdistan Government." However, Shaikh Mahmud’s government fell again when troops attacked the city in July, 1924.

The press was operated by the Municipality after Baghdad’s control was established over the area. It was renamed Matba’ay Baladiya or Chapkhanay Sharawani (1925) and printed a government sponsored weekly liyanewe and a number of books. The poet/journalist Piramerd rented the press in August, 1934, to publish liyan, a successor of liyanewe. The Municipality refused to renew the lease in August, 1937, and informed the Ministry of the Interior of their decision to keep the press and the journal under Municipal control (Ziban, No 1, September 11, 1937, p. 1). This journal, published by the Municipality, wrote that "nothing useable had remained from the printing press except its iron frame … a large amount of money was sent to Baghdad to purchase many new parts and the machine was put to work again."

B. Zari Kirmanji Press

Huzni Mukriyani bought an outdated printing press in Syria and carried it by mule to Rawandiz in 1926, naming his enterprise Matba’ay Zari Kirmanji (Kurdish Tongue Press). Huzni and his brother Giw used the ancient instrument to print twenty three books (i.e., 24.2 % of a total of 95 Kurdish books published in Iraq by 1938) and one magazine Zari Kirmanji between 1926 and 1930. According to Edmonds (1945: 185), "half of these were written, printed, illustrated with woodcuts … "

The materials printed were hardly legible, and new letters were acquired later through donations by those interested in the national cause (cf. 7.3.2). The new letters and some of the equipment were, however, looted and the building was expropriated for unspecified reasons (Hetaw, Vol. 3, No., 85, January 20, 1957, pp. 18-19). The press once more moved to Arbil, where it began publishing the weekly Riinaki in October 1935. It was renamed Chapkhanay Kurdistan (Capxaney Kurdistan = Kurdistan Press) after Huzni’s death in 1947, being owned and operated by Giw.

C. Zhiyan Press

Unable to use the Municipality Press; Piramerd purchased a larger, but used, hand-press with worn-out letter-types which began operating in September 1937, as Zhiyan Press, printing the weekly Jin.

Thus, in 1937, there were three Kurdish presses, two in Sulaymaniya and one in Arbil, each publishing a weekly. Printing capacity was limited and quality left much to be desired. When the proprietor-editor of a newly licensed journal, Zanisti (Science), decided to print the first issue, he found out that the Municipality Press was unable to print, in one week, both the weekly Ziman (Language) and his biweekly magazine (Zanistf, No 1-, February 25, 1938, p. 1). Moreover, small size letters were lacking and photographs could not be printed (Ziban, No. 28, April 3, 1938, p. ‘I).

Paper shortages caused by the outbreak of World War II left the Municipality and Zari Kirmanji presses idle. Zhiyan Press, later renamed Zhin Press, was-the only one active during the War. The weekly Jin continued to be published in reduced size and with fewer pages. Of the 27 books published between 1939 and 1945, thirteen were printed in Baghdad and the rest by Zhin in Sulaymaniya. By 1947, however, Zhin had incurred considerable financial losses. The owner was obliged to mortgage his residence in order to get the 60 Dinars needed to buy ink and new letter types in Baghdad (Sajjadi 1951: 19). The Municipality Press published two books in 1946-47 and then stopped forever.

The more numerous and better equipped presses of Mosul and Kirkuk engaged in no significant publishing in Kurdish until the 1950s. Two titles had appeared in Mosul in 1934, and the first books from Kirkuk did not materialize until 1953.

The only Kurdish printing presses, Zhin and Kurdistan, were worn out and practically useless by the 1950s. Complaints from readers were numerous. Piramerd passed away in 1950, and was glorified as a prominent poet, journalist, educator and indefatigable printer. In his will be written: "Do not give away the printing press … " Besides the press, the only possessions he left behind were his pen and ink-pot, house and a quarter of a dinar in cash. To ensure that the provisions of his will would be observed, a sum of over 100 Dinars (about $300) was donated by various individuals to be spent in Baghdad on the purchase, in instalments, of paper, type and printing equipment. The instalments were to be paid through the income brought in by the press (Sajjadi 1951:16, 19).

Five years later, a writer, printer and jack-of-all-trades at Zhin Press, Najmaddin Mala (1955:1), wrote about the desperate state of printing in Sulaymaniya and complained that the works of many Kurdish poets and scholars had been obliterated due to the lack of printing facilities. He further stated that a competent young lawyer was striving to obtain a printing press but was handicapped by lack of money. The writer then called on Kurdish personalities and wealthy men, saying, "Our motherland begs your help and donations to purchase a printing press …”

Lack of printing facilities had become a real impediment to the development of the Kurdish language by the end of the monarchical period. Writing on this "great obstacle" in 1957, Nebez (pp. 14-21) pointed out that many competent Kurdish scholars and literary figures had compiled highly valued works.

However, since there is no publishing center in Kurdistan able to undertake the printing and distribution of these works, the writers are forced to print them at their own expense and also to endeavor to distribute them themselves. If the person is poor and impecunious, he cannot get his work printed. If it happens that he is somewhat well-to-do, but not a courageous and giving Kurd, he will have to forget about it because of the lack of printing presses in his country [Kurdistan] … (p. 15). It is really unfortunate that in the twentieth century there is not a single printing press in Iraqi Kurdistan capable of printing material in the Kurdish language. You see that in Sulaymaniya, which is considered the qible [direction to which Muslims turn in praying] of Kurdistan, there is only the Zhin Press, which cannot print anything other than the [weekly] newspaper. ..

After discussing the desperate situation in other towns, Arbil and Kirkuk, Nebez concludes:

There is, thus, no opportunity for printing in Kurdistan. That is why a powerless Kurd who writes a book with a thousand sufferings, fear and wakefulness has no alternative but to go to Baghdad. He will have to get his work printed at the Ma’arif Press since, until quite recently, Kurdish type was available only there. Because of its heavy workload and the indifference of its staff, the Ma’arif Press will either force the person to stay in Baghdad for several months or will have him commute to Baghdad so often that the printed version will cost him 10 to 15 times more [than is usual]. To make up his loss, therefore, the author will have to charge a higher price. As a result, the book will not sell and he will be in debt. In short, the writer will be in such trouble that he will not be able to have another page printed if he is not very courageous.

Source: Dr. Amir Hassanpour, "Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan 1918-1985", 1992.