By: Farouk al-Hajji Mustafa
It has been said that, years ago, while the Kurds were looking into the establishment of the first linguistic committee to help disseminate the Latin alphabet on the Kurds dispersed in the four parts [of historical Kurdistan], as well as other places such as the "Red Republic"—i.e., the former Soviet Union, Lebanon, and in other areas; that Jalal Talabani [former Iraqi President, and President of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—PUK] rejected the idea. He insisted on maintaining the Arabic script in Iraqi Kurdistan, as a means of preserving the rich Kurdish Archive, mostly written in Arabic script which was prevalent among the majority of the Kurds until the 1920s. This lasted until the change instituted by the Badirxans, particularly Jeladat Bey Badirxan, a resident of Damascus on the run from the Badirxan Emirate after it had been ransacked by the Turks in the latter days of the Ottoman Empire. Jeladat Bey—benefiting from his erstwhile association with a French Orientalist Frenchman during the latter's tours around Kurdistan—had made the observation that the French characters were closer to Kurdish words than the Arabic. He [Jeladat] belonged to one of the foremost, prestigious, elite Kurd intellectual families, well-heeled in Kurdish nationalism. His family [i.e. Badirxans] was a source of Kurd cultural virtue, with their involvement in the first Kurdish-speaking radio; Miqdad Bey Badirxan also published the first-ever Kurdish language newspaper published in Cairo in 1898—aptly titled "Kurdistan." All these factors pertaining to his family heritage and experiences, helped crystallize the idea that using Latin script would simplify matters, among Kurds in Syria and Turkey alike.
However, Mam Jalal [Mam = Uncle in Kurdish; a popular nickname among Kurds] himself was unable of imposing his convictions on the Kurmanji Kurds in Dohuk and Erbil [Iraqi Kurdistan], where people use the Latin script in their private correspondences, and where an active effort is afoot to have Latin script universally used in Iraqi Kurdistan. Yet many people fail to realize that Mam Jalal himself has objected to the use of the expression "Akrad" [Kurdish], preferring the use of "Kurds" to denote the people. This has two reasons: The first lies in his [Talabani's] view that Akrad has a direct correspondence to the Arab expression "A'arab"—an expression that has largely disappeared from Arab statutory records and everyday speech. The word "A'arab" partially refers to "nomads," those living in the countryside; Talabani was, therefore, quite keen to use the word "Kurds" as a more befitting name for the people. The second reason lies in the sensitivity the word "Akrad" has created among the Kurds; especially given the insistence of the Arab media on its use, in disregard to Mam Jalal's wishes. Kurds have, thus, deduced that the use of the former expression indicates the insistence of Arabs to relegate them to a mere minority; with the expression becoming synonymous with this lesser status, and arousing a sense of indignation among Kurdish elites. It is, therefore, not surprising that these sensitivities are aroused, given the context of the past four years of the Syrian Revolution. However, some Kurd intellectuals have quite swiftly adapted themselves to the use of the expression "Akrad" in the Arab Media, which seems to have become commonplace. They even have no qualms over the editor of al-Hayat newspaper [leading Arab publication, printed in London] changing the word "Kurd" into "Akrad" in the articles which they had authored!
It would not be surprising for us to say that the sensitivity resulting from the use of the name "Kurds" is almost exclusive to some Arab media, while largely absent in Turkey or Iran towards Kurds—either from their governments or their own elite. For, although use of the name "Kurdistan" had been banned in Turkey, the very name itself was given to the geographical area wherein Kurds resided for centuries by a [Turkish] Seljuk Sultan. At any rate, Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has come to utter the name "Kurdistan" for the first time ever, a few years ago after decades of official sanction. The same is also true of the Iranians!
In reality, Kurds' nomenclatural problems also extend to place names—villages, towns, cities, and even their capital. The city known as Erbil is, to Kurds, known as Hewlêr; yet in official Iraqi discourse the name "Erbil—Capital of the Kurdistan region" persists. Diyarbakir as well is called by Kurds "Amed;" Turkish official documents still call it "Diyarbakir." We also witnessed the debate surrounding "Kobanî," and which name was the true one for the city—Kobanî or Ayn-Arab.
This dilemma will seemingly continue to plague Kurds and their partners until both parties, Arabs and Kurds, learn to accept one another, accept one another's conditions, and understand one another's fears and concerns. The issue is one of identity, and of issues linked to nationalism and patriotism, as well as the preservation of the local and central heritage of one's country!
As for the word "Kurd" and "Kurds" and they way they are written; this is an issue related to the issue of Latin versus Arab alphabet. Iraqi Kurds, who use Arabic, add an additional "u" character in Arabic to the name, believing this to be the proper way of writing the word—which might be suitable if using the Arabic characters. The other usage, the regular wording "Kurd" without an additional "u" is more befitting to the Latin characters; as the use of a simple "u" signals a short intonation. Therefore, as we see, the expression itself has become a measure of categorizing Kurds between those who use Latin and those who use Arabic script!
In conclusion, our peoples unfortunately end up mired in side battles and debates on issues of marginal importance; just as we look to the other as we want him to be—not for what he truly is. At any rate, time alone can change these stereotypes, and untangle this seemingly intractable "Us" versue "Them" dilemma!
* Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Radio Rozana.