"O my hungry homeland": An Introduction to the Kurds

On the mountains, in the plains and valleys
I cried:
O my hungry homeland
I love you and I love you

- Latif Halmat

Map of Kurdish-inhabited regions.
The Kurds are an ethnic group living mainly in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. They are a stateless people who constitute approximately 18 percent of the population of Turkey, 17 percent of Iraq, 9 percent of Syria, and 7 percent of Iran. Kurdish populations can also be found in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and in diaspora communities in Europe, North America, and Israel. While most Kurds are Sunni Muslim, there are also minorities of Kurdish Shi'is, Alevis, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The Kurdish language has multiple dialects which are not necessarily mutually intelligible. Two of these dialects, Kurmanji (spoken mainly in the northern Kurdish regions) and Sorani (spoken in more southern and eastern regions), are the regional Kurdish standards. A minority of Kurds speak dialects of the Zaza-Gorani language group. 

Prior to WWI, most Kurds were nomadic or semi-nomadic pastorialists whose livelihood depended on sheep and goat herding. As the Ottoman Empire fell and European powers divided the region into nation-states, the Kurds were encouraged to settle and abandon their nomadic lifestyles, partly because the new borders disrupted pastoral migration routes. At the same time,  Kurdish nationalism began to emerge. But an independent Kurdistan was not created. The struggle and longing for an independent nation-state became a central aspect of Kurdish political culture and discourse. 

This month on Diwaniyya we'll discuss the Kurdish people, their culture and history. 

The following  poem was written by Latif Halmat, a Kurdish journalist, poet, playwright, and children's story writer. Latif Halmat was born in Kifri, near Kirkuk, Iraq in 1947. This poem was taken from the publication Kurdish Aspect.

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When I was born, sorrows were as normal
as the wind;
death as normal as stones and shadows
happiness, just like
the cigarettes and matches at petrol stations,
was forbidden.

Silence was a favorite medal
on the breast of any coward poet.
Words were knives seeking
the throat of their utterers.
Then came I and set fire
to the roots of fear
and sowed the clouds of love
on the winds of the seasons.

In the country of hunger and drought
I made my poetry the river of perfumes
and cursed a century
in which poets are caught, from fear,
in the traps of gold and money.
And birds are caught, from hunger,
in various traps and snares.

On the mountains, in the plains and valleys
I cried:
O my hungry homeland
I love you and I love you
here I am ploughing this land
with my eyelashes
turning it into farms and orchards
which grow red flowers and beautiful poems
for the children of the coming world
a world of freedom, love and peace.  

Shoshi Shmuluvitz

Diwaniyya Contributor