A Glimpse of Ahmadi Khani’s Theory of Nationalism


By Mohammed Kamaran

Nationalism is essentially a sense of intimacy and belonging that elevates the love of land and nation over partisan, tribal, and religious relations, and, within a specified geographical spot, shapes and solidifies economic, political, and societal relations. The idea of nationalism in Europe flourished after a thirty-year sectarian war in the mid-seventeenth-century, gradually demarcating the borders of modern nation-states and thus crowding out feudal units.

Away from the sectarian and political tensions of Europe, Ahmadi Khani, from Bayazid, sowed the seeds of Kurdish nationalism in the late seventeenth century within his literary masterpiece ”Mem w Zin”, and defined the framework of a nation and its political independence. Of course, in his time, Khani was unaware of the political changes in Europe. However, he was troubled by the Ottoman-Safavid clashes over the territories of Kurdistan and the tribal factions of the Kurdish nation. The epic of Mem w Zin is by no means a mere reflection for European nationalism, but a fully-fledged and authentic narrative tailored by Khani to describe the ailments that hindered the growth of national sentiments within Kurdish society and to present durable solutions accordingly.

To put it simply, Khani is the person who spearheaded the Kurdish question in a sophisticated way and made a leap towards asking for a sovereign in order to secure peace and prosperity. Here I intend to focus on the development of Kurdish nationalism, the prolonged obstructions it faced, and the durable solutions as prescribed by Khani in Mem w Zin.

In the preface, Khani identifies two obstacles to the realization of the goals of Kurdish nationalism: the absence of a king and the division of the Kurdish nation. Commenting on the existence of a ruler, Khan writes, “Oh, if we could have a dignified leader, compassionate, generous, well-spoken”. The historical context made it necessary for Khani to appeal for a king who would take it on himself to unite the Kurdish principalities which had suffered division after the Chaldean War (1514) between the Ottoman and Safavid empires. Khani did not confine his outspokenness merely to the issue of having a king; he also sketched his required characteristics. Khani wanted the King of the Kurds to be a wise and enlightened person who would promote art and science: “If we had a proud leader, generous and patron of literature”.

As for the Kurdish partisanship, what Khani was worried about was that the Kurds were a noble nation but, because of disunity, they became subjugated to the Turks and Persians: “If we could have an agreement, Together following a leading establishment … The Turks, Arabs and Persians entirely, all would have been our servants … We would have completed the religion and the State; we would have attained  knowledge and wisdom”.

Khani is perplexed by God’s wisdom because of this question: God created men and gave them traits. Courage and noble character are good, God-given qualities that have resulted in self-government and royal authority in all other nations. Kurds are known for their valor and dignity. So, why are they denied their right to an independent state and a country? Khani searches within to answer this question. He discovers that the existential conflict in the Kurdish character’s function is not only external – say geographical, being exploited by others – but also internal. It is disunity and the lack of a king that hinder the independence of Kurdistan.

Khani’s concepts of national identity, national aspiration, and power politics extend beyond the previous definitions made by Islamic scholars of the state as a governing entity. He encompasses nearly every aspect of current Western-style nationalism – including the indispensability of a sovereign to shepherd the people into unity, the description of the ruler’s leadership requirements, and ensuring that the state values art and science.


*The poem’s translations have been obtained from the English version of Mem w Zin translated by Salah Saadalla.