The Kurdish people are a heterogeneous ethnic group whose ethnic background comes from many regions including Iraqi Kurdistan, and parts of Iran, Turkey, and Syria. The Kurdish ethnic group includes many ancient ethnicities that have been absorbed into modern cultures including Iranian, Azerbaijani, Turkic and Arabic cultures. In this sense, the Kurdish culture shares commonalities with many other regional cultures, and celebrates a unique level of cultural equality and tolerance.
The Struggle for Kurdish Cultural Survival
In addition to political repression, the Kurds have also experienced cultural repression. In Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, there were extensive campaigns at forced assimilation. Kurds were forbidden to speak Kurdish in public, they had to change their names to local ethnic names if they wanted a job or to enroll their children in school. Their books, music and clothing were considered contraband and they had to hide them in their homes. If authorities searched their homes and found anything Kurdish, they could be imprisoned, and many were. In recent years, both Iran and Turkey have relaxed their systemic cultural repression, while Iraqi Kurds have achieved autonomy.
Kurdish Poetry and Song
Kurdish culture has a rich oral tradition. Most popular are epic poems called lawj, and they often tell of adventure in love or battle.
Kurdish literature first appeared in the seventh century AD. In 1596, Sharaf Khan, Emir of Bitlis, composed a history of the Kurds in Persian called the Sharafnama. Almost one hundred years later, in 1695, a great national epic called the Memozin was written in Kurdish by Ahmed Khani.
Dengbej refers to a musician who performs traditional Kurdish folk songs. The word ‘deng’ means voice and ‘bej’ means ‘to sing.’ Dengbej are best known for their “stran,” or song of mourning.
Traditional Kurdish instruments include the flute, drums, and the ut-ut (similar to a guitar). The music of Sivan Perwar, a Kurdish pop music performer, was banned in Turkey and Iraq in the 1980s, so he left the region to live and work in Sweden.
Carpet-weaving is by far the most significant Kurdish folk art. Kurdish rugs and carpets use medallion patterns; however, far more popular are the all-over floral, Mina Khani motifs and the “jaff” geometric patterns. The beauty of Kurdish designs are enriched by high-chroma blues, greens, saffrons as well as terracotta and burnt orange hues made richer still by the lustrous wool used.
The traditional Kurdish rug uses Kurdish symbols. It is possible to read the dreams, wishes and hopes of the rug maker from the sequence of symbols used. It is this signification and communication both individually and grouped into Kurdish rug making Kurdish people study how meaning is constructed and understood by talking with the rug maker.
Other crafts are embroidery, leather-working, and metal ornamentation. Kurds are especially known for copper-working.
Popular sports include soccer, wrestling, hunting and shooting, and cirit, a traditional sport that involves throwing a javelin while mounted on horseback. Camel-and horse-racing are popular in rural areas.