Kurdish Folklore


Kurdish folklore, which is almost completely oral, is incredibly rich and diverse. Among the masterpieces of Kurdish oral literature are such traditional stores as Mem and Zin, Khej and Siyabend, Dimdim, and Zembilfirosh.

Mem and Zin

Mem and Zin is a tragic love story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Oral versions of it have been collected by European Orientalists from as early as the middle of the 19th century, and a poem based on it was written down by the great Kurdish poet Ahmed-i Khani in the 17th century. Neo-Aramaic and Armenian versions of it also exist.

Other Kurdish Folktales

Khej and Siyabend is another romance with a tragic ending. Dimdim is an epic based on a historical event, the insurrection of the Kurds against the Safavid Persian ruler Shah Abbas I in the 16th century: a battle was fought at the fortress of Dimdim, located south of Lake Urmiah (Reza’iyeh) in Iran.

Zembilfirosh (‘basket-seller’ in Kurdish) is a long poem that tells of an older woman’s love for a young basket-seller; it is similar to the biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Yusuf and Zuleikha), which is also very popular among Middle Eastern peoples, particularly the Kurds.

Many folktales feature the adventures of a bald-headed boy, known as Keçelok; the Turks have a similar figure known as Keloğlan, and the Persians and the Azerbaijanis call him Kachal.

In addition, proverbs and riddles are popular. Example: What falls in the water without getting wet? Give up?! The answer is: A shadow!

Kurdish Folksongs

The variety of Kurdish folk song genres is too abundant to go into here, but to give one example; the lawuk is a type of love song which consists of short lyrical verses. An epic romance like Mem û Zîn or Dimdim would traditionally be recited by a dengbêj (pronounced deng-beige) who would accompany himself on a stringed instrument called a tembûr, similar to the Turkish saz or bağlama.