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Rudaw

Culture & Art

Jeladet Ali Bedir Xan: The Story of A Kurdish Prince in Exile

12/5/2013
Jeladet has stepped into the limelight from obscurity thanks to the indefatigable efforts of late Mehmed Uzun, a Kurdish novelist.
Jeladet has stepped into the limelight from obscurity thanks to the indefatigable efforts of late Mehmed Uzun, a Kurdish novelist.



 

"He that once enters at a tyrant's door

becomes a slave, though he were free before."

Sophocles


By Kani Xulam



To be sure, Jeladet Ali Bedir Xan (hereafter Jeladet) was not the one who entered the tyrant’s door.  His grandfather Mir Bedir Xan did in 1847.  He was the hereditary ruler of Botan, a major principality in Kurdistan, tracing its origins, depending on the audience, back to Saladin, the legendary Kurdish general of Crusaders’ fame, or Khalid ibn al-Walid, also a general, but one who had served a warrior prophet, Muhammad.  In 1566, the principality came under the Ottoman rule (some scholars give an earlier date).  But the preoccupation of Ottomans, at the time, remained the conquest of Europe.  The Kurdish principality, though officially part of Ottoman Empire, enjoyed a degree of self-rule that was not experienced elsewhere. 

By the time Jeladet’s grandfather, Mir Bedir Xan, became the ruler of Botan, in 1835, the Ottomans had become a defensive force in world politics.  Not only the Christian subjects of sultans, but the Muslim ones as well, were taking up arms against their former rulers.  Greeks followed the example of Serbs and raised the flag of rebellion in 1821.  The Egyptians led by Muhammad Ali, an Albanian by birth, followed suit.  The children of Socrates became free, with the help of Europeans, in 1832.  Those of Pharaohs, whose soldiers were trained by French officers, came close to toppling the empire itself, but were checked with the help of Russians. 

The news prompted Mir Bedir Xan of Botan to reassess his relationship with Constantinople.  It occurred to him that he could do in his principality what Muhammad Ali had done in Egypt or Greeks in Greece or Serbs in Serbia.  Initially, he used persuasion to unite the Kurds under his command.  Eventually, he did not shy away from using blunt force to the same effect.  Some Kurds were swayed by him and joined him in the consolidation of Kurdish power.  Others, who demurred, were speedily brought to their knees on the battlefields.

  It was too little too late for Mir Bedir Xan.  He issued his own coin, collected his own taxes, dispensed his own justice and took steps to establish a standing army to secure his own domain.  

 

The ruling circles in Constantinople were aware of these tendencies in the periphery of the empire, and they wanted to nip them in the bud lest they find themselves left with only the Turkish rump.  The Edict of Gulhane was adopted with considerable fanfare in 1839.  It eliminated various forms of discrimination and declared all subjects of the empire “equal” before the law.  For example, Christians, who previously had to dismount their horses upon encountering a Muslim on foot, were now exempt, technically, from that embarrassing ritual.  But these reforms turned out to be superficial.  Although increasingly prevalent in European countries, habeas corpus was not even included in the Edict; to this day, it remains an easily expandable “right” in Turkish jurisprudence.

It was too little too late for Mir Bedir Xan.  He issued his own coin, collected his own taxes, dispensed his own justice and took steps to establish a standing army to secure his own domain.  Young Kurds were sent to Europe to study military science.  Shipbuilding was undertaken to facilitate transportation on Lake Wan.  Kurds with guns and horses were invited to Botan with the promises of good land and a chance to prove their prowess in battle.  It looked like Botan might soon follow the example of Egypt.

The Turks, although incapable of harassing Europeans anymore, were not exactly down and out.  If they couldn’t take their war to the infidels, they could still stir up “salutary trouble” in their “well protected domains,” including Kurdistan.  The Kurdish proclivity to defy central authority was well known, as was the tendency of Kurdish tribal chiefs to go at it alone.  As if these facts in themselves were not enough, Kurdish mountains were also home to ten thousand Christians, also known as Nestorians, who had been eking out a living in their highlands since the time of Tamerlane in Middle Ages.

Like most neighbors, the Kurds and the Christians had their differences, but they had managed to live in peace for most of their common history.  In 1840s, this peaceful coexistence came under a lot of strain.  The Ottoman governor of Erzurum appointed Nurallah Beg of Colamerg, a Kurdish tribal chief, to tax his Christian neighbors.  The Christians, now that they were technically “citizens” of the empire, wanted to hold on to their sovereignty and thought, if push came to shove, they could count on Constantinople to stop the encroachments of the Kurds.

It was a miscalculation of tragic consequences.

To begin with, the Ottomans were nowhere to be seen in the mountains of Kurdistan.  For them, both the Kurds and the Christians were delinquent in their taxes and very protective of their freedoms, not exactly the attributes that the overlords desired in their subjects.  Their infighting, Constantinople felt, would only diminish the power of their resistance.  In the meantime, Mir Bedir Xan had signed an alliance with Nurullah Beg to expand his powerbase.  The stage was set for not one, but two wars in a span of four years.

 The Kurdish ruler found himself surrounded in his castle and was told his life and that of his immediate tribe would be spared if he surrendered.  He did so on July 20, 1847.  

 

First, the combined forces of Mir Bedir Xan and Nurullah Beg surrounded the hapless Christians in their mountain strongholds and demanded submission.  When they refused, they were massacred.  Those who had hidden in Masada like massifs were discovered; some were killed, others were exchanged for money.  The carnage went on from 1843 till 1845.  The news eventually reached Europe.  In due course, the Ottomans were encouraged to punish the outlaws and make amends for the persecuted.  The seeds of the second war were laid.

The Turkish war on the Kurds came two years later.  A 40,000-man Ottoman force attacked a 16,000-strong Kurdish army.  The initial Kurdish successes tipped the scales in favor of Mir Bedir Xan.  But a nephew of the Kurdish leader, Yezdanser, sided with the Turks and, by some accounts, tipped the scales in favor of the Ottomans.  The Kurdish ruler found himself surrounded in his castle and was told his life and that of his immediate tribe would be spared if he surrendered.  He did so on July 20, 1847. 

Two months later, he was ushered into the presence of Sultan Abdulmecit in the Ottoman capital.  When asked why he had rebelled, instead of owning his uprising manfully, he did what Sophocles thought a person who enters the tyrant’s door would do and that was to act like a slave.  He quoted a stanza from Omar Khayyam,

 

Who is free of sin in this world?  Tell me.

Tell me, how has the sinless lived in this world?

When I do wrong and you do the same to me,

Tell me, what is the difference between us?

 

… and hoped foolishly for a miracle.  It never came.  It only earned him and his tribe of close to 200 men an exile on the island of Crete.

A sea now separated Mir Bedir Xan and his men from their ancestral principality.  He couldn’t swim like a fish, but desperately wanted to get back to the land of his fathers.  Mir Bedir Xan’s repeated requests to be restored to his principality, as an obedient subject, fell on deaf ears.  But then something unplanned happened in Crete in 1856.  The islanders rebelled against their Ottoman overlords.  In the ensuing struggle, it was only with the help of Mir Bedir Xan and his men that the Ottomans were able quell the Greek rebellion. 

With this mercenary act under his belt, Mir Bedir Xan now found a sympathetic ear in the imperial palace.  He was allowed to relocate to Constantinople and permitted to receive visitors from his principality.  The accounts vary, but he is said to have had four lawful wives and as many as a dozen concubines.  In a surviving letter, he speaks of having 110 offspring.  One of these sons, Emin Ali Bedir Xan, was born in Crete.  Jeladet Ali Bedir Xan, the subject of this essay, is Emin’s son.  He was born in Constantinople, some say in Kayseri, in 1893, 120 years ago this spring (2013).

 The Kurds are a subject people and their history, alas, has been neglected as a field of study.

 

The Kurds are a subject people and their history, alas, has been neglected as a field of study.  Jeladet has stepped into the limelight from obscurity thanks to the indefatigable efforts of late Mehmed Uzun, a Kurdish novelist.  Mr. Uzun spent most of his adult life in exile.  In Sweden, where people are encouraged to explore the utmost frontiers freedom, he dedicated his life to unearthing Kurdish history, almost like an archeologist, and produced 14 works of art, mostly novels.

In one of those novels, Bira Qedere, which translates as “The Well of Destiny,” he celebrates the tragic life of his hero, Jeladet.  It is a breathtaking accomplishment considering the scarcity of Kurdish role models.  But in Stockholm, with its long winter nights, Mehmed Uzun read the world and decided to reshape it at least in its Kurdish corner.  That he has done so is now beyond doubt.  A new star has risen in the Kurdish literary firmament.  He will shine for as long as there are Kurds in this world.

The novel is made of 16 chapters.  Each one starts with the description of a photograph.  The first one is taken from a distance and shows Kadikoy, a district of Constantinople, where Jeladet, our protagonist, is born.  It is a complicated birth.  The labor is difficult.  In the dead of the night, the nearest doctor is called and he is an optometrist.  At dawn, the next day, he and a mid-wife deliver a dead baby.  A servant places him by the house well in the garden for a wash and burial, as the family’s Muslim faith dictates.  An hour or so later, his cry is heard.  The gloomy mood gives way to instantaneous celebration.

In the succeeding chapters, we see Jeladet grow into his boyhood, teens, adulthood, middle age and finally the “golden years” (alas, they were not), through 15 additional snapshots in which he is front-and-center.  He lives an upper middle class life style.  His father is a civil servant.  His mother is a housewife.  They have an Italian-speaking servant.  At home, Kurdish, Turkish and French are spoken.  At the table, there are references to Botan, wistful anecdotes about Mir Bedir Xan, discussions of politics of Ottoman Empire and exchanges on the latest in French literature.  The kids take private music lessons and go on vacation in Buyukada, an island off the coast of Kadikoy.

The most striking aspect of the novel is the occasional conversations of the protagonist with the writer.  Reading the tome, you are left with the impression that the author has clearly done his homework, seen the newspapers of the times, read the novels that were popular at the turn of the century and mined the recollections of living family members to come up with a picture of a crumbling empire and young Turkish Republic that is imperious, suspicious, violent and predatory, especially towards the minorities, that history has come to associate with Turks and their institutions.

 The name Jeladet, we find out, means youth and belief, but he is born into an empire that is old and faithless.  

 

Throughout the riveting pages, the author’s pen is extremely nimble; his wide-ranging imagination sprawls expansively. Just as you may be ready to utter a wow here and another one somewhere else, then come in italics, the second-guessing of the protagonist that sometimes enrich and sometimes embarrass the author but make you, the reader, privy to an exchange that you can only witness between intimates, a niece and an uncle, a daughter and a father, a lover and a beloved.  At times, it feels like watching some rovers paddling a canoe on a lake.  There is no effort in it.  Only the pleasure of bumping onto the scene, oops, the pages.

The novel overflows with love for the persecuted Kurdish language, patriotism that is sublime, curiosity that is like a child’s and a desire to do some good in a world that is overburdened with genocide and war.  The name Jeladet, we find out, means youth and belief, but he is born into an empire that is old and faithless.  He lives in Constantinople, the seat of a conservative empire, but attends a school named after an Italian revolutionary called Garibaldi.  The family is in the habit of wanting to be photographed, especially after the First World War, not because they are vain, but because the senior Bedir Xan has departed without leaving his image behind, and they wish to avoid his mistake.

The year 1898 has a special place in the pages of the novel.  In Egypt, in the most liberal state of the empire, the newspaper Kurdistan debuts its life under the direction of Mithat Bedir Xan, an uncle of Jeladet.  You soon realize that Egypt owes its liberality to its connection to her other imperial overlord, Great Britain.  The occasion calls for a celebration.  All the Bedir Xans come together.  Our protagonist is a minor player.  But he remembers the details that belie the experience of a boy his age.  You like him for his precociousness; but you wonder if it is not make-believe.

This relatively happy life is suddenly uprooted with the death of the mayor of Istanbul in 1906.  Kurds associated with Bedir Xans are accused of committing the crime.  All of the Bedir Xans, whether they live in Constantinople or not, now numbering thousands, are deported to the forsaken corners of the empire.  Jeladet and his family are taken to Acre, in Palestine.  There, in custody, the youngest brother of Jeladet, named after the senior Bedir Xan, dies.  Soon after, another order to relocate arrives.  This time, they leave for a place called Isparta in western Anatolia.

The novel never mentions it, but the story of Ali Samil Bedir Xan, another uncle of Jeladet, is worth noting at this time.  Exiled to Crete with the senior Bedir Xan, schooled in Constantinople after the family’s “peace” with the Turkish sultan, he becomes a civil servant.  In the Turkish-Russian war of 1877, he volunteers for the front and recruits 3000 Kurds to boot.  Wounded numerous times, he loses one of his legs in the battlefield.  Gone also is his hearing.  Although the Ottoman army is defeated, Ali Samil is declared a pasha and begins a distinguished career in the Ottoman military.

But all this means nothing when the order to exile all the Bedir Xans is issued.  Now known as Ali Samil Pasha, he too becomes part of the caravan of exiled Kurds for the second time.  Tripoli, Libya, the Siberia of the empire, is his destination.  The deaf, limping, and aging warrior expires while in custody in North Africa.  In Constantinople itself, a group of young officers, called Young Turks in the west, topple the government in 1908 and pave the way for a constitutional monarchy.  The order that had exiled the Bedir Xans becomes obsolete.   

 All of the Bedir Xans, whether they live in Constantinople or not, now numbering thousands, are deported to the forsaken corners of the empire.   

 

The return of surviving Bedir Xans to Constantinople is a joyous occasion.  It is also a time when Jeladet is curious about reading, sex, food and travelling.  There are frequent visits to the Constantinople of European shores.  The places that serve alcohol are mentioned.  Restaurants that are known for their elaborate cuisines are highlighted.  Reading it, you can forgive Jeladet for being oblivious to the larger tectonic forces that are at play in Europe.  He is as far away from war as the moon is from the earth.  It is the ultimate quiet before the storm.

Love is a theme that takes up a significant part of the book.  Jeladet’s first tryst is with a Kurdish woman, Sehriban.  We get the impression that she is more experienced than he is.  To say that she initiates him into the ritual, he calls it “art,” is an understatement.  But here we detect our first oddity towards our protagonist.  The Kurdish woman thoroughly responds to his passion, but he is not as responsive to hers.  This theme comes up again towards the end of his life.  His love for Kurdish women is based on utility; his passion is reserved for first a Bosnian, Canan, and then a German, Monica.

What does that say about our protagonist?  Has he succumbed to the Turkish proclivity to ape after European style rather than substance?  Are Kurds, who are treated like over-sized children by their cruel masters, supposed to find this type of behavior acceptable?  Is it normal for a Kurdish writer, who aspires to heal the damaged Kurdish psyche, to elaborate on such shallowness?  If Kurds were free, I would not care if they dedicated their lives to the pursuit of sex; since they are not, I had a hard time relating to the elaboration of his obsession with the subject.  The novel, alas, falls short on these vexing issues that still haunt the Kurds.

As Jeladet charts a future into adulthood without much guidance, The First World War finally catches up with the Ottoman Empire.  He is recruited into the army as an officer.  He serves on the Eastern Front.  The world is tired of the old order.  It is breaking up along linguistic and confessional lines.  Christians don’t want to be lorded over by Muslims.  The Kurds and the Arabs are looking for opportunities to break away from the Ottomans, who are increasingly referred to as Turks, as these days are recounted.

The ruling circles in Constantinople are aware of this.  Theirs is a mission to stop this tide of the future.  Instead of introducing a loose federation to accommodate the greater demands for political space, they terrorize their subjects into submission or kill them outright.  But they also want to benefit from the tide.  They make plans to conquer central Asia to unite with their Turkish cousins who are ruled by the Russians.  A 90,000-man army is massed along the eastern border.  It freezes to death (only a fraction of it survives), before seeing any action.

In the meantime, an open war is declared on the Armenian population of the empire on account of their Christian faith.  Jeladet becomes a reluctant eyewitness of it.  Smoke rises from once-bustling communities (the homes of Kurdish draft dodgers are also entrusted to the flames).  Armenians are either killed outright or quarantined for later deportations.  In the Syrian desert, their final destination, they die of thirst and starvation.  The mood in the army is ghoulish.  He overhears his soldiers boisterously talking about getting rid of “the zos” (a reference the Armenians), on the way to the front, and “the los” (a reference to the Kurds), on the way to home.

Our protagonist is beside himself with anger.  He confronts his infantrymen. He tells them that he is a Kurd. He lectures them about the virtues of tolerance.  In his words, “Don’t forget, those who build a future on animosity and hatred will one day be submerged in it.”  It is a nice admonition.  But you are left with the feeling that it should not have been uttered.  You almost want to whisper into his ear the old adage that sometimes, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

The First World War ends with the defeat of Central Powers, which means the dismemberment of Ottoman Empire, some of it along ethnic and confessional lines.  The army is disbanded.  Officer Jeladet returns to Constantinople.  In war, he has seen too much death; now, he wants to celebrate life to its fullest.  He connects with his sweetheart Canan, the Bosnian beauty, and rents a room in Pera Palace, the most beautiful hotel in Constantinople.  They become the John Lennon and Yoko Ono of our times; “breakfast in bed” becomes the norm, so to speak.

  Our protagonist is beside himself with anger.  He confronts his infantrymen. He tells them that he is a Kurd. He lectures them about the virtues of tolerance. 

 

Left behind is the red blood that Jeladet saw on the battlefields; it is replaced with red wine that now he drinks like water.  For the first time, he is oblivious to his watch; it has been replaced with the dictates of his lust.  As it is satisfied, he marvels at the adaptability of men.  He compares sweating for love with sweating in war and doesn’t let you wonder that he prefers the first.

Again, there is an omission in the historical record.  While Jeladet is an officer in the Ottoman army, his uncle, Kamil Bedir Xan, throws his lot with the Russians and thinks Kurdistan would be better off if it came under the rule of a Christian monarch.  Historical record supports his thesis.  Russians, be they nationalists or socialists, have never denied the identity of their subjects.  That obscene record belongs to the “modern” Turkish Republic.  The Russians, however, withdraw from the war; Kamil Bedir Xan dies an exile in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Although it is the aftermath of war, Jeladet feels like he is on the cusp of another war.  The Middle East is being carved up by the Allied Powers.  The Kurdish population of the capital is in fermentation.  Meetings are held.  Appointments are secured with the heads of various European embassies.  Unbeknown to them, a British major is in their midst and tasked to connect with prominent Kurds.

He is Major E. M. Noel.  He wants to see if it would be feasible for his government to sponsor the establishment of a Kurdish state.  A meeting with Jeladet’s father is recommended to him.  Major Noel is impressed with the old man.  The Brit suggests they do a fact-finding tour of Kurdistan.  Emin Ali Bedir Xan is six years away from his death.  He recommends the younger Kurds to accompany the envoy.  Jeladet ends up becoming a member of the delegation.

It tours Kurdistan from June 14 till September 21, 1919.  Jeladet has not left us an account of his tour, but thankfully Major Noel has.  It is called, The Diary of Major Noel.  Mehmed Uzun, the author of the novel, leaves us with the impression that the Brit was impressed with his hero.  He was not.  His words, “He suffers from inevitable effects of long residence and training in Constantinople.”  They were code words for voluptuousness.

It is a damning condemnation.

There is also a disconnect of another sort between them.  Throughout the novel, we see the protagonist talk about primarily French thinkers, but hardly anything is said of the others’ contributions to the cause of liberty or literature.  As the two meet, you kind of wish Jeladet knew a thing or two about the Glorious Revolution in London or even its improved version, the American Revolution, in Boston.  He doesn’t.  It is a major omission.

In the meantime, Ataturk, the future leader of Turkey, has heard of Major Noel’s trip to Kurdistan.  He instructs forces loyal to him to arrest him.  An arrest warrant is issued.  The trip is cut short.  As Ataturk consolidates his power, the Bedir Xans sense the approach of another storm in the making.  Ataturk and his ilk, to their credit, target only patriotic Kurds.  Those that keep their opinions to themselves or turn their back to the Kurds, just like today, are left alone.  But Jeladet and his family began leaving the country as early as 1922.

  As Ataturk consolidates his power, the Bedir Xans sense the approach of another storm in the making.  

 

Jeladet heads for Europe.  For three years, he attends the University of Munich in Germany.  It is a heady time on the continent.  A peace treaty worse than war has opened the way for demagogues to cultivate fear the way a gardener cultivates his or her flower patch.  Jeladet witnesses the collapse of German economy firsthand and the putsch of Adolph Hitler in the Bavarian capital live.  His savings gone, his hopes of finding himself a secure footing dashed, he leaves for Egypt where his parents have sought refuge.

But his three years in Germany introduce him to the German language and literature.  He develops a relationship with Goethe, Nietzsche and Bismarck to his dying days.  Like the first, he wants to write a novel, but his would be in the language of his people, Kurdish.  Like the second, he feels rootless and longs for things meaningful in an increasingly meaningless world.  Like the third, he wishes either he or another Kurd were capable of becoming a Bismarck to put an end to the misery of the Kurds and Kurdistan.

Eventually, he settles in Damascus, Syria, where his grandfather, Mir Bedir Xan is buried.  Damascus also is the city where the most famous Kurd, Saladin, is interred.  There, he meets fellow Kurds who are clamoring for change.  In that city and in Beirut, plans are made to spark a Kurdish revolution in the Middle East.  But there are obstacles.  Kurds have not realized that humans are each other’s wolves.  Not wanting to fight, submission has become their fate.  Worse yet, they accept bribes to inform the authorities on the activities of the revolutionaries.

If he can’t be a Kurdish Bismarck, he will become a Kurdish Goethe.  In Munich, he had studied philology.  In Damascus, he burns the midnight oil to put together the first Kurdish alphabet and the first Kurdish book on grammar.  The Jews of Palestine are his role models.  Through a revived and fighting language, he will create an indestructible nation.  He works on Kurdish words, the way a jeweler works on gold or silver.  When a Kurd tells him, “You can’t lead Kurds by reading French books,” he shows patience and maturity (unlike the time when he tells armed Turkish soldiers about the virtue of tolerance), demonstrating his growth into a Kurdish intellectual with gravitas.

In 1932, he is ready to make additional contributions to the cause of Kurdish literature.  In the Syrian capital, he publishes the first Kurdish literary magazine, Hawar, which means “Outcry” in Kurdish.  He puts down his purpose for his monthly as such: “Hawar is the voice of knowledge.  Knowledge leads to personal reflection.  A person who becomes aware of the inner-self desires freedom and happiness.  Self-knowledge also leads to self-expression.  This magazine will reflect those expressions in the Kurdish language.”

So how did our Goethe wannabe live in Damascus?  He tells the author of the novel in italics, “I was writing every day. I was living for my magazine.  Daily, I was drinking four shots of cognac, two bottles of raki, 30 cups of coffee and two packs of cigarettes.”  Who was paying for forty cigarettes a day you might ask?  Apparently, the expatriate Kurdish community of Damascus was.  The hope was that, eventually, he would switch to novel writing and write something like Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, but his would be called Heyveron in Kurdish, which means “The Full Moon” in English.

 If he can’t be a Kurdish Bismarck, he will become a Kurdish Goethe. 

 

The title that he had chosen for his yet-to-be-written novel is telling.  Jeladet thought the Kurdish world was condemned to darkness.  Since daylight was denied to the Kurds, he would create “The Full Moon” to keep them company in the dead of the night, so to speak.  But before he could do so, fate had other plans for him.  First, he would run into his old flame, Canan, now the wife of a Turkish diplomat in Damascus.  They would find a way to meet in Beirut and renew their old passion for one another.

Those are the happiest days of his life.  Like all good things, they too come to an end.  Canan has to go back to her married life in Turkey and he has to go back to his publishing days in Damascus.  There, the Kurdish community leaders urge him to marry and he decides to give in to their importunities and marries his widowed distant cousin, Rusen.  They have two kids, a daughter, Sinemxan and a son, Jemshid.  He says he has three kids: Hawar, his magazine, being the first. 

Then the Second World War intervenes.  Monica, his European flame, flees the war and comes knocking on his brother’s door, his occasional address, in Beirut.  Again, there is an escapade.  And then there is also hope.  Syria is a French colony; so is Lebanon.  Both end up in the camp of General de Gaulle with the help of British.  For a while Kurds are encouraged to organize themselves since Turkey will not commit itself to the Allied camp.  Ronahi, which means “Light” in Kurdish, is born.  It is his second magazine.  Jeladet calls it his fourth baby.

As he is nurturing this new baby to life, another surprise is in the making.  Canan has decided to pay him another visit and this time asks him to accompany her to liberated France.  He does something that at least this Kurdish activist found galling: he spends three weeks with her but their expenses cost his Kurdish wife, Rusen, the salary of six months as a school teacher.  A man who has dedicated his life to the Kurds should not so callous with the labor of others, and especially that of his wife.  I don’t know if a similar travesty occurs in Goethe’s novel, but in the fictional life of Jeladet, when it comes to this chapter, you want to cringe.  At least I did.

The Second World War ends as well and Jeladet feels like he is on the cusp of yet another war again.  This time he feels the pangs of poverty.  His son Jemshíd wants to have a bicycle.  Jeladet is unable to satisfy his need.  It is time to earn some money.  He doesn’t say it, but the words of self-exiled Turkish poet to Egypt, Mehmet Akif Ersoy, occur to you as you see him struggling with his poverty,

 

Whoever doesn’t earn his or her daily bread in this world,

becomes an embarrassment to his friends and a laughing stock of his foes.

 

To remedy his “embarrassment,” Jeladet asks a landlord for some land to grow commercial cotton.  The kind lord is a Kurdish patriot and is happy to help.  Our farmer wannabe reads the available literature on growing cotton and plants his first crop.  But water is scarce in Syria.  A well is needed and he constructs one.  But it is not built to specifications.  As he starts the engine to pump the water, the walls of the well cave in.  He falls into it together with the engine.  He sustains serious injuries and dies from them.  In the real life, he dies in a traffic accident. 

Jeladet would have liked how Mehmed Uzun has romanticized his life.  Before 1995, the year that saw the publication of the novel, which would have put Jeladet at 102 had he been alive, a few thousand Kurds knew of him and his works. 

Now, thanks to Mehmed Uzun, millions do.

I would like to end this essay with a favorite quote of Jeladet, one that he had used in his open letter to Kemal Ataturk, the founder and dictator of “modern” Turkey.

 

The God who made the iron grow,

didn´t want slaves,

So he gave saber, sword and spear,

[to] the man in his right hand;

 

This stanza of Ernst Moritz Arendt, like that of Omar Khayyam, didn’t amount to a hill of beans when it was addressed to the Turkish tyrant, in 1933.  But at least it was defiant and the “right hand” of the Kurds continues to be armed, by laptops as well as guns, for freedom.

One more thing, Jeladet didn’t live long enough to write his novel, Heyveron, “The Full Moon.” 

We don’t need it now.  A bright sun is beckoning a new dawn.  When it finally shines its rays of freedom on us, I will be working overtime, and praying too, that we will not become predatory towards the remnants of the minorities that are still living in Kurdistan.  Hippocrates was right; the least we owe our fellow creatures is to do them no harm.


  • * Kani Xulam is a political activist based in Washington D.C. He is the founder of the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) www.kurdistan.org.

  • * The Spanish translation of this essay was commissioned by Manuel Perez, the editor of Los Kurdos: Presente, Pasado y Futuro, a publication of the Commission for Libraries and Editorial Affairs of the Mexican Senate, Mexico City, Mexico.

Comments

 
saif Baderkhan | 14/5/2013
Dear Kani and Rudwa Editors, These are few comments to correct few mistakes in this article about Bedirxan (The story of a Kurdish prince in exile: Jeladet Ali Bedir Xan). Many parts of our Kurdish history were written by our enemies and forigners. 1. Bedirxan declared himself as prince of Botan in the Summer of 1846, after the death of Mir Saifeddin (Mir of Botan from 1828 to June of 1846). Von Moltike (the war minister of Germany) wrote that in 1836 Rasheed Pash attacked Cezira Botan with 40,000 soldiers and that Prince of Botan Saifeddin defended Cezira Botan for several months with his two assistants Bedirxan Big and Mir Said Big of Judy. 2. Botan principality's princes have nothing to do with the Islamic Arab fighter Khalid ibn al-Walid. The author of the historical book assad Al Ghaba stated that khalid ibin Al-walid and all of his family died by the black death in Homs city in Syria, and that his far away relative Ayob ibn Selma (who lived in al Madina) inherited all of his wealth. Also his son Sulyman was killed in the Battle of Suffin. 3. The Princes of Botan and Hoson Kyf principalities are the descendent of King Salaheddin family. 4. The carnage went on from 1843 till 1845. In reality it is a few days fight and the large Assyrian Christian tribe of Takhoma helped Bedirxan against Tiary assyrian tribe. Under the leadership of Mar Shamoon Tiary tribe, cooperated with the Ottman empire against the Kurds. They helped the Governor of Mosel to defeat Bedinan principality and then tried to overthrow Mir of Hakari Nurullah Beg with the help of the Turkish Governor of Mosel city (Mohammed Enge Batraqdar). Both of the principalities are supporter and allies of Bedirxan. The Takhoma christian tribe led the attack against the Tairy tribe. The battle went on for few days not years. nothing happened in the year 1845. The main reason of the conflict is, are you with Bedirxan and the Kurds or with the Ottman empire and Mosel city Governor?. Mar Shamoon Cooperated with Turkey against the Kurdish principalities' drive for independence. The Tiary Tribe were given arms by Turkey and Grants. They also attacked Bedirxan's troops for many months and refused to pay taxes. The Christian of Telkosh, Nisibin, Botan and the Armenian cooperated with Bedirxan and some of them were in the top leadership. Best Regards, Saif Badrakhan (Bedirxan)
Schkak Mareské | 15/5/2013
A remakable account of a novel about a Kurdish prince in exile,a destiny which is shared by the author himself. A tale of a Kurdish prince who really did exist and lived so intensely as a prince as well as an intellectual. But above all it is about kurdishness. The review, so masterly written by Kani is really an achievement. Our special thanks go to Seif Bederxan who enlightens us with valuable facts on the subject,and I am delighted to know,through him,that the whole family of Khaled ibn Walid was extinguished for ever. The rest of the tale with such elements like cognac, Janan and Monica are not so disturbing as long as there are always Sehriban,the Kurdish alphabet, Hawar, and finally Rusen,Sinemxan and Jamshid,as well as Ronahi. Schkak Mareské
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