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By Zert

Kurds and their origins
There exists to this day a lot of confusion about the origins and the history of the Kurds. This small text will attempt to clear up this history by combining information about genetics, culture and linguistics. Earliest possible ancestors: Hurrians and Gutians Much of the geographical area which is nowadays inhabited by the Kurds (e.g. Kurdistan) was initially inhabited by the so-called Hurrians. These Hurrians probably were a Caucasian people, and were quite well-developed on multiple areas (first Musical piece ever written down was Hurrian, they probably introduced the horse to Mesopotamia…). A people related to the Hurrians were also present in Northeast Mesopotamia, these were called the Gutians or Qurtie, and were known to be a barbarous people, being the first to use guerrilla-like tactics. They dealt the final blow to the Akkadians, and ruled over Sumer, they proved to be bad rulers however, and their might declined quickly, after which they retreated into the Zagros. An important phase in the Hurrians’ timeline is that of the Mitanni, they were a people of Indo-Aryan origins, who imposed themselves over the Hurrians. They thus formed an elite. Under their rule, the might of the Hurrians would extend even further. So what happened to these Hurrians? The Assyrians defeated and conquered them, “absorbing” many of the Hurrians. A hypothesis is that the “leftovers” immigrated north and created the Urartian Empire. Another possibility is that the invading Iranic peoples (of which the Medes were one) also incorperated parts of the Hurrians’ population. Analysis: Linguistic/Etymological: -some Kurdish words and place names are thought to be derived from the Hurrian language, such as Barzani.i -“Guti”, and similar terms that were used by Akkadians (such as Qurdu) are possible ancestors of the term “Kurd”.ii -The fact that Kurdish is an ergative language has been suggested as heritage from Hurrian (though, that seems quite far-fetched to me). Culture: -The Hurrian sky-god Teshub was known to be revered by another people we’ll discuss later, the Carduchians.iii Genetics: Armenians, Turks, Assyrians and Kurds are all genetically relatively close together, despite being part of totally different ethno-linguistic groups (Armenians=Indo-European; Assyrians=Semitic; Turks=Turkic; Kurds=Indo-Iranian). What is thought to connect these peoples is a common ancient ancestor. The Hurrians fits this description perfect, covering parts of what Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds and Turks consider as their homelands.iv

The Iranic tribes: Medes and others What’s widespread among the Kurds, be it South, North, East or West; is that they consider themselves as proud descendants of the ancient Medes. These Medes would establish a vast empire, incorporating as much as most of the eastern half of Anatolia, North Mesopotamia, the entire Iranian Plateau, all the way to Bactria. This Empire was founded by Cyaxares the Great around 625 b.C., and would conquer Assyria (together with the Babylonians) in 612 b.C. The were attested far earlier in the region however, possibly as early as 1000 b.C., in presentday Western Iran. The Median Empire however also would meet its demise. Cyrus the Great (himself of Median descent), revolted with the Persians against the Medes, and established the Achaemenid Empire. The Medes would continue to play a great role in this and later Persian Empires however. They were one of the few groups to be allowed to be an Immortal for example, and also continued to hold high positions. The Scythians are thought to have consisted one of the Median tribes. Note: it’s unclear when mention of “Medes” stopped. Analysis: Linguistics: -The Median language was a Northwest Iranian language, just like the Kurdish language is. -Although not a direct descendant, Kurdish is analyzed as having a Median substratum.v -An ancient Armenian manuscript depicts a Kurdish dialect as “Median”.vi -Various Scythian words present in Kurdish.vii Culture: -To this day Kurds are considered to be an Iranic people. It’s unclear whether or not certain cultural elements can be ascribed to Medes specifically though. -Medes are thought to have been the first nation to be collectively Zoroastrian in religion (although some theories propose a Mithraistic religion). Their priester caste was called Magi, and were possibly even the Magi attested in the Bible. Zoroastrian elements and Kurds: -At least a portion of the Kurds were known to have been Zoroastrians at a time. -Yezidis also have Zoroastrian elements in their religion. -Various holidays, the most prominent of which is Newroz, have Zoroastrian roots. -There are still some Median sites in existent, most of which are in Kurdistan, or just outside of it. -Another antique Armenian source equates the Medes with the Kurds.viii Genetics: -Although very close to neighbouring non-Iranic peoples, the Kurds remain closest to the Persians and other nearby Iranic peoples. A clear sign of the significant Iranic ancestry of the Kurds.ix

A recognizable people: the Carduchians Another people that are possible Kurdish ancestors would also be mentioned around the same period though. Namely the Carduchians/Carduchoi/Gordyene/Gordian. These were present in East Anatolia, in the areas around Van, and South of it, and were first attested around 520 b.C. The Greek soldier Xenephon, writes in his travel log about these Carduchians; as they were retreating from their failed battle with the Persians, the Greeks encountered this people, enduring much hardship as they crossed their country. This people seems awfully similar to Gutians in multiple ways; non-Assyrian, non-Armenian hillfolk, revering a Hurrian Sky-God, warlike, practicing hit-and-run/guerrilla tactics. Corduene is known to have been conquered by Urarteans/Armenians, and were even attested in the early Roman period. Analysis: Linguistics/Etymological: -There is nothing known of the language of the Carduchians, outside of the fact that the Carduchians were able to converse with the Persians in their own native language, hinting at a close kinship of the Carduchian language with the Persian one. -The term “Carduchi/Gordyene/Gordian” bears a strong resemblance to similar terms used centuries before such as Qurdu/Guti/Qurtie. Similarly, “Kurd” is very much alike these terms. Culture: -Their portrayal seems to be in-line with how Kurds are often portrayed, namely, that of a warlike hillfolk. Genetics: -If we might assume that these were Iranics, then the Kurds Iranic genetic ancestry can be considered as a connection. There’s nothing concrete though.

Kurd: ethnic term versus social term Although in ancient times there were multiple terms akin to the term “Kurd”, none were exactly the same. So, when was “Kurd” first used, and in which context? The first uses of “Kurd” were in the 2nd-3rd century A.D. Ardashir I was said to have been “son of a Kurd, raised in the tents of the Kurds”x and his adversary Madig, was known as “King of the Kurds”xi. It is however unclear whether this constitutes an ethnic or a social term. Hereafter we enter a “dark age” of Kurdish history, of which not many traces can be found. During these times however, “Kurd” was mostly used to denote a nomad, or perhaps a shepherd speaking an Iranic language. In many instances it was used derogatory. By the tenth/eleventh century, we can however observe that the term “Kurd”, next to still being used as a social term, was also used as an ethnic term. The first dynasties known as “Kurdish” such as the Shaddadisxii and the Marwanids developed themselves, and “Kurd” was used more and more to designate a specifici people. In Syria for example, there is the famous “Krak des Chevaliers”, in Arabic “Hisn al-Akrad”, which means as much as “Castle of the Kurds”, dating from 1031 A.D. In this case, they were ethnic Kurds. Another famous example from the 12th century is the muslim leader Salah ad-Din, who was also known to be an ethnic Kurd, proved by a passage by the historian named al-Athir (also a Kurd), where one commander says to another: "...both you and Saladin are Kurds and you will not let power pass into the hands of the Turks". Thus, it can be concluded that from the tenth/eleventh century onward, the Kurdish ethnic identity solidified.


Michael C. Astour, "Semites and Hurrians in Northern Transtigris", in Studies on the civilization and culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians Volume 2, General studies and excavations at Nuzi 9/1, by D.I. Owen and M.A. Morrison (eds.), Winona Lake Indiana, Eisenbrauns, pp 1-66., 1987.

Maria T. O'Shea, 2004, Trapped between the Map and Reality: Geography and Perceptions of Kurdistan p. 66 ff. Olaf A. Toffteen, Notes on Assyrian and Babylonian Geography, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, pp.323-357, 1907, p.341 iv http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1034/j.1399-0039.2001.057004308.x/full
iii v

Windfuhr, Gernot (1975), “Isoglosses: A Sketch on Persians and Parthians, Kurds and Medes”, Monumentum H.S. Nyberg II (Acta Iranica-5), Leiden vi http://azargoshnasp.net/history/Medes/languageofmedians.pdf vii http://s155239215.onlinehome.us/turkic/40_Language/StetsyukHtm/StetsyukB2ch5En.htm viii http://www.archive.org/stream/historyarmenia00avdagoog/historyarmenia00avdagoog_djvu.txt ix http://i1194.photobucket.com/albums/aa379/palisto1/Lineage%20tree%20of%20Middle%20East%20based%20on %20Dodecad/ScreenShot2012-01-25at23820PM.png

http://www.kavehfarrokh.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/origins-of-kurds-in-preislamic-iran.pdf Note: do not pay attention to the text by the hand of the author here, because it seems like bogus, but pay attention to the letter written by Ardavan to Ardashir, which is genuine.
xi xii

http://www.avesta.org/pahlavi/karname.htm Andrew C. S. Peacock, Nomadic Society and the Seljūq Campaigns in Caucasia, 209.