Tag Archives: Kurds

Rya T’eze and the Kurds in Armenia

As much of the Kurdish material we hold in the library and archives relates to Kurdistan – the area that covers territories within Iraq (Southern Kurdistan), Iran (Eastern Kurdistan), Syria (Western Kurdistan) and Turkey (Northern Kurdistan) – it is sometimes forgotten that there is a large Kurdish diaspora that lives outwith this region, with historically established communities. In this blogpost I am going to look at the newspaper Rya T’eze, which was the first Kurdish newspaper to be published in Latin script.

The Kurds in Armenia

Most of the Kurds in Armenia originally came from Turkey, beginning to settle in numbers around 1828 to escape from fighting during the Russo-Turkish wars, with migration increasing during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of them belonged to the Yezidi community, who follow a religion that fuses elements from Islam and the ancient Persian faith of Zoroastrianism.

Over half of the Kurds in Armenia live in the capital city, Erivan, previously known as Yerevan, or ‘Rewan’ in Kurdish. This city, as will be discussed below, has played a significant role in the development of Kurdish culture.

In 1921 Kurds here began to use a Kurdish alphabet that was derived from Armenian characters; this lasted for about eight years before it was replaced by a Latin alphabet, which was created by a Yezidi Kurd named Arab Shamilov (in Kurdish, Erebê Şemo/Ә’рәб Шамилов or Ereb Shemo), working closely with an Assrian named Isaac Marogulov. Born in 1897 in Kars in eastern Anatolia (NE Turkey), Shemo had fled to Armenia with his family after the First World War. His book Xwe bi Xwe Hînbûna Kurmancî [Teach Yourself Kurmanji], was published in 1928 and was the first Kurdish book to be printed using the new Latin alphabet.

Between 1930 and 1937 there was a flowering of Kurdish education and culture in Armenia, with almost thirty Kurdish schools established, children taught to read and write in Kurdish, and a regular stream of Kurdish-language books published each year. Shemo’s novel Sivane Kurd [The Kurdish Shepherd] came out in 1935, followed by his anthology Folklora Kurmanca. It was against this background that Rya T’eze appeared.

Rya T’eze 1930-1937

Image of the front cover of the first issue

The first issue of Rya T’eze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Рйа  Т’әзә or Rya T’eze (sometimes spelled Riya Teze) means ‘New Path’, and the first issue was published on 25 March 1930, printed in Kurmanji Kurdish but using the Latinised alphabet of Shemo-Marogulov. It had four pages and came out twice a week, with a circulation of some 600 copies. Celadet Alî Bedirxan’s magazine Hawar [The Cry] was not published until 1932, making Rya T’eze the first Kurdish language newspaper in the world. This was acknowledged in an article in Hawar (No.8, 1932), written by Herekol Azizan:

Produced under the auspices of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia, the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers of the Armenian SSR, Rya T’eze was bound to reflect Soviet ideology, and even though it was written in Kurdish, there is perhaps a disappointingly sparse amount of material on Kurdish culture. At first the newspaper was run by three exiled Armenians who knew Kurdish – Kevork Paris, Hraçya Koçar and literary critic Harûtyûn Mkirtçyan – before Kurdish linguist and author Cerdoy Gênco took over as editor in 1934. That was also the year that the first ever pan-Soviet Congress of Kurdology was held – in Yerevan, naturally – which called for the creation of a Kurdish dictionary and historical grammar. An education academy had already opened in Yerevan with the aim of training Kurdish language teachers. 

However, under Stalin’s increasingly tight grip on the Soviet Union there was little place for dissent or devolution, and the resources and freedom open to Kurds in Armenia began to decline. Kurdish-language teaching and publishing were discouraged, and the Cyrillic alphabet was imposed on Kurds to encourage them to learn Russian, Armenian or Georgian (and therefore abandon their own language.) Between 1937 and 1944, Caucasian Kurds were deported to settlements within places such as Uzbekhistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia, where they faced severe restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. Ereb Shemo was himself among these, and he would not return until 1956. Publication of Rya T’eze was shut down in 1937, and would not resume for almost twenty years.

Rya T’eze 1955-2003

Image of front page of newspaper in Cyrillic, dated 1 February 1955

Front page of the revived Rya T’eze, 1 February 1955 – the first issue in our holdings.

Following Stalin’s death in 1953 and the more moderate governance introduced by his successor, Nikita Khruschev, publication of Rya T’eze recommenced in 1955, still in Kurdish but this time printed in a Cyrillic alphabet that had been devised by Heciyê Cindî, another Yezidi Kurd who had worked on Radio Yerevan, and also spent time in exile during the 1940s. Nonetheless, Cindî had managed to complete a doctorate in Kurdish folklore while in exile, and was also the author of a Kurmanji reader and other Kurdish books. The new editor was Mîroyê Esed (1919-2008), who would continue to run the paper until 1989.

 

This again was another period in which Kurdish culture was able to flourish in Armenia, and the local radio station also began broadcasting in Kurdish in January 1955. Gayané Ghazaryan has written a fascinating blogpost about Kurds in Armenia and the work of Casimê Celîl (who wrote Kurdish poetry for Rya T’eze) and his family for Radio Yerevan that can be read here.

Other Kurdish authors who contributed to Rya T’eze after its relaunch in 1955 included Qaçaxê Mirad, Şekroyê Xudo, Xelîlê Çaçan, Babayê Keleş, Têmûrê Xelîl, Tîtal Mûradov, Egîtê Xudo, Eliyê Ebdilrehman, Hesenê Qeşeng, Pirîskê Mihoyî, Rizganê Cango, Porsora Sebrî, Tîtalê Efo, Karlênê Çaçanî, Şerefê Eşir, Egîtê Abasî, Paşayê Erfût, Letîfê Emer and Gayanê Hovhannîsyan. As before, much of the paper’s content reflected the dominant focus of the Armenian SSR on Soviet politics and history, agricultural and factory production, and so on, but there continued to be articles, poems and other material of Kurdish interest, such as this article from 9 October 1955 p.1 on the Armenian poet Хачатур Абовйан (Khachatur Abovyan, 1809-48), who was a pioneer in the study of Kurdish language and folklore, writing extensively about the Kurds and recording many of their local legends and folk tales. Abovyan laid the foundations for the development of Kurdish studies in Russia. 

The article reproduces the famous painting of ‘Abovian Among the Kurds’ by Mkrtich Sedrakyan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the 1970s, circulation figures rose from around 2,800 to 5,000 copies, although by the mid-1980s this had dropped back to about 4,000, with occasional changes in the frequency of publication. The death of Erebê Şemo in May 1978 was not overlooked, with a substantial article published on 5 June:

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 placed serious financial pressures on the newspaper, which had been funded by the Armenian SSR and relied heavily on the support of the state. Tîtalê Efo took over as editor from Esed that year, only to be succeeded in 1991 by Emerîkê Serdar, who ran the paper until he was forced to resign due to illness. During this time, the alphabet reverted to Latin in 2001, and the newspaper became a monthly publication with a print run of 500 copies in an effort to reduce production costs.

One positive outcome from the collapse of the Soviet Union was that Rya T’eze began to focus more on matters of general Kurdish interest, rather than adhering closely to the programme of the Armenian SSR. This was probably due in part to the growing reliance of the newspaper on the wider Kurdish diaspora for financial support, but these years saw regular coverage of events in Iraqi Kurdistan. 

An article on Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani from 2001, showing the newspaper’s return to Latin characters and improved coverage on matters of Kurdish interest outside Armenia

However, despite the efforts of the editor and Kurdish donors to keep the newspaper afloat – including an injection of money, the assistance of Kurdish volunteers and support from organisations such as the Lalish Foundation – it was clear that production was no longer financially viable. Publication wound down at the end of 2003, and after a few sporadic issues over the next two years, the press finally closed with No. 4818 in October 2006, which included a review of Dr. Khanna Omarkhali’s book on the Yezidis, Йезидизм (2005) and a tribute to Kurdish writer Emînê Evdal (1906-64), another Yezidi contributor to Rya T’eze during the 1930s and a pioneer in Kurdish language instruction.

Rya T’eze remains a remarkable record of the Kurdish community in Armenia, and is also of particular interest to scholars researching the history of the Yezidis and their culture. Our holdings of the newspaper are probably the most extensive outside the former Soviet Union, and this is a fantastic resource for postgraduate study, either from our own Centre for Kurdish Studies or further afield. Enquiries about access to the newspaper should be directed to Special Collections. 

Exploring the Omar Sheikhmous Archive, Part 4: A Guide to Kurdish Political Parties

In the concluding entry to our series of blogposts exploring the Omar Sheikhmous archive, it seemed a good idea to provide a guide to the various Kurdish political parties, groups and movements for which he hold material in our collections. The complex and convoluted history of Kurdish resistance can be hard to follow, with multiple splits and reunions, confusing acronyms and variant forms of names.

The party emblems and logos are all taken from documents in the Sheikhmous archive.

Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) – EUL MS 403/3/3

 

Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran

Hîzbî Dêmukratî Kurdistanî Êran‎

Persian: حزب دموکرات کردستان ایران

 

 

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) was founded by Qazi Muhammed in Mahabad in 1945, and we also hold a file on the short-lived Republic of Mahabad that includes copies of periodicals published there prior to Muhammed’s execution in March 1947 (EUL MS 403/7/1/1).

The subsequent repression of the party forced it to operate underground for the next few years, surfacing occasionally for short-lived collaborations in the 1950s and 1960s. When the new Islamic regime rejected calls for Kurdish autonomy, the KDPI joined other Kurdish groups to fight the Iranian government from 1979 to 1981, a conflict that continued intermittently ever since. The KDPI remains prescribed in Iran, with many of its members taking refuge over the border in Iraq.

Most of the material held dates from the 1980s, although there are documents dated between 1978 and 1996 in the file. These include information sheets, leaflets written by KDPI activists, bulletins, press releases, open letters from the KDPI leadership, issues of periodicals and newspapers such as Kurdistan: Organî Kumîtey Nawendîye Hîzbî Dêmukratî Kurdistanî Êran, ‘Talash dar rah-I tafahum: majmu’ah-‘i  asnad and Kurdistan Today, along with personal correspondence such as invitations to meetings sent to Omar Sheikhmous.

One of the most significant figures in the history of the KDPI is Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, who led the party from from 1973 until his assassination in Vienna in 1989. There are several official KDPI communications from Ghassemlou in the file, along with a separate correspondence file (EUL MS 403/2/1/4) and cuttings on Ghassemlou’s life and death (EUL MS 403/7/5). There is also an open letter written byGhassemlou’s successor as KDPI Secretary General, Abdullah Hassanzadeh, on the subject of Iranian state terrorism with a four page list of victims and a statement about Iranian cleric and intelligence minister Ali Fallahian in relation to the ‘Mykonos’ murder of Kurds in Berlin (1996)

Komala – EUL MS 403/3/4

Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan

Komełey Şorişgêrî Zehmetkêşanî Kurdistanî Êran

Revolutionary Workers’ Society of Iranian Kurdistan / ‘Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan’

كۆمه‌ڵه‌ی شۆڕشگێڕی زه‌حمه‌تكێشانی كوردستانی ئێران كۆمه‌ڵه‌ی شۆڕشگێڕی

[NB Not to be confused with the Kurdistan Toilers’ Party, (KTP) Hizbi Zahmatkêshani Kurdistan, or Hizb al-Kadihin al-Kurdistani, which was founded in 1985 and publishes newspapers and periodicals including Alay Azadi (Banner of Freedom), Pesh Kawtin and Nojan.]

Komala means ‘group’ or ‘society’ in Kurdish, and the recurring use of the word in the names of several different political groups can be confusing.

Emerging from a student organisation in the late 1960s, the Komala party took formal shape in the late 1970s as Komełey Şorişgêrî Zehmetkêşanî Kurdistanî Êran [in Kurdish] or ‘Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan’ until 1984 when it became the Komala Kurdistan’s Organization of the Communist Party of Iran. It remained part of the Communist Party of Iran until 2000 when one of its leaders, Abdullah Muhtadi, led a breakaway faction named the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Komala-PIK). Two further schisms occurred in 2007 and 2008, resulting in the creation of other Komala splinter groups led by Omar Ilkhanizade and Abdulla Konaposhi respectively.

The material we hold – which includes leaflets, press-releases, posters and booklets – spans the period between 1965 and 2009 and includes publications issued by Komala, the Communist Party of Iran and various international branches such as the Organisation of Komala Supporters Abroad.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – EUL MS 403/3/5

Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê

The PKK was founded in November 1978 in the village of Fis (near Lice), by a group of Kurdish students led by Abdullah Öcalan. During the 1980s and 1990s it was engaged in violent conflict with the Turkish state and military authorities, but in 1999 Öcalan was captured and imprisoned, and since then he has been held in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on İmralı island in the Sea of Marmara.

We don’t hold many PKK documents but there is a large amount of secondary material on Öcalan and PKK activities in the box on the Kurds in Turkey (EUL MS 403/7/6/4), a biographical file on Öcalan (EUL MS 403/7/5) and numerous news reports in Boxes EUL MS 403/10, including statements about the PKK issued by Jalal Talabani.

 

Komkar  EUL MS 403/3/7

 

The Association of Kurdish Workers for Kurdistan

Federasyona Komelên Karkerên Kurdistan [Komelên Karkerên = Kom Kar]

 

 

Among the Kurdish diaspora, it was students who were the first to start forming political organisations, beginning with the Kurdish Students Society in Europe (KSSE). In 1979 groups of Kurdish workers in Turkey came together to form ‘Komkar’, and this federation of Kurdish worker’s associations soon become widely established across Europe.

We hold papers from various European Komkar branches including statements on Kurdish and Turkish affairs, information on the 5th Komkar congress in 1983, correspondence, posters and publications.

 

Kurdistan Socialist Party – Iraq and related Socialist parties

EUL MS 403/3/8 and EUL MS 403/3/20

Kurdistan Socialist Party – Iraq (KSP-I)

الحزب الاشتراكي الكردستاني العراق

al-Ḥizb al-Ishtirākī al-Kurdistānī – al-`Irāq

 

Partiya Sosyalist a Kurdistan (PSK or PASOK)

al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Kurdi

 

The complicated history of the different Socialist parties involved in the Kurdish struggle requires some careful unpicking. The United Socialist Party of Kurdistan was formed in 1979 when a former KDP splinter group led by Mahmud Osman united with another group led by Socialist politician Rasul Mamand (1944–94). It was renamed the Socialist Party of Kurdistan-Iraq  (KSP-I) in 1981. The party was dissolved in  December 1992 when Mamand joined the PUK’s Political Bureau.

In 1993 the KSP-I was revived by a former member Mohammed Haji Mahmoud after he left the KDP, and at its second party congress the following year it changed its name to the Kurdistan Social Democratic Party (Parti Sosialiri Dimuqrati Kurdistan, Al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdistani) – which is not to be confused with the Kurdish Socialist Democratic Movement which was founded in May 1976 by Salih Al-Yousify (1918-81) from which we have a copy of a document issued in 1977.

Meanwhile in Turkey the Socialist Party of Turkish Kurdistan (SPTK) had been founded in 1974 by Kemal Burkay. The activities of the party were disrupted by the coup in 1980, with Burkay and most of its leaders forced into exile, and at the congress in 1992 it changed its name to the Socialist Party of Kurdistan.

We have a small file on the SPTK (EUL MS 403/3/20) but the folder at EUL MS 403/3/8 contains material relating to both the KSP-I and the PSK, as well as the KSDP, including party newsletters and periodicals such as Peyamî Birayetî, Rebazi-Lawan, Regay Azadi (KSP-I), Surîn and Yekgirtin (PSK), draft documents, memoriam posters, military bulletins, correspondence including an invitation from Kemal Burkay and a handwritten letter to Omar Sheikhmous from the Kurdish Socialist Party in Syria, plus various documents from the Socialist International congresses in which Jalal Talabani and other Kurds participated.

Iraqi Communist Party – EUL MS 403/3/9

Title page of the ICP newspaper Ṭarīq al-shaʻb

 

Arabic: الحزب الشيوعي العراقي

[al-Hizb al Shuyu’i al-Iraqi]

 

 

 

The Iraqi Communist Party was founded in 1934, emerging out of organised boycott of the British-owned Baghdad Electric Light Company. After various vicissitudes during the 1940s, it was strengthened in the early 1950s by growing support from Kurds, who gradually took over leadership roles and influenced the ICP’s approval of the principle of Kurdistan’s autonomy in their 1953 charter. Following the 1963 Baathist take-over, however, the ICP faced severe oppression from the government, and in 1967 a breakaway group (led by Aziz al-Hajj, who died earlier this year) split from the ICP and established the Iraqi Communist Party – Central Command. Weakened by the division, the ICP activities gradually focussed more on Kurdish areas and less on Baghdad. The close associaton between the Kurds and the ICP is reflected in the fact that a Kurd, Aziz Muhammad (1924-2017) was Secretary General of the ICP from 1964 until 1993.

Most of the material in this file comes from the late 1970s and the 1980s and includes several issues of ICP periodicals and newspapers such as Ṭarīq al-shaʻb and Rêyazi Pêshmerge, numerous documents on relationships with other parties, including the KDP and the PUK, the Tudeh Party in Iran, as well as other branches of the Communist Party, articles on a range of topics written by ICP members, letters, party reports and press releases.

There is also a smaller file containing seven documents relating to the Workers Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), [in Arabic: الحزب الشيوعي العمالي العراقي or al-Hizb al-Shuyu’i al-Ummali al-Iraqi, and in Kurdish: Hizbi Communisti Krekari Iraq] which was founded in 1993.

 

 

Political Alliances and Coalitions

The history of the Kurdish resistance movement has, tragically, been characterised by a great deal of in-fighting and self-destructive rivalry, by there have also been several successful attempts to bring together political groups under umbrella organisations that could consolidate opposition and strengthen cross-party collaboration. Although these alliances may not always have lasted long, they were significant steps in the development of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

 

Democratic National Patriotic Front in Iraq – EUL MS 403/3/12

This was an umbrella opposition group founded in November 1980 and consisting of the Iraqi Communist Party, the National Union of Kurdistan and other parties. The file contains four documents, including letters to Omar Sheikhmous from the DNPF leadership (1982-83) and an information sheet (1987)

 

 

Iraqi Kurdistan Front  EUL MS 403/3/13

The Iraqi Kurdistan Front (IKF) was formed in 1987-88 from the PUK, KDP and six smaller parties – including the KPDP, the KSP-I and PASOK –  with the aim of uniting Kurdish factions and strengtheing opposition to the regime in Baghdad. The IKF played a major role during the ‘National Uprising’ of 1991 following the Gulf War ceasefire, as well as preparations for the general elections on 19 May 1992.

Documents include letters and proposals for the formation of the IKF, the first issue of their newspaper Berey Kurdistanî  (September 1989) and joint statements by Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani regarding the forthcoming elections (1992). The IKF subsequently broke up, in part due to the ongoing tension between the KDP and the PUK.

 

Kurdistan National Congress – EUL MS 403/3/6

 

Kongreya Neteweyî ya Kurdistanê (KNK)

كۆنگرەی نەتەوەیی كوردستان

Kongreya Niştimanî  ya Kurdistanê (KNK)

 

 

 

The Kurdish National Congress is a coalition of exiled Kurdish politicians and activists that was founded in 1999 following an initiative by the PKK that began in 1985, and absorbed the former Kurdistan Parliament in Exile.

The KNK’s first president was Ismet Cheriff Vanly (we hold a correspondence file of Vanly’s letters at EUL MS 403/2/13), who had served on the Executive Council of the previous body, and we have various documents relating to the dissolution of the Kurdistan Parliament in Exile and the draft charter for the KNK, as well as correspondence, press releases and publications.

 

Iraqi National Congress – EUL MS 403/3/17

 

 

المؤتمر الوطني العراقي

al-Mu’tamar al-Watani al-‘Iraqi

 

 

The history of the Iraqi National Congress is closely associated with the controversial figure of Ahmad Chalabi (1944-2015). Founded in Vienna in June 1992 as an umbrella organisation of Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’a groups opposed to Saddam Hussein’s government, the INC was comprised mainly of Kurdish exiles but received funding and support from the US government, including the CIA. Over the following decade, Chalabi and others associated with the INC played a significant role in encouraging the development of the US government’s neoconservative foreign policy towards Iraq that resulted in the 2003 invasion and the demise of Saddam Hussein.

The file includes papers from the 1992 INC congress, including a transcript of Jalal Talabani’s speech to the Opening Session, as well as a list of members of the INC, letters from Chalabi to various diplomats, press releases and documents relating to the INC’s involvement in the INDICT campaign for the prosection of Iraqi war criminals (1997).

 

The Independence Party of Kurdistan – EUL MS 403/3/10

 

Partîkarî Serbexoyî Kurdistane

 

The Kurdistan Independence Party was founded in Sweden between 1986 and 1989, and was dedicated to non-violent and democratic means of achieving independence for Kurdistan.

 

Amir Qazi (or Ghazi), Chairman of the Independence Party, was a former member of the politburo of the KDPI and married Efat (1935-1990), the daughter of Qazi Muhammad, president of the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad. She was killed in Sweden by a letter bomb addressed to her husband, and thought to have been sent by Iranian agents. The folder contains a letter from Qazi, several issues of their periodical ‘Ala’ (1986-), documents and press-releases.

 

Revolutionary parties – EUL MS 403/3/11

The Revolutionaries Union of Kurdistan

Yekêtî Sorisgirani Kurdistan 

The Kurdish Revolutionary Party

الحزب الثوري الكردستاني

al-Hizb al-Thawri al-Kurdistani 

Hizbi Shorishgeri Kurdistan

The Kurdish Revolutionary Party was founded in 1964, before temporarily merging with the KDP (1970-72) and then being revived by members who were unhappy with the KDP leadership. In 1974 it joined the Ba’ath Party approved National Progressive Front (NPF) and consequently lost much of its significance. The file includes the constitutions from 1964 and papers from the party congress in 1970 concerning its relationship with the KDP.

The Revolutionaries’ Union of Kurdistan was founded in May 1991 by an Iranian Kurd, Said Yazdanpanah, who was assassinated five months later. The organisation was then led by his brother Hussein. At a party congress in 2006 it was renamed the Kurdish Freedom Party        [پارتی ئازادیی کوردستان‎] and Ali Qazi – brother of Efat, mentioned above – was elected leader.

None of these parties should be confused with Yekêtî Şorişgirani Kurdistan [Revolutionary Union of Kurdistan], which was a faction within the PUK formed around 1982 by an alignment with some Socialist groups. The file holds several letters to and from this group, with correspondents including Omar Sheikhmous, Omar Dababa, Fuad Masoum and Kemal Fuad, as well as membership booklets and other documents.

 

Kurdistan Democratic Progressive Party in Syria – EUL MS 403/3/16

Partiya Dîmoqratî Pêşverû Kurd li Sûriyê

Al-Hizb al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdi al-Taqaddumi fi Suriya

الحزب الديمقراطي التقدمي الكردي في سوريا

 

The history of the KDPPS is inseparable from the life of its leader, the late Abdul Hamid Darwish (1936-2019), who was one of the co-founders (along with Nûredein Zaza and Osman Sabri) of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria in 1957. Internal disagreements led to the KDPS splitting in 1965, with Darwish leading the more moderate and conciliatory group that became known as the Kurdistan Democratic Progressive Party. Over time the KDPPS came to align itself closely with Jalal Talabani’s PUK, while the KDPS aligned itself with Mustafa Barzani’s KDP, which would have a negative impact upon the two Syrian parties’ relations as the rivalry between the KDP and PUK developed into armed conflict.

Within Syria, however, the KDPPS continued to play an important role in both national politics and Kurdish affairs, with Darwish being elected to the Syrian parliament in 1990 and helping to establish relations between the Kurdish National Council and Syrian opposition groups. Papers in this file are dated between 1977 and 1999 and include numerous copies of the party’s newspaper al-Dimuqrati, a proclamation on the war between Kurds in Iraq and the Iraqi regime (1988), as well as documents and press-releases from the mid-1990s.

Kurdistan Popular Democratic Party (KPDP) – EUL MS 403/3/18

Hizb al-Sha’ab Dimuqrati al-Kurdistan

Parti Geli Dimukrati Kurdistan

The Kurdistan Popular Democratic Party (KPDP) was founded by Sami Abdulrahman in 1979 as a breakaway group from the KDP, which they rejoined in 1993.

Documents include various bulletins and statements issued by the party (1981-85), a list of fifteen KPDP members executed in Mosul in 1985, a supplement to the KPDP periodical ‘Gel’ on the General Scientific Conference of Kurds in the Soviet Union (1990), a photocopy of the first page of issue no 40 of Gel [ al-Sha`b], Document from the 2nd conference (1990)

Kurdistan Democratic Union – EUL MS 403/3/21

 

Yeketi Dimukrati Kurdistan

al-Ittihad al-Dimuqrati al-Kurdistani

The Kurdistan Democratic Union (KDU) was founded by Ali Sinjari in 1977 but was later merged with the KDP in 1993. Documents in the file include a news bulletin (1986), a leaflet Reya Yeketiye (1987), an Arabic press release published in June 1991 to mark the 14th year of the founding of the party and issue no.20 (October 1990) of the KDU periodical Al Sha’lah/Mesxel .

The National Democratic Union of Kurdistan (Yekitiya Netewayî Demokratî Kurdistan, or YNKD) was founded in 1995 by Ghafur Makhmuri – the folder contains a press release issued on 15 November 1995.

 

The Sheikhmous archive does include hold material relating to other political parties and movements, and there also folders containing papers from left-wing Iranian parties as well as Islamic political groups and other bodies, such as the Association of Kurdish Doctors in Europe.

The Sheikhmous papers have now been catalogued and the entries can be consulted here. 

Iran in the Archives

Iran – known as Persia until the middle of the 20th century – is the second largest country in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia, and is also home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations, possessing an unbroken history that stretches back over six thousands year. In addition to the ancient ruins of Persepolis – one of nineteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country – it is home to the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, the Sheikh Safi mausoleum in Ardabil, the architectural wonders of Isfahan and the Golestan Palace, as well as the natural beauties of Mount Tamarvand – the highest peak in the Middle East – the forest and waterfalls of Gilan, and the magnificent rolling green plains of Torkaman Sahra. Much of the country comprises mountains and desert, which has hindered both invasion from the outside and expansion from within.

Detail from a 16th century Persian manuscript, from illustrations compiled by Major William Nassau Weech for his ‘History of Persia’ (EUL MS 233)

Iran is bordered by the Caspian Sea to the north, with the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south; Turkey and Iraq lie to to the west, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia bound its north, while its neighbours to the east are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran’s strategic location, as well as its oil resources, have long attracted the interest of both eastern and western powers, and understanding the country’s history is crucial to anyone seeking to grapple with the complexities of Gulf politics, relations between the Middle East, Asia and Europe, and the continuing role played by Islam in the cultural and political development of the region. With tensions between Iran and the USA escalating sharply over the last few days, this is an opportune moment to delve into the materials held in our Middle East archives and Special Collections to see what insights they can offer.

Although there are some offprints and journals within the papers of John Craven Wilkinson (EUL MS 119) relating to the early archaeological and ancient history of the country, most of the archival material held in Exeter University’s Middle East collections dates from the last two centuries – so it is perhaps worth having a quick recap of the modern history of Persia. The Safavid and Zand dynasties that had ruled over Persia since the beginning of the 16th century ended in civil war after the death of Karim Khan in 1779, to be followed by the Qajar dynasty that lasted until 1925.  This period was characterised by growing rivalry in the region between Britain in the south – due to Persia’s boundaries with British India (modern Afghanistan and Pakistan)  – and Russia in the north. The Tsar’s attempts to expand into the Caucasus region resulted in mass migration of many Muslims into Turkey and Persia, as well as  two wars between with Russia and Persia in the early 19th century. These events are vividly described in Laurence Kelly’s excellent book, Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran: Alexander Griboyedov and Imperial Russia’s Mission to the Shah of Persia (Tauris, 2002). In the archive, a great deal of interesting material relating to this period can be found among the research papers of Peter Morris (EUL MS 285), a lecturer at Exeter University who had a special interest in Persian history.

A small selection of material from the Iranian research papers of Peter Morris (EUL MS 285)

Although much of the material is secondary, it includes copies of records from Russian archives and policy documents from the India Office, handwritten and typed notes on ethnic traditions, Persian culture, social attitudes and customs, copies of 18th century correspondence and 19th century typed descriptions of personalities in Persia, financial and agricultural statistics, information relating to the army, trade and administration, postcards of Persian paintings, presscuttings from the 19th and 20th century, as well as guidebooks, maps and personal notebooks. These papers would make an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to undertake research into the history of Iran.

The Twentieth Century: reform and revolution

Iran was ruled at the beginning of the twentieth century by Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar, who had succeeded his father in 1896 and would reign until his death in 1907. He was ill-suited for office, however, and one of his most poorly-judged decisions was to sign away his country’s oil rights in 1901 to William Knox D’Arcy, who subsequently became director of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) – later British Petroleum (BP) –  and would make a fortune from Iran’s precious natural resources: a cause for resentment by Iranians for most of the century. The Shah’s power was curtailed by the creation of a majles (parliamentary assembly) and democratic constitution, and he died 40 days after this was signed. Concerned over the possible instability of these liberal changes, Russia and Britain signed the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, or Convention between the United Kingdom and Russia relating to Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, recognising their respective spheres of influence in the north and south of Persia and promising not to interfere either with each other or with Persian sovereignty. This would of course fall apart after the Bolshevik Revolution, and there are various papers on this topic in EUL MS 285/2.

Published works in our rare book collection provide evidence of Britain’s long history of involvement in Iran – in military, missionary, political and mercantile spheres – not only in their printed narratives but also in the material history of the books themselves

Material relating to the oil industry in Iran can be found among the papers of John Wilkinson (EUL MS 119/2/3/13) as well as Charles Belgrave (EUL MS 148/1/17 and elsewhere). The Shah’s son and successor tried to oppose the constitution and was forced into exile in 1909, to be succeeded by his young son Ahmad Shah, who proved weak and ineffective in dealing with civil unrest and the intrusions of Britain and Russia. He lost his throne in a coup d’etat in 1921, to be replaced by Reza Pahlavi, Commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, who held the posts of Minister of War (1921-25) and Prime Minister (1923-25) before taking the imperial oath as the first shah of the Pahlavi dynasty. It was Reza Shah who insisted in 1935 that foreign countries used the name ‘Iran’ rather ‘Persia’, although his son would later allow the two to be used interchangeably.

Folder containing a typescript and illustrations for a history of Persia by Major William Nassau Weech (1878-1961), written in 1936 and published as part of his ‘History of the World’ (1944) EUL MS 233

Although Iran underwent far-reaching programme of modernisation under Reza Shah, he was unpopular with many Iranians due to his authoritarian rule and reliance on the military to crush dissent. Inspired by Kemal Ataturk’s reforms in Turkey, he ordered the wearing of modern dress, banned the hijab and established a highly centralised secular administration that broke the hold of Islamic clergy on the educational and legal system. This led to growing opposition from traditional Islamists, clergy, tribal groups, marginalised ethnic minorities such as the Kurds, as well as the younger generation of middle-class intelligentsia who resented his crushing of free speech as well as his association with British imperialism. During the 1930s, however, the Shah developed close relations with Germany, who provided technical and engineering support for the construction of railways, industrial plants and other infrastructure projects. Although Iran remained neutral at the outbreak of WWII, the Allies regarded the Shah with suspicion due to his pro-German policies and refusal to expel the large number of Germans – many of whom were Nazi supporters – living in Iran. An Anglo-Soviet invasion in 1941 brought about the forced abdication of the Shah and his replacement by his son, Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In keeping with past convention, the Russians occupied the north of the country and the British and Americans the south.

The Kurds in Iran

The weakening of the Shah’s power during the period of Allied occupation meant an end to the restrictions on political opposition, including the activities of Iranian Kurds who had long engaged in struggles against the centralised authorities in Tehran. In September 1942, in the town of Mahabad in northwest Iran, Kurdish nationalists formed the Komala-ye Žīān-e Kordestān  (Committee of the Life of Kurdistan), whose influence gradually spread throughout the town and surrounding villages, severing all administrative links with the Iranian government in Tehran. They were joined in 1944 by a well-respected local judge Qazi Mohammad, who soon took control of the group. Their aims included autonomy for Iranian and the right to use the Kurdish language in education and administration – and to this end they set up the first Kurdish theatre in Iran, as well as publishing newspapers and periodicals in Kurdish. On 22 January 1946 an independent Kurdish Republic was declared in Mahabad, with its own manifesto, army, girl’s school and a territory that included the nearby Kurdish-speaking towns of  Bukan, Piranshahr, Sardasht, Naqadeh and Oshnoviyeh. We have some interesting material relating to Mahabad in the Omar Sheikhmous collection (EUL MS 403), including copies of the periodicals Gir wa Gali Mindalani (Vols.1, Nos. 1-3) and Niştiman (Vol.1, Nos.7-9) and five issues of the newspaper Kurdistan from 1946, which was published by Qazi Mohammad’s Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Hîzbî Dêmukratî Kurdistanî Êran). The latter two titles are in Sorani Kurdish. The Republic received the promise of military and financial backing from Soviet forces, as well as armed support from Iraqi Kurdish leader  Mostafa Barzani (1903-79), who brought with him several thousands Kurdish fighters and their families from over the border.

Some of the large number of documents – in Persian, Kurdish, English, Swedish, German and French – in the Omar Sheikhmous archive (EUL MS 403) documenting the history and political struggles of the Kurds of Iran

Mohammad had, unfortunately, overestimated the support of the Russians as much as he had underestimated the wiliness of the Iranian prime minister Ahmad Qavam, who played the various parties off against one another, and offered the Soviet authorities generous oil concessions in exchange for the withdrawal of their forces from Iran. In December 1946 the Iranian army entered Mahabad, ending the short-lived Kurdish republic. Despite the peaceful reconquest of the town, the leaders were shown no mercy: on 23 March 1947, Qazi Mohammad, his brother Sadr Qazi and cousin Sayf Qadr were hanged in the town centre. An undated French leaflet among the Sheikhmous papers is illustrated with a photograph of their execution.

The Latter Years of the Shah’s Reign

One of the most significant crises in Iran during the Cold War occurred in 1952 when Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq – a senior figure in the Communist Tudeh party – sought to nationalize the British-owned oil industry and return its revenues to Iran. This resulted in an economic blockade, an attempted coup, the temporary exile of the Shah, and a complex power struggle between Mosaddeq, the Shah, the military, Islamic clergy and crowds of rival demonstrators who were paid by the American government to instigate trouble on the streets. Mosaddeq was eventually removed in a CIA and MI6 backed coup in 1953, the Iranian oil industry was restored to British ownership, and from then on the Shah pursued a liberal, pro-western policy – branded the ‘White Revolution’ in 1963 – that was nonetheless autocratic, authoritarian and deeply corrupt, relying on rigged referendums and the brutal methods of the SAVAK security forces. It was, however, the Shah’s hostility to Islam that particularly drew the criticism of an outspoken Muslim cleric, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who was based in the holy city of Qom. Born in 1902, the charismatic and scholarly Khomeini was widely revered, and rather than risk a backlash by having him executed, the Shah had the 62-year old cleric arrested and deported in 1964. He would spend the next fifteen years in exile in Turkey, Iraq and France.

The Shah’s unpopularity continued to grow during the 1970s, partly due to the way in which the oil boom of that decade seemed to the Iranian people to made the Pahlavi family and their friends immensely rich while leaving much of the country in poverty. British interests in the Gulf region underwent a major change with the withdrawal of British forces from the Gulf in 1971, and Sir William Luce met the Shah several times during the period of his shuttle diplomacy between 1970 and 1971.  (Records of their conversations can be found amongst Luce’s papers, e.g. EUL MS 146/1/3/1, 1/3/7 and 1/3/8.) The Shah also met with Glencairn Balfour-Paul, who was based in Bahrain during the late 1960s as deputy political resident of the Persian Gulf, followed by another post as British ambassador to Iraq (1969-72) – there is an informal photograph of the Shah and his wife amongst Balfour-Paul’s papers (EUL MS 370/6/34.)

On the domestic front, however, the Shah proved unable to control the waves of protest that shook the country during the late 1970s, and eventually fled Iran in January 1979. The papers of Sir John and Lady Richmond contain a file of presscuttings  covering these events (EUL MS 115/19/13). The British, seeing the direction in which events were heading, had already dropped their support for the Shah and took the further step of refusing him asylum. He died in Egypt the following year.

Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran to a tumultuous welcome on 1 February 1979. One of the Shah’s final acts had been to appoint Shapour Bakhtiar as Prime Minister. Khomeini refused to recognise his authority, and after ten days of chaos and fighting Bakhtiar’s weak and isolated administration collapsed, to be replaced by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran. Over the next ten years – until his death on 3 June 1989 – Khomeini served as Supreme Leader of Iran, a decade that saw the revolution consolidated into an Islamic theocracy as well as a long and bloody war with Iraq.

Detail of a mural in Tehran showing the Ayatollah Khomeini during the war with Iraq. From the papers of Jonathan Crusoe (EUL MS 143)

This was chronicled in detail by Jonathan Crusoe, and among his papers are several folders on the ‘First Gulf War’ (1980-88) between Iran and Iraq as well as other files relating to relations between the two countries (EUL MS 43/10/2/1-6). Iran’s seizure of the Tunb Islands in the Straits of Hormuz is discussed in several articles in the Baghdad Observer, which would make an interesting comparison with Sir William Luce’s accounts of the same event amongst his papers.

Some of the presscuttings and other documents assembled by Jonathan Crusoe on the subject of the First Gulf War between Iran and Iraq (1980-88), many of which offer insights into how Iran’s history, culture and political intentions were perceived by Iraqi

Various scholarly assessments of Khomeini’s rule and the Islamic revolution in Iran can be found among the academic papers of Nazih Ayubi (e.g. EUL MS 129/1/1/9, 129/1/2/5, 129/2/1, 3 and 30.) It should also be noted that there is an audio recording of a conference on Iran held in the El-Awaisi collection (EUL MS 284). Following Khomeini’s death in 1989, Ali Khamenei was appointed the next Supreme Leader and – thirty years on – remains in post. Although the Supreme Leader possesses ultimate religious and political authority in Iran and is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister and all other military and judicial leaders, it has been claimed that he functions as more of a figurehead for other powerful forces within the conservative establishment. There is no denying the significant differences between Khamanei and his predecessor in terms of religious education, cultural tastes and popular standing, and he remains a divisive figure for many in Iran, which has seen widespread anti-government demonstrations over the last two or three years.

The relationship between the Supreme Leader and the government is however, a complex one, as would be expected in a theocratic state. The power structure in Iran includes an array of different elements that includes the Supreme Leader, the President, Parliament and Judiciary, the Council of Guardians – who monitor parliamentary decisions for compatibility with Islamic law, the Assembly of Experts – who elect the Supreme Leader – the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was founded by Khomeini in 1979 to safeguard the principles of the revolution, and is fiercely independent from the regular army.

Those who wish to understand Iran today will need to spend a substantial amount of time working out the dynamics between these different centres of power, studying the personalities and abilities of the key figures, and learning how they operate both within Iran and as part of the wider political, religious and cultural context of the Gulf region – including its involvement in the affairs of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. Perhaps more than most other countries in the Middle East, commentary on Iran has suffered badly from a vast chasm between how outsiders view the country and how it is seen from within. Anyone seeking to bridge this chasm must begin by acquiring a solid grasp not only of Persia’s long history but also of the diverse and conflicting movements that are currently helping to shape contemporary Iran. The archival materials held in Special Collections provide unique insights into this subject, and can of course be complemented by drawing on the rich resources held alongside in AWDU (the Arabic World Documentation Unit), which include a wealth of ephemera, economic reports, statistical records, leaflets and presscuttings, Iran in the Persian Gulf 1820-1966 (Slough: Archive Editions, 2000) – a six-volume collection of facsimile government papers  – plus official material relating to the oil industry, trade and banking.

For any questions, please contact the Middle East Archivist.

A few of the titles in the rare book section of Special Collections relating to the history of Iran and its neighbours. Many of these are illustrated with photographs and engravings, as well as maps, from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

Windows on Iraq: the Papers of Jonathan Crusoe

Jonathan Crusoe was born in Kuwait in 1953 and lived there with his parents until the age of eight when they moved to the village of Goudhurst in Kent. After completing a degree in Arabic and English at Leeds University, he began working as a journalist for the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED) in December 1976. Over the next fifteen years he closely monitored developments in Iraq and Kuwait, as well as Yemen, building up an international reputation as a specialist on the region. On 21 December 1991 he was killed in a car accident near Peterborough at the age of only 38. His working papers were deposited with the University of Exeter as part of a donation from MEED.

Some of Crusoe’s published work held in the Arab World Documentation Unit (AWDU) in the Old Library at Exeter University

Crusoe’s papers consist primarily of presscuttings, telex press reports, working notes and correspondence (often by fax or telex) on almost every aspect of life in Iraq between 1979 and 1991. There are over 170 folders with the contents arranged thematically in the categories originally assigned to them by Crusoe – topics include: Agriculture, Dams, Archaeology and Architecture, Education, Housing, Power – including Iraq’s nuclear programme – Foreign Relations (with some two dozen individual countries), the Petroleum Industry, Political Opposition groups, Saddam Hussein and his family, Sports, Tourism and Health.

Plans for the new University of Baghdad campus (top) and a 1981 brochure for the University of Basrah (below) – some of the ‘Higher Education’ material compiled by Crusoe. EUL MS 143/8/2

Although many of the presscuttings are from British and American newspapers, there is a wealth of original source material from Iraq, much of which is either unique or hard to find given subsequent events in the region. These include numerous articles extracted from the now-defunct state-run newspaper the Baghdad Observer reporting on everyday life in Iraq, original photographs of Iraqi dams being constructed, advertisements and prospectuses giving details of commercial contracts and building projects, as well as Crusoe’s own handwritten notes and annotations of other documents.

Material on the Kurdish peoples of Iraq, Turkey and Iran is found in dedicated folders as well as elsewhere in the collection, including press releases and booklets issued by different Kurdish groups during the 1980s.

This selection of publications gives some idea of the diverse groups operating (mostly in exile) to oppose the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein. EUL MS 143/14/2/1

Crusoe’s death shortly after the war that followed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait meant that he never saw the later conflict and US occupation of the region. There are six folders of material covering what he termed – following standard usage at the time – the First Gulf War, between Iran and Iraq (1980-88), and a much more extensive collection of over thirty folders covering the Second Gulf War (1990-91) which covers the conflict chronologically as well as under topics such as sanctions, conditions in Iraq during the war, the oil embargo, burning of oil wells, hostages, media reporting, food and medicine shortages, and postwar reconstruction.

A photograph – probably of Basra – taken during the First Gulf War (1980-88) between Iran and Iraq: note the sandbags on the right, a protection against air and missle strikes. EUL MS 143/19/7

Although Crusoe did much of his work from the offices of MEED in London he also visited Iraq and Kuwait – among the collection of hotel and restaurant brochures is his room card for the Hotel Meridien in Baghdad, where he stayed in 1982. Other material was obtained through his contacts with other journalists, contractors and personal sources in the region, and the archive contains a large amount of telex or fax correspondence through which he gained detailed information on business contracts, construction projects and economic statistics. All this was recorded in his meticulously neat and miniscule handwriting, and it was by carefully cross-referencing and filing this research that he was able to build up the encyclopaedic knowledge for which he was renowned.

Some of Crusoe’s notes on Iraq’s nuclear programme. EUL MS 143/13/2

Students and researchers interested in the history of the Middle East during the 20th century could find the Crusoe papers a valuable resource for learning about life in Iraq or understanding topics such as agricultural practices, the extent of foreign investment in Iraqi infrastructure under Saddam Hussein, or how information is compiled and presented by conflicting media interests. Despite its strong pro-government bias, the extensive illustrated coverage of everyday life in Iraq found in the Baghdad Observer could be helpful for those interested in understanding how local and international affairs (such as relations with Iran and Syria) were reported to and perceived by the Iraqi people, as well as opening a window on – for example – social conditions or agricultural practices that are often hidden, or the ways in which cultural and political agendas underpinned architectural design projects such as the hotel below.

A photograph of the Hotel Nineveh Oberoi, on the banks of the River Tigris in Mosul. EUL MS 143/19/6. It was later captured by Islamic State militants, who used it as a base from 2014 until its recapture by Iraqi forces in January 2017. Its present ruinous state contrasts sharply with the sense of luxury conveyed by material in the Crusoe papers.

The Hotel Nineveh Oberoi was opened in 1986 during celebrations marking the anniversary of the July Revolution that brought the Ba’athist party to power in 1968. Eleven storeys high and comprising almost 300 rooms and suites with additional bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, its unusual and striking design was intended to evoke the structure of ancient ziggurats such as the one preserved at Ur in southern Iraq. This was part of a wider campaign by Saddam Hussein to draw parallels between the glories of the ancient Babylonian past and his own regime – evidence for which can also be found in the archive materials relating to the ‘International Babylon Festival’ (EUL MS 143/5/2) and Saddam’s restoration of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. There are other presscuttings about the new hotel during the 1980s and a letter from an Indian journalist to Crusoe, pointing out that the Indian construction company Oberoi had incorporated traditional features of Indian architecture into the design.

Designs produced by the Architects Collaborative for a community project ca. 1981. EUL MS 143/4/1

Crusoe collected information on such projects at every stage, amassing hundreds of adverts from the Baghdad Observer in which the Iraqi government sought contractors for infrastructure schemes and building works. He also compiled lists of foreign contractors, with contact details, notes on personnel, financial records, trade prospectuses, commercial bids, architectural plans and annual reports. Working within the Crusoe archive it is possible to study these items within a wider framework of material on the political, cultural and economic context; users of the archive could augment their research using the resources in AWDU, such as official reports, documentation, statistical records and presscuttings, as well as an extensive run of MEED and similar publications. Those interested in the history of journalism and media studies can trace the process by which raw material from original sources evolved into published reports by making a close comparison of Crusoe’s notes and correspondence with Reuters press messages, draft typescripts and the final text that appeared in MEED and other publications. There is also a 58-page typed document compiled by a senior staff writer at MEED, entitled ‘Sources of Construction Information and their Use in Construction Reporting by MEED Writers’, which examines in detail how different members of the journalists’ team obtained, used and verified their sources.

Anyone wishing to use the Jonathan Crusoe archive should contact Special Collections. The catalogue can be consulted here.

Further Reading

Obituaries of Crusoe were published in The Independent on 30 December 1991 (p.17) and the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), 10 January 1992 (p.15).

Jonathan Crusoe’s published work includes

MEED Special Report: Iraq.
London: MEED, 1985

‘Economic outlook: guns and butter, phase two?’, in Frederick W. Axelgard (ed.),  Iraq in transition: a political, economic and strategic perspective.
Washington: Georgetown University, 1986.

MEED Profile: Iraq
London: MEED, 1989

MEED Quarterly Report: Iraq
London: MEED, 1990

Kuwait: rebuilding a country (with Peter Kemp)
London: MEED, 1989