A nar­ra­tive of a Res­i­dence in Kur­dis­tan

A re­view of the first travel guide to Kur­dis­tan al­ready in 1820

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE - By Behrooz Sho­jai

A re­view of the first travel guide to Kur­dis­tan al­ready in 1820

Claudius James Rich was for twelve years a res­i­dent of the Bri­tish East In­dia Com­pany in Bagh­dad in early 19th cen­tury. Apart from his pub­lic du­ties, he used the leisure days of his stay in the Pasha­lik of Bagh­dad in col­lect­ing his­tor­i­cal, ge­o­graph­i­cal and sta­tis­ti­cal data of the Pasha­lik. The nar­ra­tion of his res­i­dence in Kur­dis­tan was pub­lished posthu­mously in two vol­umes in 1836 in Lon­don un­der the ti­tle “Nar­ra­tive of a Res­i­dence in Ko­ordis­tan, and the site of An­cient Nin­eveh; with jour­nal of a voy­age down the Ti­gris to Bagh­dad; and an ac­count of a visit to Shi­raz and Perse­po­lis”.

Mr. Rich started his jour­ney in Kur­dis­tan in 1820. He then passed the bor­der with Per­sia and went as far as Shi­raz to visit the ru­ins of Perse­po­lis in the city’s vicini­ties. While in Shi­raz, he was struck by cholera that had ap­peared in the city. He fell a vic­tim to the disease and passed away 5th of Oc­to­ber 1821.

Be­fore Rich, one can hardly find any West­ern re­la­tion with thor­ough de­scrip­tion about the Kurds and their coun­try. Kur­dis­tan was al­most un­known to Euro­peans; although there were scat­tered no­tices in the jour­nals of trav­el­ers who passed ca­su­ally and hastily through dif­fer­ent parts of it. Rich’s nar­ra­tive placed the ge­og­ra­phy of Kur­dis­tan and the man­ners of the in­hab­i­tants in a new and strong light. In April 16, 1820, Rich and his party left Bagh­dad, trav- elling in a northerly di­rec­tion on the river Diala and con­tin­ued along its banks as far as the pass of Ham­rin hills. He gives an ac­count of his jour­ney to Kifri and Der­bendi Bazian and the moun­tains in the area. His de­scrip­tion gives an idea how un­touched and dif­fer­ent the Kur­dish na­ture in this part of the coun­try was at that time:

“Be­hind Der­bent rises the moun­tain of Peer Omar Goodron (by this he prob­a­bly means Mount Pire Me­groon) form­ing of a higher range, to all ap­pear­ance bare and rocky. Goodroon is the high­est moun­tain in th­ese parts and is said to con­tain a glacier, which sup­plies all Ko­ordis­tan with snow or rather ice; the store of which is in­ex­haustible and never melts.”

As far as I know there are no glaciers re­main­ing in Pire Me­groon any­more, but Rich’s re­la­tion of the ge­ol­ogy of the area in­di­cates an­other at­mos­phere than the one gen­er­ally ex­pe­ri­enced in Kur­dis­tan.

Rich gives also an ac­count of Sule­mani in 1820 at the time when it con­sti­tuted the cap­i­tal of Kur­dish Ba­ban Prin­ci­pal­ity: “The or­di­nary houses in Suli­ma­nia are mere mude hov­els … they are per­fectly ex­posed, but the peo­ple do not seem to re­gard this, the women go­ing about with the men and per­form­ing their domestic labours with­out any veil. This town con­tains five khans, two good mosques and a very fine bath. The pop­u­la­tion of Suli­ma­nia is es­ti­mated by the best judges among the Ko­ords at ten thou­sand souls, in­clud­ing of­fi­cers of government and re­tain­ers of princes re­sid­ing here.”

On the man­ner of peo­ple of Sule­mani rich nar­rates that: “the Ko­ords are the only ori­en­tals I ever knew who sit up late at night and rise late in the morn­ing. Few gen­tle­men in Suli­ma­nia go to bed till two or three o’clock or show them­selves abroad till nine or ten in the forenoon. Their chief vis­it­ing time is at night. When it grows dark they be­gin go­ing about to each other’s houses, where they amuse them­selves with con­ver­sa­tion, smok­ing and mu­sic. They will pay two or three vis­its of this kind in the course of a night. About an hour be­fore sun­set also, a kind of club or as­sem­bly is held be­fore the house of the Mas­raf … Friends meet and chat on var­i­ous sub­jects; arms or horses are dis­played; and some­times matches are made of wrestling and par­tridge fights. The Ko­ords ap­pear to me to be a re­mark­ably cheer­ful so­cial peo­ple… they are nei­ther en­vi­ous of one an­other, nor have I ever heard a Ko­ord speak an ill-na­tured word of an­other; how­ever dif­fer­ent they may be in party or in­ter­est.”

Au­gust 13, 1820, on his way to Per­sia, Rich en­ters Pen­jwin and stays there for a while, de­scrib­ing Pen­jwin as “a large vil­lage, beau­ti­fully sit­u­ated in glen in the hills, on the south side of the plain of the Kizzel­jee river… The peas­antry of Pen­jween look well and com­fort­able which is rare in th­ese parts. Their houses are sep­a­rated by wat­tled en­clo­sures, and have a neater ap­pear­ance than I have seen in other parts of Ko­ordis­tan.”

He then ar­rives to Sine (Sanan­daj), the cap­i­tal of the Kur­dish Prin­ci­pal­ity of Erde­lan on the Per­sian side. Rich gives us a de­mo­graphic as well as his­tor­i­cal de­scrip­tion of Sine point­ing out that the new town was built by an an­ces­tor of Aman­ul­lah Khan, the prince of Sine at the time. On the in­hab­i­tants of Sine, he re­lates that “there are hun­dred fam­i­lies of Jews, and fifty houses of the Chaldean Catholic rite, de­pen­dent on the Pa­tri­arch of Diar­bekir, and all are trades­men or mer­chants in a very small way. The Ma­hometan in­hab­i­tants of the town are Sun­nis of Shafei sect. The Vali (point­ing the gov­er­nor, prince Aman­ul­lah Khan) and his fam­ily af­fect to be Shiyyahs in or­der to please the King of Per­sia.”

This Aman­ul­lah Khan was later suc­ceeded by Khosro Khan; whose con­sort Mas­toura of Erde­lan com­piled a com­pre­hen­sive his­tory of the rul­ing dy­nasty of Erde­lan prin­ci­pal­ity. Mas­toura was the first Kur­dish his­to­ri­og­ra­pher and prob­a­bly even the first fe­male scholar in Mid­dle East who com­piled his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial of sig­nif­i­cance.

Af­ter a long stay in Per­sia, Rich re­turns to Kur­dis­tan and this time trav­els to­ward Er­bil via Sule­mani and Koya. To­wards the end of Oc­to­ber 1820 he ap­proaches Er­bil: “On the fol­low­ing day we came in sight of Ar­bil …, soon af­ter which I took a sketch of it, the view of the high flat mount, prob­a­bly the burial-place of the Ar­saci­dae, crowned by a cas­tle, and backed by the Car­duchian moun­tains, be­ing really im­pres­sive.” Giv­ing a his­tor­i­cal ac­count of Er­bil, Rich re­lates that “Ar­bil was once ev­i­dently very large, prob­a­bly about the size of mod­ern Bag­dad. It is sit­u­ated at the foot of the ar­ti­fi­cial mount, prin­ci­pally on the south side, and con­tains a bath, car­a­vanserais, and bazaars. Some por­tions of the town is sit­u­ated on the mount, or what is called the Cas­tle.”

Rich later on trav­els to Mo­sul and neigh­bor­ing Chris­tian vil­lages and town­ships and fi­nally he takes the Ti­gris route to Bagh­dad by a raft or Keleck. Rich makes a sec­ond jour­ney to Per­sia at the time of the ir­rup­tion of Cholera in that coun­try. He man­ages to pay a visit to the site of an­cient Per­sian kings in Perse­po­lis. But Shi­raz is the end of his jour­ney, though he still hopes to es­cape from the dread­ful ir­rup­tion of cholera in Shi­raz: “I hope to take Shapoor on my way to Bushire (to­day’s Bushehr), for which I shall set out in a few days, please God.” He in­tended to take a boat from Bushehr to es­cape the disease, but his will did not come true. Rich died of the Cholera in­fec­tion on the 5th Oc­to­ber 1821, at the early age of thirty-four years.

Rich pro­vided the Euro­peans with the best de­scrip­tion of south­ern Kur­dis­tan and in­spired many oth­ers to dis­cover the coun­try. His work con­tains col­lec­tion of frag­ments of routes, of ob­ser­va­tions and bear­ings and dis­tances through­out his routes. His book was the first travel guide for Euro­peans who were about to travel in Kur­dis­tan. His re­la­tions of the ge­og­ra­phy, his­tory and the con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal struc­ture of south­ern Kur­dis­tan is a valu­able source even for Kurds to­day, who did not have any tra­di­tion of his­to­ri­og­ra­phy.

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