Bedlis, cap­i­tal du Cur­dis­tan Fallen into obliv­ion

The Kurdish Globe - - COMMENTS & ANALYSIS - By Behrooz Sho­jai Part I

of the city. Bedlis has a univer­sity now; it is named af­ter a fa­mous busi­ness­man who has funded the univer­sity. But once upon time Bedlis was con­sid­ered as the cap­i­tal of Kur­dis­tan, or as the French schol­ars put it: Bedlis, cap­i­tal du Cur­dis­tan. This and next ar­ti­cle will be an at­tempt to de­scribe the Kur­dish past of Bedlis for Kur­dish Globe’s read­ers.

Bedlis is a fas­ci­nat­ing Kur­dish city in North­ern (Turkey) Kur­dis­tan. About the ori­gin of it and when it was built there are many sto­ries. One thing is sure about Bedlis that for a long pe­riod it was a mul­ti­cul­tural cen­ter and a site for many civ­i­liza­tions; Ro­man, Ar­me­nian and Kur­dish.

The golden age of Bedlis was dur­ing the reign of a Kur­dish prin­ci­pal­ity. Un­der the en­tire pe­riod when the city was ruled by the Kurds dif­fer­ent eth­nic and re­li­gious groups were tol­er­ated and co­ex­isted in the city. The cul­tural her­itage of Bedlis gave rise to the emer­gence of many schol­ars within lit­er­a­ture, the­ol­ogy and his­tory. The in­ter­na­tion­ally most fa­mous Bedlisi scholar is the Kur­dish his­to­rian Sheref Khan Bedlisi; him­self a de­scen­dent of the house of Bedlis and the Emir of the Bedlis Prin­ci­pal­ity.

Sheref was born in ex­ile in cen­tral Iran in 1543 and died at the age of 60 in 1603. Al­most a decade be­fore his death he left the author­ity of the Emi­rate to his son and de­voted the rest of his life to his­tory writ­ing. His com­pre­hen­sive work on me­dieval Kur­dish his­tory is the best Kur­dish his­tor­i­cal source un­til th­ese days. The trans­la­tion of his work to French was al­ready com­pleted in 1868-1870 by the French scholar Char­mony.

Ac­cord­ing to Sheref, Bedlis had been in the pos­ses­sion of this dy­nasty sev­eral cen­turies back. Bedlis has been spelled dif­fer­ently by schol­ars and neigh­bor­ing pow­ers. The of­fi­cial name in Turkey is Bitlis, but on the name of it Sheref Khan him­self states that “Bedlis is the legacy of the Alexan­der the Greek. In some Turk­ish and Per­sian ver­sions it has been spelled by T (Betlis), but it is wrong, be­cause ac­cord­ing to men of knowl­edge and well-known ac­counts Bedlis is the name of one of Alexan­der’s men, who found [this] fortress and city. Ad­di­tion­ally, the pos­ses­sors of lex­i­cons re­late that Bedlis cor­re­sponds to a place that has a pleas­ant cli­mate.” (Scheref, Prince de Bidlis, 1860:335)

T h e Kurdi sh rulers pro­moted all sciences and made tremen­dous city im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing build­ing of sev­eral schools, bridges, mosques and other fa­cil­i­ties. The trade was en­cour­aged and the city’s Ar­me­nian ar­ti­sans stood for the main bulk of Bedlis hand­i­craft. Bedlis con­tin­ued its Kur­dish tol­er­ant ex­is­tence to mod­ern times, when West­ern trav­el­ers wit­nessed its last days and gave their ac­counts of Bedlis.

Bedlis as an in­de­pen­dent Kur­dish prin­ci­pal­ity with a Kur­dis­tani iden­tity

Most of the west­ern travel writ­ings, his­tor­i­cal and ge­o­graph­i­cal sources de­scribe Bedlis as a Kur­dish city. The ear­li­est ac­count that I have en­coun­tered is writ­ten by the French trav­eler Tav­ernier, who wit­nesses the in­de­pen­dence of Bedlis vis-à-vis Ot­toman and Per­sian Em­pires. Tav­ernier re­lates that “Betlis is the prin­ci­pal city of the Prince or bei, the most pow­er­ful and most con­sid­er­able of all beis in Kour­dis­tan, He rec­og­nizes nei­ther the Grand Signeur (Ot­toman Caliph) nor the Great King of Per­sia.” (Tav­ernier, 1681:274) The French his­tor­i­cal ge­og­ra­pher Corneille places Bedlis as a “city in Asia in Cur­dis­tan” that “is sit­u­ated on the bor­der be­tween Di- ar­beck, be­tween Cara­manie in the West and Wan in the East midst of two moun­tains, one of which has its [own] cas­tle.” (Corneille, 1708:367)

Bri­tish his­to­rian of the 18th cen­tury Salmon in his “treats of the present state of the province of Cur­destan” de­scribes Bedlis as one of the four main cities. Giv­ing an ac­count of Shera­soul, Ama­dia and Ar­bela (Er­bil) he re­lates that “Betlis is sit­u­ated on the north part of this province, near the lake of Van.” (Salmon, 1744:448) About the in­de­pen­dent na­ture of Bedlis he states that “The Bey or Prince of this place, it is said, still pre­serves his in­de­pen­dency, and is sub­ject nei­ther to the Turk or Per­sian, his coun­try be­ing very moun­tain­ous and al­most in­ac­ces­si­ble.” (Salmon, ibid)

An­other Bri­tish scholar de­scribes Bedlis as “a city in the North of Cur­dis­tan, sit­u­ated on a steep rock, at the south end of the lake Van, on the fron­tiers of Per­sia and Turkey.” Mal­teBrun re­lates that “ac­cord­ing to Gar­zoni, who passed

district, is sit­u­ated in a charm­ing val­ley cov­ered with ap­ple and peartrees, in the very heart of the Hatarash moun­tains, and wa­tered by the two streams whose con­flu­ence forms the Kha­boor.” (Bell, 1832:160) In deroga­tory tones Mur­ray gives an ac­count of Bedlis when he en­ters Kur­dis­tan. He re­lates that “coming now to the east­ern bank of the Ti­gris, we find our­selves in the rude moun­tain­ous re­gion of Ko­ordis­tan, oc­cu­pied by the proud­est, fiercest, and most preda­tory race. (Mur­ray, 1834:912)

(Jef­frys, 1763:297) French schol­ars Al­berti (1807:467) and Wailly (1818:122), Bri­tish schol­ars Morse, Par­ish (1808:cur) and the Ger­man scholar Wolff (1834:180) all de­scribe Bedlis as a city in Kur­dis­tan in Asia.

Bedlis as the cap­i­tal of


In the be­gin­ning of 19th cen­tury Bedlis is con­sid­ered as the cap­i­tal of Kur­dis­tan by West­ern schol­ars. Boiste (1806:270) no­ti­fies that “Cour­dis­tan or Kour­dis­tan” is “the coun-

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