Bedlis, capital du Curdistan Fallen into oblivion
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-