Monday, April 6, 2009

Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan

By Mordechai Zaken

This volume deals with the experience and the position of non-tribal Jewish subjects and their relationships with their tribal chieftains (aghas) in urban centers and villages in Kurdistan. It is based on new oral sources, diligently collected and carefully analyzed.



1 comment:

  1. Here is what Prof. Joyce Blau of INLECO Paris, one of the leading scholars on the Kurdish Culture and languages, had to say on the PhD thesis, upon which this book by Dr. Mordechai Zaken, is baded:
    It is highly original and makes a significant contribution to the general history of We Jewish diaspora.
    The aim of the author of the thesis was exhaustively to describe the relations between the Kurdish chiefs and their Jewish subjects daring the first part of the 20th century in northwestern Iraqi Kurdistan... Mr. Zaken has undertaken the study of precisely this recent history of a few Jewish communities which lived in the former, prestigious principality of Bahdinan, in northwestern Iraqi Kurdistan. He did this remarkably well. His documentation is based on firsthand information, and is of the highest value. Mr. Zaken collected his data from men and women from various areas of Bahdinan, where they had lived either in cites or villages, and most of whom had immigrated to Israel in the 1950s. He interviewed more than 50 people, many more than once. These discussions, which add up to hundreds of hours of interviews, most of which were taped, were then analyzed and classified. The task of gathering and ordering all this fieldwork was immense, and the candidate is to be congratulated on the methodology that he chose. This part of Mr. Zaken’s thesis, concerning Jewish life in Bahdinan, well complements the Impressive work of the pioneer ethnologist Erich Brauer.[ Erich Brauer, The Jews of Kurdistan, First edition 1940, revised edition 1993, completed and edited par Raphael Patai, Wayne State University Press, Detroit.] Chapter II, which deals with the Jews, Kurds and Arabs between 1941 and 1952 is important because it raises the issue of the emerging conflict between the Zionist movement and the incipient national movements in the Arab countries. This problem, which was aggravated by the establishment of the Stale of Israel in 1948, was profoundly to affect the situation of the Jews in the Arab countries. However, in Iraqi Kurdistan the Kurdish chiefs, who Were concerned by the conflict only indirectly, were not willing to break ties forged with the Jewish communities over the course of thousand of years of co—existence, which on the whole were useful to them, particularly when the Jews, in contrast to the Christians, as we see later in Mr. Zaken’s thesis, could not be suspected of harboring sympathy for the “European enemy”. Many agha and Kurdish chiefs regretted the massive departure of the Jews for Israel in the early 1950s.. Note, in particular, the ties which united the Barzani dynasty to the Jewish people, which Mr. Zaken describes at length and so well in several chapters of his thesis. These were not one-way ties, for even today, in spite of the departure of nearly the whole Jewish population of Kurdistan for Israel, the links have not been definitively broken, and there are many Kurds who recognize their debt to the Jews.. In order to defame the Kurds in the eyes of the Jslamicist-milieux, a thesis is now circulating in Turkey which ‘proves the Jewish origin of the Barzani family’ [Cevat Eroglu (2004) lsrail'in beak stratejisi ve Kurtler (Israel’s everlasting strategy and the Kurds), Sayfa, Istanbul, 244 p. ] Questioned about this, an eminent member of the family, not in the least upset, told me; ‘So much the better. I am convinced of our Jewish origins.” Chapters III to VI describe in detail the daily lives of the Jewish communities of Bahdinan during the first half of the 20th century.. The candidate tried to be exhaustive: the result of his quest for oral documentation was considerable. This huge amount of information has not only been well classified, hut the candidate succeeded in making it a smooth and agreeable read. This detailed study has made a major contribution to the study of the recent history of the region of Iraqi Bahdinan..

    In sum, Mr. Zaken's thesis is highly original in both subject and method. The project he undertook is a significant one, in an academic area where there is still a dearth of knowledge, and his work complements the previous research which does exist. He made excellent methodological choices both in doing an impressive number of first hand interviews, a in the careful and detailed way he treated the material he obtained; his data is highly valuable. His work is an important contribution to the study of the Jewish diaspora, to the study of the specificities of the Kurdish Jews, to the study Jewish relations with Moslems and Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan, and to the study of Iraqi Kurdistan itself. I highly commend this thesis, and congratulate Mr. Zaken on His work.

    Paris, June 19th, 2004 Joyce Blau