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A Short History of Kurdish Publishing

Ferid Demirel

While the act of printing has emerged throughout human history in various ways, the modern press was devised by German-born Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. British philosopher Francis Bacon appraised the invention of the printing press as one of the most important developments responsible for ushering in the modern era. From another perspective, then, the Kurds only reached this modern era in the nineteenth century. The printing press came into use by the Kurds in Kurdistan quite late, as was true for many regions in the Ottoman Empire.

Printing presses in Kurdistan were established by religious communities, particularly by the Christians. They were established in the nineteenth century. Researcher, writer, and academic Malmîsanij has claimed to this effect that the Kurds did not have their own printing press until World War I. The already-existing printing presses belonged either to the state or to western missionaries. As a consequence, the first Kurdish-language books were published outside of Kurdistan, in cities like Cairo and Istanbul. Mesûd Serfiraz discusses printing presses like these in his book Kurd, Kitêb, Çapxane (Kurds, The Book, and the Printing Press).

Research has shown that the first Kurdish book in Turkey was printed in Istanbul in 1844. This book was Naqshibandi Sheikh Mewlana Xalid’s Dîwan. Dîwan was printed in Istanbul, but it was not entirely Kurdish; rather, it was written primarily in Arabic and Persian and contained several poems written in the Hewramî dialect of Kurdish. Between Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and the time of this book’s printing, 404 years had passed. For 404 years thousands of books, journals, newspapers, and written works were pressed around the world, yet the Kurds were unable to participate in the golden age in which this transformation took place.

Following Mewlana Xalid’s book, the Bible was published in the Kurmanjî dialect of Kurdish using the Armenian alphabet in Istanbul in 1856 by Kitab-ı Mukaddes Şirketi (Sacred Book Company). Several other translations were published in 1857, 1872, 1891, and 1911 under the banner of missionary activities. Malmîsanij confirms the information regarding these books’ publication.

Several Kurdish translations of the Bible by Armenians and Western missionaries were published in the Ottoman era. At least five editions of the Bible were published between 1856 and 1911 with the Armenian alphabet. Mesûd Serfiraz also mentions a book titled Dîwan Et’ime published between 1884 and 1885. Two other books worth noting are Türkçeden Kürd Lisanına Mütercem İlmihaldir (1891) and El-Hediyyetu’l-Hemîdîyye fî’l-Luxeti’l-Kurdîyye (1892). Academic Amir Hassanpour claims that several translations were made from Arabic to Kurdish in 1922 and 1923. A Kurdish-Arabic dictionary was printed in Istanbul in 1892. But he does not provide further information in this regard. According to Malmîsanij, twenty Kurdish books were published with the Arabic alphabet between 1844 and 1923. Eighteen of them were published in Istanbul, while one was published in Cairo and one in Diyarbakır.

Approximately seventy years prior to its collapse, the Ottoman Empire pursued a policy connecting the Kurdish chiefdoms to the Sublime Porte, abolishing the last Kurdish government centered in Cizre and conducted by the Bedirxan family. The Ottomans were successful in this, and with the subsequent establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the state of Kurdish-language publishing went into decline. Quoting from Vil’chevski, Rondot, and Nariman, Amir Hassanpour asserts that other books were published between the years of 1918 and 1924. There were two religious books: one was Mupeddimet ul-‘irfan, while the other was Eqîda Kurdan. Most notable, however, was the printing of Ehmedê Xanî’s work Mem û Zîn. The book was printed in 1919, but it was forbidden by the Ottoman government. According to Hassanpour, fourteen books were printed in Kurdish in this period. Following the period of these books’ publication, the nascent republic prohibited the Kurdish language. Between 1923 and 1965, only two Kurdish language books were published. Both were religious books written in the Arabic alphabet.

As Malmîsanij explains, after 1965—that is, after a forty-year silence—a stage play and a grammar book were published in Kurdish. The play, Birîna Reş (Black Wound), was written by Musa Anter. Anter wrote it in prison, and though it was published in recent times only a few editions have been located. From 1966 to 1970, three books were published. However, because of the military coup in Turkey in 1971, Kurdish publishing once again fell into decline. By 1975, only one book had been published. Over the course of the years to follow, nine books were published.

According to the figures given by Malmîsanij, only twenty Kurdish-language books were published over fifty-six years in Turkey. After 1980, as a consequence of another military coup, publishing across Turkey—let alone Kurdish publishing—was made impossible. The 1990s were, compared to the preceding years, a time when Kurdish publishing acquired opportunities, but this was a direct effect of the Kurdish political awakening. With the lifting of the legal ban on the Kurdish language, Kurdish publishing began to liven up a little.

In his book Türkiye ve Suriye’de Kürtçe Kitap Yayımcılığının Dünü ve Bugünü (Kurdish Language Publishing in Syria and Turkey in the Past and Present), Malmîsanij specifies that a total of 654 Kurdish-language books were published in Turkey as of 2006. By 1999, the number of Kurdish books published in the previous century exceeded 200. Of these, 74 are in the Kurmanjkî (Zazakî) dialect of Kurdish, while 580 are in the Kurmanjî dialect. There are currently only two publishing houses that print books in Kurmanjkî. One is Vate, the other is Roşna. In recent years, Arya Publishing has begun to publish in Kurmanjkî. Against this tableau, the state of Kurdish publishing has been improving day by day for the past ten years; in fact, given that the number of books from every genre increases with every passing year, a golden age seems to be taking place. Since 2005, journalist Cemil Oğuz has published a yearly list of Kurdish-language books on his website Diyarname. In 2005, 54 Kurdish books were available to readers. By 2006, this number was 84, while in 2007, it rose to 109. Since 2007 the number has not fallen below 100. Most recently, in 2015, the number was 250. Adding these numbers up shows that, in the past ten years, over a thousand books have been published in Kurdish. According to these results, then, the number of Kurdish books published in the past ten years is greater than the number published in the past century.

The rise in the number of books is closely tied to the rise in the number of publishing houses. Malmîsanij mentions forty publishing houses established after the year 2000. Malmîsanij’s aforementioned book was published in 2006; consequently, we can say that some of these forty publishing houses have shut down while new ones have come into being.

The first Kurdish publishing houses were started primarily for Kurdish political organizations. In recent years, however, some people who do not see themselves as close to any political circles have started publishing houses. Some of these publishing houses are in Diyarbakır, some are in Istanbul, and a couple are in Ankara. Among these, a handful were started before the year 2000: Komal (1974), Deng (1989), Doz (1990), Kurdish Institute Publications (1992), Nûbihar (1992), Avesta (1995), Pêrî (1997), and Aram (1997).

Kurdish publishing houses publish books in Kurdish as well as in Turkish. In other words, many of them are bilingual. Some of these have nonetheless placed an emphasis on Kurdish-language books in recent years. Komal Publishing House has published dozens of books, for example. The bibliographies of some articles include works published by Komal through 2010. However, it is unclear whether Komal has published since that time or not. Hakeza Deng is in the same situation. Both publishing houses publish on the topic of Kurdish history and mythology as well as literary works. One of the old publishing houses is Doz Publishing. Doz began to publish books in Kurdish and Turkish in 1990. According to information on the internet, the last work that Doz published was in 2013; there is no information regarding subsequent years. The Kurdish Institute, Nûbihar, Avesta, Pêrî, and Aram are publishing houses that have been active in the Kurdish publishing market for twenty years.

In recent years, some publishing houses have begun to place an emphasis on specific divisions. Avesta, Aram, Lîs, Nûbihar, and Vate are the primary publishing houses for original Kurdish literature, translation, and classics, with Avesta and Lîs leading the field in every genre. Additionally, the following publishing houses—Alan, Apec, Amara, Ar, Arya, Ava, Azad, Banga Heq, Bajar, Belkî, Berbang, Berçem, Berfîn, Beroj, Beybûn, Bîr, Çetin, Çira, Dilop, Dîlan, Dîwan, Do, Elma, Fam, Fırat, Hêlîn, Hêvî, Hîva, Hîvda, J&J, Koral, Lorya, Melsa, Mem, Mîr, Müjde, Nûdem, Nûjen, Öz-Ge, Pelêsor, Peywend, Şîmal, Ronahî, Roşna, Rûpel, Sî, Sîpan, Tevn, Veng, War, Welat, Weşanên Dîsa, Weşanên Evrensel, and Zehra û Zîbeq—some of which are no longer active, published a great number of works in the field of Kurdish publishing.

Aside from these, a number of Turkish publishing houses have begun to publish books in Kurdish. Ayrıntı, Metis, Doğan Kitap, BGST, Timaş, Belge, Agora, İletişim, Altın Kitaplar, Yordam, İthaki, and a couple other publishing houses have published books in Kurdish, even if just a couple. Some of these publishing houses publish books of Kurdish literature in either Kurdish or Turkish. This is the case for Ayrıntı and İthaki, among others. Some of these publish religious books. Others have the works of their authors translated into Kurdish and publish those books themselves, or else they only publish a few Kurdish-language children’s books.

Among the different genres of books, most of those published are literary works, and of those, most are books of poetry. Theoretical texts and books on other fields, whether translated or written originally in Kurdish, are few in number; however, works in translation, especially thanks to the work of Lîs Publishing House, have been increasing in recent years. According to Malmîsanij’s numbers, 174 books out of 654 are poetry; 69 are novels, and 65 are collections of short stories. However, given the transformations in the publishing atmosphere, it is easy to claim that this number has risen greatly in the past ten years. While the figures might not be exact, in the past century 200 Kurdish novels have been published in Istanbul and Ankara, most of them after the year 2000 and 90% of them in the Kurmanjî dialect of Kurdish, with only a limited number in the Kurmanjkî (Zazakî) dialect. Nonetheless, more detailed research needs to be conducted regarding the actual number of published works across genres as well as more generally on the state of Kurdish-language publishing.

Works Cited:

Celîl, Celîlê, Kürt Aydınlanması (Kurdish Enlightenment), Avesta Publishers, İstanbul, 2013

Hassanpour, Amir, Kürdistan’da Milliyetçilik ve Dil 1918-1985 (Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan, 1918-1985), Avesta Publishers, İstanbul, 2005

Malmîsanij, Türkiye ve Suriye’de Kürtçe Kitap Yayımcılığının Dünü ve Bugünü (Kurdish Language Publishing in Syria and Turkey in the Past and Present), Vate Publishers, İstanbul, 2006

Postman, Neil, Televizyon Öldüren Eğlence (Amusing Ourselves to Death), Ayrıntı Publishers, İstanbul, 1994

Serfiraz, Mesûd, Kurd, Kitêb, Çapxane Weşangeriya Kitêbên Kurdî di Dewra Osmaniyan de (1844-1923) (Kurds, the Book, and the Printing Press: Kurdish Book Publishing in the Ottoman Era), Peywend Publishers, İstanbul, 2015

Topuz, Hıfzı, Türk Basın Tarihi (A History of the Turkish Press), Remzi Publishers, İstanbul