Fezana Journal article on Kurdish ties to ancient Iranian Mythology & Zoroastrianism

The Fezana Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the links between the Kurds and ancient Iranian mythology, notably Zoroastrianism:

Farrokh, K. (2016). Exploring Kurdish ties to ancient Iranian mythology and Zoroastrianism. Fezana Journal (Publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America), Vol. 30, No.1, Fall/September, pp. 16-20.

One topic discussed in the article:

Neither Zoroastrianism nor Yaresanism believe in the “Tabula Rasa” (lit. blank slate) philosophy that humans are born with wholly “blank” minds, that subsequently acquire knowledge, wisdom and beliefs as a result of their material (or sensory) experiences with the outside world (i.e. John Locke’s 1689 “Essay concerning Human Understanding”). In Zoroastrianism in particular the notion of human choice (between evil and good) is bestowed upon the individual prior to their acquisition of physical life (Stausberg & Vevaina, 2015, p.222). Yaresanism shares the notion of divine manifestation of holy men born of virgin maidens with both Zoroastrianism and Mithraism; like the Saoshant who is to be born of a virgin (Bundahishn, 33.36-38) and Mithras born of virgin goddess Anahita, Sultan Sahak was born of the Kurdish virgin Dayerak Rezhbar (also known as Khatun-e Rezhbar).”

kurd-engaged-in-worship-of-mithras

Kurdish man engaged in the worship of Mithras in a Pir’s (mystical leader/master) sanctuary that acts as an ancient Iranian (Zoroastrian or Mithraic?) temple (Source: Kasraian & Arshi, 1993, Plate 80). Note how he stands below an opening allowing for the “shining of the light”, almost exactly as seen with the statue of Mithras in Ostia, Italy. These particular Kurds are said to pay homage to Mithras three times a day. His costume can also found in certain rural areas of Mazandaran in northern Iran. For more on Mithraism, consult: Mithra-The “Pagan” Christ?

 The following observation is made in the article with respect to Kurdish Sufi sects:

“The notion of absolute egalitarianism persists among several Kurdish Sufi groups such as the Qaderi movement in Iranian Kurdistan whose followers follow the teachings of their founder Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani (1078- 1166). Though nominally Sunni, the Qaderi order’s mysticism sets them widely apart from Islamic theology and practices. Their spiritual leader or “Pir” often engages his followers in repetitive mystical chants known as “Zikr” rituals. The Pir can even (especially among the Qaderis of Baiveh), be regarded as their earthly intercessor with God, somewhat reminiscent of the role of Mithra.

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Kurds in Istanbul, Turkey celebrate the coming Newroz (Nowruz) by jumping over fire much like the Chaharshanbeh Soori ceremonies in Iran (Source: Photo by Bertil Videt in 2006 for Public Domain).

The legacy of Iranian mythology among the Kurds is further discussed:

The Kurdish-speaking peoples maintain strong ties to ancient Iran’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian culture. Too numerous to list here, one of these is the Nowruz (New Year; Newroz in Kurdish), which like all Iranian peoples is celebrated on March 21. Interestingly many Kurds of Iraq and Turkey regard the Nowruz/Newroz as “the day of Kawa Ahsengar (Persian: Kaveh Ahangar [the Ironsmith])

4-sedreh-pushi-IstanbulSedreh-Pushi ceremony of a group of Turkish Kurds and Iranians in Istanbul who are recent converts to Zoroastrianism (Source: Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies).

The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds

The term “Yazidi” is often incorrectly confused with the Arabian name “Yazid“. The term is originally “Yazdi” derived from Iranic “Yazata” broadly meaning “Angels”, hence the prime Zoroastrian spiritual entity term “Ahura-Mazda“, terms for surviving Iranic cults in Kurdistan known as the “Yazdan” (lit. cult of Angels), and the surviving name of “Yazd” for the city of that name in Iran today. There are various mystical orders that have theological ties to the “Yazdi” or “Yazidi” such as the “Yar-esan” and the Qaderi clans of Western Iran. The Yazidis are an ancient community, concentrated in northwestern Iraq but also found in Iran, Syria and Turkey.

Yezidi Kurds-12-Youths 1950sYazdi or Yazidi youth in the 1950s in Lalesh (Saradistribution.com).

The holiest Yazidi or Yazdi site is the Temple of Lalesh, situated in a valley near Dohuk in Nineveh Province (roughly an hour and a half drive outside of Erbil in northern Iraq). This is an ancient cultural and theological site with strong ties to ancient Iranic religions such as Zoroastrianism and ancient cults such as Mithraism and Zurvanism. The movement however also features interesting ties to Christianity and Islam and welcomes their holy books into their theology.

 Yezidi Kurds-5-lales-piraEntrance portal to the Temple of the Yazdis or Yazidis at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com).

The Yazidi or Yazdi religion is believed to have its origins as late as the 11th century, however it is generally agreed that the faith has derived much of its theology from the ancient Zoroastrianism religion of pre-Islamic Iran. From what is known, the Yazidi or Yazdis do not have or write holy books like the Abrahamic faiths; they tend to pass on their traditions in an oral fashion with stories, poems and songs. Interestingly one cannot simply convert to the Yazidi or Yazdi religion; one can only enter this by having been born into the faith.

Yezidi Kurds-2-Yezidi-khatunExcellent depiction of a Khatoun at an ingress into the Temple in 1907 (Saradistribution.com). The term Khatoun in this cultural context designates a matriarch; ancient cults such as Mazdakism, Yazdanism, Yazdism as well as the ancient Zoroastrian faith, have often held men and women in equal regard, especially with regard to learning and leadership roles (for more see here).

The Yazidis are expected to engage in a six-day pilgrimage (minimum once a lifetime) to Lalesh to visit the tomb of Sheikh Adi and other holy sites. Sheikh Adi is the primary figure of the religion of the Yazidis.

Yezidi Kurds-8-plan of lalesDetailed architectural plan of the Mausoleum at the Temple at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com).

Yazidis also engage in a yearly pilgrimage for the local autumn Festival or “Feast of the Assembly“.

Yezidi Kurds-18-CeremonyThe Yazidi faithful engaging in their “Festival of Eid al-Jamma” (photo taken on 7 October, 2010 & displayed the International Business Times).

Note the image of a large black snake on the wall in the above photo. One legend narrates this as having been once alive, and causing havoc among the local residents of the sanctuary. Sheikh Adi then intervened and transformed that snake into its present solidified form as it tried to climb up the same wall it is now transfixed in. Yet another tradition narrates that it was Sheikh Adi’s companion, Sheikh Mend, who transformed himself from human form into this black snake. Sheikh Mend had done this to repel the Haweri Kurdish tribe who were attempting to force the Yazidis to convert to the Islamic faith.

Yezidi Kurds-15-CeremonyYazidis lighting candles outside the Lalesh temple in celebration of the Yazidi New Year (photo taken on April 17, 2007 & displayed the International Business Times). The Yazidis celebrate the ingress of light into the world.

The Yazidi theology of creation is of interest, especially given its parallels with Zoroastrianism and other ancient Iranic faiths. In the Yazidi version of creation, God created the universe and entrusted its welfare to seven angels. The prime angel or “Yazata” of the seven angels is “Malak Tawous” (Persian: Malek Tavoos), broadly translated as “Lord/king Peacock”. In Yazidism this is a Yazata that has been incarnated in the physical realm in the body of a peacock.

Yezidi Kurds-4-Meleke TawusMetalwork representing the spiritual entity Malak Tawous (Saradistribution.com).

The peacock has held a special significance among Iranian peoples since antiquity and is well represented in the arts during the pre-Islamic and post-Islamic periods.

Yezidi Kurds-16-Kurdish danceLocal Yezidis engage in the traditional Kurdish dance outside the Lalesh temple (photo displayed the International Business Times).

The Yazidis have had to contend with several persecutions in history. Their very existence has been threatened up to modern times, notably by the former Saddam Hussein regime and more recently by pan-Muslim ideologues.

New Course: The Silk Route-Origins and History

A new course by Kaveh Farrokh entitled “The Silk Route-Origins and History” is being offered at the University of British Columbia (final lecture on December 16, 2014):

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The lectures will be delivered at the Tapestry Center in the University of British Columbia’s Wesbrook Village. For information on registration, etc., kindly contact the University of British Columbia-Continuing Studies Division.

 Tajik-Nowruz

Tajik girls celebrate the Iranian Nowruz (New Year) on March 21, 2014 in Dushanbe, Tajikestan.

Below is a synopsis of the course as delivered in the Class syllabus:

The origins and history of the east-west Silk Route that connected the empires of Asia, Central Asia, Persia and the Romano-Byzantine West, as well as the lesser-known north-south route that connected Persia, the Caucasus and East- Central Europe. Emphasis will be placed on the development and transfer of the arts, music, culture, mythology, cuisine, and militaria. The peoples of the Silk Route from China across Eurasia, Central Asia, Persia to Europe are also examined

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The curriculum and impetus of this course is the direct outcome of meetings with the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy based in London, England. WAALM is affiliated with the Academic Council On The United Nations System (ACUNS) and The International Peace Bureau. WAALM was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Kaveh Farrokh has been featured in WAALM’s Tribune Magazine (click here…).

silk painting

Chinese painting of Leizu (Xi Ling Shi) the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk in c. 2700 BCE; she was the teenage wife of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi.

shir-dar-samarkand

The “Shir Dar” (Lion Gate/doorway) of the Islamic college at Samarkand built originally in 1627 (Nafīsī, 1949, p. 62). The sun motif is characterized by Kriwaczek (2002, picture Plate 1) as ”…the image of Mithra, the rising and unconquered sun, Zoroastrian intercessor between God and Humanity” (Courtesy of Kriwaczek, 2002).

Chinese women silk-12th century CE

Chinese women produce silk in the 12th century CE.

Kyrgiz MusiciansKyrgyz musicians performing with traditional instruments. Hsiang-Nou races replaced Iranian speaking peoples of Central Asia; Despite this: These greatly assimilated the cultural and mythological traditions of their Iranic predecessors.

UBC-2-Migrations

One of ancient founding peoples of the Silk Route? Mummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). For more on this topic, see also here…

The Princetonian: Petition challenges Pourdavoud Chair candidate

The article below (The Daily Princetonian: “Petition challenges Pourdavoud Chair candidate”, Chitra Marti, January 7, 2014) was sent forward to Kavehfarrokh.com by Professor Dariush Borbor (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge and Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies (RILIS) at Tehran). This pertains to the petition initiated by Professor Ehsan Yarshater which challenges Princeton University’s selection of “Pourdavoud Chair in pre-modern Persia”.

Inexplicably, the petition initiated by Professor Yarshater has been disabled; for further details see article below. Note especially the interview with Professor Borbor in the below article.

Dr. Mohammad Ala (Recipient of Grand Prix Film Italia Award in June 2013) made the following revelation on December 14, 2013

Friends:

 A little research shows that the person behind this agenda is Professor Dimitri Gutas of Yale, who invented the term Greco-Arabian for scholars such as Farabi, Khwarazmi, Ebne Sina etc. to deny their Persianness. Van Bladel happens to have studied with him. The agenda behind this nomination is not known.- – petrodollars, lobby group(s), or self-promotion, but we must prevent not only this nomination, but the very idea of ‘Greco-Arabian’ which is not related to us (Iranians).

Kindly note that the pictures and captions below did not appear in the original Princetonian report.

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A petition organized by Columbia professor Ehsan Yarshater surfaced challenging the University’s current candidate for the position of the Ibrahim Pourdavoud Professorship in Persian Studies.

The petition, which has been taken down, argued that having the name of Pourdavoud, a pioneer in the field of pre-Islamic Iranian studies, meant that the professor who occupies the Pourdavoud Chair should continue his work in the field of pre-Islamic studies. But the current candidate suggested by the search committee, according to the petition, was a Greco-Arabic scholar who has not specialized in pre-Islamic culture and who would thus not exemplify the memory of Pourdavoud.

The petition was taken down the week of Dec. 22 for unknown reasons. Yarshater did not respond to a further request for comment as to why the petition had been taken down.

Professor Ehsan YarshaterProfessor Ehsan Yarshater (Picture Source: NPR.org)

The petition, which was addressed to University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, copied Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani ’80 and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani ’74, whose $10 million donation to the University in 2012 will help establish a Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies. The Mossavar-Rahmanis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

However, the Pourdavoud Chair was not established by the Mossavar-Rahmani family. It was separately established by Dr. Anahita Naficy Lovelace ’75 and her husband Jim Lovelace. Dr. Lovelace said they were aware of the petition and declined to comment until after an appointment has been made.

According to Yarshater, the candidate being considered was Kevin van Bladel, a current history professor at Ohio State University. Van Bladel declined to comment for this article and said he had not received any formal offer from Princeton University.

“To allow a chair named after Pourdavoud, who spent all his life teaching and writing about Zoroastrianism and the pre-Islamic culture of Iran,” the petition read, “to be held by someone whose formal academic training has been in Arabic, Syriac, and Greek, and who by and large is unknown in the field, is considered a slap in the face of Iranian Studies, the community at large, and the memory of Pourdavoud.”

Van Bladel has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Yale University and was previously an assistant professor of classics at the University of Southern California. He specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of the Near East in the first millennium CE, focusing on the translation of works between Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Sanskrit and various Iranian languages such as Middle Persian and Arabic. His teaching also focuses on the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

“In the perspective of my research, the advent of Islam is not the beginning or end of a period; it can be understood only by reference to what came before as much as to what came after,” van Bladel’s OSU biography states.

van BladelAssociate Professor & Chair Kevin van Bladel of Ohio State University (Picture source: OSU).

Ibrahim Pourdavoud, for whom the chair is named, was a Persian scholar who studied pre-Islamic Iranian history, focusing particularly on Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrian culture. He is perhaps most well known for translating the Avesta, the primary collection of Zoroastrian sacred texts, into Persian and providing explanatory commentary.

Dr. Lovelace said in an email that by naming the chair after Pourdavoud, they intended to “honor him and his life’s work on the occasion of his 125th birthday in 2011, which happened to coincide with [her] mother’s 90th birthday.”

In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Yarshater acknowledged that although van Bladel has many strengths, they do not lie in the same field Pourdavoud spearheaded.

“The one scholar that Princeton University was thinking to appoint — although they haven’t appointed yet — was not an expert on any of those things that are Persian history, Persian culture or Iranian language. Even though under other standards he is a very good scholar, he would be more appropriate for chairs in Arabic or Greek,” Yarshater said.

Changing the Selection Process

Yarshater also suggested that the selection process be altered so as to better represent the intentions of a chair named for Pourdavoud.

“In order to do justice to the chair, to the donors and to the name of Pourdavoud, the selection committee should include several people of expertise in Iranian studies,” Yarshater said. “Ideally they would advertise the chair, a number of people would apply, and they will then decide who is the best choice for the chair … The committee would compose of people specialized in Iranian studies, not people in Arabic or Greek or Syriac.”

Dean of Faculty David Dobkin, who was also copied on the petition, said in an email that the selection committee for a chair position is typically made of faculty from the relevant department, or of faculty whose departments overlap with the area of the chair. Often, other faculty with broader interests are also included. Then, the search committee will begin placing ads and sending out requests for nominations to leading scholars in the field.

LIVE.NB_DobkinProfessor David Dobkin of Princeton University (Picture Source: Princeton Alumni Weekly)

Once the search committee has found a potential candidate, Dobkin said, he or she is proposed to the Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements, which solicits input from leading scholars in the field as to the candidate’s suitability for the position.

According to Dobkin, the donor and the University will come to a consensus on a description for a position, and the search committee will begin the selection process from there. Donors are not involved in the identification nor selection of candidates to occupy the chair.

Dobkin declined to comment on the search committee organized for the Pourdavoud Chair, citing the need to uphold the integrity and confidentiality of the selection process.

Greco-Arabic vs. Pre-Islamic

Dariush Borbor, Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies in Tehran, signed the petition, citing his personal and academic belief that the current candidate does not meet the ideals of a Pourdavoud Chair.

“My personal feeling, as many other scholars, most of us agree with what Professor Yarshater has written in his letter that this endowment for the professorship at Princeton was made by two Iranians and they wanted to concentrate on Iranian studies,” Borbor said. “The chair which is named after [Pourdavoud] should be occupied by a person who specialized either in the languages of ancient Iran or the religion or generally the culture of ancient Iran.”

YSU-16-Asatrian-Farrokh-Borbor-3Professor Garnik S. Asatrian (Chair, Iranian Studies Dept., Yerevan State University; Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden-Boston), Kaveh Farrokh and Professor Dariush Borbor (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge and Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies (RILIS) at Tehran) at Yerevan State University conference “Shirvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan: A Historical-Cultural Retrospective” (November, 2013). Professor Borbor has often lectured and written about the misconceptions against Iranian Studies perpetuated by Greek scholarship.

Like Yarshater, Borbor acknowledged that van Bladel has many strengths in other fields, but that he may not be suited for this position.

“He may be a very good scholar as well, of his own right, but if he is a scholar specialized on Arabic, Syriac and Greek, I don’t think it’s a very suitable choice … Especially the Greek side, because with most of the scholars who were specialized in Greek studies and on the history or culture of Greece, their interpretation of Iranian studies was often very one-sided and sometimes quite wrong,” Borbor said. “I have, myself, written and lectured in many universities about the misconceptions that Greek scholarship has given to Iranian studies.”

Hosi Mehta, president of the Zoroastrian Association of Chicago, signed the petition as well, also citing a concern for the potential misrepresentation of Iranian history.

“Persian history is really rich, and I was surprised that they could not find somebody who would be into that than finding someone who has the Arabic background,” Mehta said. “I read his qualifications, that he was an Arabic scholar, and the concern was that sometimes things get misrepresented … the winner usually writes the history, so it could be changed in different ways. There are people who say the Holocaust never happened.”

Images of Iranian Kurdistan

Below are select images of Iranian Kurdistan. For more on the topic and Kurds in general consult: The Kurds.

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Iran-Kurdistan-DervishKurdish Sufi mystics partake in local Dervish ceremonies (Images  forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com on July 14, 2013 by Dr. Mohammad Ala, winner of the 2013 Grand Prix Film Italia Award for the documentary work Immortality). Many of these rites resonate with ancient Iranian mystical cults (ie. Mithrasim, Zurvanism, etc.) which gave rise to movements such as those of Mazdak during the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE) and Babak Khorramdin in Azarbaijan who led a major revolt in 816- 837 CE aimed at liberating Iran from the Abbasid Caliphate.

3-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] Investiture scene above the late Sassanian armored knight at the vault at Tagh-e Bostan. To the left stands Goddess Anahita with her right hand raised, holding a diadem of glory or “Farr” towards Khosrow II at center who receives a diadem with his right hand from Ahura-Mazda or the chief Magus. Anahita was a revered goddess of war among Sassanian warriors (Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

Girl from SanadajGirl from Sanadaj (Source: www.whoophy.com).

Heracles-vicinity of BisotunA carved image of Heracles, vicinity of Bisotun (Source: Turismo en Iran).

Iran Kurdistan04Village of Palangan at Dusk (Source: Amos Chapple of www.guardian.co.uk)

Angel-TBImage of an angelic figure at Taghe Bostan (Photo courtesy of Amiri-Parian).

iranian-kurd-talks-phone-mobile.siAn Iranian-Kurdish woman chats on her mobile phone in the city of Marivan in Iran’s Kurdistan province (Source: Reuters-Morteza Nikoubazl).

Anahita Temple-Kangavar[Click to Enlarge] The Anahita Temple at Kangāvar in Kermanshah Province. The Kangavar remains reveal a Hellenistic character at the edifice, with Iranian architectural designs. The column base for example, features very large dimensions measuring at just over 200m on a side. This combined with the site’s megalithic foundations, are harking back to the Achaemenid tradition of stone platforms, which are distinctly Persian in character (Source: Trek Earth).

kermanshah jamshid hotelThe Jamshid Hotel at Kermanshah (Source: www.key2persia.com)