July 20, 2013

British Major Ely Banister Soane On Kurdistan

"To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise" by British Major Ely Banister Soane.

I. Book Description (Source: Amazon):
The place names are familiar to anyone who watches the evening news: Kurdistan. Kirkuk. Mosul. Baghdad. In the early 1900s, author ELY BANISTER SOANE (1881-1923) journeyed across Mesopotamia and Southern Kurdistan and make a record of what he heard and saw, from ancient tribal enmities to modern customs, such as drinking in coffeehouses. Personal and intimate, this traveler's tale turns a Western eye on the mysteries of the Middle East. This replica of the original 1912 edition, the only known work of author, is complete with all the original illustrations, and will delight readers interested in the history of one of the most contended regions of the world today.
II. Brief Bio of Major Soane (Source: Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. Michael M. Gunter):
"Soane, Major Ely Bannister

Major E. B. Soane was a politically controversial writer, traveler, and, from 1919 to 1921, political officer of Great Britain in northern Iraq. Although he considered Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji a rogue, Soane was deeply committed to Kurdish autonomy and eventually lost his post as a result.

Soane replaced Major W. M. Noel, Sheikh Mahmud's supporter, as British political officer in Sulaymaniya in March 1919. After the Sheikh's first defeat in June 1919, Soane strictly administered the area but also initiated public works projects and encouraged what was then considered the novel use of written Kurdish in newspapers and the schools. When the Cairo conference in March 1921 finally decided to abandon the idea of Kurdish autonomy as part of the overall policy of maintaining British control as cheaply as possible, Soane was summarily dismissed.

Soane was the author of To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise, 1912, and "A Short Anthology of Gurani Poetry," 1921."
III. An excerpt from, "Kurdish Language II. History of Kurdish Studies" (Source: Encyclopædia Iranica):
The British school of Kurdish Studies developed in the beginning of the 20th century. Major Ely Banister Soane (1881-1923) arrived in Persia in 1902. His knowledge of Persian and Kurdish was so good that he managed to traverse Mesopotamia and Kurdistan being disguised as an indigenous Muslim for several years. He was the first Briton to publish Kurdish grammar books: Grammar of the Kurmanji or Kurdish Language (London, 1913), and Elementary Kurmanji Grammar (Baghdad, 1919) which has an English-Kurdish lexicon at the end.
IV. An excerpt from, "Braving Death In Kurdistan Disguised As A Native: How an Englishman Penetrated One of the Most Savage and Least Known Parts of the World by Passing Himself Off as One of Its Inhabitants---His Exciting Adventures." (Source: The New York Times. Published in March 9, 1913): 
"Memories of Sir Richard Burton's famous pilgrimage to Mecca, when disguised as a Mohammedan, he risked his life to see the Sacred City of the Prophet, are brought to mind now by the narrative of another fearless Englishman, who is back among his fellow-countrymen after nonchalantly living in the shadow of death for months. He is E. B. Soane, and in his book, "To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise" (Small, Maynard & Co., Boston,) he recounts how he ventured into the unknown mountain homes of the savage Kurds, passing himself off as a Persian returning to his native town of Shiraz from a sojourn in Europe. So remarkably good was Soane's knowledge of the Persian and Kurd languages and so convincing his "bluff" that he was everywhere taken at his word and suffered to go on his way unmolested. In fact, like Sir Richard Burton, he was accounted by many a Hadji, or Mohammedan pilgrim returning from Mecca, and treated with great politeness.

But in spite of everything he suffered, rough handling at the hands of Turkish soldiers and wild Kurdish bandits, he brought back with him to civilization, in addition to his wealth of remarkable experiences, a wound inflicted by a dagger in the hands of a mountain robber.

Soane's way led him far beyond the railway terminus at Aleppo in Asia Minor, down the swiftly flowing Tigris, past the ruins of Nineveh and other renowned cities of thousands of years ago, past battlefields where Hittites, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Parthians, Romans, Turks, and Tartars struggled and bled, straight through the dreaded haunts of the Hamavand bandits to the hidden mountain home of the Lady of Justice, revered throughout the district of Kurdistan in which she lives. Everywhere the Englishman met with evidences of Turkish misrule. So glaring were they that they made him yearn for Persia, where he had previously spent several years, and of which he speaks with deep affection. It was while he was in the Shah's domain that he mastered the Persian tongue and---ostensibly---embraced Mohammedanism, thus arming himself with a twofold knowledge that enabled him to return alive from his perilous Kurdistan adventure.
Through Urfa, the ancient Edessa, he went, across the Euphrates, passing at every step placed renowned in ancient history, ruins of forgotten cities, battlefields where armies of forgotten empires had won and lost." 
V. An excerpt from, "To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise" by Major Soane. Published by Cosimo, Inc in 2007. Originally published in 1912. Pg. 367-369; 371; and 392-393. (Source): 
"The race of Kurds is so little known, and so maligned when mentioned, that some idea of their origin and history, as well as an attempt at a vindication of their character, is not out of place here. Within recent years they have probably never come before the eye of the British public except in their traditional character of rapacious and furious fiends, fantastic figures of savagery pouring out from impregnable mountains and carrying desolation before them, slaying Christian and Musulman alike, resisting all efforts by princes and powers to subdue or even coerce them.  

Of what they may be, their origins and history, I suppose less is known than of any other race in the East, so numerous and powerful, and it may come as a surprise to many that Kurdistan has a history, and an ancient one, noble families, and a fine---if somewhat limited---literature. So well have the secrets of the race been guarded, that one at least of the many travellers who have remained among them for some time goes so far as to state definitely that "they are as destitute of annals as the wolves and jackals among whom they have lived in the high mountains from immemorial time," a statement which reflects more upon the ignorance of the writer than upon the Kurds, whom he would thus brand as being but little removed from the denizens of the hill-sides.

The Persian legend has it that Kurds are descendants of those young men who were saved from the voracity of the serpents of the monster Zohak of the Persian mythology, which were fed upon human brains at the devil's suggestion, and which were deceived by having the brains of goats substituted for those of the two youths who were to become the progenitors of the Kurdish race.

Another and less known legend is that Solomon, having sent for four hundred virgins from the East, and they having arrived in the country now called Kurdistan, were deflowered by the devils therein, whereupon Solomon resigned them to those devils, and their offspring were called Kurds.

It is a long retrospect back to 1200 to 1500 years B.C., for it is there we are to see the kings of Nairi, who appear to be the forbears of those Medes who later gained renown, and again later, under the name of Kurd, remained a word of terror in the ears of the neighbours.

In those days the Assyrians reigned in the lands about Mosul and between the rivers Zab. Following the course of the Greater Zab, from its middle to its source, was an obscure, little-known land, and here was the heart of the Nairi land. Here, too, later, were the Medes established, and here is still the heart and centre of Kurdistan.

Armenia, or Urartu, was tucked away north of all this, behind the mountains and Lake Van, upon its plateau, and the kings of Urartu are not to be confounded with the men of Nairi. Not were the Nairi lands confined to the upper waters of the Great Zab, for the people between the Tigris headwaters and the Euphrates north of Mount Niphates, that is, in modern times, Kharput and Darsim, in Bitlis and the Taurus range, were mentioned by Tiglath-Pileser and his successors (1100 to 600 B.C.), as the Nairi; that same land that later harboured the Invincible Gordyene, whose name appeared immediately after the disappearance of the name Mede at the middle of the Achaemenian dynasty of Persia (about 400 B.C.), and in reference to races inhabiting the lands of modern Kurdistan---which was Media.

And since that time it has been Kurdistan, home of wild races speaking a language the purity of whose ancient forms is one of the best proofs of the occupation by the Kurds of their great mountains ever since the Aryan horde started from its "land of the Dawn" to people Persia, Media, and part of Europe---of which we ourselves are the descendants, through the Saxons, and so kin to the Kurd, who has never mixed his blood with that of the Arab or Turk, but kept it as pure as his unmixed speech.

Assyria, that conquered its world, found in these people of the mountains a more difficult problem than any they had yet encountered. We are told that there is no reason to believe, although the Assyrians passed through the Zagros (the mountains par excellence of the Kurds) that they subdued any but the people immediately upon their route, a characteristic of Kurdistan and the attempts to invade it so like the tales of modern Persia and Turkey, that it might be the story of any of the sultans and shahs of the last two centuries.
When it is remembered that this part of Western Asia has been subject to the most wholesale revolution, to invasions by the armies of every nation that ever acquired fame and name in the Eastern world's history---Assyrian, Parthian, Greek, Roman, Persian, the Arabs under Muhammad, and the Mongols---the fine stability of the race stands out, for among all the people of these lands they alone have withstood every army, and retained pure their language and blood, and claim with a pride of race to which none can grudge admiration, that they are the pure Aryan, the "holders of the hills, and the possessors of the tongue."
The race certainly is, these days, a savage one, and many tribes fully merit the execration that has been poured upon them for outrages and massacres; that is, they fully merit the execration of modern European times. Yet, if justice be done, we must for purposes of comparison place Kurdistan side by side with the Europe of six hundred years ago, and then it requires but little comparison to show very conclusively that in point of mercilessness, lawlessness, and savagery, this people of a militant creed stand out in almost creditable relief against the black deeds of the Middle Ages in land where the religion of submission was supposed to be the guiding motive of life. Nor, in the present day, does the Kurd appear unfavourably in comparison with the European, judging him by the gauge of ideal and precept, upon the adherence to which alone a man can be judged, having in mind the exalted nature of each, or, as is too often the case, their absence. There is less crime of a despicable nature among any thousand Kurds, picked at random, than among the same number of Europeans taken in the same manner.

Yet the character of the Kurds is one on which the would-be writer is to experience enough difficulty, for the tribal character differs so much as to make one summary quite inadequate for the whole nation."