Uses and Values of the Term Kurd in Arabic Medieval Literary Sources

Uses and Values of the Term Kurd in Arabic Medieval Literary Sources

By Boris James

Paper presented at the American University of Beirut, Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (2006)

Abstract: In the study of the Kurdish group in Arabic medieval sources one is easily confused in considering the use made of the word “Kurd” (Kurd, pl. Akrâd). Most of the time it doesn’t fit into our comtemporary social and “ethnical” categories. Both this and the incoherence of establishing a continuity between the medieval period and the 21st century regarding the use of the term “Kurd”, led some scholars to consider that this word had an “ethnographic value” (Aubin, Van Bruinessen) and that only the life-style of the populations considered (nomadism and pastoralism) determined the way in which the term was used. Is this approach useful when interpreting the value of the term Kurd in the Medieval literature ? Could the notion of “representation” be a more valid and dynamic tool ? Is this incongruity, percieved by the readers of medieval sources, a result of a modulated use of this term which has been conditioned by several types of representations widely used when talking about this group ?

During this presentation I am going to share with you my research questions vis à vis some occurences of the word “Kurd”. Why in my point of view are some of these uses confusing ? We will then discuss the solutions. I will ask for your input. We will try to take into account the representations of the Kurds that are established in opposition to the “ideal” norms of the urban and well-read muslim society and that reveal a prospective from the center towards the periphery. Finally we will discuss the question of kurdish “ ethnicity” during the Middle Ages, its criteria and the manifestation of the sense of belonging beyond the usual stereotyped representations of the Kurds.

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