Ehmedê Xanî’s Mem û Zîn

The consecration of a Kurdish national epic

Authored by: Michiel Leezenberg

Routledge Handbook on the Kurds

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  August  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138646643
eBook ISBN: 9781315627427
Adobe ISBN:


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More than any other work, Ehmedê Xanî’s Mem û Zîn (henceforth MZ), a mystical romance or mathnawî poem in 2,655 bayts, or distichs, written in Kurmancî or Northern Kurdish, symbolizes and reflects the Kurds’ aspirations toward liberation and national independence. This story of two tragic lovers who are not allowed to marry in life, and who – despite being buried together – remain separated by a thornbush, even in death, is usually seen as an allegory of the division of Kurdish society by outside forces and of the Kurds’ inability to unite among themselves. The manuscript evidence and the oldest available sources suggest that from early on, Xanî and his poem have held a place of prominence, if not dominance, in Kurdish letters; initially, however, the poem was generally read, like other mathnawî poems, as a work of mystical love (mahabba). It was only in the late nineteenth century that Xanî was gradually elevated to the status of Kurdish national poet and his poem to the Kurdish national epic; accordingly, the work was increasingly interpreted as carrying a secular nationalist message. This chapter will attempt to trace the shifting reception of Xanî’s romance and briefly discuss how it acquired a central place in Kurdish national consciousness over the course of the twentieth century.

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