Constructive Nationalism versus primordial one : the case of Nawruz and the Kurdish Nationalism

Constructive Nationalism versus primordial one : the case of Nawruz and the Kurdish Nationalism

In post war 1 Kurdish intellectuals  Like Arab , Turkish , and nationalist have built an imagined history for their modern nationalism  utilizing   ancient myth and collective victimization  wuth particular attention to Nawruz and Kawa the black Smith and providing a romantic  picture and narrative of Zoroastrianism.. This paper is further elaboration on master thesis written by Miles Theodore Popplewell “ IMAGINED KURDS MEDIA AND CONSTRUCTION OF KURDISH NATIONAL IDENTITY IN IRAQ. San Francisco State University ,  International Relations , 2017.


Evidence that would support the modernist-constructivist claim for the origin and  proliferation of nationalism made by Benedict Anderson, in which the influence of economic systems brought on by modem capitalism, which he describes by the concept  of ‘print-capitalism’ is the driving force through which nationalism became a product of  modernity. Other prominent theories that have been presented on nationalism include the  theories of primordialism and ethnicism, otherwise known as ethno-symbolism.

Primordialists have argued that nations are ancient, almost natural, communities that have existed through periods of time. National identities, therefore, would have remained  constant and unchanging. Ethnicism, in a compromising of both primordial and  modernist-constructivist theory, proposes that while nations that exist today developed in  modem times, they still have premodem foundations lying in the ethnie, or ethnic  identity, to which nations are traced back.

Nationalism is a modem concept and the development of Kurdish nationalism, and the notion of Kurdistan, is an intriguing element to the intersection of Middle Eastern politics with processes of modernity. Nationalism, worldwide, has transformed how communities of people view themselves and their spatial and temporal relations with other communities. Where there were once collections of villages with a shared language and set of customs two centuries, national identities have ascended in consciousness to

1 There are other such ‘homelands’ of other ethnic groups with nationalist movements in the Middle East, such as Assyria, Ezidikhan for the Yazidi Kurds, and Turkmeneli for Iraqi Turkmen.make these villages part of a greater community, a nation, or as Benedict Anderson defines it, an “imagined community” (1991, p. 6). The Kurdish nationalist movement is an example of this ‘imagining’ of the Kurds as a single community, with its own ‘homeland’ of Kurdistan also being ‘imagined’ through the same political processes. For many Kurdish nationalists, the homeland of Kurdistan exists in both history and life. It is a distinguishable territory, with boundaries overlapping internationally-recognized borders. Since the germination of Kurdish nationalism began in the late 19th century, there have been efforts, large and small, serious and miniscule, to transform at least portions of this territory into internationally-legitimized states.


Kurdish nationalism and Nationalist constructivism

Gunter (2013; 2007) argues that the debate over origins of the nation can be divided among two schools of thought. There is constructivism on one side and primordialism (also referred to as essentialism) on the other. Primordialist authors often agree that nations, as they are known today, can trace back their conceptual lineages back to pre-modem eras, and thus these identities are rooted in ancient and ahistorical fabrics These are examples of more concise, yet influential narratives, that are featured not merely in Kurdish nationalist discourses in the KRI, but also in media throughout the international community (Kaya, 2012). More culturally prominent narratives are featured highly in the construction of Kurdish identity. A popular Kurdish narrative, and one that will be analyzed in terms of its inclusion in certain discourses, is the narrative

Surrounding Newroz, the Kurdish New Year. Jwaideh (2006), which was originally a doctoral thesis submitted in 1960, is also a significant contribution to the development of Kurdish studies. However, Jwaideh provides, in much the same way as driver, an account of Kurdish nationalism that treats  Kurdish national identity as a preliminary expression that existed for centuries, if not millennia, prior to the modem rise of Kurdish nationalist movements. Jwaideh gives an informative history of the modem movement, but still falls to essentialist biases, even citing Driver as an important source on Kurdish ‘racial’ origins going back to ancient history (p. 11). Kaya (2012) provides a strong critique of Jwaideh’s work as well, citing the latter’s attitude towards the Kurdish national movement as being “clearly normatively sympathetic” (p. 19), which in turn lends a bias towards primordial assumptions that are made in his work.

Olson (1989) and Hassanpour (1992) are two other significant contributors to the study of Kurdish nationalism’s origins from an ethicist standpoint. In their works, they present methods of periodization which they claim show the genesis of Kurdish Driver’s analysis of Kurdish history, languages, and literary development is surely a product of its time, exposing the inherent racism, exoticism, and euro-centric tendencies that existed in western academia. As a source, Driver’s contributions and claims should be used with great caution, and instead should be seen an historical watershed for the rise of Kurdish studies as an academic discipline. nationalism, with traces of the ideology being found as far back as the 16th century. A landmark event, according to ethicists, in the development of Kurdish nationalism is the creation of the poetic epic Mem u Zin, written in the late 17th century by Ehmedi Xani, who is often characterized in this interpretation of Kurdish nationalism to be one of the first true Kurdish nationalist. On the surface a tragic story of love between a man and a woman, both belonging to two competing Kurdish clans, the subtext of the story is often described by ethicists to be a call for the unification of the Kurds and their own political autonomy. Among Kurdish nationalists, the unfortunate restriction on the Mem and Zin  fulfilling their love for one another is symbolic of the Kurds’ relationship with their own  homeland of Greater Kurdistan, whereby they have been kept apart (unable to fulfill political independence) by greater forces. Van Bruinessen (2003) and Vali (2003b) provide strong rebukes to this interpretation of the origin of Kurdish nationalism. While ethicists might cite the Mem u Zin story as an original and groundbreaking declaration of Kurdish nationalism, their interpretation of Xani’s writing presupposes a certain episteme in which Xani lived that would have allowed for him to conceptualize the Kurds as a distinct, monolithic ‘nation,’ grouping the various linguistic and cultural groups which occupied the frontier territories between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires into a single people in need to be in charge of its own destiny. Despite the importance of Mem u Zin in its utility as a piece of literature often cited and referenced by Kurdish nationalists, the author himself should not be  considered a nationalist by the modem sense of the term. Xani, according to Van Bruinessen, was not a nationalist, as he did not identify groups of people according to ethnic identity but, rather, to states and their collective populations, which were multiethnic, while headed by hegemonic ethno-religious groups. While Xani advocates for a  ‘Kurdish’ ruler to establish himself in founding a new empire, such a state that he would  have envisioned would almost certainly have been a multi-ethnic Islamic state, in the  same guise as the Ottomans and the Safavids (2003, pp. 44-45). As Gunter notes, the ideas of nationhood and nationalism “being the focus of one’s supreme loyalty is relatively new even in the West” (2007, p. 7) Historically, the development of a Kurdish ‘nation’ doesn’t become a cohesive paradigm of thought among Kurdish-speaking peoples until immediately following the First World War and the ensuing dissolution of the Ottoman empire into other distinct polities. This period sees the rise of nationalism among several of the other dominant ethnic groups in these territories. In post-Ottoman Turkey, Kemalist ideologues quickly  began a program of subjecting the peoples of the new state to ‘Purification,’ in which  whatever religious, ethnic, or tribal identity was drastically relegated and suppressed in  favor of making everyone “Turks.” These political campaigns of assimilation and suppression were applied to various groups within Turkey, such as Arabs, Armenians, Alevis, and Kurds (Yavuz, 2001).


The story of Newroz is best explained by Aziz (2015), who derives some of his emphases from Ozoglu (2004, p. 22), and focuses upon the relationship between Zuhak, a cruel ruler, and the people he rules over:

According to written Kurdish folklore, Zuhak, was a tyrant who had snakes growing on his shoulders. Physicians were not able to cure this deformity. Satan appeared to the tyrant and told him that he would be cured if he would feed the snakes each day with the brains of two youngsters. The

executioner appointed to the task of providing the brains took pity on his victims and each day spared one of them Newroz, meaning “new day,” is a variant of the Persian New Year, which bears the cognate name Nowruz. This reflects the historical cultural ties of modem Kurds to other Iranic peoples. Zuhak, also spelled Zahak, Zahhak, or Zuhok, is a character also featured in the Persian epic, the Shahnama. and substituted the brains o f a sheep. The survivors fled to the safety of the mountains, where they became the founder’s o f a new people, the forefathers of the Kurds, (p.35)  Aziz goes on to explain Zuhak’s removal from power and a common nationalist interpretation of the story: Zuhak himself was overthrown when one of the tyrant’s intended victims rebelled against his fate and killed Zuhak instead. That person was Kaway Asinger10. The day that tyrant Zuhak was killed is called Nawroz. Historically, the Kurdish calendar dates from the defeat of the Assyrian Empire at Nineveh, north of Mosul, by the forces of the Medes. The myth of Zuhak, according to the Kurdish perspective, represents their existence as one of the ancient peoples of the regime. The end of Zuhak’s tyranny represents a great deal of relief in the Kurds ’ collective memory. ” (p. 35)

The narrative behind Newroz is important to Kurdish nationalists for two reasons.

Firstly, it is a story that is set in ancient times, and thus, as an origin story, and thus as Another common variant of this character’s name is Kawa, or more specifically, Kawa the Blacksmith.

premise insists upon the primordial origins of the Kurdish nation. Secondly, as a narrative, it provides important thematic concepts that can be featured throughout Kurdish nationalist discourse, whether or not the discourse is produced during the celebration of Newroz. The simple popularity of this origin narrative means that it can be featured in popular addresses by Kurdish politicians, reproduced on television shows, and even featured into discourses regarding the commemoration of other events that are significant to Kurds, also with their own associated narratives. Such an example may be the yearly commemorations of the Halabja massacre, in which a Kurdish-majority town was attacked by chemical weapons during the Ba’athist regimes Anfal campaign in 1988.  In activating the Halabja narrative in constructive discourse, Kurdish nationalists might tie in symbolisms from the Newroz narrative to reinforce the Kurd’s identity as ‘community of victims.’ An example of these symbolic tie-ins would be an allusion of Saddam Hussein, as a despotic leader, to Zuhok, who was also an oppressive despot.

Another prominent example would be the relationship between Zuhok’s victims and the Kurds who perished at Halabja. Nationalist narratives have also developed into a symbiotic structure, where the activation of one narrative presented in a discourse can implicitly activate another, leading an audience to develop a meta-narrative on which to construct their community. Kurdish nationalists in Iraq have achieved this, by assimilating narratives through their synchronized activations in their discourse, a meta-narrative of historical victimhood and struggle has been used by which Kurdish nationalists have come to define themselves. An example of this is text from the 2013 Newroz address given by then-President of the KRG, Massoud Barzani, who was also the head of the KDP, and originally broadcast on KTV (Barzani, 2013). In one of his earlier lines, Barzani explains:

I congratulate all [the] Nation’s people who celebrate this anniversary with us. They became free with us from [a] dictatorial] regime, at that time, 2700years ago.2700 years ago, Kurdistan’s people [rose] against injustice. Kawa the blacksmith wiped out Zuhak’s regime to get freedom for his nation.

This text presents interesting themes that should be further analyzed. In the very first line of this passage, for instance, he chooses to include “all the Nation’s people,” alluding to Kurds in other parts of Kurdistan as well as those in the diaspora who have access to KTV broadcasting. Barzani’s direct audience, however, are Kurds in the KRI (even more specifically the spectators at the stadium where he is speaking). Then activating the Newroz narrative, Barzani frames his speech by the selection of certain

themes in his rendition of the narrative. “2,700 years ago,” represents the ancient origins of the Kurdish nation. ‘Rising up against injustice,’ a common thematic action taken by Kurds throughout their narrated history, this statement thus helping to activate their meta11 All bracketed words are edits by author in order to correct grammatical errors in the translation. narrative, one that is built upon themes of oppression, tyrannical regimes, and national emancipation. Barzani continues:

Since that time till now the Kurdistan people from now on will not ever agree no matter what, to live under regimes of control and injustice. The enemies of Kurdistan and the greedy can bomb us with chemicals, and do the Kurdish Genocide [Anfal], and kill us, but there is absolutely no way they can kill our volition. Barzani punctuates his brief recitation of the Newroz narrative with the concluding moral in this passage that the Kurds will never submit to ‘regimes of control and injustice.’ Through a method that might be called ‘metaphorical displacement’ (Bhaba, 1990), Barzani establishes a category of unjust regimes, exemplified by Zuhak, but representable by modem political leaders whom Kurdish nationalists are opposed to:

Saddam Hussein and Mustafa Kemal are but two prominent examples. He then goes on to enforce the narrative of the Kurds as a “community of victims” by activating the Halabja narrative through the allusion to use of chemical weapons by Iraqi military during the attack. He then concludes this passage by emphasizing the resilience of the Kurdish nation to such attacks throughout history. The themes presented by Barzani in his Newroz address can be found in nationalist discourses from all political actors within the KRI, and most Kurdish political groups throughout the Middle East. Indeed, a political address during Newroz has become a normative practice amongst key leaders throughout Kurdistan

But  Estiage the tyrant which Kawa killed  is  last Kurdish Median Emperor

KĀVA, the name of a heroic blacksmith in the Šāhnāma who rebels against the tyrant Żaḥḥāk and helps Ferēdun wrest the kingdom from him. Kāva appears in the narrative when Żaḥḥāk is set on forcing his subjects to testify to his good rule by signing an official document to that effect. At this moment the blacksmith walks into the royal court and complains that Żaḥḥāk’s agents have arrested his son, in order to kill him and feed his brain to the serpents on the king’s shoulders. Żaḥḥāk releases Kāva’s son but demands the blacksmith sign the official declaration about his justice in return. When the affidavit is given to Kāva, however, he refuses to sign, and angrily tears it up. He then reprimands the courtiers who had signed the document and storms out of the court with his son. Żaḥḥāk remains silent through the episode of Kāva’s outburst. Once the smith leaves the court, the nobles ask their king why he did not react more forcefully to the man’s tirade, and he responds that, as soon as he laid eyes on Kāva, he felt completely overwhelmed by the man’s presence. He adds that he could not act, because it was as though an impenetrable barrier like a mountain separated him from Kāva (Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, pp. 67-69, vv. 93-226). That Kāva’s mere presence immobilizes the demonic Żaḥḥāk is reminiscent of the apotropaic powers of iron and, by implication, blacksmiths (for similar instances reflection the apotropaic power of iron, see Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, V, p. 238, vv. 217-20; Enjavi, II, pp. 316-17; Suzani Samarqandi, p. 311; Neẓāmi Ganjavi, p. 459, v. 16).

When Kāva exits the court, he fashions a makeshift banner from a spear and his leather apron, gathers the disgruntled Iranians around him, and leads them to Żaḥḥāk’s rival, Ferēdun, whose whereabouts, mysteriously, are known to him (Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, p. 69, vv. 226-34). Ferēdun adopts Kāva’s banner as his own, decorates it with silk and jewels, and names it the Kāvian Banner (Kāviāni derafš “The Royal Banner”; Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, pp. 69-70, vv. 235-43; Ṯaʿālebi, pp. 32-39; Christensen). This banner remained Iran’s national flag until the Arab conquest of the country in the 7th century CE (see DERAFŠ-E KĀVIĀN). The story of Kāva the blacksmith in the Šāh-nāma ends with his arrival at Ferēdun’s camp. No direct mention of the man is made in the rest of the poem. However, his sons, Qāran and Qobād, rise to positions of prominence among the Iranian warriors.


Although Kāva disappears rather abruptly in the Šāh-nāma, his service to Ferēdun is described in greater detail in the Garšāsp-nāma of Asadi Ṭusi. According to the Garšāsp-nāma, following Żaḥḥāk’s defeat and Ferēdun’s ascension to the throne, Kāva served as one of the new king’s main generals. Ferēdun sent him to the land of Ḵāvar or Rum at the head of a great army to collect tribute and to pacify the area (Asadi, p. 329, vv. 8-9; p. 331, v. 46; p. 366, v. 23). Or, according to the Mojmal al-tawāriḵ (pp. 41-42), he was sent to Rum, and his son, Qāran, to China after Kuš-e Pil-dandān. Qāran is the more famous son, who serves as the commander of the forces of several kings in the Šāh-nāma, but he is not mentioned in Asadi’s Garšāsp-nāma. The other son, Qobād, is referred to in the Garšāsp-nāma, according to which Qobād grows envious of the hero Garšāsp and openly criticizes Ferēdun for lavishing so many gifts upon that warrior. He points out that it was Kāva’s family who helped bring Ferēdun to power, and he does not understand why the king treats Garšāsp more kindly. When the news of Qobād’s protest reaches the king, he derides the warrior, saying: “Your father was no more than a blacksmith from Isfahan, who achieved prominence only because he chose to serve us, while Garšāsp descends from King Jamšid and is my kin.” Ferēdun says that, if it were not for his respect for Kāva, he would have put Qobād to death for his impertinence (Asadi, pp. 433-36). Soon Kāva finds out about Qobād’s disrespectful behavior toward the crown. He grows so wrathful that he attempts to kill his son, but his relatives intercede on Qobād’s behalf and rescue the boy (Asadi, p. 437, vv. 65-67).


The traditions associated with Kāva and his adventures during the rules of Żaḥḥāk and Ferēdun must have been more extensive than what found its way into the prose Šāhnāma and, through it, into Ferdowsi’s poem. For instance, according to Abu ʿAli Balʿami’s free translation of Ṭabari’s History, Kāva was a farmer from a village near Isfahan, whose two sons were killed and fed to Żaḥḥāk’s serpents, and that was why he rebelled against Żaḥḥāk’s governor in Isfahan, took over the city, divided the governor’s wealth among the people, and stopped tax payments. As a result, a great host gathered around him. Żaḥḥāk who was in the northern provinces at the time, sent an army against Kāva, but Kāva defeated it and began to advance north, taking over all towns on his path, until he arrived to the city of Ray, near Tehran. He then told his men: “We are now on the verge of meeting Żaḥḥāk. If we defeat him in battle, we need to choose a man we all like as the king to rule over the land.” His men said that they would like him to become king, but Kāva refused, saying that he was a blacksmith, and this task should be given to a man from the line of kings. He added: “I did not rebel in order to take over the land. I did so in order to free the people from Żaḥḥāk’s tyranny. If I take over the crown, people will say that he is not fit to be king and . . . there will be chaos. Find someone of royal blood so that we crown him as king.” The people ask for two months to look for a suitable candidate and finally come up with Ferēdun, who was a descendant of Jamšid, and who was destined to kill Żaḥḥāk. Kāva and Ferēdun met in Ray, and Kāva offered him his services as commander of the young prince’s army; together they managed to defeat and kill Żaḥḥāk. Once Ferēdun ascended the throne, he put Kāva in charge of his armies and also of his whole realm (Balʿami, ed. Bahār, pp. 143-47; ed. Rowšan, I, pp. 103-5; cf. Ebn al-Balḵi, pp. 34-35).


There is general agreement about the broad outlines of the story of Kāva and his rebellion against Żaḥḥāk in most Persian and Arabic sources, but they differ in details. For instance, Kāva’s profession is given as farming (Balʿami, ed. Bahār, p. 144; Tarjama-ye tafsir-e Ṭabari V, p. 1153), although in one version the farmer uses a blacksmith’s apron to make his banner (Balʿami, ed. Bahār, p. 145; ed. Rowšan, I, p. 103). According to the version of his story that was available to Abu’l-Ḥasan Masʿudi (d. 957), Kāva (called Kābi) was a shoemaker (eskāf), while in other versions his profession is not determined, and he is only said to be a commoner or a pious member of the lower classes (Masʿudi, pp. 85-88; tr., p. 86; Sediqiān, I, p. 177). His makeshift banner is said to have been made of his turban, apron, bear skin, lion skin, and even goat skin (e.g., Tarjama-ye tafsir-e Ṭabari V, pp. 1153-54; Biruni, p. 273; Maqdesi, III, p. 142; tr., I, p. 502). When Kāva rebels against Żaḥḥāk, God sends a message to Ferēdun informing him of the blacksmith’s rebellion and orders him to join Kāva (Gardizi, p. 4).

The story of Kāva in the storytelling tradition (naqqāli) is a concoction of folk and the literary versions, with a bit of the naqqāls’ own contributions thrown in. For instance, Kāva had eighty sons, of whom seventy-eight were killed by Żaḥḥāk’s agents (Afšār and Madāyeni, p.19). The number of his children is reminiscent of the large number of the sons of Gōdarz, an Iranian epic hero, who dies in the wars between Iran and Turan in the Šāh-nāma. The existence of Ferēdun is revealed to him in a dream, not by King Ṭahmuraṯ (Afšāri and Madāyeni, p. 21), a detail that exists neither in the Šāh-nāma nor in the folk tradition. However, as in the folk tradition (see below), it is Jamšid who tells him the exact whereabouts of the prince in a dream (Afšāri and Madāyeni, p. 30). The recognition scene between the smith and Ferēdun is quite similar to the recognition scene between the hero Giv (see GĒV) and Kay Ḵosrow in the Šāh-nāma (ed. Khaleghi, II, pp. 423-24, vv. 55-84). Contrary to the Šāh-nāma, but like the folk version of the story, it is Kāva who makes Ferēdun’s famous ox-headed mace (see gorz) for him (Afšāri and Madāyeni, p. 31).


Persian folklore provides much greater detail than what is found in the Šāh-nāma about Kāva and his career. According to most folk versions of his rebellion against Żaḥḥāk, Kāva had twelve sons, of whom eleven had already been killed and fed to the tyrant’s serpents (Enjavi, II, p. 305). Some tales put the number of his children at seven, of whom six were killed (Enjavi, III, p. 23), or at eighteen, of whom seventeen were slain (Enjavi, II, p. 315). A Kurdish verse summary of the Šāh-nāma includes Kašvād, the ancestor of the Gōdarziān clan of epic heroes, among Kāva’s sons (Enjavi, I, p. 319; III, p. 159). Some tales introduce important Islamic elements into the story of Iran’s mythical smith. For instance, according to a story that was collected in Kāzerun, a city near Shiraz, in July 1975, when Kāva rises in rebellion against Żaḥḥāk and makes his famous banner from his leather (pustin) apron, he writes on it the Qurʾanic verse: naṣron men Allāh wa fatḥon qarib “Assistance from God and imminent victory” (Qurʾan 61:13; Enjavi, III, pp. 26-27). The Šāh-nāma is not clear on how Kāva knew the whereabouts of Ferēdun when he took his followers to join him. By contrast, we have an explanation of how Kāva learned about the prince’s location in Persian folklore: It was Ferēdun’s “grandfather” Jamšid, who revealed the young prince’s location to the blacksmith (Enjavi, II, p. 313; cf. III, p. 34).


Persians believe that Nowruz is the day of the Spring equinox that usually occurs on the 19th, 20th or 21st of March. According to the Persians, Nowruz has no links with the story of Kawe and Zuhak. However, like the Kurds, they narrate the epic story of Kawe and Zuhak since it is a part of their folktales and it was first written down in Shahnama by the renowned Persian poet Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi wrote his famous Shahnama in the tenth century. He has linked Nowruz with Jamshid the legendary ruler of the ancient Iranians. According to the Persian myth, Jamshid fought against winter, went above the earth into the heavens, and he was shining like the sun. The event was the beginning of a new day known as Nowruz. Nowadays, Persian celebrations during Nowruz are cultural and have no link with their political aspirations. Annually, they start to celebrate in the last Wednesday before Newroz that is called Chaharshanbe Suri / چهارشنبهسوری’ Festive Wednesday’, and they go out for a picnic after thirteen days of Newroz. It is called Sizdehbeder / سیزدهبدر’ Thirteen Outdoor’, and they decorate a special table which is called the Haft-sin.


There is also a great difference between the folk and the literary versions of the story of Żaḥḥāk in the details of the tyrant’s defeat. In the Šāh-nāma, it is Ferēdun who vanquishes the dragon-king, but in most oral versions of the story the capture, imprisonment, or killing of the tyrant is attributed to Kāva. For instance, according to one story, when Kāva, who is identified as Żaḥḥāk’s brother-in-law, was pounding iron at his anvil, sparks flew into his leather apron and burned the message that he should slay his sister’s husband with a knife, which he does with one that he himself had made. There is no mention of killing Żaḥḥāk with a mace in this story (Enjavi, III, p. 27). Although in the Šāh-nāma it is Ferēdun who designs his ox-headed mace and orders his blacksmiths to fashion it accordingly (Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, p. 71, vv. 257-65), in the folktales Kāva makes the weapon for Ferēdun, spending two years in the process, and works certain talismans into the object’s design (Enjavi, III, pp. 35-36). Kāva’s magical prowess is sometimes explained as due to the prayers of a woman whom he had provided with free grain in a year of severe famine. She prays that Kāva may be guarded against the fires of this world and the next, and that is why the smith could reach into his forge and handle red-hot iron with his bare hands (Enjavi, II, pp. 318-19). In many of these stories Kāva tortures the enchained Żaḥḥāk by hanging him in a well and subjecting him to a burning thirst. Żaḥḥāk helplessly cries out with distress, and his cries are audible near a certain well in Mount Damāvand (Enjavi, II, pp. 306, 313). Some have even claimed to have seen Żaḥḥāk burning in the middle of flames in a cave in Mount Damāvand, but when they went to rescue him, an old man who introduced himself as Żaḥḥāk’s guardian, Kāva, drove them away (Enjavi, III, pp. 23-24). According to a variant collected from a Zoroastrian in Kerman in 1955, Żaḥḥāk is bound with a chain made by Kāva and put under a spell that keeps him in a cave. Every day, the serpents on his shoulders lick his chains to the point of reducing their thickness to a hair’s breadth; but just as the monster is about to break his fetters and run amok, they are restored to their original strength, because a white rooster crows somewhere in the world. That is why, the story goes, a group of people who descend from Żaḥḥāk try to kill every white rooster they find, while the Zoroastrians try to protect these birds (Enjavi, III, p. 24).


The Avesta identifies the person who finally disposed of Aži Dahāka as Θraētaona son of Aθβiya, in Middle Persian called Frēdōn. The Avesta has little to say about the nature of Θraētaona’s defeat of Aži Dahāka, other than that it enabled him to liberate Arənavāci and Savaŋhavāci, the two most beautiful women in the world. Later sources, especially the Dēnkard, provide more detail. Feyredon is said to have been endowed with the divine radiance of kings (Khvarenah, New Persian farr) for life, and was able to defeat Dahāg, striking him with a mace. However, when he did so, vermin (snakes, insects and the like) emerged from the wounds, and the god Ormazd told him not to kill Dahāg, lest the world become infested with these creatures. Instead, Frēdōn chained Dahāg up and imprisoned him on the mythical Mt. Damāvand[citation needed] (later identified with Damāvand).


The Middle Persian sources also prophesy that at the end of the world, Dahāg will at last burst his bonds and ravage the world, consuming one in three humans and livestock. Kirsāsp, the ancient hero who had killed the Az ī Srūwar, returns to life to kill Dahāg.

The rise of the Persians under Cyrus II

The ruling dynasty of the Persians that was settled in Fārs in southwestern Iran (possibly the Parsumash of the later Assyrian records) traced its ancestry back to an eponymous ancestor, Hāxamanish, or Achaemenes. There is no historical evidence of such a king’s existence. Traditionally, three rulers fell between Achaemenes and Cyrus II: Teispes, Cyrus I, and Cambyses I. Teispes, freed of Median domination during the so-called Scythian interregnum, is thought to have expanded his kingdom and to have divided it on his death between his two sons, Cyrus I and Ariaramnes. Cyrus I may have been the king of Persia who appears in the records of Ashurbanipal swearing allegiance to Assyria after the devastation of Elam in the campaigns of 642–639 BC, though there are chronological problems involved with this equation. When Median control over the Persians was supposedly reasserted under Cyaxares, Cambyses I am thought to have been given a reunited Persia to administer as a Median vassal. His son, Cyrus II, married the daughter of Astyages and in 559 inherited his father’s position within the Median confederation.


Cyrus II certainly warranted his later title, Cyrus the Great. He must have been a remarkable personality, and certainly he was a remarkable king. He united under his authority several Persian and Iranian groups who apparently had not been under his father’s control. He then initiated diplomatic exchanges with Nabonidus of Babylon (556–539 BC), which justifiably worried Astyages. Eventually he openly rebelled against the Medes, who were beaten in battle when considerable numbers of Median troops deserted to the Persian standard. Thus in 550 the Median empire became the first Persian empire, and the Achaemenian kings appeared on the international scene with a suddenness that must have frightened many.


Ahmad-i Khani’s famous Kurdish epic poem Mem û Zîn (1690) also mentions its celebration by Kurds (Hür 2012: s. 6). Newroz, however, neither was a politicized event, nor served as an identity symbol until its association with the ancient Kurdish legend of Kawa in the 1950s by the Kurdish nationalist movements in Iran and Iraq.13 The version of the legend now commonly accepted among Kurds narrates the story of Kawa the blacksmith, who leads a successful revolt against the oppressive Assyrian King Dehak, liberates the ancestors of Kurds from his tyranny and lights a bonfire on the top of a hill to let everyone know that Dehak has been killed. Kawa’s defeat of Dehak brings spring back to the region after centuries. Today, all the Kurdish movements in the Middle East accept this legend as the common founding myth of Kurds and celebrate Newroz as a national day to honor Kawa (Bozarslan 2002: 843).





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