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Saturday, October 09, 2004 

Cizre, the rose of Kurdistan...

I've written about villages in Kurdistan, now I would like to explain why Cizre, Cizir or Jazîrat ibn 'Umar is my favourite Kurdish city, a rose of Kurdistan...

I know that which a such statement, I could spark off a public outcry : "But what about Suleimani ? and Diyarbakir ? and Senna ?" etc...

Well I won't tell that I love Cizre because it is the most beautiful Kurdish city. Truely, the nicest I've seen is 'Amadiya and Hasankeyf (but I never went to Irani Kurdistan). Cizre could have been a beautiful city in the past but today it is a very simple township, dusty and very very hot in summer (but not as much as Zakho, I had some hell memories of Zakho in July...).

So why am I so fond of Cizre ? Well, some cities or places follow you on the path of your Kurdish studies. The first time I've heard about the town it was when I was a student in the Ecole du Louvre. We had watched pictures of the old mosque and its so famous faced-dragons, that were before hanged on the great doors (now in Davids Collection in Copenhagen).

These representation of dragons, as the lion and the bull, show very ancient and very important symbols in Kurdish mythology. The mosque of Cizre (13th century) has too a particularity that we could admire in many monuments in this area, as in Harput or Mosoul : its leaning minaret ! (wonder why architects did not use a plumb-line). Otherwise, the old mosque is a small quiet place, quite hot in summer (yeah I repeat) and its court is a garden with nice purple flowers, like big thistles.

The other famous monument in Cizre is the bridge, that had been built quite at the same time. It is ornamented with zodiac symbols, and it is the oldest building in that region with a such decoration. Astrology was very important and each important event (foundation of a city, marriage, birth, etc.) should be analyzed by astrologists. Unfortunately, it is impossible to see it if you are not a military of a secret agent : this bridge, on the Tigris river, is in a very special strategic area, a point where three borders are joined : Iraq, Turkey, Syria, as a short sketch of what is Kurdistan today : shared, divided, broken... all villages around are inhabited by Cizirî people, with a Cizirî culture, but these frontiers cut the country as with a odd knife...

Cizre has too its citadel, the old palace of famous Kurdish princes. You could not take picture because it is an official building now with a Turkish flag on its roof, and if you insist and take picture all the same you could be arrested and expelled (to Mardin, for my personnal case). The palace is dark-stoned, a bit like Diyarbakir, and it stands on a peninsula. For the Tigris turns and turns around the city, as wrote Ehmedê Xanî, when the poor Mem talked to the river :

Sergeshte di bî li rex Cizirê
Ev shehreye ger jibo te mehbûb
Hasil gerîyaye bo te metlûb
Daîm di dilê te tedane menzîl
Destê te li gerdanê hemaîl"

"Only near to Cizirê you are restless
If the city is your beloved
Then you have reached your desire
Houses are always in your arms
And you enlace their necks"

(Mem and Zîn, Ahmedê Khanî, 1695)

Mem and Zîn, yes, the most famous Kurdish lovers, who, like Romeo and Juliet, have their tombs that where people visit like pilgrims. Zîn was the sister of the prince of Cizir, and all the story happened in that town. Tombs are next to a tiny mosque and a cemetary. You enter in a cave where three stones stand up : one for Mem, one for Zîn, and one for Beko, the traitor who separated the lovers. And all the city recalls their memory, as the shops in the street : Mem o Zîn Market, Petrol Mem o Zîn, Mem o Zîn pastanesi, etc.

But in Cizre there is another tomb of an else Kurdish poet, Xanî's elder, Melayê Cizirî, who, like Xanî was a poet and a sufi, and sang love, wine, music...

"Newaya mitrib û çengê, fîxan avête Xerçengê
Were Saqî heta kengê, neshoyin dil ji vê jengê ?
Heyata dil meya baqî, binoshîn da mushtaqê
Ela ya eyyuhes Saqî, edir ke'sen we nawil ha (1)

The sound of harp and luth echoes until Cancer
Let's come Saki, shall we finally wash our hearts of their filth ?
And full of desire, drink the eternal wine, the life of Heart
"O Saqî, come back and give us your cups again !" (1)

(1) the last verse is an Hafiz's quotation.

A legend says that Melayê Cizirî was in love with an Artuqid princess of Hasankeyf, and that he stayed under her window, all the days, under the sun, sitting down on a flat stone that was so hot that people could cook bread on it, but he stayed unmoved without caring of pain... Yeah, wine, love, music... all these great Kurdish sufis, Xanî, Cizirî, should be considered as awfull kafirs by Ansar al islam... And for that reason I don't like Cizirî's tomb : green veil, Coran verses, but above all an atmosphere of bigotry that does not suit to the poor lover...

Another famous tomb is Noah's one. Yes. Noah rests in Cizre and you can visit him, if you like. He is in a brand new mosque, very 20th century-Ottoman styled... Because according to Eastern traditions (Muslim as Christian) Noah's Arch stopped not on Mount Ararat but on Mount Judi, next to the city.

And the last famous man of Cizirî is al-Jazarî a genius engineer, who made wonderful mechanics

(The Book of Mechanics science, Syria, 1315, Free Gallery of Arts)

For example, a clock made with a palanquin with people and dragoon, stood on an elephant and its mahout.

Every half hour, a bird, perched on the cupola-top of the clock, sang and turned around itself. The mahout, then, hit the elephant and played drum. Then a man above a falk moved his legs and his arms. The falk threw a pebble in the mouth of a double-headed dragoon that dropped it in a vase put on the back of the elephant. Finally, the pebble rang a gong and finished in a small cup.

Al Jazarî rests in Noah'mosque, too...

So Cizre was a literary and cultural capital of Kurdistan in the medieval period and the principality of Jazirah-Botan was an important Kurdish autonomous principality in the second part of 19th century, with the Bedir Khan family. The last famous Bedir Khan, Jeladet and Kamuran, created the Kurdish latin alphabet and the cultural review Hawar, with French scholars, Roger Lescot and Pierre Rondot, from which started the kurmanji cultural awakening and important Kurdish studies.

So Bohtî culture is one of the most vivid and colourful Kurdish cultures and folklores, as its sweet Kurdish language, and it might an original place of Kurds, for Bohtan was inhabited by Kardoukh, this ancient people mentioned by Xenophon, that could be Kurds' ancestors, (Beth-Kardou=Bokhtan=Bohtan). And if we look at people of Botan, often slim and short (but very fierce and quarrelsome too), whith their dark skin and oval-shaped heads,they seem to be the perfect copy of Mari people, from this ancient city in Northern-Mesopotamia.

Cizre, with its narrow dusty or mudy streets, its strange situation between three hostiles states, and with all its literature and historical chefs d'oeuvre, is a place full of dreams and legends, full of memories...

One of the reasons why I write this paper on Cizre is because yesterday I suddenly realized that if Turkey enters in EU, this high-center of Northern-Mesopotamia could become a "European" city ! So funny...

If you like to see more pictures on Cizre go to that page

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