AḤMAD-E ḴĀNI (1061-1119/1650-1707), a distinguished Kurdish poet, mystic, scholar, and intellectual who is regarded by some as the founder of Kurdish nationalism. He was born in the region of Hakāri, now in Turkish Kurdistan. He studied in traditional religious schools and in order to further his education traveled in different areas in Kurdistan. He may also have traveled to Syria and Egypt. There is considerable evidence e.g., in his epic Mam u Zin, to suggest that he lived a long time in Jazira, then the capital of the Kurdish principality Botān (Rasul, p. 30). The main works attributed to Ḵāni are: ʿAqidā imān (The article of faith), Nubārā Bečukān (The first fruits for children) and Mam u Zin (Mam and Zin). These works were studied in traditional Kurdish schools from the time of Ḵāni up to the 1930s. ʿAqidā Imān (Le Coq, pp. 33-39) is a long poem that consists of 73 distichs in which Ḵāni explains the foundations of Islam in Kurdish. Nubārā Bečukān is an Arabo-Kurdish vocabulary written in verse that Ḵani finished in 1094/1683. It is the first dictionary ever written in Kurdish. Nubārā Bečukān contains about 950 Arabic words with their meanings in Kurdish (Le Coq, pp. 1-33). The third and the most important of Ḵani’s works is his Mam u Zin, the national epic of the Kurds, that has been frequently published and translated into southern Kurdish (Hažār), Arabic (Al-Buṭi), Russian (Rudenko) and Turkish (Bozarslan). The epic of Mam u Zin is the best-known Kurdish literary work in and outside Kurdistan. If Malāye Jaziri (1570-1640) laid the foundations of Kurdish classical literature with his poems and his classical Diwān (Hartmann), Ḵāni, by writing Mam u Zin, made an important contribution to Kurdish written literature, which came to be regarded by some as the first expression of Kurdish nationalism. Ḵāni adapted the folkloric story of Mam and Zin, also known as Mame Ālān (Zāzā), as the basis of his epic and recomposed it in the framework of a classical Oriental epic. He gave full vent to his learning and his philosophical, mystical and political thoughts. Mam u Zin is the story of a pure and divine love between a young Kurdish man, Mam, and a Kurdish princess, Zin, that ends with the tragic death of the two lovers.

Ḵāni wrote the work of 2655 lines in northern Kurmānji dialect of Kurdish in 1105/1694, as a maṯnavi in the meter. The introductory parts are devoted to praising God and the prophet Moḥammad. In contrast to many classical Oriental epics, Ḵāni did not devote a special chapter to praising the rulers of his time. In three chapters of the introductory parts, usually classed the Dibāča, Ḵāni expressed his political views about Kurdish nationalism. He explained the subjugation of the Kurds (Akrād, Kurmānj) and the direct occupation of their country by the Turks and the Ṣafavids. Ḵāni explained the oppression of the Kurds and the occupation of Kurdistan that resulted in the absence of an independent Kurdish state governed by a Kurdish king. Such a monarchy would have liberated Kurdistan and extracted the Kurds from the hands of the vile (Rudenko, p. 32). Mam u Zin is an important source for understanding the different aspects of the Kurdish society in the 16th and 17th centuries. The political thoughts of Aḥmad-e Ḵāni are an expression of Kurdish nationalism in its preliminary form. Many Kurdish poets followed Ḵāni in praising the Kurds’ struggle for freedom and liberation. The most prominent among them was Ḥāji Qader-e Koyi (1824-1897). Ḵāni spent the last years of his life teaching in Bāyazid, where he died in 1119/1707.


M.E. Bozarslan, Mem û Zin (with Turkish translation), 2nd ed. Istanbul, 1975.

M.S.R. Al-Buṭi, Mamō Zin (Arabic translation), 4th ed. Damascus, 1977.

Hažār, Mam u Zīnī Ḵāni, Baghdad, 1960. M. Hartmann, Das Kurdische Diwan des Schêch Ahmad, Berlin, 1904.

A. von Le Coq, Kurdische Texte, Berlin, 1903.

ʿE. M. Rasul, Aḥmad-ī Ḵāni, Baghdad, 1979.

M.B. Rudenko, Mam ī Zīn (with Russian translation), Moscow, 1962.

A.Sajjādi, Mežūy adabī Kurdī, Baghdad, 1952.

F. Shakely, Kurdish nationalism in Mem û Zîn, Uppsala, 1983.

N. Zaza, Memê Alan, Damascus, 1957.

(F. Shakely)

Originally Published: July 20, 2002

Last Updated: July 28, 2011

Cite this entry:

F. Shakely, “AḤMAD-E ḴĀNI,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ahmad-e-kani (accessed on 16 October 2017).