Early Origins: Myths, Fables, and Theories The origins and early development of the ­ Middle East’s Kurdish community remains a topic of considerable scholarly debate and controversy. Prior to the modern age, a variety of myths and legends pertaining to the genesis of the Kurds coexisted. Perhaps the most famous myth claimed the Kurds ­were the descendants of ­children rescued from Zahhak, the cannibalistic tyrant of Ira­nian folklore. Other theories can also be found in the works of medieval Islamic scholars. ­ These included the suggestion that the Kurds possessed an Arab genealogy, being the descendants of Arab tribes that had fled Arabia in the pre-­Islamic era, and a legend that the Kurds ­ were the product of an unholy ­union between of King Solomon’s concubines and Jinns, super­natural creatures of Arabian and Islamic my­thol­ogy. Since the mid- 19th ­ century, a growing number of scholars in the West have put forward new theories concerning to the Kurds’ origins. Such theories often seek to posit the idea that the modern Kurdish community is a continuation of one or more of the ­ peoples inhabiting the ancient ­ Middle East, including groups such as the Corduene of Xeno- phon’s Anabasis and the Cyrtii mentioned in the works of Polybius, Livy, and Strabo. Nevertheless, perhaps the most well-­known and widely accepted theory is that the modern Kurds are the direct successors to the Medes, ancient Iranic ­ people who dominated much of the territory of modern Iran between 678 and 549 BCE. Although this theory has gained popularity amongst the Kurdish intelligent­sia, it is largely speculative and has been criticized by modern scholars who suggest that the study of Kurdish community should begin with the appearance of the term “Kurd” in the historical rec­ord (Özoğlu, 2004: 25). In this regard, the earliest direct mention of the Kurds can be found in the Pahlavi language sources of Sassanid era Iran (224–651) (Asatrain, 2009: 28). However, it was only following the rise of Islam in the seventh ­century that the term gained wider usage. Medieval Islamic sources often used the term Kurd in a vague manner when referring to a variety of tribal and nomadic populations inhabiting mountainous zones separating the Anatolian and Ira­nian plateaus. Citing the work of 10th-­ century scholar Hamza al-­Isfahani, Russian-­born orientalist Vladimir Minorsky noted that the Persians “­were accustomed to call the Daylamites “Kurds of Tabaristan” as they used to call the Arabs “the Kurds of Suristan, i.e. of Iraq . . .” further observing that other Arab and Persian authors from the 10th ­ century used the term to describe “all Ira­nian nomads from the Western Persia, such as the tent-­dwellers of Fars” (Minorsky, 1943: 75). This has led a number of scholars to Origins and History
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