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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Kurds and Us Jews

Nadene Goldfoot
In 2001, Israeli, German, and Indian scientists discovered that the majority of Jews were closely related to the Kurdish people. Kurdistan is primarily in northern Iraq, only a few hundred miles from the meeting place of the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers.

DNA studies show that almost all Jewish populations have origins in the Middle East, and that the DNA of Jews from almost every corner of the diaspora is more similar to that of other Jews than to any other population. When compared with non-Jewish groups, the closest match is with the Muslims of Kurdistan, not with the European peoples alongside whom Ashkenazi Jews lived for centuries or of the the Arab neighbors of many Sephardi populations. Although all Middle Eastern populations have broad similarities, "Jews were found to be more closely related to groups in the north of the fertile Crescent (Kurds, Turks and Armenians) than to their Arab neighbors." The could mean that we all carry the genetic markers of ancient indigenous populations of the Fertile Crescent, while Palestinian Arabs and Beduins may descend from the Arab conquerors. Genetics may soon provide answers to questions like what proportion of Palestinian ancestry arrived in early or late migrations.

Who are the Kurds? Most of the 10 Tribes of Israel who were the Northern Kingdom were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 721-715 BCE. That’s about 2800 years ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. They were deported to Media, Asssyria and Mesopotamia. This area is what we call Kurdistan today. Under Persian and Parthian rule, the Jewish Kurdistanians enjoyed their own autonomy and had an exile ruler. He was of Davidic descent and was the king’s representative. They had a council of elders.

The Kurdish royal house of Adiabene was converted to Judaism in the 1st century BCE. The king was Monabazes and his queen was Helena. Their son was Izates. A large number of Kurdish citizens also converted. The Jews were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to allow conversion from the local population. This was the only country outside of Israel that sent provisions and troops to the rescue of the besieged Galilee. By the 2nd century CE, Judaism was practiced in central Kurdistan.

By the 4th and 5th centuries, Christianity was established in Adiabene, but Judaism continued with many. Kurdish Jews speak a form of ancient Aramaic called Suriyani, and in business and with their friends they speak Kurdish. Many of their folk stories that tell about their origins connect them with the Jews.

What can we find in Kurdistan that connects us to our Jewish history? Queen Esther and Mordechai have tombs in Hamadan. Biblical prophet Nahum has a tomb in Alkush. Jonah’s tomb is in Nabi Yunis (ancient Nineveh). Daniel’s tomb is in Kirkuk. Habakkuk’s tomb is in Tuisirkan. Several caves visited by Elijah are considered important Jewish shrines and are venerated by all Jews today.

The grandson of Judah the Maccabee, hero of our Chanukah holiday was named King Yannai. His widow was Queen Shlomis Alexandra "Shlomtzion".She had a brother, Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach. He advised the Pharisees, who were the rabbinical Jews, to split with the Sadducees and other militant Jewish groups. The Pharisees also opposed Roman rule but preferred academic study to military revolt. In other words, they were on the left, or peaceniks.. Just before the downfall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the warriors had conflicts with Rome and themselves.. The Hellenists wanted to assimilate by adopting its culture. The Pharisees wanted to continue Judasim by academics and study. The Herodians, Sadducees and their Jordanian converts plotted revolt. By 135 CE with the Bar Kochba revolt, they were crushed by Rome.

Then Sadducees or militant Jews went south to Jordan and southern Arabia and finally founded the Jewish state of Himyar (biblical Sheba) in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. There they practiced Judaism that finally became Islam by Mohammed.

The Pharisees or Rabbinic Jews moved east, then north and finally to Babylon. This is near what is now called Kurdistan. Then the Arab conquest began in 637 CE. This community assisted the Arab advance in the hope that it would afford them help from the Sassanid persecution. So the Arabs occupied their land. They expelled some Jews in Himyar, Saudi Arabia and they settled in Kufa. Over the next two centuries they were forced to convert to Islam. They were excluded from public office, were kept from building any new schools or synagogues, were subject to special taxes and experienced pograms. They were treated as Dminnis. Most of the community then converted by the end of the 9th century. Because they were heavily taxed on their farms, they left agriculture for the first time and went to live in larger towns like Baghdad, Basra and Mosul where they became traders and craftsmen. The peasants intermarried and became "The Kurds".

By 1138 Saladin was born to a family of Kurdish adventurers in the Iraqi town of Takrit. He was a Kurd in Middle East politics, and he was from Syria, a Sunni state, and he was trying to rule Egypt, a Shiite country. He finally became lord of Egypt, Syria and much of Mesopotamia. A generation before his birth, European crusaders had conquered Jerusalem and had massacred the Muslim and Jewish habitants. Many oriental Jews fought with the Moslems against the crusaders. So Saladin finally conquered Jerusalem from the Christians. He was humane and applied justice in his rule. He even allowed Christians into Jerusalem again. Maimonides, the great Jewish sage, was his physician. Of course he allowed Jews in Jerusalem and even discovered the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple. It had been buried by garbage under the Roman-Byzantine rule.

The Kurds were never accepted as equals to other Islamic groups who feared a revival of the Jewish faith. We had several men in the past who claimed they were the expected messiah such as Abu Issa Al-Isfahani who lived in about the year 700 CE, and Shabbetai Tzvi of the 16th century CE. They had looked to the Kurdish community for help to raise a Jewish army to liberate Israel. It didn’t happen.

Iraq’s Saddam Hussain killed Kurds with poison gas. They are known for the massacre of Halabja. .What happened was that Kurds make up about 17% of Iraq’s population. They were the majority in three provinces in Northern Iraq which is known as Iraqi Kurdistan. They also have a presence in Kirkuk, Mosul (50,000) , Khanaqin, and Baghdad. (300,000) About 100,000 Kurds live in southern Iraq. From 1960 to 1975 they engaged in a civil war against Iraqi regimes and were led by Mustafa Barzani. In March 1970 Iraq had a peace plan giving them Kurdish autonomy to be implemented by 1974. The peace plan did not last long and by 1974 the government began another offensive against the Kurds. By March 1975 Iraq and Iran signed the Algiers Accord where Iran cut supplies to Iraqi Kurds. Iraq started another Arabization plan by moving Arabs to Kurdistan’s oil fields, especially around Kirkuk. They deported 200,000 Kurds between 1975 to 1978 to other parts of Iraq.

During the 1980's Iran-Iraq War, Iraq implemented anti-Kurdish policies and a civil war broke out. Their campaign against the Kurds was called Anfal "Spoils of War". This led to the destruction of 2,000 villages and death of from 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds. On March 16, 1988 in the Kurdish town of Halabja, Iraqi troops used a mixture of mustard gas and other nerve agents and killed at least 5,000 civilians. This continued with both Iraqis and Iranians using it against the Kurds.

The Kurds also had problems with Turkey who practiced military actions inside Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. They killed civilians and destroyed villages, homes and property. Turkey continued its military cross-the border operations which were needed for intelligence information. They were even striking Kurdistan from the air. This went on because of the Kurds in Turkey who were fighting against Turkey for their freedom.

So it appears that the Kurds do not fit into the average Arab mentality and are not fitting into their society. They want their freedom and autonomy.

Reference: Jerusalem Post, Genetics and the Jewish Identity by Diana Muir and Paul Appelbaum. Saddam’s Kurdish Problem,, Kurdish people,
Resource: The Standard Jewish Encyclopedia: Tribes, Lost Ten & Babylon The forced conversion of the Jewish community of Persia and the beginnings of the Kurds
Kevin Alan Brook: The Genetic Bonds Between Kurds and Jews

1 comment:

Nadene Goldfoot said...

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