Tag Archives: Feylis

The Feyli Kurds Part 2: The Language(s) of the Feyli Kurds

Last week I wrote about the Kurds as a people as an introduction to the subgroup known as “Feylis”.  I wanted to write this week about the Feylis of Iraq and the ordeals they have faced over the past few decades, but as I was writing I decided a post on the language(s) spoken by the Feyli Kurds deserved its own post.Kurdish-inhabited_area_by_CIA_(1992)

As stated last week, the Kurds are an ethnic group whose territory mainly spans a large area in and around border regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.  This is a large group of 30-40 million that has, through the circumstances of geography and history, been denied their own state.   This is a mostly Sunni Muslim people who speak the various dialects of the Kurdish language.

Feyli Kurds themselves are a specific subgroup of Kurds noted by their practice of Shia Islam, unlike the Sunni Muslim majority.  They speak the Sorani dialect of Kurdish and the Gorani language.

Interestingly enough, Gorani is seen as a separate, although closely related, language to Kurdish.  It is grouped with Zaza in northern Kurdistan, another language that is not Kurdish, but whose speakers sometimes see themselves as Kurds and sometimes as a distinct group (although still very close to the Kurds).

While Zaza speakers seem to have an at least somewhat distinct identity based on their language, the Feyli Kurds identify themselves primarily with their sect (Shia Islam) as a distinguishing factor.  There are many speakers of Gorani among Sunni Kurds in the area and on top of that Gorani is seen as an endangered language being phased out by the Sorani dialect.  I had trouble finding a source on this and it seems a somewhat unclear situation, although if anyone can find the following book they can confirm: Meri, Josef W. Medieval Islamic Civilization: A–K, index. p 444.

Even if the Gorani language were to be completely supplanted by the Sorani dialect I would expect the Feyli Kurds to continue to exist as a distinct group due to their Shia faith whereas if the same were to happen between the Zaza language and the equivalent northern dialect of Kurdish (Kurmanji) I would expect the Zaza people to be subsumed into the larger Kurdish group.

Even the classification of Gorani as separate from Kurdish seems unclear with some sources classifying Gorani as a dialect of Kurdish due to the self identification of Gorani speakers as Kurds.  If someone has access to Encyclopedia Britannica they can confirm with the following source: “Kurdish language.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 November 2010.

Now language borders are themselves a fairly arbitrary idea.  While it is pretty easy to decide what is Turkish and what is Kurdish or what is Arabic and what is Kurdish due to their distinct separation into different language families originating from different areas, distinguishing languages or dialects that are all found in the North west Iranian group of languages, and found in roughly the same region, is a much trickier matter.

My own hunch is that Gorani is distinct from Kurdish as is Zaza, but all three languages being very distinct from Turkish and Arabic, their speakers identify with each other.

Mid_East_Linguistic_lg This map (provided by a Columbia University study “gulf2000” which is giving me great maps) illustrates the language situation much more beautifully than I could.  The pink and red areas are all grouped in the north western Iranian language family with the red areas being dialects of Kurdish while the pink areas are other languages (Zazaki, Gorani, etc.)

The following map, originally published in Le Monde although I lifted it off a forum post somewhere, shows the situation of the Kurdish dialects in particular.000654a

Notice here Gorani and Zazaki are classified as dialects of Kurdish along with the main two dialects of Kurdish, Sorani and Bahdinai (Kurmanji).  If these groups want to see themselves as Kurdish speakers then that is fine with me (what is an identity other than what people choose it to be).

There is not much more I can say on the matter of language here (due to my own ignorance on the subject) so I will end the discussion here and hopefully my next post will be on the plight of Feyli Kurds in Iraq rather than going off on another tangent.


The Feyli Kurds Part 1

Who are the Feyli Kurds?

Let’s start with the broader question: Who are the Kurds?

The Kurds are an ethnic group of some 30-40 million people mainly found in the mountainous region comprising southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, Northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran.  There are many maps with differing borders on the concept of “Kurdistan,” ranging from reasonable to absurd ones like this one:


However, this seems to be the most commonly used map, apparently produced by the CIA.


It is claimed that they are the largest group without a state, but this is a dubious claim at best considering India alone is a multi ethnic state comprising many nations larger than the Kurdish one (Tamils, Maharathis, Gujaratis, etc.) without their own state.  However these groups aren’t necessarily oppressed.

Regardless of semantics the Kurds are quite a large nation to not have a state largely due to historical disunity and largely due to European colonialism and arbitrarily drawn borders after WWI.  The closest they have been allowed to get to a real modern state is the current Iraqi Kurdistan region (comprised of most of the Kurdish inhabited areas of Iraq).

The four aforementioned countries where most Kurds live are dominated by Turks, Arabs, and Persians.  The Kurds are predominantly Muslims like their Turkish, Arab, and Persian neighbors.  However there are many things that differentiate them.

The Kurdish language is related to Persian so there is some sense of togetherness felt between Kurds and Persians on the basis of language along with cultural similarities such as the celebration of Nowruz, or the Persian New Year.  However, Kurdish is in a completely different language family than Arabic and Turkish and the cultures are more distinctly different.

Even with the Persian majority in Iran there is religious division.  A majority Kurds in Iran are Sunni as contrasted to the Shiite majority of Iran and the Shiite clerical regime there.  Suppression of Sunni Islam in Iran has put Sunni Kurds at loggerheads with the Iranian government.

Interestingly enough this is not an issue with the Shiite Kurdish minority in Iran who are much better integrated into Iranian society.  This brings us the the Feyli Kurds.  The Feyli Kurds are a group of Kurds in Iraq and Iran who follow the Shia brand of Islam, unlike the majority of Sunni Kurds.  Feylis speak southern dialects of Kurdish such as Sorani (one of the two main dialects of Kurdish) and Gorani.


According to the above map of where the Kurds live (or historically such as in the case of that part of Azerbaijan bordering Armenia) the Feyli Kurds are found roughly in southern Iranian Kurdistan and in neighboring areas of Iraq bordered by a thick red line.

The details of this map should be taken with a grain of salt considering that none of the four countries where most Kurds are found ask for ethnicity on their censuses.  The map appears to show the maximum area inhabited by Kurds rather than just the areas where they are a majority.

The thick red border that is supposed to represent the range of Feyli habitation is itself just an educated guess from a forum poster here.  I chose this as it’s almost impossible to find a map showing where the Feyli Kurds are in Iran and this provides a reasonable guess based on the literature.

To the Feyli Kurds Iran would not be a particularly oppressive state.  Iran, unlike Turkey, Syria, and Iraq is not a state built exclusively on ethnic nationalism that excludes ethnic minorities.  It is a state built on Shia Islam so while the Iranian regime is oppressive to all its ethnic groups to varying degrees it is not particularly oppressive to the Shiite Feylis.

The Feylis of Iraq, on the other hand, have faced a great deal of oppression which I will detail in my next post.