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(2,953 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
Kurdistan is a cultural-ethnic-geographic term designating an area that extends into five states, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Armenia. The Kurds are a minority, but a very substantial one, in all of these states, especially Iraq and Turkey. Most of the area is rugged and mountainous; the most famous peak is Mount Ararat, mentioned in the Bible as the resting place of Noah’s ark and located in Kurdistan by a tradition at least as early as Targum Onkelos in the second century C.E., which names it ure Qardu (Aram. Kurdish mountains). Because of its severe winters, Kurdistan is almost…


(634 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
Urmiya (Orumiyeh, Riżā'iye), a town in northwestern Iran, is the capital of the province of West Azerbaijan, adjacent to the Turkish border. Most of the town’s residents are Muslim Āzerī Turks and Kurds, with a sizable Christian-Assyrian (some Armenian) minority, and a small Jewish community that numbered about three hundred families in 1920. The town changed hands between Turkey, Russia, and Iran before, during, and immediately after World War I. The Jews suffered a great deal from pogroms perpetrated by the various armies and rebel forces during this period. Many began to emigrate, s…

Names and Naming Practices - Kurdistan

(1,200 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
1. Typology of Kurdish Jewish Names Some Kurdish Jewish proper names were borrowings from local and neighboring ethnic groups, such as Dárweš, Xodéda (Persian-Kurdish), Xā́tun (Turkish), Ḥábib, Ná'im, Ṣabrī́ya, and Zakī́ya (Arabic). Arabic names, especially for females, became more common in recent times, probably due to the greater frequency of contacts with the Arabic-speaking Jews of Mosul and Baghdad. However, the majority of Kurdish Jews had Hebrew names, which, as in other Near Eastern Jewish co…
Date: 2014-09-03

Kurdish (Neo-Aramaic) Literature

(1,794 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
The Jews of Kurdistan, a mostly rural society, developed a rich oral folk literature. Even the written literature found in manuscripts from Kurdistan originated in oral tradition. Translations of the Bible into Neo-Aramaic dialects were transmitted orally from generation to generation with only some necessary changes in vocabulary. Reading and, even more, writing were not common. Usually only the ḥakhamim (Heb. rabbis) were literate, and most of the written literature, especially in Hebrew, was recorded by them for their own use. Neo-Aramaic translation…


(460 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
Sanandaj (Sene, Sinna, Sinno) is the capital of the Iranian province (Pers. ustān) of Kurdistan and lies approximately 129 kilometers (80 miles) north of Kirmanshah. It was founded around 1640. The city was the seat of the Kurdish princes and nobility of Ardalan and a center of Kurdish and Persian poetry and other literary productivity. The Muslim-Kurdish population is Sunni, in contrast to the generally Shī’ī population in the rest of Iran. In addition to the Kurdish majority, Christian Chaldeans, Armenia…


(556 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
Arbil (Irbil, Arbel, Arwil, Hawler), in northeastern Iraq, is a very ancient city known in the classical era as Arbela. The modern city is situated mostly on a massive circular mound rising nearly 30 meters (98 feet) above the surrounding plain. The mound represents the accumulation of at least four thousand years of continuous urban settlement. A Jewish community seems to have existed in place since late Second Temple times.  In the modern period the Jewish community in Arbil numbered two hundred families in 1827, eighty-one hundred people in 1847, four hundred i…


(956 words)

Author(s): Yona Sabar
Zakho is a Kurdish town in northern Iraq, situated about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Turkish border and 20 kilometers (12½ miles) from the Syrian. Its name probably derives from Beth-Zakhu(house of victory) mentioned in a Syriac manuscript from the eleventh century, but Kurds and Jews have different etymologies (see below). In addition to the largely Kurdish Muslim population, Zakho also had a Christian community (Assyrians [Nestorians], Chaldean Catholics, Armenians) and a Jewish community. Each community lived in a separate quarter close to…