Angelova, Milena (2018): Russian Orientalism and the Rise of Kurdish Studies

Angelova, Milena – Russian Orientalism and the Rise of Kurdish Studies

Abstract: This article presents an example of the Russian intellectual tradition of Kurdish studies. The Russian experience raises complex general questions concerning orientalism, conceptual hegemony, and the politics of colonial knowledge. The Russian Oriental tradition was deeply linked to politics – probably even more than other European ‘Orientalisms’. Many tsarist officers and administrators became authorities in the field of Oriental studies while Orientalists found employment in the administrations of Central Asia and the Caucasus and in the Russian foreign ministry. Iranian and Persian studies developed within the wider field of Oriental studies in Russia, a number of products of this nineteenth century imperial–scholarly nexus began to play important roles. A great deal of Russian research openly focused on the importance of Kurds and Kurdistan in possible military strategies, and was commissioned by the Army or Asiatic Department. During the nineteenth century, several Russian officers and diplomats gathered information of commercial and military interest on Kurdistan. Russian travelers had written on the area since the 15th century. Several Kurdish tribes had been active participants in the ten Russo-Ottoman wars and in the two Russo-Iranian wars, and the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 had conceded some Kurdish territory to Russia, in addition to the existing well-established Kurdish Diaspora. Hardly any other field of Orientalistic knowledge has ever been so politicised as the study of the history and culture of the Kurds. In Russia, Kurdish Studies developed and became a separate branch of Oriental Studies in the mid-19th century, and Alexandre Jaba played a prominent role in this development. August Jaba (1801-1894), also known as Alexandre Jaba in Russian, was an orientalist – one of the “founding fathers” of the Kurdish Studies, russian diplomat, one of the first researchers studying Kurdish language and literary tradition. Like many others Russian Orientalists, August Jaba, had no orientalist formation and was not an academic. He was born in 1801 in Kroslow into an aristocratic Polish family. After studying at the University of Vilna (Vilnius) he continued his study at the Institute of Oriental Languages in St. Petersburg. He started working in the Consulates of Russia in different places in 1828 and continued it till his retirement. He first worked as a translator because in addition to Polish he could also speak Russian, Turkish, English, French, Persian, and Arabic. In 1848 he became a Russian Consul in Erzurum. The time when Jaba was a Consul in Erzurum was also the time of developing Kurdish Studies in Russia. In Russia, Kurdish Studies developed and became a separate branch of Oriental Studies in the mid-19th century, and Alexandre Jaba played a very important role in this development. The collection of A. Jaba are very valuable for Kurdish language, literary, history, and ethnography as well. As far as Jabba is concerned, his efforts to learn Kurdish to understand Kurdish culture, including his experience and the collection of manuscripts and oral histories, confirm his ethnographic status, albeit with the main profession of “diplomat” in the context of ideological frameworks and state interests.

(Full article in Bulgarian language)