Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Interview with Aram Qania Marif

This is the first installment of the Kurdish Airforce podcast. I'll be interviewing a good friend, Aram Qania Marif, who is currently living in London and studying video production. I'll get his take on his culture and Kurdistan.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pronunciation Request: U, Û, Z and '

Patrick requested additional explanation on the following latini letters and pronunciation.

Z, u, û and ‘

I will start with z.


Z is pronounced like the English z; like the z’s in buzz or zoom.

This sound is tricky to explain with words. It is not a sound found in English.

But from this website of Arabic pronunciation, I found an explanation that may be helpful.

Think of it as a catch of the throat, like the h in hour.


Like the “oo” in book, cook and crooked.


Like the “oo” in woo, coo and baboon.

I hope this is helpful.

As always, please feel free to ask for help!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lesson 2: Personal Pronouns

Kurdish pronouns are simpler than their English counterparts. There is no difference between subjective and objective personal pronouns. This means that whether the person is the subject or object of the sentence makes no difference.

You'll notice that there is a special pronoun for the plural you which makes things clearer, but only one for he/him, she/her and it which muddies the waters a bit.

min I/me
ewHe/him, She/her, It
ȇwe plural you

Lesson 1: Food

I started with food first, because it's a great introduction to any culture and language. Food is a big part of Kurdish culture, so, learn these words and make fast friends.

Kurdish food can vary by region and even by family, so what I present below is a snapshot of the foods I enjoyed first in San Diego and later in Iraq. The families with whom we lived in California were from the Sulemania and Halabja areas which is also where I lived in Iraq. I don’t know much about Hewleri or Dohuki food let alone Kurdish food in Turkey or Iran.

Kurdish food is a blend of regional dishes with local ingredients. The dishes are often similar to what one might find in a Turkish, Lebanese or even Indian restaurant, but in Kurdistan, the dishes have their own unique flavors.

I, for one, have never had falafel better than the falafel I had in Sulemania. The same goes for Briyani.

Below, I will spell the names of the dishes and foods with latini. Remember to see here for a refresher on pronunciation.

Breakfast: A typical Kurdish breakfast is fairly light.

Ḧelke RonFried Egg

An everyday breakfast would just be nan u mast, but the others mix in as well. Of course, no breakfast is complete without Ça.

My favorite breakfast was to mix my mast with date syrup. It was great, but I have no idea what the Kurdish word for date syrup is. Sorry.

Lunch and Dinner: Lunch and dinner foods are usually the same. We often ate lunch at the office where we had a cook. She made some really great things! (Although, some of my co-workers complained about the excessive amounts of oil!)

KubeGround meat wrapped in rice
BrîanîSpiced rice with anything and everything in it
KufteGround meat wrapped in wheat served in a tomato soup
TepsîEggplant, zucchini, onions and potato fried with spices
Yapraẍ/ DolmeGround meat wrapped in grape leaves or stuffed in variousvegetables
ŞileTomato-based stew with one of many vegetables
ŞufteLittle spiced-meat patties (My personal favorite!)

Miscellaneous Food Names: There are many other words you’ll need to cook and eat in Kurdistan. I have tried to include those below. I have also included separate tables for fruits and vegetables.

QȋmeGround meat
SamunBread loaves or buns
Mast AwYogurt and water drink
DoLike Mast Aw, but when made traditionally, it’ssemi-fermented in an animal stomach
GȋpeMeat cooked in a cow's stomach
Sȇr u PȇHead and feet. Sheep’s brains and feet
KababMeat patty on a skewer
TikeMeat chunks on a skewer

Fruits and Vegetables: The secret to Kurdish culture is this: when you are invited to dinner or visit someone, they will eventually serve you fruit. The fruit is your sign that it’s time to go.


I don’t like vegetables all that much, so my vocabulary is slim. Sorry.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.

If you have recipes for any of these foods, please post them in the comments. I can only make rice and şile.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Introduction to Latini and Pronunciation

Sorani Kurdish is written most commonly with a modified Arabic script which is more similar to the script used for Farsi than the script used for the Arabic language.

This can make the language tricky to learn for westerners, especially if oral communication is your primary goal.

Luckily, the Kurdish government in Iraq has made an effort to introduce a Latin script called Latini.

This script is used on government-run news shows, but is uncommonly used by anyone else. In fact, when most people use a Latin script, they just use the English alphabet. However, there is no standard usage and spelling varies from person to person.

The benefits of using Latini are:

It's easier than learning Kurdish script initially
Each letter represents only one sound, which makes learning proper pronunciation easier
Each letter correspond to one letter in the Kurdish script, allowing for a quick transition when one is ready to tackle script

The only real drawback is:

Average Kurds DO NOT use it

Below you'll find the Latini alphabet as it applies to Sorani. I have tried to keep the explanations simple, but a few of the letters will require more explanation.

The letters are shown in red either do not exist in the English alphabet or are very different from what might be expected.

Latini Letter PronunciationListen
aalways "ah" as the o in Bob

bjust like the b in english

cin Latini this represents the the j in judge. Always j, never c

çthis special character is for the ch sound like in chair
dlike the d in dog

ealways "uh" as the u in bub

ȇlong a like the a in baby

flike the f in fire

glike the g in gravy

hlike the h in heavy

This is an h sound made well back in the throat.

ishort i sound like the i in big

ȋlong e sound like the y in baby

jthis is not like the j in judge it's like the s in fusion (or the zh in zhane for anyone who remembers them)

kthis is like the k in kite

llike the l in lamp

llThis is like the ll sound in well versus the l in like.

mm in man

nn in man

ofull o like the os in oboe

pp in panic

qThis is a swallowed k. Make the k sound with the back of your tongue. It's the last sound in the word Iraq

rnot the American r!

rrrolled or trilled r as in Spanish

ss like sassy

şsh like shabby

tt like tea



vv is for victory

ww as in water

xThis is like the ch in Bach. We don't have it in English, but you'll recognize the sound.

This is the letter that we replace with gh in Baghdad.

yy as in you


'z in zebra

Two last notes:

  • q, and ' are all sounds borrowed from Arabic and only found in Arab loan words

  • there is no letter for the i (eye) sound like the i in, well, like. But it's a relatively common sound in Sorani. It's made with a vowel combo of either eȋ or aȋ.

So that's all of the sounds. I made a special note of the Arabic sounds because, once you recognize the sounds, you'll easily be able to pick out the Arabic loan words. These are the words which are being replaced with Kurdish words. If your language helper teaches you one of these words, it's a good idea to ask for the Kurdish word - just so you'll know it.

A great way to practice the sounds is to write with Latini, but in your language.

ȇ grȇt wȇ tu praktis saunds iz tu raȋt Latȋnȋ, bet in yur on languac.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Basics

Who are the Kurds:

The easiest way to answer this question is, of course, is to read the wikipedia article and I recommend that you do.

But, I'll also summarize and add my own info.

The Kurds are a people group living in modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Due to various events in Kurdish history, there is also a sizable diaspora spread throughout Asia and Europe. There are also smaller communities in the US, Canada and Australia. If you read this blog regularly, you know there's a community in San Diego.

Their history is a complex mix of (mostly) Indo-European people groups moving into the area and adding their cultural, religious and language (and DNA, of course) to the mix. By 400 BC, the Kurds were known as Carduchi by the Greeks whose armies they attacked and they came under Roman rule in 66 BC.

In the seventh century AD, the Arabs showed up to conquer the Kurds. They, of course, were successful and most Kurds were converted from local religions to Islam.

The Kurds eventually became part of the Ottoman Empire and, after WWI, they found themselves inhabiting four new countries (and the Soviet Union) none of which had a Kurdish majority.

The Kurds have a distinct language from their neighbors, though years of minority status have influenced the language quite a bit. Arabic words can be found in the language of the Kurds in Iraq, Syria and even Turkish. Farsi words are common in Iranian Kurdish and Turkish has all but displaced Kurdish in Turkey.

In Iraqi Kurdistan there is an effort to rid the language of Arabic loan words and replace them with the Kurdish. The problem, in my experience, is that with some words, no one knows the Kurdish word. I remember my language helper calling his wife on multiple occasions and then listening as the struggled to come up with a non-Arabic word!

But, given the history of Arab oppression under Saddam Hussein, I can't judge their drive to purge Arabic from their language.

Where do they live:

Kurds live everywhere!

Just kidding, but, as I mentioned above, there is a large diaspora.

Kurds in Kurdistan are spread between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia.

In Iraq, there are three provinces - Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah - which are recognized as Kurdistan. There is also a a majority Kurdish population in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the surrounding province. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution promises a referendum on the inclusion of Kirkuk in the autonomous Kurdish region. This vote was scheduled for November 2007, but has yet to take place.

I have mentioned the mistreatment of Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria, so I won't go into it again now, but I will highlight a tidbit from the wikipedia piece on Article 140: Saudi Arabia reportedly offered the Iraqi Kurdish leaders $2 billion in exchange for delaying the process for ten years.

I mention that to highlight the fact that Kurdistan lays with hostile countries amid a hostile region. The Kurds have an oft-quoted proverb: "The Kurds have no friends but the mountains." In their history they have often been forced high into the mountains to escape persecution. Even today, it would seem that their neighbors work hard to destroy them.

About the Kurdish Airforce

The idea of teaching Sorani Kurdish using a blog was born on the 13months blog. Those lessons can be seen here.

The name started as a joke, but the need for Kurdish education is very serious.

The following post first appeared at 13months and is a more serious explanation of the situation in Kurdistan.

A graveyard in Halabja for those who died in March 1988 when Saddam Hussein dropped chemical weapons on the city. It is the worst chemical weapons attack against a civilian population

Another popular search which leads people to this blog is the Kurdish air force.

There is no Kurdish air force. Therefore, my two posts on this rate fairly high on google. The real question, though, is why people are searching for information on something that doesn't exist.

I have two theories to explain it.
  1. People wish the Kurds did have an air force
  2. People are afraid that the Kurds have an air force.

The Kurdish army is better known as the Peshmerga. This means "those who face death." One definition I've heard indicates that it means more than just face death, but more like those who rush forward to face death.

Even though they've never been able to secure a homeland for the Kurds, the Peshmerga are one of the most successful militias in history. Since 1996, they've kept the north of Iraq peaceful and held the Arab insurgence at bay. In fact, the US Army relies on them in such volatile cities as Kirkuk and Mosul.

So, people who see this success and applaud it want the Kurds to have an air force. With an air force the Peshmerga could even better secure Kurdish interests in Iraq.

Those who see the success and fear it do not want the Kurds to have an air force. The only country in which the Kurds have any sort of power is Iraq, of course. Turkey, Iran and Syria actively persecute their own Kurdish populations.

These would be the countries with the most to lose from an active Kurdish air force.

The PKK with airplanes would be a disaster viewed through Turkish eyes as it would undoubtedly lead to a sovereign Kurdish state in what is now eastern Turkey. Turkey has a long and brutal history of oppressing the Kurds.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Kurds have found better treatment in Iran. As this article points out, "unlike Turkey where Kurds are called 'the mountainous Turks', no one in Iran has dared to make such insulting remarks concerning the Kurds in Iran."

Today, Kurds are oppressed and censured along the same lines as the rest of the Iranian minority populations, but with perhaps greater frequency. Kurdish journalists are increasingly being targeted. These links (1 and 2) are two recent examples.

The Kurdish population is Syria numbers 1.5 million and, like Turkey, Syria denies their ethnic identity. Syria's government is ba'athist, like the former Hussein government in Iraq. The Kurds there are openly repressed even unable to use Kurdish names for their children. This article from the Kurdish Human Rights Watch (KHRW) has more information.

So, while Angie and I often talk about all of the amazing progress in Sulaymaniyah (and it's very true) I hope we can all remember that there is a very real struggle for the freedom of the Kurds and the survival of their culture. In this fight Iraqi Kurdistan is a very real beacon of hope. Among all the debate about the war and the American presence there - a political topic that I won't get into here - we should remember that the Kurds are benefiting and their neighbors are working hard to ensure their failure.

All three countries - Iran, Turkey and Syria - have people on the ground in Iraq and Kurdistan with the goal of bringing down the Iraqi government and to ensure that Kurdish freedom does no spread and ultimately is turned back. There can be no doubt about this.

So, I hope we all learned something.