“Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” – Kurdish saying
The Kurdish people today live in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, a largely mountainous region they have occupied for perhaps as much as 2,000 years. Kurdish people have lived under the rule of the Persians, the Romans, the Ottomans, and others. While they lack a single autonomous country of their own (see however: Iraqi Kurdistan) they have proven to be an irrepressible ethnic group.
The Turkish government, in its nationalist zeal, attempted to suppress Kurdish culture by calling the people “Mountain Turks” and prohibiting use of the Kurdish language. Yet today there are between 20 and 30 million native Kurdish speakers.
The Kurdish myth of Shahmaran, the queen of snakes, is more heart-warming than it sounds. There are of course many variations, as the story has traveled thousands of miles and probably thousands of years. In this version, the queen of snakes saves a young man abandoned by his friends in a well. He later betrays her unwillingly to the king’s men, who cut her into three pieces. But even as she dies she manages to save the young man and to outwit their enemies.
Although Kurds today embrace more modern religions, the myth of Shahmaran persists in Kurdish culture. With the head of a woman and body of a snake, you might expect her to be terrifying, but she is more of a positive image than a frightening one. And as a figure divided but still powerful, I find her a worthy symbol of the Kurdish people.