Soviet Kurdology and Kurdish Orientalism: Michiel Leezenberg
Russian-language studies of the Kurds by scholars from both the Czarist and the Soviet period are arguably among the most important contributions to Kurdology: during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, publications on the Kurds by Russian and Soviet scholars have been both quantitatively and qualitatively predominant. Below, I would like to trace the history of Russian-language Kurdish scholarship in brief.1 This history, I would like to argue, is not only of interest for the history of Kurdish studies; it also raises questions of a more general and theoretical nature. In particular, it invites us to modify some of the main theses of Edward Said’s famous Orientalism (1978). It has long been pointed out that Said’s argument about the intimate relationship between Orientalist scholarship and imperialist projects focuses almost exclusively on the English and French experiences in the nineteenth century, and on America in the twentieth; it pays little, if any, attention to, for example, German, Russian and Dutch Orientalism, even though all three have been of major importance, especially during the nineteenth century. Especially problematic for Said’s claim is that, for most of the nineteenth century, German-language scholarship was not linked to any colonizing project or imperialist agenda; likewise, Russian Orientalism, though shaped initially by French and – perhaps most decisively – later German scholarship, can hardly be claimed as an internalization of French or German imperialist influence, the more so as Russia was itself an empire (in the premodern sense as much as in the modern sense of a modern capitalism-driven imperialist power).