Kamil Zhir, Kurdish writer and beacon of Kurdish nationalism, dies aged 89

SULAYMANIYAH — Kurdish writer, poet, and politician Kamil Zhir died Tuesday morning at his home in Sulaymaniyah after a long illness, according to his nephew, Shwan Hiwa. His burial was scheduled for later that day at Seywan Cemetery in Sulaymaniyah.

Born Dec. 20, 1934, in Sulaymaniyah, Zhir graduated from Baghdad’s College of Law. Known as a multifaceted figure, he contributed to literature and politics and worked as a lawyer. Zhir was a member of the Iraqi Communist Party from 1948 to 1958, during which time he was imprisoned several times and exiled to the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison. Following the 14th Tammuz Revolution in 1958, he shifted his focus from communism to Kurdish national issues.

He was a founding member and leader of the Freedom, Renaissance, and Kurdish Union Organization, known by its Kurdish acronym “Kazhik,” which was established on April 14, 1959, with figures such as Jamal Nabaz, Ahmad Herdi, Abdullah Jawhar, Ihsan Fuad, and Fareedun Ali Amin.

He served as a judge and prosecutor during the Aylul Revolution from 1974 to 1975, playing a key role in the uprising first started in September 1961 and led by Mustafa Barzani.

In 2004, Zhir was among the founders of the Kurdistan Independence Association, which managed Hiwa magazine and oversaw the Independent Newspaper.

In a 2018 interview, Zhir discussed Kazhik’s political stance, clarifying that “it was not a political party but engaged in political activism” within the Kurdish community. He also voiced concerns about effectiveness of the region’s political parties, calling them “useless.”

Zhir emphasized that the mission of Kazhik was to “initiate an intellectual revolution” aimed at evolving aspects of Kurdish identity, particularly in promoting self-awareness and ensuring Kurds no longer viewed themselves as inferior to other nationalities. He stressed the importance of shedding external dominance and disregarding directives that did not align with Kurdish national interests, specifically critiquing ideologies that overlooked ethnic distinctions, such as those seen in the Iraqi and Kurdish communist movements.

Zhir made notable contributions to Kurdish literature and political discourse, authoring several books and hundreds of political and literary articles that appeared in various newspapers and magazines. His works are celebrated for their focus on Kurdish nationalism, often evident in the titles and themes of his books. For example, “Kurdayeti [Kurdishness] and Beauty” is a collection of poems exploring the aesthetics of Kurdish culture, the region’s natural beauty, and the role of women. His memoirs, “Kurdayeti is Thought and Movement,” recount his political evolution and career from 1948 to 1994.

Another of his works, “Kurdayeti and Independence,” begins with definitions of Kurds, Kurdistan, and Kurdayeti, urging the Kurdish community to move beyond mere survival. This book also critiques the failures of past Kurdish administrations and movements, and addresses the challenges of coexistence within Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, which he considered occupiers of Kurdish territories.