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A Traditional Love Story and Its Perpetuation: Mem û zîn

Written by Ezgi Cakirgoz

Ehmedê Xani, who also studied in fields such as history, astronomy, geography, and philosophy, is a Kurdish poet. Xani made a vital contribution to Kurdish literature with many of his works. The most important one in these works is Mem û Zîn, which has an important place in Kurdish literature and the general world. (4)

Mem and Zîn was a prevalent story among the Kurdish people. Furthermore, it was a story that had been told since ancient times. This prevalence and permanence of the story have enabled it to gain a mythological value. Ehmedê Xani was the one who transcribed this epic to his age by being inspired by the story. Thus, he saved the epic from being lost and left an immortal work in Kurdish and world literature. (5) The book was completed in 1695; although it is not certain, it was said to start in 1690. In this work, Xani not only tells the love of Mem and Zîn, but also describes that time's social, cultural, and administrative situation. He metaphorized the good and the bad to different characters and rebelled against the leaders and political views that dominated the state in those times. In addition to these, he played an essential role in the emergence of Kurdish national awareness. (3)

The first chapters of the book were written about praising God.

Sernameê name namê Ellah

Bê namê wî natemane, wellah

Ey metleê hisnê îşqebazî,

Mehbûbê heqîqî-yû mecazî.

With these words, Xani stated that a book that does not mention the name of Allah is incomplete and that the horizon of the birth of love is God.

After that, the author explains why he wrote the book in Kurdish. When the book was written, most books were in Arabic or Persian. So what was the reason why Xani wrote the book in Kurdish?

The reason for this is explained in the following words.

Of perfection Xani is devoid

The field of perfection he saw as a void

That is acting not with expertise and ability

Perhaps due to tribalism and partiality

In short: stubbornly, albeit out of injustice

He embarked on this unusual novelty

Pouring limpid drink to the dreg

As the pearl of the Kurdish tongue

Bringing it into order and regularity

Suffering hardship for the sake of the public

So that people might not say: The Kurds

Have no origin, knowledge, and base

Various nations have their books

With the sole exception of Kurds

Also the foresighted may not say: The Kurds

Do not make love one of their aims

That they are neither desiring nor desired

That they are neither lovers nor beloved

That they have no share of love

Neither real nor metaphoric*

The Kurds do not lack much perfection

They are orphans lacking opportunities

On the whole, they are not so ignorant and uneducated

Perhaps they are humble and unprotected

*real love means love for God,

the metaphoric love means the love for a being other than God.(2)

The main theme of the story is the love of Mem and Zîn.

At the time of our story, people used to organize various celebrations to celebrate Nowruz, which is known as the herald of the spring. On this day of the year, the people of Cizre used to dress up and go to the countryside to look for a suitable wife. On one of these days, Mem went out in women's clothes so his creditors wouldn't recognize him. While he was walking on the street, he met a woman named Zin, and they fell in love with each other. This love grew rapidly over time and became known by everyone in the city. However, Bekir, the doorman of Zîn's brother Mir Zeynuddin, tried to prevent the love between Mem and Zin with his wicked personality. Bekir told Mir Zeyuddin that Mem's brother Tajdin gave Zîn to Mem and deceived him. Thereupon, Mir Zeyuddin swore to his ancestors that he would not give his sister to Mem.

One day, Zeyuddin and all the people of Cizre go to the countryside to hunt. Meanwhile, Mem decides to stay and follow Zîn. Zin goes to his brother's garden, and Mem, who sees this, sneaks into the garden. Zîn suddenly faints when she sees him, but he does not realize this and starts to talk;

O flower! Even as delicate as you are

When could you hope to be like Zin’s face?

O corn-ear! your scent may be pretty

and may make the basils dark with envy

But you do not compare to the love lock of my beloved

You are officious and insensible

O nightingale, should you be of common state

The moth of the candle and the red rose

Compared with your red rose my Zin is brighter

Yet compared with your fortune my luck is darker

Nightingale I am, O well destined!

Impeccable, why should your name be decried?

The flower garden produces not one flower but only

But a hundred thousand in a spring yearly

Suppose there were many equal to my beloved

Though they may be hours and anger

There would never be suffering on their accounts

Even if they were to exist in many places

One exists or not, unique and exemplar

Like Zin and the Griffon, pure and honorable

How then could a lover manage?

Without patience or death, can a cure be possible

While he was saying that, he sees Zîn, and he faints too. When he falls to the ground, Zîn wakes up as Mem's feet touch Zîn. When Zîn sees him, she assumes that she is dreaming. She holds Mem's hands and he wakes up with the smell of Zîn's hair.

When Zeyuddin returns from hunting, he notices his garden is not locked and gets suspicious. Zeyuddin enters his garden and sees Mem right here. Zin notices this and hides behind Mem's jacket. Mem starts to talk, "Sir, you know that I am sick. I got bored, and then I found myself here". Meanwhile, Tajdin was standing next to Mir Zeyuddin. He understands the situation when he sees Zîn's braids under Mem's jacket. Tajdin wants to help them, and he burns down his house to divert attention.

Knowing about the love of Zîn and Mem, Bekir immediately reaches Mir Zeyuddin and tells him what happened. He also gives him some advice; he tells him to invite Mem to play chess with him.

Mir Zeyuddin talks with Mem:

Today, we have a battle and a war with you

Stand up presently and come and seat yourself opposite

Against you, I am the combatant certainly

Our bet with you, o proud one!

Is that the winner can have his heart’s desire

Mem gets the first three games at the start. When Bekir sees Mem is playing well, he directs Mem toward Zîn. Mem, who sees Zîn and falls into her dreams, is defeated by Zeyuddin. When Zeyuddin understands his lover is his sister Zin, he throws him into the dungeon.

Mem stays in the dungeon for about a year, but then he cannot stand Zîn's longing and dies. During the funeral of Mem, Tacdin sees and kills Bekir.

Zin who learns that Bekir is dead says:

O, King, and minister of glory and power

I beg you to discard obstinacy

Concerning this source of corruption

Because the possessor of both mankind and the jinn

That creator of earth and heaven

The day he gave love to the lovers

He gave hate to the censors

When He created us from nothing

He made us all needing and being needed

We are the red roses, for us thorns were created

We are the treasures, for us snakes were created

Roses are protected by thorns

Treasures are guarded by snakes

Though at the beginning he alienated us

In the end, he was loyal to us

Although he openly opposed us

Yet he secretly agreed with us

If he had not become for us a barrier

Our love would have been vain and perishable

Zîn does not return home, always cries at Mem’s grave, and says:

O, my body and soul owner

I am the garden and you are the gardener

The garden that you tilled has an owner no more

Without your presence what use is it anymore?

This mole, this temple, this face

This garden of beauty and grace

The black almond, and the light brown eye

The pomegranate, the quince, the apple, and the lofty shoot

Finely colored, delicious, and tasteful

Forbidden to other than you, of that you can be sure

Shaking my palm body and quiver

And rocking this vine tree altogether

These bright ears, these enticing tulips

These eyes are like basils and refreshing violets

This temple, this ear-lock, this mole

The best thing is to plunder them all

Then she dies.

Mir Zeyuddin has Mem's grave opened to bury Zîn and says “Here is your lover!”

Three sounds come from Mem's corpse:

Hello! Hello! Hello!(1)


  1. Ahmed Khani, E., & Salah Saadalla. (2008). Mem and Zin.

  2. Xani, E. (1692). Mem û Zîn

  3. Uzun, M. (2000). Kürt Edebiyatına Giriş (pp. 25-28). İthaki Yayınları.

  4. F. Shakely. (2011). AḤMAD-E ḴĀNI. Encyclopædia Iranica.

  5. Şêx Ehmedê Xanî/Şeyh Ahmed El-Hânî. (2018, 3).


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