Prof. Ismet Cherif Vanli (1924-2011), also known as Ismet Sheríf Wanlí in Kurdish (Kurdish: Ismet Sheríf Wanlí, عیسمەت شەریف وانلی), was an influential Kurdish scholar and advocate for the rights of the Kurdish people. Born on November 21, 1924, to Kurdish parents in Damascus’ Kurdish neighbourhood, Syria, Ismet came from a family with deep roots in the Kurdish heritage. His father, Muhammad Cherif Vanli, had migrated to Damascus from the Van district in northwestern Kurdistan before the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Ismet’s mother, Xayriya Abdulla Alarrashi, hailed from Diyarbakir and later moved to Damascus with her family.
Ismet’s educational journey began with his primary and secondary studies conducted in Arabic and French. However, his quest for knowledge led him to Beirut, Lebanon, where he pursued further education. Initially, he enrolled in Civil Engineering, but soon discovered that his true passion lay in other subjects. Driven by his passion for learning and his desire to delve into matters of justice and political science, he moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, in late 1948.
At Lausanne University, fate brought Ismet into the company of Nouraddin Zaza, a prominent Kurdish academic. Zaza’s influence was instrumental in shaping Ismet’s academic path. He decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in law, and eventually, he established himself as a lawyer. Ismet’s academic pursuits did not end there. He continued his studies at the University of Geneva, where he earned an MA in history and later went on to complete a PhD in political science. His doctoral dissertation focused on the Kurdish nation’s right to self-determination and the establishment of a Kurdish nation based on principles of human rights and international law.
In 1956, Ismet, along with other Kurdish students in the diaspora, co-founded the Kurdish Student Society in Europe (KSSE). This endeavour was not without its challenges, as some existing student groups of Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian origin opposed the establishment of a distinct Kurdish student society. They argued that Kurdish interests were already embedded in their own plans. Nevertheless, Ismet was steadfast in his determination to be the voice of the Kurdish nation in Europe. As a representative of KSSE, he travelled across Europe and participated in numerous international conferences, advocating for the rights and aspirations of the Kurdish people. In 1958, he was elected to represent KSSE at the London International Conference, a gathering that included representatives from several nations worldwide. Additionally, he actively participated in the yearly conferences of the International Student Union, further amplifying the Kurdish voice on an international platform.
Ever devoted to the Kurdish cause, Ismet took his academic pursuits to Paris in early 1959, where he studied Kurdish History at the renowned Sorbonne University. This unique opportunity was facilitated by his collaboration with Kamran Bedir khan, a lecturer in Kurdish language at the Sorbonne. France, at the time, stood as the sole country in the world offering studies in Kurdish history.
As a true advocate for the legitimate rights of the Kurdish nation to self-determination, Ismet dedicated himself to promoting Kurdish political struggle in Europe. He served as the spokesperson for General Mostafa Barzani from 1962 to 1966 and again in 1975 and 1976. However, Ismet’s vision for Kurdish autonomy differed from Barzani’s; he believed in the possibility of a democratic federal Iraq where Kurds could achieve a federal state, rather than settling for mere Kurdish autonomy.
Prof. Vanli’s commitment to the Kurdish cause extended beyond his active involvement in Kurdish politics. He left a lasting legacy through his academic work, primarily focusing on the national politics of the Kurds and their history. Utilizing the French language as his medium of expression, Ismet produced several notable works, including: Aspects de la question nationale Kurde en Iran (Aspects of the Kurdish National Question in Iran), La Question unification de la langue Kurde existe (The Question of Unifying the Kurdish Language Exists). He is also known for his work on Kurdistan and the Kurdish Question (Interview on Kurdistan and the Kurdish Question)
Prof. Ismet Cherif Vanli’s profound dedication to the Kurdish cause and his invaluable contributions to Kurdish academia and history earned him the respect and admiration of Kurds worldwide. His tireless efforts to advance the Kurdish nation’s rights and aspirations continue to inspire subsequent generations in their ongoing struggle for justice, autonomy, and recognition.
After a lifetime of service and advocacy for the Kurdish cause, Prof. Ismet Cherif Vanli passed away on November 9, 2011, in Lausanne, Switzerland, leaving behind a legacy that resonates with the aspirations of the Kurdish people.
Some of Vanli’s better-known works include:
- Parez VANLI: Aspects de la Question nationale Kurde en Iran, Paris: Juillet, 1959.
- Ismet Cheriff Vanli: La Question d unification de la langue Kurde existe, Londres, Mars, 1960.
- Ismet Cheriff VANLI: Entertein sur le Kurdistan et la question Kurde, accorde par I auteur grec V. Sakkatos, Athenes, Juin, 1959.
This biography was prepared by Dilan M R Roshani.