The Sharafnama of Bitlisi: manuscript copies, translations and appendixes

by Anwar Soltani

Presented to the International Conference on the Sharafnama in Berlin, 1-3 May, 1998


Soon after the completion of the Sharafnama in August 13, 1797, several copies were made by various scribes of kings and amirs, both in Iran and in the Ottoman Empire. The oldest copy known to us was made almost two years after the completion of the book (now held at St. Petersburg, Russia) and the latest made in the nineteenth century (BL. Ms. Add.22698, etc.). Through an extensive search, I traced 18 different manuscript copies of the Sharafnama in the libraries of England and France, and 21 additional copies introduced in the Catalogues of Oriental libraries throughout Europe and the Middle East. They are the well-known Ms. Copies of the Sharafnama, which have survived to our time. (See: A. Soltani, 35 Manuscript Copies of Sharafnama in the International Collections, Arzan Books, 1997, Sweden (in Kurdish).

The first manuscript copy to arrive in Britain (and Europe) was probably obtained by Sir John Malcolm, the first political representative of Great Britain to Iran between 1800 and 1810. It is now preserved in the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (See: W. H. Morley’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Arabic and Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the RAS, London, 1854. (Its old reference number, CLIX, has now been changed to CLIIX). For further information on Sir John Malcolm and his copy of Sharafnama, see Dr. Kamal Mazher Ahmed, “A Preface for the Kurdish edition of Sharafnama,” translated by Hazhar, Baghdad, 1972, pp. 160-176.

Six Persian and three Turkish manuscripts are held in the British Library alone, (Or.4830, Or. 4900, Add. 22698, Add.23531, Add. 23532, Add. 27246 in Persian and Or. 1127, Or.7860, Add. 18547 in Turkish).

Further copies, including the important master-copy hand written by the author (MS. Or. Elliot. 331), containing twenty colourful miniatures, together with two others (Ms. Or. Elliot.332 and MS/ Or. Huntington Donat. 13), are held in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. The last copy known to us, held by the libraries of Great Britain, is the manuscript that once belonged to the late Prof. Edward Browne, now held by the library of Cambridge University (Browne Ms. H 10 (12).

Outside Britain, one can trace additional manuscript copies of the Sharafnama in other international collections. Two Persian copies (mss. 1320 and 1336), together with one Turkish translation (Ms. 1337), are now held in the Biblioteque Nationale, Paris. At least three Persian copies and one Kurdish copy can be found in St. Petersburg, Russia (Nos. 576 and 576a) in the Academic Asiatic Museum, one from A. Jabber, another from Khanicov. and the Kurdish ms. copy by Mahmoud Bayazidi.

Three copies belonging to the late Prof. H. A. Barb are held in the library of the University of Wien, from which I could trace only one copy (No. 111, 11697). Three other copies are held in Iran in the old Royal Library (No. 165), the library of Parliament (No. 3176) and in the “Malik Library,” all in the capital city of Tehran.

In addition I spotted additional copies of Sharafnama far from the homeland of Amir Sharaf in Aligra, India, in the library of Mawlana Azad University (No. 233); Matinederan Library, Yerevan, Armenia; the Library of Torino, Italy (MS.Or.12); Tiblisi, Georgia (Kekelidza Collection, G.T.P.67); Cairo (formerly the property of the late Kurdish writer Soreya Badir Khan); the People’s Library, Diyarbakir, northern Kurdistan, Turkey (No. 42) and in the former Ottoman School in Aleppo, Syria, etc.


Down through the centuries, the book has greatly influenced the national awareness and political life of the Kurds. Both the Kurds and the ruling dynasties have struggled to keep Kurdish territories free of interference from the Iranian and Ottoman Empires. Because of the importance of the book in Kurdish political life, some Kurdish rulers and chieftains considered it a holy book. Even those who could not read it ordered their scribes to copies of the Sharafnama and read it to them. Soon after the book’s completion, and by the time of the historic division of Kurdistan with the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, Kurds living in the Ottoman Empire, and unfamiliar with the Persian language text of the Sharafnama, endeavoured to translate it into Turkish. Therefore it is not surprising to find the first translations appearing in Turkish, the formal language of the Ottoman Empire.

1669 — The first translation into Turkish was carried out by Mohamed Bey, son of Ahmed Bey, exactly 68 years after its completion. A native of Bitlis, he was the scribe of Amir Sharaf Khan II, grandson of the author (BL. MSS. Or.1127 and Or.7860).

1684 — Fifteen years later, the second translation, also in Turkish, was carried out by “Sham’i,” a native of Agil and the scribe of Mostafa Bey, the Kurdish ruler of this small town north of Diyarbakir in northern Kurdistan (BL. MS. Add. 18547).

1853-9 — Almost two centuries later, Western Orientalists came on the scene. The third translation of the Sharafnama and the first into a European language was the work of German sociologist, Dr. H. A. Barb. He used it as a source in preparing his “History of Sociology,” and began to translate and publish parts of it between 1853 and 1859 (See: “Bidlisi,” in the Encyclopedia of Islam; also see Tarikh al-Akrad Bekannte Kurden-chronik Von Schaeref, Von Professor Dr. Barb, Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1853, Wien, Austria).

1858 — The first translation of Bitlisi’s work into Kurdish (Kurmanji dialect) was carried out by Mahmoud Bayazidi, a scholar acting as Kurdish language teacher for Alexander Jaba, the Russian Consul in Van, northern Kurdistan. The translation was carried out in 1858 and published in Moscow in 1986 (See: Mala Mahmoud Bayazidi, Tawarikh-e Qadim e Kurdistan (The Olden Histories of Kurdistan), (Book 1,Moscow, 1960).

1862 — Together with the first edition of the original Persian text (in 1860), Vladimir V. Zernov published his Russian translation in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1862. Some 36 years earlier, Wolkow, another Russian scholar, published an article on Sharafnama in Journal Asiatic (1820). This marks the beginning of serious European serious interest in the work (See: “Scheref-nameh ou Histoire des Kourdes,” par Scheref, Prince de Bidlis publiee pour la Premiere fois. Traduite Annotee par V. Veliamin of-Zernof, (Tom 1, St. Petersburg, 1860).

1869 — The French translation of the Sharafnama, which was also published in St. Petersburg, was carried out by F. B. Charmoy.

1953 — The silence of nearly a century was broken with the appearance of the first translation of the book into the Arabic language. The translator was Kurdish historian M. Jamil Roj-bayani, who published his translated text of the Sharafnama in Baghdad.

1958 — The second translation into Arabic, by Kurdish scholar Mohamed Ali Awni, was published in Cairo

1971 — Both of the Turkish translations (parts 1 & 2), were written in the old Ottoman Turkish, and in the Arabic script; therefore the need for a new translation into modern Turkish. Using the Latin script, M.A. Boz-Arsalan published his translation in the modern Turkish language. His main source for the translation was the Arabic text of Awni.

1972 — Using the Persian text (edited by M. Abbassi, Tehran, 1955), together with the Arabic translation, the well known Kurdish poet and scholar A. Sharafkandi (Hejar) successfully translated the book into Kurdish (Sorani Dialect). The first edition of Hejar’s translation was published in Najaf, Iraq in 1972 and the second edition in Tehran in 1980.

1998 — Another Kurdish (Kurmanji) translation in the Latin script was published by Ziya Avci, a Kurdish writer in Sweden.


From the period of completion of the Sharafnama, Kurds and other nationalities in the region considered the book an important document on regional history. Several copies were taken by respective scribes in a number of cities–from Yezd in the south, to Ardabil in the north of Iran; and from Salmas, in the east, to Argil in northern Kurdistan.

Some Kurdish rulers considered it as a reliable historic source for their own dynastic history. Over the centuries, they asked their scribes to use the text as a basis for writing the continuation of their beginning where the Sharafnama ends, in 1597.

These odd additions were usually made to a particular copy of the Sharafnama in the possession of the particular ruler. These addition, were given the Arabic name of “Zail” (Appendixes). To the best of my knowledge, there are at least eleven appendices, which have survived to this day, each written in a different period in a different part of Kurdistan; two are in Turkish, one in Kurdish and the rest in Persian.

  1. The manuscript copy of the Sharafnama is preserved at the Asian Academic Museum (576a), St. Petersburg, Russia. The subject of this appendix is The history of Ardalanids. Although there is no clear information on its contents, it has been described as a reliable source. V.V. Zernof, (1862), ibid, preface (indicates this additional chapter).
  2. The continuation of The history of the rulers of Agil, northern Kurdistan (Turkey), written by “Sham’i” a scribe of Mustafa Bey, the ruler of Agil and the second translator of the Sharafnama into Turkish. Sham’i completed his work in 1684, exactly 87 years after the completion of Bitlisi’s work. During the translation, he added further information on recent events in the political life of Agil to the Sharafnama (Ff.59a-60b, part 1, chapter 2, book 3). The unique copy of this translation, including the appendix, is now preserved in the British Library, (Ms. Add. 18547). It contains almost 78 years of history of the rulers of Agil, between 1597 and 1684. Working with another scholar, I have translated it into Persian and Kurdish (Sorani dialect). The text and both translations will be published in due course.
  3. The continuation of The history of the rulers of Palou, written by the same translator, and added to the same copy of the Sharafnama, BL. MS, Add. 18547, part 2, chapter 2, book 3 in the Bitlisi’s work.
  4. The additions of M. Bayazidi to his Kurdish translation in 1859 are spread throughout the book. Over the course of translation, he added further information. In order to measure the extent of his additions, it should be compared with the original Persian text of the Sharafnama. This has yet to be done (See: M. Bayazidi, The Olden Histories of Kurdistan, Moscow, 1986).
  5. The continuation of The History of the Ardalanids, written by M. Ibrahim Ar-dalani, the scribe of Amanolla Khan of Ardalan in 1810, ordered especially for Sir John Malcolm (see above), and added to his own copy of the Sahrafnama, ff. 34a-40a. This Appendix contains 213 years of the history of Ardalan, between the completion of the Sharafnama in 1597 and the time of Amanolla Khan, 1810, (RAS, and MS. CLIIX). I translated the text into the Kurdish language and my translation appeared in a Kurdish magazine in Denmark, in 1993 (Darwaza, I, Copenhagen, pp. 36-53). Now, both the original Persian text, and the Kurdish translation have been prepared jointly by my wife, N. Borna, and myself, and are due to be published by Nawroz Publications in Sweden, next month.
  6. The History of Mokrian (Iranian Kurdistan), written by M.Mahmoud Banei, in 1842, was added to a copy of the Sharafnama. Nothing is known of its whereabouts. Our unique source of information on this appendix is the valuable work of Kurdish scholar M. Hozni Mokriani. He published the original Persian text of it, together with the Kurdish translation in his own book, Ruparek la Diroki Mokrian (A Page of the History of Mokrian) in Baghdad in 1947. The History of Mokrian originally forms part 3, chapter 2, book 3, in Bitlisi’s masterpiece.
  7. The Life of Abdolla Khan of Mokri [tribe], written by Mirza Ismael Shewa-zouri in 1842, some 245 years after the completion of the Sharafnama. Both the original Persian text and the Kurdish translation were published by H. Hozni Mokriani, in the same source (part 5), in 1947.
  8. The continuation of the history of The Rulers of Galbaghi [tribe] in Iranian Kurdistan is a short history written by F. Zaki al-Kurdi and added to his own publication of the Persian text of the Sharafnama, second to Zernof’s edition, Cairo, 1958.
  9. The most detailed appendix to a printed copy of the Sharafnama is the addition by M. Jamil Roj-bayani, in his first translation of the book into the Arabic language, Baghdad, 1953. Roj-bayani’s intensive work includes most parts of the text.
  10. A detailed appendix to another Arabic translation was done by Kurdish Scholar Mohamed Ali Awni. His remarkable additions to much of the text appear in his own translation, Cairo, 1958.
  11. The addition of Hejar Mokriani to many parts of his own translation of the Sharafnama into Kurdish (Sorani Dialect), Najaf, 1972. Hejar translated and transferred the Arabic appendices by Roj-bayani and Awni (above, Nos. 11 & 12) to his own addition of the Sharafnama.

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