Kurds - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The primary occupation of the Kurds of Transcaucasia in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth was the vertical transhumance of livestock. Before departing for the pastures in the spring, the Kurds would form into obas, temporary and voluntary unions of several large families that lasted until their return to winter quarters in late fall. The fundamental objective in the creation of the oba was the assurance of adequate care and maintenance for the cattle. Obas were either of the jol type, in which members contributed equally toward the upkeep of the cattle, or the type in which one of the more prosperous flock owners accepted the sheep of the other members of the oba into his flock. The number of families forming an oba depended on the number of sheep and goats owned by each family. In addition to nomadic cattle rearing there was also cattle rearing in pastures. A number of tribes combined pasturing of livestock with dry-land agriculture (grains, tobacco).

Clothing. Older women still wear the national costume. It consists of a shirt ( kras ), baggy pantaloons ( khevalkras ), vest ( elek ), skirt ( navdere, tuman ), apron ( salek ), armlets ( davzang ), woolen belt ( bene peste ), hat ( kofi, fino ) or silk head shawl, woolen stockings ( gore ), and shoes. Ancient and modern decorations of all types (beads, rings, earrings, bracelets) and gold and silver coins on the kofi headgear are an obligatory component of female dress. In the past, Kurdish women wore nose ornaments ( kerefil ) and foot ornaments ( kherkhal ). The men's folk costume as a whole has gone out of use, but individual elements were worn until the first half of the twentieth century in Azerbaijan. The traditional national costume of the Kurds of Transcaucasia consisted of a shirt, wide trousers, a vest, a woolen belt, woolen socks, and shoes. A dagger thrust in the belt was formerly regarded as an inseparable element of the masculine costume.

Food. The Kurds have a distinctive national cuisine. From the beginning of spring the women stock up on produce (dairy products, meat, cereal, flour, vegetables) for the fall and winter. Semiprocessed dairy products are frequently used in many dishes, for example the refreshing beverage dau, from which various soups and curds are prepared. Curds can be fashioned into small balls ( kyashk ) that are dried under the burning sun. In winter, when the cows' milk yield drops and it is impossible to get dau, Kurds crumble a ball of kyashk, soak it overnight in warm water, and consume the thick liquid the following day. They also make various sorts of cheese (e.g., panire sari and a stringy cheese called panire reshi ) Meat dishes include grilled mutton and Caucasian shashlik. Among the more common cereal dishes are porridges and soups prepared from processed grains (wheat, barley, and rice). Noodles ( reshte ) made from flour are prepared for storage.

Industrial Arts. Domestic crafts, particulary those directly associated with the processing of wool, were important in the economy of the Kurds. Kurdish women have long been famous for the manufacture of carpets (with and without nap) and felt and woolen items for clothing and daily life. The carpets are adorned with depictions deriving from folk legends, tales, and religious beliefs—particularly those of the Yezidis. At the end of the nineteenth century Erevan and Elisavetpol provinces, as well as Akhaltsikhe District in Tiflis Province—that is, areas with a large Kurdish population—specialized in the production of woolen handicraft articles. The Kurds were also noted for the production of brass and unglazed ceramic utensils. Jugs with a broad, steady base were used for keeping meat, milk, and butter. The Kurds made bags for the storage of butter and cheese, as well as churns, out of hides with the hair turned outside and specially processed. In the rich forests of the Kelbajar and Lachin districts of Azerbaijan, the peasants manufactured wooden beehives. In some regions of Transcaucasia the men were involved in working stone; carving gravestones in the shape of a sheep, horse, or lion; and making mortars and vessels for water.


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