Horse “With Unbraided Tail” – Delberday (Delbarday)

Horse “With Unbraided  Tail” – Delberday (Delbarday)



Latif Mammad



Horses in the Kurdish lifestyle has always held a special place. And in grief, and in joy is almost impossible to imagine the life of a Kurd without a horse. At weddings, its mandatory part is equestrian competitions – “Jrid”, horse racing, running “Teraten”, on funeral – ritual “Kotel”.


In Kurdish music, the whole direction is called: “Gaide Siyara” (“Horseman” tune), to the inspiring rhythm of which the Kurdish cavalry went into battle to the death.


In Kurdish epic songs, the horse takes place of honour along with its brave and courageous master: “Often in the fight against the enemy the hero is rescued by a faithful horse (“hespe bor” means “sea horse”). Together with the rider – knight, he is always ready to help, he is able to fly like a mighty eagle, speak in human language, he is a wise adviser. The horseman and the horse in Kurdish epic songs turn into a single creature, where death and life often depend on the horse. In the event of the hero’s death, his horse becomes a member of the mourning ceremony for the memory of the deceased. And then, right there, dangbej [1] composed heroic songs praising both the dead hero and his faithful friend, the horse. Knightly deeds knight are glorified. Then a statue of a horse with a saddle and a bridle is installed on the hero’s grave,” writes T. F. Aristova [2].


Assyrian relief. Horse with Delbji


The Kurdish mourning ceremony, known as the “Kotel,” is common among Kurds — when a horse is led in front of the funeral procession with armour and clothes of the deceased. Such honour was given to those who distinguished themselves by courage, courage, bravery, military valour, and also honorary members of the tribe.


This special ceremony in honour of the deceased is arranged on the day of burial, and it is accepted participation only men. The outstanding Russian scientist and ethnologist M. B. Rudenko describes the Kotel funeral Kurdish rite as follows: “They take the horse of the deceased, the croup is covered with matter (coloured – if the heirs are left after the deceased – sons, or black – if there are no ones). Clothes, weapons and a cap of the deceased are placed on the saddle. If, shortly before, a young girl died in the house, her elegant clothes are put on the saddle; if a young man died in the family, close relatives cut their braids off as a sign of mourning and put them on the horse’s saddle. Having tied a bright fringed scarf to the end of a spear or to a rifle barrel, they make a semblance of a battle flag, which symbolises the bravery, valour and courage of the deceased.

Relief from Nineveh. VII century. BC. Horse with delbji





Argishti, the son of Menua on a chariot, conjugated on a horse with delbji.





This flag is either tied to a saddle or is carried by somebody of the rite participants. They clear the space in front of the door of the house of the deceased in the form of a round platform where any of relatives, usually a young man, leads a horse, taking it by the bridle. The present men perform the funeral laments of the heroic character, they are called “kotel” songs, or “songs of leading a horse ”(Kılame Kotele, kılame gerandine).






Urartu Chariot with horse Delbji


The horse is lead on the site until arriving of  the “hevari”, the notified about what happened relatives and acquaintances of the deceased living in the surrounding villages. Specially exposed lookouts, noticing the appearance of a “hevari” immediately report this to the members of the funeral rite who get under way towards the arrived “hevar”. Ahead they lead the horse; all by queues perform funeral laments.

Kurdyanka on horseback with kutas


When both processions meet, then “hevari”, if they are on horseback, dismount and approach the participants of the “kotel”… Then everybody slowly head to the house of the deceased; they are perform funeral lamentations again. Then the procession approaches the house, the participants of the ceremony give way to the “hevari”, who are the first to enter the house. After a minute of silence again begin to chant. The horse is lead in the front to the graveyard during funeral procession. At the moment of funeral the horse is left aside. On return from the cemetery the veil, saddle, weapon and outfit of the deceased are removed from the horse and given to the sheikh or pir, a participant of washing the deceased “[3]. And on the tomb of the deceased as a tombstone set a monument in the form of a horse – the personification of spiritual and physical connection and unity in this life and the afterlife.

Urartu Chariot with horse Delbji


Even in the second half of the twentieth century, the “Kotel” rite could be observed among Kurds living in Armenia – both Muslims and Yezidis. To a greater extent during the travel periods in the mountains, if death occurred, then they buried a worthy  person with this ceremony. And in many parts of Kurdistan are a  commonplace, where the “Kotel” ritual still exists. The kinship of a horse with a Kurd is even brighter manifested in funeral rites and songs – Kurds lamentations.

Warriors of Urartu on delbji horses. The image on the helmet Argishti I. VIII. BC.



In them, the horse is a faithful friend, sharing the grief of the family, grieving together with family members and relatives about the death of his master, it is like a member of the family of the deceased. If sister, mother, wife as a sign of mourning can cut off their hair or cut a curl and put on the grave of the deceased, then they unbraid the horse tail. The Kurds in connection with this ritual has a special term Hespê dêlberday (“horse with a tail untied”), where dêlberday (“with unbraided tail”: a horse, participating in the mourning ceremony” Kotel “, is unbraided the tail, then, as usual it is braided).


War chariot. Relief from Nineveh. VII century BC

It is well known that the ancient inhabitants of Western Asia took part in the ethnogenesis of the Kurds, among which the main ethnic substrate was K(g)utis, Hurrians, Kassites, Kardukhs, Medes, Matien and other ethnic groups inhabiting the territories of the ancient states of Elam, Assyria, Kassite Babylonia, Urartu, Manna, Media, Atropatena, Arshakid and Sasanian empires. Among the peoples having a territorial relationship to the history of these ancient states, besides the Kurds, the closest ancient neighbors — the Persians, Arabs, Armenians, and later the Turks — there is not only a similar custom, even the idea of “Hespê dêlberday (” horse with a tail Unbraided “)”.


The Median Horseman. VII century. BC.






Additionally, as decoration, to the horse’s neck was tied a bunch of white horsehair, which on Kurdish language is called “Kutas”. Figurative expression 15th century Kurdish historian Sharaf Khan Bidlisi: “Kutas” on horses with gold decoration swept the field battle clean”[4] meant a brilliant victory of the Kurdish cavalry over the enemy. On many relief images these “kutas” are clearly visible.


To understand the origins of this Kurdish custom, there is an instant need to turn to historical events in connection with the sacred Mount Sipan for the Kurds.


Sipan Mountain (Sipan e Bathrobe)



Kurds of the Northern (Turkish part) of Kurdistan have all the wars and military campaigns are somehow connected with the Mount Sipan, which the Kurds in their epic songs are fondly called Sipane Halat (Hlat) – (“Sipan – the Mount of Awards”). Sipan – the second  in height in the North Kurdistan mountain after Agri / Ararat on the southern coast of Lake Van with a height of 4434 meters. In the language of Urartu, Sipan was referred to as Subhanu. In antiquity fires lit on the mountains used as signal lights in danger, what is mentioned in the writings of ancient Greek authors – Herodotus, Xenophon, Strabo and others.


Urartu Medes



Urartu kings during the invasion of enemies or during military training convened in this way troops, tribal militias that flocked to this mountain on the shore of Lake Van in the area of the current city Hlat (Ahlat, a city on the northeast shore of Lake Van). And after the victory they shared their trophies at the same sacred place. For the displayed bravery and heroism during the military operations, the commanders or warriors (tribes) who distinguished themselves in battle were presented with awards. Therefore, the Kurds call this holy mountain Sipane Halat (“Sipan – the Mountain of Awards”) and this mountain in Kurdish history takes the same place as Mount Fuji for the Japanese. Many songs, stories and legends are composed about Sipan. The events of the Kurdish epic folk poem “Xeck û Siyabend” [5] unfold around this mountain.



Van Urartu warriors with horses Delbji

“Armenian Geography” VII c. calls Sipan as “Masik” or “Neh-Masik” [6], which indicates that Hurrian (Urartian) – the Kurdish name Subhanu-Sipan was not known to Armenians in ancient times. And still, the Kurdish name Sipan (late newcomer-Turks call “Sipan Dag”) taken hold for the mountain, which also testifies to the presence of strong Kurdish military-political power in this region since ancient times, which is confirmed by numerous sources.


Armenian explorer of the second half of the twentieth century. A. Khudobashev, referring to the high authority of other Armenian historians (Mikhail Chamchian “History of Armenia”, 1778; Indijian. “Geographical description of all Armenian land and its inhabitants”), writes: “Kurds are descended from the Medes, known between Armenians under the name of MARK. They are called Kurds because, during the time of the existence of the ancient Armenian kingdom, they lived in that part of Armenia, which was called Kordrik or Kord, and is called Kurdistan now” [7]. Further, the author reports that these Kurdish tribes, who came to Armenia under the “leadership of the Medes princes,” and “precisely, in Kordrik and Mokk [8], settled there and were called Kurds [9].”

Warriors of Urartu on delbji horses. IX century. BC.



He further writes that “the Medes came to Armenia in the reign of Bagratuni – and lived in the current “pashalyks – Van, Mush, Bayazid”, “ruled by their emirs or beys”. They still live in the same “places and are called Kurds” [10]. Armenian historians of the Bagratuni (Bagratid) dynasty indicate approx. 220-1045. Although, from history it is well known that in 595. BC. the territory of Urartu was already controlled by Kurdish Medes. These Medes-Kurds, contrary to later assertions, i.e. modern Armenian sources, not just “wild nomads”, but were divided into “sedentary – living in cities and villages, and – not settled or migrating”. The main occupation of wandering was a cattle breeding and bee breeding [11]. Sedentary Kurds were engaged in farming, crafts, industry, trade”[12]. The Kurds “love fairy tales and poetry very much,

Medes (Manneis) with the horse Delbji. Late 8th century BC

and that, “the subject of their songs is love of freedom, battles, various memorable events, etc.”[13].








Medes (Manneis) with the horse Delbji. V century BC

In their habitat, Kurdish tribes are marked by their Kurdish names: Kurds living in the Bayazid pashalyk call themselves not Bayazidli, but Slivanly, because this whole district is known by them under the name of Slivan; in Bogesh, Mush, Sassun and etc., call themselves Roshki and the district itself – Roshkan ”[14].

Median king on the hunt. Relief. VII century BC



Khudabashev, with reference to Indijiyan, among the pioneers of these two tribes as hereditary rulers, according to the narratives of the “Armenian everyday descriptions” (chronicles) appointed by Vagarshak – the founder of the “Armenian dynasty of Arshakids” [15], – in the Bayazet calls “Silan, who could be an ancestor of Slivanly or Silkuniys [16]. And the Roshki tribe [17], in the same way, comes from Ryshtun, who was as powerful as Vagarshak”[18]. He also writes that the Kurdish tribes Mamykan [19] (“Manikli”) and Mandeki (“Mandekli”) [20] consider “as thier ancestors the Armenian princes – the first Mamikonians, and the second the Mantakunias” [21]. Despite the obvious attempts by Armenian sources to pass off all the Iranian-Kurdish heritage as Armenian, the facts tell a different story.


Sasnid king Khosrov Anushirvan I on the hunt on a horse with Delbji. Died 579 AD

Under the Sasanids, the city and the district of the same name Hlat (Ahlat), where Sipan Mountain was also geographically located, were governed by Jamasp [22], the uncle (father’s brother) of the Sassanian king of Khosrov Anushirvan (531-579), to whom the famous Kurdish historian Sharaf Khan Bidlisi trace his ancestry [23]. The Ruzaki (Roshkan) tribe – Ryshtuni in Armenian sources – also associate their ancestry with two brothers named ‘Izzaddin and Ziya’addin from the royal family of the Sassanids. Sharaf Khan Bidlisi writes that several people from tribal nobles went to the city of Ahlat and with all honors and ceremonies brought the princes to Bidlis. One party put to rule ‘Izzaddin in Bidlis, the other – Ziya’addin in Khazo. [24].

Kurdish warriors on horseback with Delbji. XV century.



Later, during the Arab invasion in Ahlat and the surrounding area of Sipan Mountain, belonging to the Moks area, see the same settled in “Kordrik and Mokk” Kurdish-Medes.


In the fall of 653, when the Arab commander Habib b. Maslama moved through the mountains to the southeast, to the lake Van, on his way, he was met by the ruler of Moks, [27] the Kurdish leader Mush(er) Mamykan with a diploma signed by Iyad b. Ghanm [28]. Habib confirmed the terms of the contract, and Mush Mamykan delivered him the required amount and gifts even before arriving in Hlat,  while retaining his princely possessions. It is curious that even after Hlat temporarily became the residence of Habib, the Arabs did not violate the established tradition for thousands of years: here arrived princes with an expression of humility to Habib b. Maslama, from here he sent troops to suppress the rebellious.



Dohuk. Southern Kurdistan. Monument to horses.


The famous Armenian writer of the XIX century Raffi (Hakob Melik Hakobian) in his famous novel “Sparks” writes that “Hakari, Bayazet, Akhbak, Bagesh (Bitlis), Mush, Shatakh, Sasun, Khizan, Moks region, Charsandzhak, Kechu and others. All these counties were owned by the Kurds.”[29] And now the entire population of these territories is Kurdish, and since ancient times Kurds were natives in these territories, and Sipan is an original Kurdish name, which is associated with the ethnonym of the powerful Kurdish Sipan tribe (mostly profess Yezidism), who live in the majority in the Van region and the city Bayazet.

Thus, the ancient Kurdish custom dêlberday from the depths of the millennium (“Hespê dêlberday – “a horse with a unbraided tail ”)” is associated with the ancient beliefs and military traditions of the Kurdish people.




[1] Epic singers and narrators.
[2] Aristova T. F. Kurds of Transcaucasia. P.191. M., 1966. See also: Gryaznov GF Kurds and Kurdish cavalry. Military collection. SSXXVIII. SPb., 1896. № 3-4. Pp. 353-355.
[3] Rudenko, M. B. Kurdish ritual poetry (funeral laments). M., 1982.51. Alekperov A. On the Question of Studying the Culture of Kurds. Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Proceedings of the Azerbaijan branch. Volume XXV. Historical series. Baku, 1936.
[4] Sharaf – Khan Ibn Shamsaddin Bidlisi. Sharaf – Name. T. 1. P.461. M., 1967.
[5] Armenian writer Karapetyan Hovhannes (Onik) Tatevosovich (lit. Pseudonym Hovhannes Shiraz) in the middle of the twentieth century wrote his version called “Siamanto ev Khcezare” (Siamanto Hadzhezare) on the basis of this Kurdish folk poem, Yerevan, 1955 From this date, the Armenians, without a twinge of conscience, already consider this work to be an Armenian folk poem, which, it is not known, on which “8 thousand years of Armenians’ existence” lay on which shelves. You can read about it in detail: “The cultural aspect of Armenian-Kurdish relations: plagiarism at the level of state policy of Armenia”.
[6] N. Adonts, Armenia in the era of Justinian. P.313. Yerevan, 1971.
[7] A. Khudabashev. View of Armenia, in geographical, historical and literary terms. SS.67-68. St. Petersburg, 1859.
[8] For more on this, see Northern Kurdistan: Moks area (Mukus).
[9] A. Khudabashev, cc. cit., p.
[10] A. Khudabashev, cc. cit.,p.
[11] A. Khudabashev, acc. cit., p.74.
[12] A. Khudabashev, cc. cit., 71.
[13] A. Khudabashev, cc. cit., p.75.
[14] A. Khudabashev, cc. cit., 71.
[15] Ancient Kurdish childbirth. Arshakids.
[16] Ancient Hithet sources about the Kurds.
[17] Ancient Kurdish Clans: Roshkan (Rosca).
[18] A. Khudabashev, acc. cit., p.71.
[19] The ancient Kurdish race (tribe) Mamykan / Mamikonean.
[20] Ancient Hithet sources about the Kurds.
[21] A. Khudabashev, acc. cit., p.72.
[22] Sharaf Khan Bidlisi. Sharaf-name Volume 1. P. 398. M., 1987.
[23] Sharaf Khan Bidlisi. Specified essay, s. 404, 406.
[24] Sharaf Khan Bidlisi. The specified essay, p.405.
[25] The epithet “Beran” – “Baran” among the Kurds means strength and power.
[26] Ebdullah Meme Mehmed (Hoko) Xani Varli. Diroka Dugelen kurdan (600-1500). Derpec 1. S.134.Istanbul. 1997 (onKurdishlang.).
[27] A.N. Ter-Ghevondian. Armenia and the Arbs Caliphate. C.41. Yerevan, 1977.
[28] Musheg Mamikonyan of modern Armenian sources. The Iranian-Kurdish suffix “yang”, “an” in the endings of Armenian surnames began to be recorded only from the 19th century. In Old Armenian, it was mostly the “eants” suffix, which was then transformed into “ents”, and in modern Armenian into the phonetic form “jants”, and then only “yang” remained.
[29] Raffi. Spark. Novel. S. 534. Yerevan, 148.


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