Ancient Kurdish Clan (Tribe) Mamykan / Mamikonean

Ancient Kurdish Clan (Tribe) Mamykan / Mamikonean


 Latif Mammad



Armenian sources (Favstos Buzand. IV – 27,31,36,39; “The History of Armenia” by M. Khorensky; N. Adonts [1]) report on the princely clan Mamikoneans, whose ancestral area was considered Tayk. Sources emphasize that the Mamikonean’s principalities along with the Bagratids, Basikan (Mardpets Artsruni), Horhoruni and Kamsarakan were particularly distinguished from the other principalities and enjoyed a certain independence.


Adonts also originates the Kamsarakan family “by blood and rank with Spandiate” – a genus of Arshakid origin and relates them to Mehranids [1]. The “House of Mihran” in Assyrian sources has always been mentioned as part of the Median tribal union. Citing Theophylact (III, 18) N. Adonts, the powerful house of Mihran also considers as one of the seven Median surnames [2]. G. Kapantsian also considers Mihranids of “Iranian origin” [3]. In the Armenian historical tradition, the Mamikonids are considered to be strangers to Armenia, and their clan is derived from “the Chens”. As the ancient Armenian historian Favstos (Favstos Buzand, V — 37) writes, “… the Mamikonids speak with pride of themselves that they are descended from the kings of the Chens’ country.” Sebeos reports that the Chen tribes appeared in Armenia during the reign of the Parthian king Khosrov (217-252) from Chenistan (Sebeos. XI.12,24). According to the “History of Armenia” by M. Khorensky, the Mamikonids appeared in Armenia during the reign of Shapur I (241-272), the king of Persia and the Media from the Sassanid dynasty), that is, in the 3rd century. But, information about “the Chens” in written sources has been present, at least since the 1st century AD. The Armenian historian Vardan also attributed the political rise of the Mamikonids to the period of the rule of the “Parsian king, Shapuh” [4].



Many peoples of the East call China “Chin,” and the Chinese – Chens. Historical tradition links this up with the dynastic Qin empire (221–207 BC) and the empire, where the Manchurian Qin dynasty (1644–1911) ruled. Therefore, some modern Armenian historians, prone to exaggeration, were quick to associate the Mamikoneans with the Chinese (“Tsans”), while Azerbaijani scientists, who set themselves the goal, to “make more ancient” and prove the “autochthony” of the Turks in Southern Transcaucasia and the Front Asia, quite seriously seek to see ethnic Turks in the Mamikonids [5]. N. Adonts believes that in the areas dominated by the “Iberian Strip”, in the ethnic sense, for the name of the head of the clan, the most “popular” term is “mamak” [6], from “the armenianized form of Iberian mother – father” [7], and on these grounds he concludes that “mamak” is like “a proper name in the Mamikonid family”, which originally served as a generic title for one of the princely clans, and then became a family name” [8].



Author of VI century Agathias of  Myrina, reports that “the Tsannni, the northern tribe, who from ancient times were subjects of the Romans, living around Trapezund…” [9]. An interesting message was left to us by the ancient Greek author, the famous  Archbishop of Thessalonica, who lived in the 12th century Eustathius in “Comments to the “Land Description” of Dionysius: “The Macrons are the Pontic people who live south of the Behirs. They are called the Sanni or, more vulgarly, the Tsanni … and the country of the Sanni is called Tsanika in the vulgar form of the name” (Eustathius, 765). Censorinus, who lived in the first half of III AD, also informs about the Chens (Tsanni): “… Against the Cappadocians, on the right, Armenians, Iberians, … Birran, Scythians, Colchus, Bosphorans, Sannni, which are called Sanniks…” (Censorinus. Book of origin, 35). Flavius Arrianus is also reported about the Sanni (The Periplus of the Euxine Sea, 15), which the Xenophontian tribe “drills” (Xenophon. Anabasis. V. II, 1) considers as the Sanni. Strabo also mentions “over Trapezund” tibarenes, Chaldeans, and “Sanni, which were formerly called Macrones …” (Strabo. XII, 3.18).



Currently, ethnologists distinguish Megrelian-Chan / Zan tribes, which, together with related groups of the Karts and Svans, played a key role in the formation of the modern Georgian people [10]. Therefore, the “Macrones-Sanni / Tsanni” of ancient authors, the “Chans / Chens” of ancient Armenian sources, and the Megrelian-Chans / Zans of modern ethnographers have common ethnic roots and are directly related to Georgians.

All of the above is enough to reject the claims and versions of the “Chinese” or “Turkic” origin of the Mamikonean clan.



The roots of the Mamikonean clan / tribe must be sought specifically in the Kurdish material. M. Khorensky with the name of the Tsanni connected the current settlement Canik [11], which is located 20-25 km from the city Van to the north, on the shores of Lake Van in Northern Kurdistan and the Turks renamed it in Kedik – Bulak (“Cold Source”). But the names of the village Canik, the mountains Caniki near Samsun in  northern Turkey, Lake Djygyn on the headwaters of the Vedi River in the Republic of Armenia, localities Djinny and toponyms “Mountain Djinny” in Northern Azerbaijan are directly connected with the name of the Kurdish Djanikan (Dzhyuniki) tribe and has nothing to do with the Tsanni.  The Assyrian cuneiform texts, dating from the 13th century BC, tell about the campaign of the Assyrian king Tukulti Ninurta I to the countries of the Shubarians, particularly to the country of Mummi, which most likely bordered with the countries of Alzi, Madani, Nihani and others [12] . Hurrites, Matiens, Mady (Medes) and other related proto-Kurdish tribes are hidden under the Shubarians. Alzi – later Alzini, Aldzini, Aldznik / Zavazan (from the Kurdish “Zozan”). Nyhani – later Nihiriya or Nihorakan. Madani – late Migdonia or Nisaybin. In these “countries” protokurds lived already.




From the Assyrian commander Ashurbeldan’s letter to his king Sargon II (722/1 – 705 BC), it becomes known that he asks the king for advice on what to do with disobeyd inhabitants of the Mummians settlement who refuse royal duty. Apparently, Ashurbeldan wants to solve everything through peaceful negotiations and “wants to go and talk to them about the king’s order,” since these settlements had ceased to obey the Assyrians ever since the times of Shamshilay (Shamashilay) – from 818 BC. In the inscription of Shamshi-Adad V (823 – 810 BC), carved on a monolith in Kalhu (Nimrud), in the story about the campaign against the Medes mentions the names of the founders of the “Medes settlement”, Amamash Kingish of Tilenzakh and Mamanish of Luksay [13]. In the request of Esarhaddon (Ashurahiddin – 680 – 669 BC) to the oracle of the god Shamash on political affairs on the Median events about the possible union “Kashtariti (Fraort – L.M.) – the head of the settlement Kar-Kashshi (Kassite colony – L .M.) with the head of the Medes settlement Mamitiarshu (the modern Kurdish tribe Mamrashan – L.M.) and the likely orientation of this alliance against the Assyrian king [14]. Kar-Kashshi is localized on the territory of modern Hamadan – ancient Ecbatana.



The holy book of Christians the Bible contains information about the Mede-Persian king Artaxerxes (Xerxes, 486-465 BC) and about his seven Persian and Median princes, who are especially close to him – the chief commanders of the Persian and Median regions and whose names were: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memuhan, “who saw the king’s face, and sat first in the kingdom” (Book of Esther, I, 14). As the Median princes in the list follow after the Persian, we must see the Mede in Memuhan. Memuhan’s name, apparently, is distorted by the late scribes of the Bible, since the suffix “han” is clearly borrowed from the Turkic social institute and designates the title, position of a nobleman of the highest rank. Taking into account the fact that the Turkics massively began to flow in Front Asia almost a thousand years after the events described in the Bible, then we will have to agree with this. Most likely, the name Memuhan would be better written as Memuhun (Memhun). For comparison, the names Djagarhun (“Bloody Liver”), Dylhun (“Bloody Heart”) are widespread in Kurdish. During a fright, blood slithered from person’s face and he turns pale and this is a normal physiological phenomenon, and in extreme cases, a person with strong nerves and strong will and character has  more restrained emotions and his face does not change much. Therefore, the names Djagarhun and Dylhun mean a strong, brave and fearless person. It is also common for the Kurds to express their admiration for the fearlessness and strength of a particular person, speak allegorically about him as a person “Char gurchyk (a person with four kidneys”).



Among the Kurds, men names Mam, Mamo, Mame, Memo, Memend, Meman, Mamyk, Mamhuvir and women – Mamshene, Memua, Mamyan (Mamhan) are widespread. The clan of the Ardelan princely house was called “Mamui”, which corresponds to the Mummui of Assyrian sources. In the pearl of Kurdish folklore and  the poem of Kurdish literature of the same name “Mam u Zin” by Ahmad Hani, the main character was also called Mam.



“Mam” we also meet in the names of Kurdish tribes: mamazeydi (mamzedy), mamakuye, mamaliya, mamanli, mamaeti, mamash, mamash-a- reshkan (or mam-reshan), mamrashi (professing Yezidism), mamasenii, mamluy, mamiki, mamhoran memus (lury) and others. In the Kurdish tribe Revandi (Revanduzi), ten of the twelve tribes are associated with the name “Mam”: mamgird, mamasam, mamsal, mambal, mamekal, mamsil, mamlis, mamseki, mamekal and mamui. In the Kurdish language, especially in the Sorani dialect, there are a lot of word formations with the root of the words “mam”, for example – mam, mamosta – “teacher, mentor”; mama – “mother, grandmother”; maman, mamani – “wise woman, midwife, obstetrics”; mamo – “paternal uncle”; mamotk – “competent, knowledgeable”; mamoza – “cousins on the paternal side”; mamechka – “sheep with a lamb” and many others. Deeply mistaken is the attempt by some kurdologists to associate the variants of the anthroponym Mam — these personal Kurdish names and tribal names with the Arab-Muslim name Mohammed, which is rightly pointed out by the Kurdish scholar Charkaze Rush [15].



In the Sumerian pantheon existed the cult of the god Mamet. In the Sumerian-Akkadian mythology, the wife of the underworld lord Nergal was the goddess Mamma (Mami, Mameta). In the Babylonian pantheon, Mama (Mamet) was a goddess — the mother, creator of people, and identified with the goddess Aruru. In a poem written in the first half of the XI century BC by the Esagil’s priest-spellcaster Hiniubbib in Babylonia the god “Mam” is mentioned [16]. Considering the fact of the long domination of the Iranian-speaking tribes of the Guti in Sumer (more than 120 years) and the Kassites in Babylonia (more than 400 years, XVI-XII centuries BC), which played an important role in the formation of the Kurdish people, it can be assumed the existence of the cult of the god Mam and the goddess Mama among the proto-Kurdish tribes, which later became included in the names of Kurdish tribes, clans, personal male and female names. And nowadays, among the Kurds, professing Yezidism, the cult of God Mam Shvan, the patron saint of small livestock, is preserved. After all, the Karduhs also had a god KARDUETS. The name of the Kassite Babylonia Karduniash also apparently goes back to the cult of this god, possibly tribal, or after the name of a semi-mythical ancestor. It is not by chance that the Kurdish oral tradition establishes the foundation of the city Mush with one of the founders of the Mamy(o)kan tribe Mushet [17], where the Kurdish tribe Mamykan still lives today. Armenian sources also claim the fact of the Iranian Medes living in these territories from ancient times. Speaking of the Medes, the Armenian scientist of the XIX century N. O. Emmin writes that “the words “vishapk” and “vishapazunk” are the translation of the word “ajdahaka”. “Astyages” and “astyagas” means precisely the “snake”. The ancient Armenians, firmly remembering the origin of the Medes prisoners of war, called them not only “dragonians”, in honor of their king, but also snakes; and not only them, but also the country from which they were withdrawn. On this basis, both the “Medes” and the “Media” are called by ancient Armenian historians as Mark. Throwing away “k” (plural sign) we get “Mar.” In this form, the last word exists in the New Persian language and is nothing else than the Zendian “mara” – “snake”. In ancient Armenia, there are even cities with the ominous name “Ots” and “Vishap”; the first means “snake”, and the second – “dragon”. The ruins of Ots is located in the Toron region, now Mush. And the second city is also here. The ruins are not preserved ”[18]. The ancient Armenian historical tradition under the Medes-Mars implies modern Kurds. The famous Armenian writer of the XIX century Raffi (Hakob Melik-Akopyan) in his famous novel “Spark” writes that “Hakari, Bayazet, Ahbak, Bagesh (Bitlis), Mush, Shatah, Sasun, Hizan, Moksk region, Charsanjak, Kechu and others. All these counties were owned by the Kurds [19].” Further, listing the main Kurdish tribes living in these territories (both Muslims and Yezidis), he writes that “they all differed little from each other in their character and customs. They all spoke IN DIFFERENT DIALECTS OF THE MEDIAN LANGUAGE (italics is mine – L.M.)” [20]. This tradition to call the Kurds the Mars by Armenian sources was taken from Persians. In the middle of the XIX century written sources continued to call the Kurds the Mars. Russian scientist V. Dittel like this characterizes the Kurds-Mars: “Kurds are generally bad Muslims. I will cite several beliefs and sayings that go about Kurds in the east, this will give an idea of the moral face of this people. In Persia, the Kurd is the last person in all respects; they do not believe him nor his prayers. If they want to say that such a promise will never hold back, they say, “This is the prayer of the Mor” (“Mor” is one of the names of the Kurds). Another Persian saying justly describes Kurds; they say: “Mor from Kazvin – a good thief, a thief from Kengaver (a Kurdish village near Hamadan) – a great thief “and so on” [21].



In antiquity, Mamykan lived in the territory of Ardjis (Erdish), Halat (around Sipan Mountain), Bitlis, Mush, Hynys, Malazgyrt, Motikan and Hizan. During the years of Sasanid rule for courage and valor in the battles against the Romans, the area of residence of these Kurds was known as Warebaran (later the Arabs would called it Dur el Beran / Dar el Beran) – “Mutton [22] Camp.” Until now, the Kurds know the inhabitants of these territories under the common anthroponym mamokiyan-Mamokan [23].  Thus, it would be more correct to associate the Mamikonean / Mamykan  clan/tribe directly with the Kurdish tribes, in whose favor the above arguments testify. Armenian writer of the XIX century Raffi wrote that “the Mamykani tribe descended from the Naharars’ Mamgunyan” [24]. The author thereby recognizes the fact of the connection of the clan/tribe of the Mamiconids of Armenian sources with the Kurdish Mamykan tribe. The Mamikonid clan and the Mamykan tribe always appeared in their Kurdish guise in the historical arena and pitiful attempts to bring a little shadow of a doubt into it had already failed. As Ch. Rush writes, “Armenian Mamikon also comes from this name and passed into the Armenian environment from Kurdish anthroponomics” [25].



Apparently, the Taik region once belonged to the Tsanni/ Sanni and was conquered during the Median-Kurdish expansion to the northeast in 590 BC, and maybe a little earlier. Favstos (III.18,47) calls Taik a Mamikonid country. This is the initial birthplace of the Mamikonids. Having strengthened, in the 7th century, Mamikoneans already owned the Taron region and took away from the princely family of Sloean (Slkuni – “house/clan Slo”) the Olakan fortress located on the bank of the Aratsani (Muradchai)  river. In the V century, the western part of Taron and the region on the northeast side passed to this clan. Bagrevand, Hark also passed to them. In the VII century, they already owned the possession in the Aragatsotn (Alagyaz-L.M.) district, where they built the fortress-settlement Aruch. According to Favstos, the Mamikonid princes, dissatisfied with King Arshak about his harsh reprisals against the princely clans of Artsruni and Rshtuni, left the king and recede to their region Taik [26]. To this day, the numerous Kurdish Mamykan tribe lives in the Northern (Turkish) part of Kurdistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.  After many centuries, the Kurdish tradition has always been considered and considers a clan/tribe of Mamikonean as Kurdish, and the above arguments should also convinced the inexperienced reader of this.




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  2. Adonts, acc. cit., p.440, note 1.
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  16. Selahaddin Mihotuli. Arya uygarliklarindan kurtlere. S. 342. Istanbul, 1992 (in Turkish).
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  20. Dittel. “Russian literature. Essays on travel in the east from 1842 to 1845. “. Pp. 193-195.
  21. The epithet “Beran” among the Kurds means strength and power.
  22. Ebdullah Meme Mehmed (Hoko) Xani Varli. Diroka Dugelen kurdan (600-1500). Derpec 1. S.134.Istanbul. 1997 (in Kurdish).
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  24. Kurdistan Report. Magazine. Moscow. 1993. №3. P.43.
  25. Adonts, acc. cit., p. 309.


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