Tattoos and Kurds: A Love Hate Relationship

Tattoos used to be very popular among Kurds for hundreds of years. The ink (Deq in Kurdish) was a mixture of breast milk, animal gall and lampblack.

A Kurdish tattooed woman
‘Tree of life’ is one of the most common symbols used in Kurdish tattoos. It represents immortality. This tattoo starts between the breast and climbs upwards towards the chin. Image: Ilhan Bakir

Tattooed women were looked at as more beautiful and desirable, but this has completely changed a few decades ago.

Nowadays, elderly tattooed Kurds say that tattoos are not only inappropriate, but also far from Kurdish culture when they advise their children and grandchildren not to tattoo themselves; but of course, not all children listen to what they are told; especially when they are very proud of their culture.

Dejwar Khalaf, a Kurd living in Huddersfield, UK, has tattooed his whole left arm with symbols linked to Kurdish culture; so many symbols that I had to make a list.DSC_0096 edit

  • Near his wrist, Dejwar tattooed two daffodils which are basically Kurdish national flowers
  • A partridge; a very popular bird in Kurdistan
  • Kawa the blacksmith; belongs to a very famous Kurdish myth talking about a young blacksmith called Kawa, who killed a tyrannous king with his hammer and then set a fire on top of the village’s mountain to let the villagers know about the death of the king. The Kurds still celebrate this event on the 21 of March as the beginning of spring as well as Newroz, the Kurdish New year.DSC_0104 edit
  • The fire; signs to the Kurdish New Year as well.
  • A Kurdish govend; where men and women hold hands and harmoniously dance together to one single rhythm.
  • A peacock feather: The peacock is the lead angel of the Yazidi religion, which is older than Christianity and Judaism.DSC_0133 edit
  • An old Kurdish poem by Mela Ehmedê Namî called Pêskevin Em Serfirazin Miletê Kurdî, which means go ahead Kurds, we are victorious.
  • A kurdish woman pulling her dress showing the Kurdish flag to say that our honor is our flag, our country and our land.DSC_0101 edit

So many other ancient symbols fill the gaps between these tattoos which make Dejwar arm a gate to the Kurdish culture.