In Memoriam: Vera Beaudin Saeedpour, 1930-2010


The following article is contributed by the writers of Kurdistan Commentary.

It is with great sadness that we at Kurdistan Commentary learnt of the passing of Dr Vera B. Saeedpour and we wish to extend our most heartfelt condolences and sympathies to her family and loved ones. The Kurdish people are truly fortunate to have had such a committed friend.

Vera Beaudin Saeedpour (née Fine), who went from asking ‘what is a Kurd?’ to being one of the foremost scholars and archivists of the Kurds, passed away at the end of last month at the age of 80. Described in an interview with the New York Times last year as being ‘as tiny and intense as a shot of espresso,’ Saeedpour was a passionate advocate for truth and justice.

She married a Kurd from Iran whose untimely death five years later left her with a deep sense of sadness…and a mission to learn more about her late husband’s culture. She developed that passion and applied it to opening a museum and library dedicated to the Kurds. The museum and library were housed in a brownstone in Brooklyn, NY, where ‘scholars, journalists, government officials, homesick Kurds and just the plain curious’ stopped in to visit and do research.

Her library contained more than 2,000 texts in Kurdish and other languages, including 19th century maps, posters, newspapers from the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, and other rare documents. The museum held artefacts, costumes, and artworks. She was very proud of the collection and said it took no ideological sides. Nor would she take money from any vested interest to support her work. She said she’d rather starve than have to worry about the truth.

Researching in the library, founded in 1986, was a tactile experience. Said Saeedpour of her resources: ‘You don’t Google anything here. You sit on your behind and you look through the books.’

We sought out comments and memories from those who knew her.

Professor Robert Olson (University of Kentucky/Middle East History and Politics) said that ‘the Kurdish Library that she created in her home in Brooklyn is a testament to her concern and love of Kurdish culture.’ Olson had met Saeedpour two or three times and in an e-mail to Kurdistan Commentary described her as a ‘passionate advocate of cultural, linguistic and political rights for all of the Kurdish people.’

Shayee Khanaka (UC Berkeley/Middle East Collection librarian; President of the Kurdish Studies Association) remembers when the UC Berkeley Kurdish Studies Group invited Dr Saeedpour to give a lecture there. Khanaka says she was ‘an amazing speaker’ and ‘extremely passionate.’ She was also ‘moving, articulate, and well-prepared for all kinds of questions.’

Deniz Ekici, Kurdish linguist and author, laments that he never had the chance to meet her in person. He wrote to us: ‘I once rang her up to ask if she had a resource I needed for a paper I was working on. We ended up talking for an hour and a half about the social, political and cultural situation in Iraqi Kurdistan and the future of Kurds. Her death is a great loss to the Kurds and their cause. May she rest in peace.’

Sadly, while we never had the chance to meet her or experience the library, we feel greatly indebted to her and her extraordinary efforts in preserving Kurdish culture and history. In addition to the library and museum, the International Journal of Kurdish Studies is another testament to her determination. She expressed her love and dedication to the Kurdish cause whilst others were often indifferent.

We must note too that Dr Saeedpour was a prolific writer, often criticising Israel’s close relationship with Turkey for ignoring the plight of the Kurds there. This is a significant point considering Saeedpour’s Jewish heritage, and demonstrates, again, how deeply she felt for the Kurdish cause. It is something we should all appreciate. An example of her writing on this topic, Ties That Bind, can be found here.

Dr Saeedpour’s passion for Kurdish culture should set an example for every Kurd and non-Kurd alike, and we should all be grateful to her. We feel Dr Saeedpour should be remembered with much affection and is due all the honour we bestow upon other friends of the Kurdish nation such as – among others – Madame Danielle Mitterrand, the late Nobel laureate Harold Pinter and the Rt Hon Ann Clwyd MP.

Dr Saeedpour’s passing has left priceless assets to the Kurdish nation that we must strive to protect and maintain. We are hopeful that someone will follow in Saeedpour’s footsteps and continue her work.

The Kurdish nation will always be indebted to Dr Vera Beaudin Saeedpour. If you knew Vera Saeedpour and would like to leave a comment detailing your memories of her, please do so.

Our sincerest condolences,

The Authors at Kurdistan Commentary

KB and AN

Memorial services will be held in New York City in late July and in Burlington, VT in early August. More information will be available at Her obituary from the Burlington Free Press can be found here.