Mikosham ankeh baradaram kosht

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Like many others, I've spent much of the past few days reading the sites that offer news about events in Iran; and I appreciate the depth of information that the "New Media" collectively provide, including transcriptions and translations of many of the slogans. Thus Nader Uskowi's weblog features a YouTube video of a wounded girl being loaded into an ambulance ("Casualties in Teheran", 6/15/2009), and also transcribes and translates the chants of the crowd:

Protestors chanting: Mikosham, Mikosham, Ankeh Baradaram Kosht ("Will Kill, Kill, Those Who Killed My Brother") and Marg Bar Dictator ("Death to Dictator")

Using the first of these chants as a Google probe, thinking to find other reports and commentary on current events, I stumbled on an interesting account of exactly the same chant being used against the Shah in 1978.

The source is Manouchehr Ganji, Defying the Iranian revolution: from a minister to the Shah to a leader of resistance, 2002, p. 18:

During these days, my colleagues at the Ministry of Education brought me bags, each containing 200 to 300 small metal balls. They were samples they had collected on school grounds in different parts of Tehran. "What are they good for?" I asked. "To disrupt classes and organize spontaneous demonstrations in the streets!" They explained how it worked, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I spent a whole morning flying over Tehran in a helicopter …]. The scenario goes as follows: At the back of a small van stand two girls and two boys. In front are several women in veils, one of them at the wheel. The van stops in a narrow street on the side of a school building, never at the main gate and never in full view. It is class time and the schoolyard is empty. The two boys begin to shout: "Brothers, they have killed your brothers. Brothers, these murderers have assassinated your brothers." "I will kill, I will kill he who killed my brother [mikosham, mikosham ankeh baradaram kosht]." The girls do the same in front of the girls' schools. If the classes are interrupted and the students come out into the schoolyard and then move into the street, their job is accomplished. If the classes carry on uninterrupted, the four adolescents take the metal balls and throw them against the school windows — like the intifada. The teachers have no choice but to release the students and send them home. Other are already waiting for them in the streets to line them up and start protest demonstrations.

I don't think that the ball bearings have any current relevance, nor have I seen any reports of similar methods being used now to recruit schoolchildren for protests.

But I'm curious about the slogan. Ignorant of Persian language, history, and culture, I don't know whether it's something that was invented for use against the Shah, and is being echoed now; or an older formula, from a poem or song or folktale; or what.

This 2008 YouTube music video with the same title, aside from a minor transcription difference, suggests some broader cultural resonances. (The video's tags indicate some connection with the PMOI, which I doubt that the current Tehran protesters would want to be associated with.)

And for a different video from the current protests, one of Andrew Sullivan's readers transcribes and translates the crowd's chant as "Mikosham mikosham ghatle baradaram-ro (I'll kill the murderer of my brother)". Is this just a random variant of a phrase that's somehow the obvious one to use? Or is it (say) from another line of the same poem?

Can anyone help us understand the background of these formulas, and thus their meaning to those who use them and those who hear them?  In particular, I'm interested in how literally they should be interpreted. I gather that marg bar X "death to X" is the standard way to say "down with X", and thus is at least somewhat bleached of its literal meaning as a death threat. Has something similar happened to mikosham? Or should it be interpreted more or less literally as expressing the intent to kill?



28 Comments

  1. jfruh said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 9:13 am

    I'm intrigued that "dictator" apparently made it untranslated into Persian. (I suppose it made it untranslated into English too, but there is a fairly long history of importing Latin words into English that I'm guessing doesn't have a Persian parallel.)

  2. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    In Perso-Arabic script, that would be:

    میکشم میکشم آنکه برادرم کشت

    Or else:

    مي كشم مي كشم انكه برادرم كشت

    For anyone who reads Persian, this article (Hammed Shahidian 1999, "The Beginning of End: To the One Who Said: 'I'll Kill, I'll Kill,'" Noghteh 9: 4-6) may hold some answers. It does appear to be a Revolutionary slogan.

  3. language hat said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    one of Andrew Sullivan's readers transcribes and translates the crowd's chant as "Mikosham mikosham ghatle baradaram-ro (I'll kill the murderer of my brother)". Is this just a random variant of a phrase that's somehow the obvious one to use? Or is it (say) from another line of the same poem?

    Ghatl (قتل; the -e is an unstressed suffix, the ezafe) is an Arabic borrowing meaning 'killing, murder' (versus the native Persian koshtan 'to kill'), and -ro is the "accusative" suffix (also unstressed). This variant is basically another way of saying the same thing with different vocabulary while preserving the rhythm. It is not a "poetic" rhythm but a chanting one, so I'm pretty sure there's no poetry being quoted.

    A side point on transcription: Persian/Farsi ق and غ are commonly transliterated identically, typically as gh. This makes perfect sense, since they are pronounced identically (basically, as a voiceless velar stop word-initially, as a voiced velar fricative after a vowel), but it is annoying if you know any Arabic, where they are completely different: the former is q (qaf, a voiceless uvular stop) and the latter gh (ghayn, a voiced velar or uvular fricative). When I see "ghatl," it looks wrong to me; I want to write it qatl, regardless of graphic efficiency.

  4. Lars said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

    With regards to the chant "Mikosham mikosham ghatle baradaram-ro," this is a variant which means basically the same thing. "ghatl" means 'killer,' borrowed from the Arabic (qa:til). The 'ro' on 'baradaram-ro' is the direct object marker. So: "I'll kill, kill, the killer of my brother."

  5. Mark Liberman said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    These comments are helpful from the point of view of morphosyntactic analysis, but they don't answer the historical and cultural questions. Is this chant something that originated with the movement against the Shah in the 1970s? If so, what other targets (if any) has it been used against since then? If not, where does it come from?

  6. Cameron said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

    Just to add another merely morphosyntactic clarification. The -ro suffix on barâdaram is applying to the whole NP ghatle barâdaram.

    I was living in Iran in '78-'79, but don't remember that particular chant from that time. But there were a lot of chants back then, and no youtube. And of course the local TV and radio didn't have audio or video from the demonstrations . . .

    As for the deeper cultural resonance of the chant. I can't think of anything immediate, but the culture of tribal vendettas (which is still the way of life among the Pashtun people) probably still resonates with many urban Iranians who are only a couple of generations away from their ancestral villages.

  7. Brian Johnson said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    I tried a few Google searches, and the variant "my brother's killer" led me to a 6th century Arabian poet named Zuhayr, with the line "I will satisfy my vengeance on my brother's killer by taking
    his life!" appearing in the anthology Mu'allaqah. There's a citation here: http://www.manrilla.net/media/pdfs/upenn_5-8-2009.pdf

  8. Alan Farahani said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

    I asked various family members and acquaintances that lived in Iran during the revolution, and the majority say that the phrase seems to have originated in that form during the Revolution. Specifically, it was (according to my informants) in response to to the Shah declaring martial law and firing on, and killing, demonstrators. This is, however, anecdotal and I'm not sure how much it stands up to any added scrutiny. Just some initial thoughts.

    [(myl) Thanks! This was the first interpretation that came to my mind: that when people today use this chant against the basiji or the special forces, they are identifying the current regime with the rule of the Shah, or at least identifying its behavior with his. Apparently this is plausible. ]

  9. Rich said,

    June 16, 2009 @ 9:39 pm

    According to Henry Newman at Slate, the protestors are deliberately co-opting the slogan to evoke the Revolution and deflect charges of counter-revolution.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2220605/

  10. Lugubert said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 5:46 am

    Mark wrote
    "I gather that marg bar X "death to X" is the standard way to say "down with X", and thus is at least somewhat bleached of its literal meaning as a death threat."
    A standard "down with X" phrase is "X mordabad", also literally "may X die", and imported into Urdu and Hindi. There's also the antiparallel "X zindabad", "may X live".

  11. Alex B said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 6:45 am

    Jfruh

    There are a lot terms, political and otherwise, borrowed from Western languages into Farsi. My favourite is kudeta (or coup d'état in the original)

  12. bulbul said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 6:46 am

    One of the books about the '79 I read contained a list of slogans chanted by the protestors and I don't recall this one. Baradar-e arteshi, chera baradar koshi (برادر ارتشی چرا برادر کشی) = "Brother soldier, why do you kill your brother" is the one that stuck with me. It would appear it was revived as well.

  13. Bill Walderman said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

    Is "baradaram" cognate with "brother," "frater," "brat," "phrater," etc.?

  14. Cameron said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

    Yes barâdar = brother. Father is pedar; mother is mâdar. The most striking cognate among the basic kinship terms is the word for daughter (which is also the general word for girl): daughter is dokhtar.

    I use 'a' for short-a, as in English "hat", and 'â' for long-a as in father, as per the Unipers convention.

  15. bulbul said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

    Bill,

    baradaram is actually barādar + am = "brother" + "my" and yes, it is a cognate of all those words. The Proto-Indo-European form was (per Meier-Brügger) *bhréh2ter-.

  16. bulbul said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

    Oh noez, hamsterz eated my superscript h (the first one) and subscript 2!!1!1

  17. Bill Walderman said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

    This is off-topic and I realize this definitely not the right way to do historical linguistics, but here are a few more questions:

    Is mordabad (mor-dabad?) related to marg (mar-g?) and are either or both cognate with mor-s, s-mert'/u-meret', brot-os/a-mbros-ia?

    Is zindabad (zin-dabad?) related to uiu-o/uiu-us, bi-os/bi-ao, zhit'/zhiv-u/zhizn'?

    Is the -e ending in baradar-e arteshi a vocative ending related to the same ending in Latin and Greek?

  18. Bill Walderman said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    Oh noez, hamsterz eated my superscript h (the first one) and subscript 2!!1!1"

    We knew what you meant.

  19. Cameron said,

    June 17, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

    I'm pretty sure mordâbâd and marg are cognate with mor-s, smrt, etc. Marg is the noun for death. The mord- in mordâbâd comes from the verb "to die", which is mordan (that's the infinitive).

    I'm not so sure about zendebâd (my transcription reflects modern Tehrani pronunciation of the word). "zende" means living, or alive. The word for life is jân. But I'm not sure what IE roots these derive from.

    It'd be hard to describe the bound morpheme -e attached to barâdar in barâdare arteshi without getting into a whole discussion of Persian grammar, but it's definitely not a vocative. It's a general building block of a noun phrase, used to tie a noun to an adjective. See this grammar for some more elaborate description: http://www.fazel.de/dastur/EN/5-2-1-1_quality_genitive.html#kc

  20. Chris said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

    I gather that marg bar X "death to X" is the standard way to say "down with X", and thus is at least somewhat bleached of its literal meaning as a death threat.

    Somewhat like an American teenager who gets in a car accident and says "Dad's going to kill me!" – it's not necessarily appropriate to notify Child Protective Services.

    Nevertheless, I confidently expect that the American MSM will overlook (or perhaps already has overlooked) this nuance when X = America or Israel, just because it's so much more sensational if taken literally.

  21. Eskandar said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    Lugubert said,
    A standard "down with X" phrase is "X mordabad", also literally "may X die", and imported into Urdu and Hindi. There's also the antiparallel "X zindabad", "may X live".

    You've given the Hindi/Urdu phrases, but they don't reflect current usage in Persian. The Persian equivalents would be "morde bâd X" and "zende bâd X," respectively, though "marg bar" is much more commonly used now than "morde bâd."

    Bill Walderman said,
    Is the -e ending in baradar-e arteshi a vocative ending related to the same ending in Latin and Greek?

    No, it's an ezâfe. Persian uses a vocative prefix "ey" (ie. "ey irân" O Iran) and in classical usage has a vocative ending -â (ie. "barâdarâ" O brother).

    Cameron said,
    I'm not so sure about zendebâd (my transcription reflects modern Tehrani pronunciation of the word). "zende" means living, or alive. The word for life is jân. But I'm not sure what IE roots these derive from.

    IINAHL (I Am Not A Historical Linguist) but I think if you compare Persian "zendegi" (life) with Zazaki "jewiyaene," Kurdish "jiyan/jin," etc., you will begin to see the connection to "jân" and possibly to other I-E words.

  22. Azar said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

    "Ghatl" means "murder" and not "murderer" in Farsi. "Mikosham ghatl-e baradaram ro" ("I will kill my brother's murder") makes no sense to me as a native speaker of Farsi.

  23. Azar said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    @Lugubert

    A standard "down with X" phrase is "X mordabad", also literally "may X die", and imported into Urdu and Hindi. There's also the antiparallel "X zindabad", "may X live".

    In Tehrani Farsi it's not "X mordebad" but "morderbad X" (though personally I've never heard this used as a slogan or in everyday speech), and also "zendebad X," not "X zendebad."

  24. Eskandar said,

    June 18, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

    Azar said,
    "Ghatl" means "murder" and not "murderer" in Farsi. "Mikosham ghatl-e baradaram ro" ("I will kill my brother's murder") makes no sense to me as a native speaker of Farsi.

    Maybe they meant "ghâtel" – "mikosham ghâtel-e barâdaram ro."

  25. Azar said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 12:56 am

    Eskandar said,
    Maybe they meant "ghâtel" – "mikosham ghâtel-e barâdaram ro."

    Maybe. But it loses its rhythm that way.

  26. Azar said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 5:13 am

    Eskandar said,
    Maybe they meant "ghâtel" – "mikosham ghâtel-e barâdaram ro."

    Maybe. But that way it loses its rhythm.

  27. Peter Gerdes said,

    June 20, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

    Not to be too pedantic but you could never have interpreted "Death to America" literally. After all america can't literally die since it's not a living creature or even the sort of concept that would we normally use the word die with (we might talk about an idea dying but not the roman empire).

    With this in mind I suspect most Americans (certainly me) never really took it literally as a matter of word choice. However, I would hypothesize that word choice is mostly irrelevant here, even had they been translated "down with america" the culturally differences and reflexive xenophobic fears would have created virtually the same reaction.

    To hazard one wild thought it seems to me that Americans expect political protesters to adopt the pretense of an argument, e.g., the chants are justifications/explanations of their position and thus often less coherent. While I'm totally pulling this out of thin air I could imagine an american audience interpret a protest merely expressing opposition/anger as more threatening.

  28. Portia said,

    July 16, 2009 @ 1:17 am

    Woah . . . didn't know the Comics Curmudgeon was a reader . . . contribute! Contribute! (Maybe you have already, Josh?)

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