What’s in a name — Hewlêr or Erbil?

8311951605_2d3a288001_oOccasionally someone criticises or chastises those who use the term ‘Erbil’ to refer to the capital of Kurdistan Region. In the Kurdish language, it is known as Hewlêr.

The criticism is premised on the presumption that ‘Erbil’ is an Arabic word. However the word is not from modern-day Arabic. The Kurds in South Kurdistan have been subject to forced assimilation in some parts, and ‘Arabisation’ process. Some believe, using the term ‘Erbil’ reaffirms Arab superiority, or rather in particular Iraqi Arab superiority.

However, research has shown that Erbil etymology originates in Sumerian holy writings. Consider the following for instance,

“In the last five years of Shulgi’s reign [2051-2047] Ur was involved in repeated campaigns against coalitions of partially subdued Hurrian city-states in northern Mesopotamia. The problems began with a coalition between the city of Simurrum — which Shulgi had already defeated three times and the highlanders of Lullubu. Shugli claims to have defeated them in 2051. If so, it was not a decisive victory, for in 2050 they were back in alliance with Urbillum (modern Arbil) and Karahar.”

Page 111 of 520: Warfare in the ancient near East to 1600 BC — Holy warriors at the dawn of history by William J. Hamblin.

Interestingly, there’s more on this:

“There are number of variant forms of the name Arbel. The form Arbel, which is used throughout this book, is the Neo-Aramaic form of the name. The Arabic-speaking jews of the town refer to it as Arbil or Arwil. In classical Arabic sources it is known as Irbil. The Kurds call it Hawlêr, which appears to have developed from the form of Arbel a series of metatheses of constants. The name appears to be of non-Semitic origin. It is first found in cuneiform texts dating to the 3rd millenium B.C., where it usually has the form Urbilum.”

Page 2 of 561: A Grammar of neo-aramaic — the dialect of the jews of Arbel by Geoffrey Khan.

Although research in regards to the etymology of Erbil or Hewlêr is largely limited at this stage, but given the above-mentioned information, people should not be continuously fixated or holding on the notion that ‘Erbil’ promotes Arab superiority because claims as such as not substantiated historically.

Modern-day Hewlêr did not inherit the name ‘Erbil’ following an Arabisation process.

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