Our Tattoos, My Grandmothers a gangster: Kurdish Tattooing tradition


Example of Kurdish Tribal face tattoos

When I was 14, I asked my mother if I can get a tattoo on my arm. She didn’t reply. When I was 17, she finally replied with “No, it looks scruffy”. I did it anyway. I received the same reaction when I first pierced my ear; mother kept asking me to take it off when people came over to visit.

The odd thing about this reaction was that it was rooted in the idea(s) that “it is not part of our culture”; therefore, “people will see it negatively”.  Starting with one piercing, I ended up having four different parts of my ears pierced and two Tattoos on my arm. Family gets over it, and the Kurdish community in general. Especially in Europe, Kurd’s relatively perceive tattooing and piercing as normal –with some exceptions like “Women should not get tattoos on their arms or other visible areas”. This notion rests on the idea that “its against our cultural perception of how women should behave”. I’m not even going to argue why this notion is sexist to begin with, I’d rather examine the premises. Tattooing was–is a important part of the Kurdish culture, it has been thousands of years, especially among-st a females visible body parts — including the face. My Grandmother was tattooed all over her body; She had the initial “E” representing her first name on her forehead. Hardly any studies have been done as to why certain tattooing styles and symbols existed in tribal Kurdish cultures. We only know certain things from word of mouth. But my guess is, the symbolism and styles will be similar to tattooing in other tribal societies. I actually do understand why these facts are suppressed. Tattooing just doesn’t play into the conservative narrative of the middle-east, which is a modern phenomenon, made up and based on false perception’s of history. Tattoos are not contrary to the Kurdish culture, It’s actually been a huge and central part of the culture for the last 3-4 thousand years. It is important for us as citizen’s of the world, Kurdish or non-Kurdish alike, to appreciate, understand tattooing in the Kurdish tradition –the way we understand Japanese, Chinese and tattoos in other cultures. Other cultures with a history of tribal tattoos:


Japanese tradition


Chinese tradition

Samoan tattoo on shoulder

Samoan tattoo on shoulder

Some information about the Symbolism of Kurdish Tattoos

The meaning of most tattoo designs have been forgotten or lost in translation. Although some men were tattooed, it was largely women who would be tattooed as a child. Female children, perceived to be beautiful, so were tattooed with symbols, believed to protect the child from “evil eyes”.


Tattooed Kurdish Man


Middle aged Kurdish women from Turkey

“Each religion and every tribe have different tattoos, there is no precise information on their styles or meanings. Today, however, tattooing is only observed in elderly people; Hardly seen in young people. This tattooing culture is visible in many parts of the world geography. Tattoos with religious symbolism also existed in paganism, animism, sabilik, Taoism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism yazdanism Manihaizm and deep traces of other beliefs can be found.


Kurdish Tribal tattoos

Most tattoo designs are actually a stories — stories of the past and mystical, mytholigical beliefs of certain tribes. In the Kurdish Tattoo construction, the ink is called Deq — it is a mixture of breast milk, animal gall and lampblack. The skin is pierced and then the mixture is applied.


Kurdish Elder

This Kurdish elder (above) bears traditional tattoos on his hand — the two semicircles over the wrist symbolize testicles and a man’s reproductive power; the comb at the base of the circles represent the strong muscles required to work the land successfully.


Typical Grandmother


Very old Kurdish Lady

I hope we look into our passed with more honesty, and start appreciating everything about it, with both criticism and respect. We should not be ashamed of it, only because a few cultural engineers say “tattooing is wrong.” It’s not and it’s one more thing that enriches the Kurdish culture. Meanwhile I will be looking for new tattoo designs;I hope I can find some good Kurdish ones.


7 thoughts on “Our Tattoos, My Grandmothers a gangster: Kurdish Tattooing tradition

  1. Pingback: Our Tattoos, My Grandmothers a gangster: Kurdish Tattooing tradition | kurdz

  2. Thanks for this very interesting article. In the West we do not know much about the Kurds and I’m happy to learn more things about this ancient people.
    Sorry for my bad English and good luck to a free Kurdistan!
    Lisa, from Italy

  3. hi there, l am a anrtist painter and l would be interested in painitng some of the photos of old ladys with tatoos u get on your site. would it be possible?, l’d rather not have issues with copyright.

  4. Great article! I am an Iranian American and found this after my son asked if tattooing existed in the Persian culture. I suspected if it did, the Kurds would be a good place to start. Thank you for your photos as well!

  5. Very interesting! Since I saw a Kurdish woman with tattos all over her face I was really curious about it. Thanks!
    Love from Turkey

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