Famed Kurdish mathematician tops world thinkers list

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Caucher Birkar, a 41-year old Kurd who rose to fame for winning the prestigious Fields Medal in 2018, has now gone on to top Prospect Magazine’s 50 world thinkers list this Tuesday, with more than half of the total vote.

Birkar was announced the winner in a special supplement containing extended profiles of the top ten on the list.

According to the publication, Birkar won by a landslide, getting more than half the total vote.

“Judging by the comments we received from his fans—many in Kurdish—it seems likely he tapped into support from that part of the world. No one ever said online polls were as rigorous as maths,” the magazine said.

Prospect’s Tom Clark wrote in an interview with Birkar that “the runaway winner was a thinker of a different sort”.

“It’s hugely satisfying to see work of pure thought honoured in this way—and doubly so because this is a Fields Medal winner with quite a backstory,” he said.

Birkar is a Kurd from Iran, Clark pointed out, “one of four states that plays home to the stateless Kurdish people, and one where the traditional answer to their national aspirations has been an iron fist.”

Birkar was born in Mariwan in Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhilat) in 1978. The mathematician sought asylum in the United Kingdom in 2000 and went on to become a professor at Cambridge University.

In 2018, Birkar was awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, also known as the Nobel Prize for Mathematics. The prize is presented every four years to candidates under 40 years old who are recognized for their significant contributions in the field of mathematics.

Earlier this year, Birkar was presented an honorary doctorate from Erbil’s Salahaddin University. He also received the People’s Award at a ceremony in London in June 2019.

Birkar told Prospect Magazine that “mathematics is part science, part art,” and often goes hand-in-hand with other interests.

He said that in his own case, these include “psychology, human history, natural history and music.” Birkar revealed he often does his “brain-stretching work while listening to western classical or Kurdish music.”

Birkar also said that some still think of an intellectual as “someone working in literature,” and “struggle to digest the idea that a mathematician can be a top thinker.”

In Kurdish, however, it transpires that “Birkar” doesn’t just mean “mathematician”—it also means “thinker.”

Editing by Nadia Riva