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As I referred to in earlier posts, the regions of the Ottoman Empire where modern day Iraqi Kurdistan would lie were divided up between three major principalities. These principalities often consisted of a noble who was recognized by the Sultan and was responsible for maintaining the loyalty of the tribes within the principality. These relationships between the tribes were often volatile and prone to fighting, which was exploited both by the principality’s rivals as well as the Ottoman’s themselves in vying for political influence.

It was during this time that the tribal structure, at least in its form recognizable to modern Kurds, was solidified. Tribal chieftains controlled swathes of land on which peasants worked on and were expected to give some share of to their chieftain at harvest; the chieftain would take these harvests and sell them at market. This was of course a feudal system which meant that the tribal chieftains often ended up much more powerful and lived more comfortably than their peasants, and enjoyed close relationships with the local clergy.

The leaders of the emirates in Iraq were often from a tribal group, though had been elevated by recognition from the Ottoman Sultan as to their ranks and privileges. Kurdish emirates were semi-autonomous in the respect that they were not sending as much taxes and tributes back to the Sultan and were allowed to raise taxes of their own. Most of these princes often sent their families to Istanbul for education, and it was not uncommon for the children of these nobles to enter into the Imperial Army or civil service of the Ottoman Empire. The principalities were also able to host all manner of artists to create commissioned works, which would provide some cultural artifacts for Kurds to rediscover later on.

Kurds were not alone in the region of course, and true to typical imperial administration, it was not uncommon for the Sultan to utilize minority groups in the region, such as the Christians and Yezidi, to further their own aims against the local princes. This would unfortunately lead to one-sided battles where the Kurdish princes would overrun and massacre these groups in periods of chaos, particularly in the early 1800s as the days of the emirates began to dawn.

The Emirate of Badinian occupied roughly what is the Duhok Governorate in Iraq, with its capital at Amedi. Like other Emirates, Badinan relied on trade caravans traveling through their region, and often took the opportunity to levy their own taxes on those caravans. Badinan would also lend its name to an alternate term for the Kurmanji dialect, often among Kurds in modern-day Iraq, since, as opposed to the other emirates in the region, the nobles used Kurmanji in their administration. This emirate also held control of Zakho, Duhok, and possibly what is now Akre (as Akre as a formal city was not founded until the 1870s). Of all teh Emirates in Iraq, Badinian was probably the smallest.

City of Amedi, Iraqi Kurdistan

The Soran Emirate occupied what is now the Arbil Governorate, and held its capital in Rawanduz, north of Arbil. I have placed the correct location of Rawanduz on the map link- the city marked as Rawanduz in Google Maps and elsewhere is actually Diana, Iraq. Rawanduz itself was located on a hill overlooking the valley where Diana was located, near the Gali Ali Bec canyon. Of all the ‘noble’ cities, Rawanduz was probably the most well-known and developed during much of the medieval period. The Soran Emirate also produced two of the better known Kurdish historical figures, the female ruler Khanzad and Mir Muhammad, the latter I will get into in the next post. Rawanduz was a defensible position much like Amedi, but was bolstered by the presence of the canyon which created a bottleneck for any potential threats. The Soran Emirate did not control Arbil/ Hawler, which was rather more directly under the control of the Ottomans.

Rawanduz on top of its hill

The third of the emirates was Baban, whose borders lie within what is now the Sulaymaniyah Governorate of Iraq. Besides the usual scuffles with neighboring principalities, the Baban Princes had a notably strong rivalry with the Ardalan Principality within Iran, one of the few if not only Kurdish kingdoms remaining in Iran. The predecessors to the Baban princes ruled over a region called Qalachwalan (maybe around here) which had been a major area of conflict between Ottoman and Iranian forces during their wars in the 16th century. As a reward for their siding with the Ottomans, the Baban princes secured recognition of nobility and were awarded the land. The most notable contribution of the Baban princes would be during the rule of Ibrahim Pasha when construction on the city of Sulaymaniyah began, meant to be a demonstration of the Baban prince’s power and wealth. Sulaymaniyah would be completed by his successors, growing to become a powerful city. Owing to its nature as a genuinely ‘Kurdish’ city, Sulaymaniyah would be the site of Kurdish intellectuals and nationalism for many decades afterwards. The Baban Emirate also controlled Kirkuk, Koi Sanjaq,


The end of the Kurdish principalities in Iraq, as with those in Turkey, began in the 1800s as reforms in the empire began a centralization drive. This meant the end of semi-autonomous arrangements such as those with Kurdish tribal leaders, and it was during this time major Kurdish resistance to the Ottomans began. By 1850 with the surrender of the Baban Prince to Imperial forces, the major Kurdish principlaities in Iraq ceased to exist, and were later rolled into the Mosul Vilayet that was created in 1878 from the reorganization of the Empire from administrative reforms beginning in the 1860s.

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