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With Newroz over, we are now back in the realm of history. My next area following the Kurdish emirates in modern day Iraq was to move onto those in Anatolia. The emirates here also contributed their own share of culture and revolts against the Ottoman Empire as it embarked on administrative reforms and centralization. As a reminder, here’s the map of Kurdish emirates once again.

Kurdish Emirates at the beginning of the 1800s

Like the ones in Iraq, the Emirates often existed in such a way that the actual, recognized ‘Emir’ held real little power, with tribal chiefs holding more of the actual power in the sense of land holdings and fighters. This was no the case in all of the Emirates, and certain emirates went through periods of strength and power where Kurdish culture was able to flourish, if only briefly. These all existed in what is present day Eastern Turkey, on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire’s boundary with the Iranian and Russian states. It was more or less contiguous with the areas considered to be Northern Kurdistan.

The Emirate of Bitlis produced some fine works of art, the notable example coming from Sharaf Khan Bidlisi and his seminal work on Kurdish folkore and history Sharafnama. Sharaf Khan was the ruler of the Bitlis Emirate as his name indicates, and during his reign eh produced a great deal of poetry and writings, including Sharafnama, which gave an insight into Kurdish history and political forces at that time. Sharafkhan wrote his works in Farsi, which was considered to be among the languages more appropriate for ‘high culture’ in the region, owing to Iran’s former control of eastern Anatolia. It may be recalled that about this time in the 16th century Iran was engaged in many wars with the Ottomans, and this impacted the allegiances of Kurdish chiefs who chose to switch to the Ottomans. Indeed Sharaf Khan’s father himself had been exiled to Iran and served in their court, only to later return during the reign of another Ottoman sultan who was more favorable to them.

A rendition of Sharaf Khan Bidlisi

The Bitlis Emirate was renown for its patronage of the arts, a rarity among the Kurdish groups at the time. With the reputation set up by Sharaf Khan himself, his successors would continue to requisition poetry and arts in the royal circles at Bitlis.

The other important emirate was that of Botan, the domain of the eminent Badr Khan family. The principality was based in what is now Cizre, then known as Jazira ibn Umar. The Botan Emirate, among other things, occupied an important position along the Ottoman Empire’s routes into its Mesoptamian provinces. The Bedr Khans are a well known family in Kurdish history, whose impacts even lasted into the early part of the 20th century. Like in Bitlis, they were renown for their administration and culture, and had wielded strength unheard of among the Kurdish emirs. The esteemed Kurdish poet, Ahmad Xani, was from Botan and wrote his famous “Mem u Zin” while living there. Badr Khan’s war with the Ottomans was essentially the ‘last stand’ of the Kurdish Emirs after the centralization began in earnest following the end of Mir Kor’s revolt. I will discuss more about Badr Khan in the future, information on whom is scarce (on Wikipedia for instance, a larger article is devoted to Badr Khan’s ‘massacres’ against Christians than the actual page about Badr Khan).

As with most of Kurdish history in the area, many remnants and artifacts of these emirates were lost to time, either due to the government’s aggressive policies in nation-building to solidify Turkish identity or due to the decay of the groups there. Even Sharafnama was not entirely reclaimed until well into the late 1800s and 1900s. One such example is that of the Badr Khan’s residence in Botan, their castle on the banks of the Euphrates often rendered as “Birca Belek”, or the White Castle. Few of it remains today.

The remains of the castle is the striped black-white structure in the middle.

Another view of the remains of the castle from the Euphrates.

Detail of the masonry on the remains of the castle

One of the remaining structures

It is readily apparent that the castle is no longer that- a castle. What happened? This was one of the examples of the victims of Turkey’s aggressive policies in the early 1900s in its foundation to remove traces of Kurdish identity, particularly those that indicated ‘civilization’ and sophistication. Birca Belek was more or less pulverized, with its remains in fact being used as a Turkish military garrison (which can be seen from the fencing, targets, and the large Turkish flag) to add insult to injury. In 1905 more of the castle’s remains could be seen:

1905, Birca Belek

That is vastly different from the modern day photo, where much of the structure had disappeared and been reclaimed by the wilderness or had been destroyed to make way for the garrison. Such is the difficulty with Kurdish history, with much of its artifacts and historical structures having been destroyed by its conquerors or forgotten over time. As another side note, Cizre was also the birthplace of Mohamad Arif, the well-known folk singer.

What about the other Emirates that the map has? Truth be told, there is not much on them. Bayazid was near the Russian border and accordingly served as a buffer of sorts near the Ararat mountains to harry invasions from the Caucasus. These Emirates often got the brunt of the Russian invasion force during the various Ottoman-Russian wars of the time, some of which even reached as far as Rawanduz.

Dozhik is disjointed from the rest of the emirates, but is located where Dersim is, now known as Tunceli, which was formerly Mameki or Kalan depending on the time period. The people living in this province were mostly Alevi Shi’a, belonging to Zaza Kurds. This different population afforded the local leaders a degree of autonomy from the capital.

Hakkari still lives on as a province name much like Bitlis, though its relative standing compared to other emirates was lower, with the Mir wielding less power than his neighbors. Hakkari’s politics was a complex web of tribal networks, Christian and Muslim, which impeded the formation of a central authority. Instability in this province in the 1830s promoted the beginning of Badr Khan’s demise.

I’m not sure what ‘Milan’ was, but its indicated capital of Wiranshehir (transliterated from Kurdish) is more commonly known as Viranşehir in Turkey, rendered as Wêranşar in Kurdish, in the Şanlıurfa Province or Urfa.

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