Bedrkhan (also written as Badrkhan, Badirkhan, Bader Khan, Baderxan, and so many other ways), a name which elicits different responses from people. For most people in the world it is virtually unknown. Among Kurds though, the name is more well-known, one shrouded in myth though rooted in history, and among others a name of evil and hatred.
Who was Badrkhan? Wikipedia is not too helpful in this regard, only telling the reader that he was a lord of the Botan Emirate, and then pointing to an article going in depth about his massacres of the Christians. This is problematic of many Kurdish-related articles due to there being few ‘neutral’ sources on the Kurdish matter (and those few that are around are discounted as being too pro-Kurdish), while more ‘neutral’ sources tend to derive from uneven treatments of the region that is wholly sympathetic to the christian experience in the Middle-East.
What is known is that Badrkhan ascended to the throne at an early age, sometimes reported to be 18 years old. The rulers of Botan had long been known to be educated and “tolerant” (for the most part), and Badrkhan followed in that tradition. The picture painted here is in sharp contrast to the more brutal one encouraged elsewhere.
It may be recalled that Badrkhan was around in the same time that Mir Kor launched his insurrection against Ottoman authority in his attempt to gain more power among the Kurdish principalities (you can read that up on the post regarding Mir Muhammad). Indeed Badrkhan himself has to face the possibility of conflict with Mir Kor (and in some sources this was said to be the case), but ultimately the two powers settled on a ceasefire. It’s been speculated as to why Badrkhan never joined forces with Mir Kor- the forces Botan and Soran commanded could have been enough to put up good resistance to the Empire. Ultimately it came down to Badrkhan himself, who, understandably, was looking out for his own advancements and would not see himself as beneath Mir Kor.
It seems that Badrkhan was careful to not incur the wrath of the Ottoman Empire, not going in rebellion against the empire and thus avoiding the effects of Raschid Pasha’s campaign in the mid-1830s when the Soran rebellion was being put down. Badrkhan had already made his strength known by pushing his rivals around and making them acknowledge his rule. Like Mir Kor, Badrkhan’s rule began to take the shape of a centralized monarchy rather than a tribal confederation. Of note was Badrkhan’s embrace of Islam, one that he used to force Yezidi tribes to convert, who were then brought into his court as he saw them as more easily managed than his usual retainers.
Badrkhan watched as the provinces around him began to collapse. The Emirates of Soran, Badhinan, and Baban were significantly weakened from Mir Kor’s revolt. The neighboring Hakkari Emirate, long being less strong than its neighbors, was wrought with chaos as tribal chieftains fought one another, and Yezidi and Christian chieftains began to assert their independence from their traditional overlords. With the Ottoman Empire unable to maintain order and fending off advances from an upstart Egypt, the fringes of its empire began to disintegrate.
It is here Badrkhan made his first moves against his rivals, but it would be in neighboring Hakkari where his claim to fame (or infamy, depending on how you see it) would come. Badrkhan was working with the Ottoman Empire during this period, having been relied upon to raise soldiers to fight against the Egyptians in yet another war (what is now commonly called the Second Turko-Egyptian War). On June 24, 1839, the Ottoman military faced a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Egyptians in Nezib, ending in a rout that created a temporary power vacuum in the eastern parts of the empire. Nezib was close to what is now modern-day Gaziantep, also nearby Badrkhan’s capital at Jazira (Cizre). This provided Badrkhan with the opportunity to flex his authority and begin asserting himself on the other towns. And so his attention turned to Hakkari to the east.
Hakkari was then undergoing a crisis between two notables- the Mir Nur Allah Beg and Suleiman Beg, who was deposed by Nur Allah Beg. Tribes took sides in this conflict, but more importantly it was the Christian community who also took sides. Hakkari had been unique due to the strength of the Nestorian tribes there, including Mar Shinum (the patriarch). There had been a rift between Nur Allah Beg and Mar Shinum, leading to the Mar Shinum to throw his support behind Suleiman Beg. Conversely, rival clerics to Mar Shinum threw their support behind Nur Allah Beg.
Why were the Christian loyalties divided here? From a materialist explanation, we can suggest there is a power struggle that even religious dogma could not resist. There is little attention devoted to the topic- indeed the various editors responsible wikipedia article on the massacres of Badrkhan do not provide any background as to what was occurring with the Christians at this time within the Ottoman Empire and why there had been such divisions emerging between the Christian and Muslim tribes.
The Ottoman Empire by the 1800s was in full decline, and foreign powers were beginning to interfere more and more with its domestic politics, both from within the Sultan’s court and through the disparate Christian groups that existed in the empire. During this time rival missionaries from the various nations of Europe entered in full force into the Christian settlements of the Ottoman Empire, proselytizing aggressively among the Christian tribes and leaders who lived there. On a side note, it would appear that the Anglican church in the UK had been courting Mar Shinum, while their American counterparts had been working among his rivals.
This had the effect of irreversibly disrupting the normal status quo among the people. Tribes who had formerly lived with one another in peace now accused their Christian neighbors of subverting the Caliph’s rule, and so the seeds of mistrust were sown. Notably in 1837 during Raschid Pasha’s campaign through the region as he marched against the princes at Amedi in Badhinan, Mar Shinum had sent aid to the prince there, only to back off at the last minute out of encouragement from the Mosul Beg. This led to distrust between Nur Allah Beg over whether or not Mar Shinum would too abandon him. And in time, he did, favoring Suleiman’s (rightful) place on the throne.
Chaos had begun to spread in Hakkari uncontrollably, and Badrkhan saw his opportunity to finally assert his strength there where it had previously been repulsed by then the united Christian and Muslim tribes there. Now Nur Allah Beg was moved to call upon the stronger Botan Emirate for aid, and Badrkhan responded. On their side would be friendly Muslim tribes, as well as Christian groups who were opposed to Mar Shinum, notably the Tkhuma tribe from the Tiyari confederation/region in Hakkari. Despite this, the conflict is still whittled down into Badr Khan killing all Christians. But I digress.
This was a classic power struggle- though some might try to paint it as simply a case of Muslims hating Christians, the reality was much more complex. It can not be denied though that during his campaigns against the Christians in 1843 and 1846, Badrkhan’s forces killed hundreds if not thousands of Christians in the region who were fighting against Nur Allah Beg. In the second invasion, Badrkhan turned against the Christians who were formerly allied to him after they quit supporting him and paying taxes and providing other material, possibly due to missionary influence. International media would take notice of these killings and European audiences were treated to sensationalist accounts of Badrkhan’s rampage against the Nestorian tribes and it moved the governments of those countries to respond to their population’s demands. More importantly, it provided them with yet more leverage to use against the weakening Ottoman Empire.
These accounts were very sensationalized, as one can expect from media coverage of foreign events. Regardless, the Ottoman Empire did get enough pressure from overseas to muster an army to respond to Badrkhan’s “massacres”. It is important to note in this respect though that even when the Ottoman Empire was well aware of the first massacres, they did not respond to them. In a way they had given Badrkhan room to do so in order to weaken the Nestorian tribes; the inevitable European outcry would then present the opportunity for the Ottomans to kill two birds with one stone- cutting into what were two very troublesome groups for the empire.
By this point Badrkhan’s revolt and massacres had encouraged other chieftains to join with him, notably the rulers of Bitlis, Mukus, and several tribes in the Hakkari and Van region. Like Mir Kor before him, the rebellion was beginning to get to such a point that the Ottoman Empire could not afford to ignore it any longer. The aspect of intervening to stop a massacre would be useful for its justifications in destroying the emirs strength in the east and the beginning of centralization later on.
The first force sent against Badrkhan was defeated, further encouraging Badrkhan to celebrate his power and independence from Istanbul, supposedly even minting coins in his name. The second invasion force however was much larger and managed to eject Badrkhan and his forces from the capital at Jazira. The Ottomans were able to beat out the Botan Emirate both by numbers and being able to surround and cut off its source of supplies.
He later went through an eight month siege at a nearby fortress at Eruh/Dihe, north of Jazira, but soon capitulated. Badrkhan, along with his family, was sent into exile first at Varna in Ottoman Bulgaria, and later to the island of Crete. He would finally be confined in Damascus later on, where he died in 1868. His children would however go on to do important things- indeed the Badrkhan name would come up many times in the Kurdish struggle, which I will get to later.
Soon afterwards the campaign against Badrkhan evolved into a larger one that would essentially end the Kurdish emirates. His allies in Van were put down and the leader there, Khan Mahmud of Mukus, was captured and later killed from torture. In Bitlis, Sharif Beg was defeated and put into exile. Nur Allah Beg, the Mir of Hakkari who had called on Badrkhan in the first place, was exiled. Other princes in the region were eventually made to surrender to the Empire as it set out to end the ‘instability’ in the region, ending with the Baban Emirate at Sulaymaniyah, where it stood down without a fight in 1850. Beginning with the Baban revolt of Abdurrahman Pasha at the opening of the 18th century, the Ottoman attempts to assert themselves finally over the Kurdish kingdoms took 40 years. Of note would be the consequences of missionary activity here. Armenian groups from this point forward would continue to strengthen their ties with the Russian Empire, which would exacerbate tensions for sometime between them and their Kurdish neighbors, leading to massacres in the 1890s and the genocide in World War I.
It was not an effective end of trouble from the Kurds though, for the Ottomans would struggle to find a substitute for the Emirates that would ensure the loyalty of Kurdish tribes to the Sultan. By then, it would already be too late.