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Shivan Perwer’s song “Yezdan Sher Beg”

Yezdan Sher (sometimes rendered as Yezdansher, Yezdin Ser, Ezdin Ser, Ezdin Ser Beg, etc.), led what could be seen as a swan song of revolts initiated from Kurdish princes. In my last post about Bedrkhan, the Botan Emirate fought against the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Bedrkhan, and were beaten by the brutal Ottoman expedition sent against him.

After the fall of Badrkhan in the late 1840s, Yezdan Sher had reign over the remains of the Botan Emirate. Yezdan Sher would enter into direct conflict with the Ottoman Empire in the 1850s, when yet another war with the Russian Empire began.

There are a number of wars that occurred between the Ottoman and Russian Empires in the 19th century, and these wars often had such an effect on the Ottoman Empire to cause instability and provide an opening for attempts to assert greater independence from Istanbul. Like his uncle had down with Ottoman disarray with the revolt of Muhammad Ali (which Mir Kor had also taken advantage of), Yezdan Sher also took advantage of this weakness from the Ottoman Empire. (Un)fortunately for Yezdan Sher, the particular conflict he would rise up was one that would involve powers beyond Russia and Turkey- the year of 1855 was also in the middle of the Crimean War.

The Crimean War saw the conflict between the Ottoman and Russian Empires escalate into one that resulted in the intervention of the British, French, and various other European powers on the side of the Ottomans in order to check Russian expansion and growing strength of the Tsar. In the west, the study of the Crimean War highlights the importance of logistics and tactics, as well as the introduction of various technological advancements. More importantly, it was one of the first wars that received extensive coverage in international press, as well as some of the subject of early photographs. Unfortunately for those interested in what Kurds were doing such treatment was not applied in the events of Yezdan Sher or the front between Russia and Turkey in the Caucasus.

At any rate, the demands the war took on the Ottoman Empire was enough to cause the military to move many garrisons in the area to the frontlines. The vacuum this created resulted in Yezdan Sher to rise up and rally some 2,000 men to his side, where he ejected the Ottoman-appointed governor of Bitlis. As I discussed before, Bitlis was the home of one of the great Kurdish principalities which had sided with Badrkhan in his revolt, only to be destroyed as the Ottomans crushed the old polity. The defeat of an Ottoman garrison rallied Kurdish people to Yezdan Sher’s banner. He marched on garrisons in Siirt, where the Ottoman garrison in the Kurdish region was based; the fall of the garrison (defended by forces from both Siirt and the Baghdad Wali) saw Yezdan Sher come into the possession of arms which enabled him to further his campaign. The size of Yezdan Sher’s forces swelled to 100,000 strong according to some estimates, and had even begun to threaten the major cities of Mosul and Baghdad. Jazira too, the same city he had abandoned before, now was under his control. Much of Ottoman Kurdistan had become unstable and Yezdan Sher was proving to be trouble some for the Ottoman authorities.

A portion of a foreign events section from the New York Daily Times (now the New York Times), on April 14th, 1855. The paper summarizes some foreign events dispatches from mid-February that it has received. The “rebel Kurds” here undoubtedly refer to Yezdan Sher himself as he moved against Mosul. From Proquest Historical Newspapers database.

Another issue of the New York Daily Times in April 1855. This recounts some dispatches shortly after the previous one, where it refers to Kurdistan in “a state of revolt”. “Schamyl” is Imam Shamil, a Muslim leader during their war against Russia in the Caucasus. From Proquest Historical Newspapers database.

From an article in The Independent (a Boston paper) referring to the instability in Ottoman Kurdistan. The “Kurdish Chieftain” is of course Yezdan Sher- the paper naturally brings up the events of the Badrkhan revolt and concerns itself more with the Christians in the region. It is worth noting the paper’s low account of the Ottoman inability to respond to the insurrection. From Proquest Historical Newspapers.

A more detailed account of the revolt by The Independent (Boston paper). It refers to a battle where Ottoman forces defeated Yezdan Sher. The Ottomans of course rarely disclosed defeats but rather victories in battle; the paper even seemingly thinks the revolt is over. It is worth noting that this is one of the few texts that refers to Yezdan Sher in name, along with a tribal ally. From Proquest Historical Newspapers.

For his part Yezdan Sher is believed to have attempted to move himself in league with the Russian Empire, which was fighting in the north in the Bayazid province (which also was home to a good number of Kurds who were in turn fighting the Russians for the Ottoman Empire). Due to the distance and separation between Yezdan Sher in essentially what is the modern-day border region of Turkey and Iraq, such requests was not recognized by the Russian Empire. To the European powers who intervened on the side of the Ottoman Empire, Yezdan Sher could prove to be troublesome. The Russian Empire’s interests in Eastern Anatolia, more specifically Armenia and Kurdistan, could be advanced by a pro-Russian kingdom under the control of Yezdan Sher. With Ottoman armies fighting a pitched war against the Russians along its Caucasus frontier, it threatened to cause further problems for the Ottoman Empire which would not be beneficial to their difficult struggle against Russia in the Crimea and elsewhere.

A response to Yezdan Sher’s rebellion could not be dealt with by the Ottomans beyond a few inconclusive battles, which they had presented as major victories to the press. In reality Yezdan Sher’s strength was such that he had controlled the plains north of Baghdad right up to Lake Van and even Diyarbakir/Amed, and the Ottoman Empire was unable to breakthrough this due to much of their forces tied up in other fronts with the Russian Empire. It was only until the winter of 1855 when Ottoman forces had a reprieve when the fighting entered a lull. Now, the Ottoman Empire and its allies could focus its attention on removing an internal problem in the Ottoman Empire. A direct intervention was decided against, and rather a more ‘diplomatic’, if not deceitful, approach was decided upon. The British Emissary to the Ottomans, Nimrod Rassam, a Christian based out of Mosul, was dispatched with resources to neutralize allies of Yezdan Sher. For Yezdan Sher himself, Rassam promised an audience with the Imperial Court in Istanbul to negotiate a Kurdish state. Yezdan Sher could be seen as naive for seeing such an offer seriously and at face value. For his part, Yezdan Sher had not received any responses from the Russians, and seeing how the Greeks and Egyptians relied on European support against the Ottomans, had thought this was the next approach.

And so Yezdan Sher went with Rassam to Istanbul. Instead of the conference he thought he would get, he was promptly apprehended and imprisoned, where he would die later. Kurdish forces who were told to lay down arms by Rassam did so and ended their revolt. Those who continued ended up as brigands until they too did not become a threat.

Yezdan Sher was indeed the last of the Kurdish ‘princes’ to launch an insurrection. From this point forward, Kurdish culture had returned back to the tribal level which meant a greater influence of religion in their viewpoints, rather than the more accepting and larger worldview of the princes.

Source: A People Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan– The Kurds under the Ottoman Empire Yezdan Sher. Nizam Kendal, Gérard Chaliand.

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