Where possible I have linked the source of the image. Just click on the image to be taken there.
I have an update incoming, but I thought it would be nice to share this picture of the Kelashin Stele, an object dating back to the ancient Kingdom of Urartu. Urartu existed in roughly what is the Kurdish and Armenian regions of the Middle-East currently, that is in political terms Eastern Turkey, Northern Iraq, Northwestern Iran, and the Southern Caucasus during the years of 860 BC–590 BC. Urartu was conquered by the Median Empire in its expansion into the Middle East. Due to its presence in Kurdish regions, Urartu is often listed as one of the “indigenous” ancient groups that played a role in the ethnogenesis of the modern Kurdish people, along with Aryan groups and Islamic conquest.
Kelashin in Kurdish is a combination of two words. “Kel” can refer to a variety of things ranging from a tombstone to marker, but is generally understood to be treated with respect. “Shin” is blue, and refers to the dark hue of the stone the stele is made from. This is sometimes translated as a “Blue Holy Stone”, or at least as wikipedia puts it as.
The inscription is in both Urartian and Assyrian, and commemorates the conquest of an Assyrian city, Musasir, or Ardini in Urartian. The exact location of this city is speculated, but the Stele itself is located in an eponymous village in Iraqi Kurdistan on the border with Iran. You can view the region in google maps by clicking here. During the war against Iraq by the peshmerga in the 1980s, the Kelashin area was one of the routes used for peshmerga entering into the region. Many of them were familiar with the stele as a landmark, and did have their picture taken with as follows below.
The images that follow were taken by Dr. Mohamad Salah Gomah, who has chronicled Kurdish history with his photography, covering the 1960s through to the early part of the last decade, especially the activities of the peshmerga and the KDP.
Click on an image to enlarge it.
After Sheikh Ubeydullah’s downfall, Kurdish insurrections lessened in occurrence and were only limited to local outbreaks. The cost of rebellion had become too high for many residents, and few leaders emerged to expand the tensions with the government beyond local issues. Certain groups resorted to brigandry and resistance against the government, and caused harsh retaliation upon them. One such example was the Hamewand tribe that lives around Chamchamal, many of whom were deported to Ottoman Libya and Adana in 1889. Interestingly, even among those deported to Libya, they gradually made their way back to their ancestral homes over the next 10 years.
The Ottoman Empire however still struggled to find a substitute for the emirates they had disbanded to integrate the Kurds more effectively into the increasingly more unitary Empire. The Emirates, while not completely under the control of the Ottomans, at least afforded a degree of stability that the Ottomans could not achieve otherwise in its current, more unitary style of governance.
One solution was one that would be repeated for many decades afterwards, and had already been done before- co-opting Kurdish notables to help them in administrating the realm. The Ottoman Sultan at the time, Abdul Hamid II, ruled at a time when the Ottoman Empire was in deep decline, and further cemented its reputation as the “Sick Man of Europe” as it began to collapse from the Balkans and suffered internal insurrections. Abdul Hamid II sought a different approach with the ever troublesome Kurdish tribes by finding a way to incorporate them as partners rather than ruling over them.
Kurdish lords, encouraged by ties of a common religion, received important positions in the new order and indeed some were related to previous rebel leaders. Kendal Nezan provides several such examples in his contribution to “A People without a Country” on page 25- a son of Badirkhan, Bahri Bey, found himself as an assistant to the Sultan. Abdul Qadir, Ubeydullah’s son, was President of the Ottoman Senate in 1908 and later on the Ottoman Council of State (the ministries). Even the descendants of the Baban Emirate found ways to be accepted in the new order.
However, not all Kurds could feasibly be incorporated into the ruling structure without obviously upsetting the dominance that the government had over the region. Moreover, what could be done about the numerous smaller lords and notables? This issue was important for the Ottoman Empire to resolve as it was interwoven with their own grasp on their frontier regions.
The answer to this dilemma emerged from the the Ottoman Empire’s erstwhile enemies, the Russians. The Russian Empire, much like the Ottoman Empire, was filled with many ethnic and religious groups, and administration was (mostly) through a Russian-centric bureaucracy, much like the Turkish-centric one in the Ottoman Empire. For a long time the Russians had employed the Cossack Calvary units to help it keep order in its frontier regions along the Caucasus and Central Asia, granting them a great deal of autonomy in exchange for maintaining the Russian Empire’s territorial claims along the Ottoman border. The Ottoman Empire saw the need for a similar unit along its Russian border where Armenian rebellions were becoming more and more frequent, and so they sent off an edict in November 1890 announcing the formation of these special cavalry units. Taking their name from Abdul Hamid, the cavalry were known as the Hamidiye.
The Hamidiye drew people from various backgrounds in the Ottoman Empire, but it was distinguished by being one of the first organized Kurdish units within the Ottoman Empire. Kurds had served in the Ottoman military long before- they are known to have been deployed against Albanian insurrections in the 1800s and with other disturbances in the Balkans before that. The importance of the Hamidiye were that they were commanded and organized by Kurdish notables along tribal and family lines, and this meant by extension that for the first time Kurds were exposed to military tactics and protocol that they were not accustomed to. The exposure to these from their education played a role in fermenting Kurdish identity later down the road.
The Ottoman Empire used the Hamidiye in different occupations, but it was in the eastern parts of the Empire they got recognition internationally. As you might already guess though, this reputation was hardly desirable, and much like previous coverage of Kurdish issues at the time. Some examples follow:
The events take place in the 1890s, where the first major conflict between Armenian fighters (Dashnaks) and the Ottoman Empire took place, culminating in killings of thousands of civilians that foreshadowed the genocide that would take place 20 years later. The Hamidiye were utilized here, being the major force in the region, to fight against Armenian fighters who were believed to be supported by the Russian Empire. Here the Hamidiye showed another source of value to the Ottoman Empire- plausible deniability. As it had done before, the Ottoman authorities could blame these disturbances on local “brigands” rather than any policy of its own and distance itself from more unsavory policies.
The focus of the Hamidiye in this capacity ignores what other ways it affected Kurdish people. As I mentioned before, the exposure of Kurds to a more organized military structure and the education along with that played a major role in exposing a generation of Kurds to the liberal values and nationalism. Of course there were others who simply utilized this position for their own benefit, and indeed continued to benefit from a treacherous relationship with the later Republic in Ankara. At the same time though, there were others that would take their training to create a basis to Kurdish rebellions in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and onwards.
This being said, on the whole the Hamidiye were more or less following the whims of the Ottoman authorities, having been deployed not only to put down Armenian insurrections, but disturbances that occurred in Southern Kurdistan (modern day northern Iraq) as well as among the Kurds of Dersim and Arab tribes. The loyalty to their family and tribal units were matched only by their devotion to the Sultan due to his standing as the Caliph, which would have the consequence of hampering Kurdish identity from within the Empire. As such, the passionate calls for Kurdish self-determination often came from intellectuals either attempting to pursue reform from within the Ottoman administration, or those who had gone into exile such as the Badirkhans.
And no, this isn’t my birthday, but rather the birthday of a significant amount of people living in Southern Kurdistan/ Iraqi Kurdistan. While July 1st may have grabbed their attention due to the Euro 2012 Final (and man, the Italy fans must be pissed), for older Kurds who were born in Iraq, it was their birthday.
But how could July 1st be the birthday of so many Kurds? As a young child I did not give much thought as to why both my mother and father shared the same birthday, July 1st. I simply thought it was a coincidence and left it at that, and I would continue believing that until I saw that about every single one of my uncles and aunts were also born on July 1st.
I was probably 12 or so when I asked my father why they were all born on the same day. About this time I had begun to be aware of my Kurdish roots and exactly what it was my parents went through when I was in Iraq. My father explained to me then that they had all been registered that way in the Iraqi government. I didn’t give it much thought then, but as I learned more about the way Kurds had lived in Iraq, the reason for this became more clear. There was another aspect to this that involved the marginalized position Kurds occupied in Iraq since its creation.
When Iraq had began as a Kingdom, the central government mainly relied on forming close ties with the local notables more than providing any sort of services to the people beyond collecting taxes. Public education was nonexistent, and the isolation of people from the central government was probably the greatest in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where villagers tucked away in the sleepy countryside did not give much thought to the central government. As insurrections against Baghdad came and went, the people had become more distrustful of the authorities and avoided any interaction with them. Consequently, many Kurds went by unregistered and thus the government could always release very low figures of Kurdish population figures from those few in the cities like Mosul, Hawler, and Kirkuk that did bother to register.
If a Kurd registered with the government, they could risk many problems- if they were wanted by the authorities for participating in a revolt or otherwise fighting the government in some way, going through to register themselves and their family would have invited arrest. Other Kurds who may have been more nationalistic minded may have balked at the idea of registering themselves as a citizen of a nation that had oppressed and ignored their rights. Some had, in between the numerous revolts and the uprooting that caused, had their mind on more important matters. Ultimately, registering as a citizen brought little advantages to them, as they had seen little benefit from tax collection, no public schools, infrastructure development, no hospitals, nothing.
This trend carried on into the 1950s, where tensions between Kurdish liberation groups and the monarchy grew and many people did not trust the government which they had seen by that point as only interested in serving the needs of the British and the Hashemites. When the coup against the monarchy occurred on July 14th, 1958, a Republican government under the leadership of Colonel Abdul-Karim Qassim was created. In the years afterwards, even after the overthrow of Qassim and the reign of the Arif brothers in much of the 60s and the Ba’ath later on, the government attempted to register all Iraqi citizens, a matter they saw as important in creating a modern administration. Kurds who took up this offer found that they were, many times, unaware of where their birthday would be by the modern calendar. Westerners may take it for granted with the association around a birthday, but for many people outside of Europe and United States in those times it was not really important to get it down to a day as long as they remember when it occurred. As such most Kurds were aware of what year they were born in and roughly what season and sometimes month it was in- this was the way most Kurds recognized the passage of time. Others knew exactly what day they were born in, even by the western calendar reckoning, but this would not be taken into consideration. In the end, a Kurd was more concerned about the family they were born into and their ties to the land more than getting down their birth to a date.
When it came down to the government however, Kurds trying to declare what day they were born on was not important. To expedite the process of registering the hundreds of thousands of Kurds into public record, the government had made everyone born on July 1st. There may have been other “default” days used, but July 1st is the one I am aware of. Consequently whole generations of Kurds found themselves with the same day of birth as a result of the government’s desire to quickly register the large amount of Kurds.
There could be another angle here that once again the Iraqi government had manage to take ownership of yet another aspect of a Kurd’s identity. It would be a common theme starting from the days of the monarchy for any regime in Baghdad to view Kurds as its rightful subjects and nothing more.
Those Kurds that eventually emigrated out of Iraq in the coming years would on their arrival to their new homes in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere, would show from their identification that they were born in July 1st. Few bothered changing this and as a result many Iraqi Kurds who emigrated out of Iraq before the 1980s tend to share the same birthday. It had almost become an inside joke among the Iraqi Kurd diaspora communities about the many birthdays on July 1st, and even large cakes were made for this occasion. It was interesting to see what had essentially been a cold decision by the Iraqi bureaucracy into another way Kurds could unite around a common experience of oppression, one of many at least.
I’m currently writing up the next installment here, concerning the formation of the Hamidye cavalry and the years before the first World War. I saw this story on BBC- rare a Kurdish story ends up on sources outside the Middle-East- which drives home the sheer ridiculousness of the Turkish criminal system. I won’t comment any further because I think you’ll get the idea once you read it:
Turkey: Kurd with lemon accused of supporting terror
A Turkish prosecutor has demanded that a Kurdish man who is deaf, illiterate and unable to speak be jailed for 25 years for supporting terrorism.
Possession of a half-lemon was cited as evidence against Mehmet Tahir Ilhan. Lemon can ease the effects of tear gas.
Mr Ilhan is charged with making propaganda for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and with taking part in an illegal organisation.
Mr Ilhan, a bazaar porter from the city of Mersin, denies the charges.
Using sign language at a hearing in the south-eastern city of Adana, he said he had got caught up in a violent pro-Kurdish demonstration.
Under Turkey’s anti-terrorism law it is an offence to show any sign of support for the PKK.
The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul says Turkey’s judiciary often administers harsh penalties on bafflingly slight evidence.
However, even by Turkish standards, this case is extraordinary, he says.
If Mr Ilhan is found guilty, the court is expected to pass a sentence close to the 25 years that the prosecutor has asked for.
Over the past 18 months, hundreds of Kurdish activists, journalists and politicians have been detained under anti-terrorism legislation.
The use of Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws has been widely criticised. The Council of Europe said it was having a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech.
Our correspondent says the Turkish government is trying to encourage Kurdish moderates with such concessions as Kurdish language classes in school, while at the same time isolating the more hard-line PKK members.
But the sometimes incomprehensible actions of its judiciary will inevitably undermine such efforts, he adds.
Participating in Kurdish demonstrations, particularly those that get into confrontations with police, creates a pretext for police to throw people into jail for supporting “terrorism”. Many people in Kurdish areas of Turkey have fallen to this in the past year, despite the government’s claims of making an “opening” to Kurds. No one is free from this- even children. The evidence thrown in later, like this brother’s lemon, just adds to the ridiculous nature of the oppression Kurds face in Turkey. More idiotic is the world’s continued silence towards the Kurdish issue.
In the years that followed the defeats of Badrkhan and Yezdan Sher, the Kurdish regions of the Ottoman Empire experienced a profound change in their social structures. The tribes, while previously already powerful, were checked by the presence of the Mirs of the various Emirates in the kingdom. Badrkhan’s defeat marked the beginning of the end of the Kurdish emirates, the last holdout being Baban’s which quietly ended in 1850. As such, the tribes now began to occupy an increasingly more important position in Kurdish culture, some being swelled by the remnants of the regional Mir’s families taking prominence in their circles.
The most prominent feature of many of the tribes was their religiosity. Many tribes were part of Naqshbandi circles, Sufi orders, in which the tribal chieftains were both spiritual and political leaders in their localities. One such figure was Sheikh Ubeydullah of Nehri, sometimes spelled as Obeidullah or erroneously as Sheikh Abdullah, hailing from the eponymous Nehri (renamed Baglar by the Turkish state) in Şemdinli, Hakkari province of Turkey. Ubeydullah’s family were, like other tribes and notables in the Ottoman Empire, large landowners who had often held strong relations with the Sultan- so long as their economic interests were maintained of course. The Nehri cheiftans for their part were known for their tobacco, but their Naqshbandi circle also was fairly strong with adherents not just from their local region but from tribes in Mesopotamia and even Iran.
The Kurdish regions in the Ottoman Empire also suffered, like the other parts of the Empire, from warfare and large scale famines which killed thousands of people. The most notable disorders occurred in the 1870s where rather strong famines led Kurds and other citizens to resort to banditry to survive from bad crop failures. Indeed such disorders were rampant enough to even reach the attention of western papers, though true to fashion they were once again only worried with the fate of Armenians, Assyrians, and other Christian groups in the Empire.
The most notable event during this time was yet another war between the Ottoman and Russian Empire from 1877 to 1878. It may be recalled that earlier, Yezdan Sher took advantage of an earlier Russo-Turkish conflict (the Crimean War) during his uprising in 1855. The war would also provide Sheikh Ubeydullah with his own opening, but unlike Badirkhan and Yezdan Sher before him, he would do it in the aftermath of such a conflict rather than in the middle of it.
The war had a profound effect on the Ottoman Empire. The devastation the Russian army did on the Ottoman military killed many conscripts which left a void in many villages. Russian assaults from the Caucasus targeted the Ottoman territories around Kars and Beyazid (Bazîd in Kurdish, was also the site of a Bazîd Emirate) wreaked havoc on the people living there. Russia, under pressure from the British, accepted a peace treaty from the Ottoman Empire, which while spared the Ottomans from a more devastating defeat, was humiliating nonetheless.
The Ottoman influence in the Balkans was virtually eliminated as it had to recognize the independence of Bulgaria and Romania as part of its peace agreements with the Russian Empire. The city of Kars and its vicinity was ceded to the Russian Empire, and would remain under occupation by the Russians until after World War I in the treaty of friendship between the young Turkish republic and the Soviet Union. The war’s devastation on the local economy, which was already on top of an ongoing famine, certainly did not help things.
Sheikh Ubeydullah used his considerable tribal connections and religious influence to form a core of rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. The widespread famine and instability as local officials took extreme measures to exploit local villagers. It is into this climate that Sheikh Ubeydullah emerged and exploited to raise the call for rebellion.
As the selection from the newspaper above indicates, Ubeydullah was already beginning to cause problems in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans, not willing to show a further sign of weakness after its defeat, announced that there was no problem and that they had taken care of the insurrection. Once again the Ottomans can not hide the insurrection for too long, and a month later in the New York Times this sensational account appears:
And yet again, the Ottomans extol their false victory some days later.
Meanwhile, the famine continued in Kurdish regions, apparently will into 1880.
One thing that distinguished Ubeydullah from previous uprisings was, besides his religious background, his understanding that Kurds constituted a distinct group of people in the Ottoman Empire. In his correspondence with a missionary, Sheikh Ubeydullah explicitly mentions the Kurdish people:
“The Kurdish nation, consisting of more than 500,000 families is a people apart. Their religion is different, and their laws and customs distinct…. We are also a nation apart. We want our affairs to be in our hands, so that in the punishment of our own offenders we may be strong and independent, and have privileges like other nations…. This is our objective…. Otherwise, the whole of Kurdistan will take matter into their own hands, as they are unable to put up with these continual evil deeds and the oppression, which they suffer at the hands of the Persian and Ottoman governments.”
Interestingly, unlike what was seen with Mir Kor, Badirkhan, or Yezdan Sher, international press did not seem to be up in arms over harm directed against Christians, which as I’ve shown on previous occasions were often sensationalized for full effect in western press. Ubeydullah appears to have not targeted Christians as heavily, if at all, like his predecessors and indeed it seems some may have been friendly with him. At any rate, this did not seem to improve his image with westerners, unsurprisingly.
Ubeydullah hoped for a Kurdish state, one under his rule of course, which would be independent of both Persia and the Ottoman Empire. Like the Kurdish revolters before him, he wanted to replicate the success of Egypt in breaking away from Ottoman control, and felt that an outside European power would be the answer to this. To this end the United Kingdom looked into ways to support Ubeydullah’s revolt, more to destabilize the empire than to genuinely help Kurds though.
Ubeydullah was first supported by enemies of the Ottoman Empire, like the British, as he focused on the immediate vicinity of his land holdings. However, this ended once Ubeydullah’s raids turned east into the Persian Empire. The reasons for this essentially come down to the relative weakness of Iran and Ubeydullah’s own tit for tat with the Ottoman Empire. He had possibly hoped for the Sultan’s approval of attacking Iran, a long time regional rival. And in a way, it could once again kill two birds with one stone- the Iranians would get some instability, and the inevitable help it would receive from the Russians and other European powers would weaken the Iranians. The invasion of Iran began in the spring of 1880 and would take the world by surprise. Much as they had done in previous occasions, world powers called on the Ottoman Empire to act and reign in their “rebellious” Kurdish elements.
Ubeydullah’s invasion of Persia consisted of his followers, including close relatives like his son Abdul Qadir. The first invasion seemingly took the Iranian defenders by surprise, quickly overrunning settlements across the Zagros mountain in Kurdish populated areas, ultimately reaching both Urmia and Mahabad (Saublaq). So powerful was Ubeydullah’s support among the locals and from his own recruits that the Iranians had to muster all the strength they could get, including from foreign support through the British, to repulse Ubeydullah’s attack at Urmia.
Ubeydullah returned across the frontier to the Ottoman Empire, where he planned for yet another invasion of Iran to take place in the spring. Once word of this plotting reached foreign powers, they called on the Ottomans once again to take care of the problem. This time the Ottomans were more than willing- Ubeydullah had shown he had grown well beyond a nuisance they could redirect against Iran, and instead into one that could be just as problematic on its vulnerable eastern holdings too.
Ubeydullah’s second invasion of Iran in was planned for either the spring or summer of 1881, but never started. When he returned across the border, he set out immediately to instigate Kurds once more. The Ottomans, however, were not willing to stand by with a second invasion taking place that could excite their own Kurdish populations into rebellion Taking up an offer from the Sultan, Ubeydullah departed for the capital in the summer of 1881. Much like previous Kurdish leaders though, what he faced was not a treaty but his arrest. Ubeydullah was exiled to the Ottoman outpost in Mecca the same year, and his followers evaporated away. Collaborators in Iran were put to the sword and killed, while his own family’s holdings were unsurprisingly reduced and their power limited.
For the Ottomans, the long-term lesson from Ubeydullah’s revolt was that it was clear that the dissolution of the Emirates had resulted in many problems. At the height of Ubeydullah’s urpising, he commanded the loyality of tribes and people encompassing roughly the mountains areas of northern Iraq, Southeastern Turkey up to Diyarbakir in the west and Van in the north, and the Iranian settlements along the border. The Ottomans could not find an alternative to this structure to keep the loyalty of Kurdish chieftains who were still just as detached from the capital, if not more, since the beginning of centralization. A different patronage system would have to be developed, and it is here that the roots of the Hamidyie cavalry were started, which I will mention in depth later.
As for Ubeydullah, he did not live long in exile. Unlike Yezdan Sher whose final date of death I could not find, Ubeydullah is known to have died in exile in 1883 at Mecca. There are some newspapers, one of which I’ve attached below, that show that he died of typhus in November of 1883. With all the fanfare about his atrocities, there is surprisingly little said for Ubeydullah.
Ubeydullah’s legacy would live on as Kurds began to develop an understanding of their own cultural identity and their marginalized position in Ottoman society, continuing to act in the interests of all Kurds. Ubeydullah’s son, Abdulqadir, recognizing the importance of organizing all Kurds, participated in the reform-oriented Committee of Union and Progress with other Kurdish notables and was involved in the establishment what could be seen as the first Kurdish political party, Kürt Teavün ve Terakki Cemiyeti (translated both as the Society for the Mutual Aid and Progress of Kurdistan and Kurdish Society for Cooperation and Progress), initially as an interest group in Ottoman courts fighting for an autonomous Kurdistan. Abdulqadir himself participated in the Sheikh Said Uprising in Turkey in 1925, but died with the rest of the leaders of the revolt on the gallows.
In these days, Ubeydullah is not as well known among Kurds as he should be, but the name is familiar. His influence had enough of an effect for Mustafa Barzani to name his first born son after him, which was certainly the case among other Kurds too (though unfortunately Ubeydullah Barzani ended up staying with the Ba’ath after the 1975 uprising, and died under mysterious circumstances in Baghdad some years later).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I had felt bad that I did not include any pictures from Eastern Kurdistan, or the Kurdish areas in Iran which include the Kordestan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan (Urmia) provinces, as well as parts of Illam with Feyli Kurds. Kurds in Iran are usually given more leeway in the celebration, owing to the fact that it is deeply embedded in Iranian culture unlike in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq where the celebration did not have a direct parallel in the dominant cultures there. Direct cultural expression is still difficult, especially in ways that might be interpreted as ‘secessionist’ in nature. Kurds from Iran, especially in the towns along the border, will sometimes come to Southern Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) for celebration as it can sometimes allow for greater leeway and less chance of security forces intervening in a celebration in the off-chance something supportive of Kurdish autonomy can be seen.
At any rate, I saw a thread over on a Kurdish forum which gathered some pictures from Kurds in Iran celebrating Newroz. It’s nearly two weeks late, I know, but better than nothing! These pictures are described by the original poster as being from the cities of Zardasht, Sine, Mahabad, Piranshar, Karand, Bokan, though not specified exactly where they are.
Zardasht, Sine, Mahabad, piranshar, Karand, Bokan