Sheikh Ubeydallah

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Joseph Cochran (seated with hat) and Sheikh Ubeydallah (seated right)

Sheikh Ubeydallah Nehri (* 1826 / 1827 in the village Nehri , Şemdinan ; † 1883 / 1884 in Arabia) was an influential Kurdish Sheikh of the Naqshbandi -Ordens. Ubeydallah was also the leader of the Sheikh Ubeydallah uprising , which was one of the most significant "(proto) nationalist" Kurdish uprising movements of the 19th century.


Sheikh Ubeydallah was born in Nehri. The village is now called Bağlar and is located in the Noçiya region in Şemdinan , then part of the Ottoman Vilâyets Van . He came from an influential family of spiritual leaders. The family traced its origins to Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani , the founder of the Qadiriyya order from the 11th century, and ultimately to the Prophet Mohammed . As descendants of the Prophet, they were called Sayyid . Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani's son Abdulaziz immigrated to Akrê north of Mosul. His descendants migrated further north towards Hakkâri . Mullah Salih then settled in the village of Nehri. With the spread of the Naqschbandi in the Kurdish areas at the beginning of the 19th century, the family also changed their order and from then on was a member of the Naqschbandi order.

Sheikh Ubeydallah's father was Sheikh Sayyid Taha, who succeeded his uncle Sheikh Abdullah as the leading sheikh. As sheikh, Sheikh Sayyid Taha had a great influence on the Kurds in the border area of ​​the Ottoman Empire and Iran. His brother Salih followed him after his death. Ubeydallah himself then followed his uncle Salih.

The family owned large estates with 200 villages in the Ottoman Empire and Iran. They grew tobacco . The current descendants of Ubeydallah bear the surname Geylan.

The American missionary Joseph Cochran characterized Ubeydallah as a charismatic, deeply religious and upright person. SG Wilson described him as the most important religious leader among the Sunni Kurds. He had a solid theological training and was a connoisseur of Arabic and Iranian literature.

Sheikh Ubeydallahs exercised his worldly power with great authority. He severely punished lawbreakers and disliked Turkish and Iranian officials.

War against russia

The battle for Beyazid in the war of 1877/1878

At the end of the 19th century, the sheikhs had gradually replaced the Kurdish emirs as religious and secular leaders. Wars with the Russian Empire ruined the economy of Eastern Anatolia, causing famine and unrest.

In 1877 war broke out again between the Ottoman Empire and Russia . The fronts ran in the Caucasus and the Balkans . Sultan Abdülhamid II called on the Ottomans to jihad against the Russians. Sheikh Ubeydallah obtained several thousand modern rifles from the government. According to the British consul William C. Abbott in Tabriz , Ubeydallah owned 20,000 Winchester and Martini-Henry rifles . According to Basil Nikitin , he commanded over 70,000 tribal warriors. Sheikh Ubeydallah fought the Russian army at Beyazid . But his irregular troops could do little against the Russian army. They also used the guns to raid and rob Christian- Armenian villages around Van. After the end of the war, the Sheikh only returned a small part of the rifles to the government. He sold some of the weapons in Iran.

Revolt against the Ottomans

The influence of the sheikh in the border area between the Ottoman Empire and Iran 1880

In 1879, Sheikh Ubeydallah rose against the Ottomans. The trigger was a punitive expedition by the Ottoman Kaymakam ( district administrator ) of Gever (today Yüksekova ) against the Herki tribe . After this incident, Sheikh Ubeydallah called on the Kurdish leaders in the region to revolt and declared that he no longer recognized the Ottoman government. An Ottoman unit from Mosul met 900 men of the rebels near Amediye under the leadership of his son Seyyit Abdülkadir and defeated them. The uprising collapsed quickly.

Despite the fast and uncompromising pace of the Ottoman government, it was lenient to the Sheikh and even relocated the Kaymakam of Gever. Sheikh Ubeydallah was supposed to meet with government officials in Van to resolve the crisis. He had stayed in the background during the uprising and later protested his loyalty and his ignorance of the incidents. Meanwhile, his sons fled to Iran.

Invasion of Iran

Ubeydallah later turned his attention to Iran. After a victory in Iran against the weakened Qajars, he wanted to go back against the Ottomans with fresh troops. He claimed a Kurdish state and justified this with the fact that the Kurds are a people with their own language and religion.

Sheikh Ubeydallah armies attacked Iran from three directions. These were led by his sons Seyyit Abdülkadir and Sheikh Sıddık and the confidante Sheikh Mehmed Said. In October 1880, Sheikh Ubeydallah himself and his men crossed the border.

The city of Mahabad surrendered to the attackers after negotiations. The Sheikh then sent envoys to Miandoab to buy food, among other things. However, they were all killed there, whereupon the Sheikh called his son to attack Miandoab. Many residents fled, 2000 to 4000 people fell victim to the attackers. The troops captured and sacked the city. Seyyit Abdülkadir moved on to Maragha and from there to Tabriz .

Meanwhile, the Sheikh and his son Sheikh Sıddık marched against Urmia. After brief fighting, both sides decided to negotiate. However, the Iranians were able to obtain a postponement from the Sheikh for the handover of the city. Meanwhile, an Iranian army had arrived in Urmia, so the city could be held and the sheikh broke off the siege after ten days.

The Iranian army, led by Austrian officers , slowly gained the upper hand and pushed the Kurds back to the Ottoman border. There they were intercepted by Ottoman soldiers and handed over to the Iranians. The Iranian troops killed numerous Sunnis and Kurds, and many Nestorians near Lake Urmia were also killed. 60 to 70,000 Kurds fled the army to the Ottoman Empire. The devastation in the country, especially around Urmia, was enormous; many places were sacked.

Sheikh Ubeydallah's fate

Under pressure from other states and Iran, the Ottoman sultan intervened and summoned the sheikh to Istanbul in June 1881. England demanded his punishment or surrender to the Iranians. Sheikh Ubeydallah was received with all honors, but was still a prisoner at court. He assured the Sultan that his revolt against Iran was a response to the predatory policies of the Iranians.

After a few months in Istanbul, he was able to flee. During the Ramadan celebration in July 1882, he fled back to his home village via Poti by boat . That worried Iran. The Ottomans sent soldiers to arrest him. The sheikh holed himself up in the fortress of Oramar and offered the government to go into exile in Mosul . Finally he was accompanied by Ottoman soldiers to Mosul, but his son Seyyit Abdülkadir freed him on the way and went into hiding with him in the village of Scheptan. When the Ottomans besieged the village, the Sheikh and his son surrendered on November 13, 1882. The Sheikh was sent to the Hejaz because the Iranians objected to Mosul. Mosul is still too close to the sheikh's homeland and there he has too much influence.

The sheikh died in the Hejaz in 1883 or 1884. There are different opinions about the place where he died. The British ambassador George N. Curzon stated Mecca , the Kurdish historian Mehmed Emin Zeki Ta'if and Blecht Chirguh Medina .

His eldest son, Sheikh Sıddık, was later able to return to Nehri. Seyyit Abdülkadir, on the other hand, settled in Istanbul and still played a major role in Kurdish nationalism.

Individual evidence

  1. On a visit to the Sheikh in 1880, Cochran stated that he was 53 years old.
  2. Martin van Bruinessen: Agha, Sheikh and State. Politics and Society of Kurdistan. Berlin 1989, p. 342
  3. Hakan Özoğlu, p. 387
  4. Celile Celil, p. 64
  5. Hakan Özoğlu, p. 388
  6. SG Wilson: Persian life and customs , p. 10, quoted from Wadie Jwaideh, p. 147
  7. Nikitin in Les Afsars d'Urmiyeh , quoted from Wadie Jwaideh p. 170
  8. Celile Celil, p. 107
  9. Celile Celil, p. 114
  10. Celile Celil, p. 118
  11. Wadie Jwaideh, p 178
  12. Bilal N. Şimşir, p. 195
  13. Wadie Jwaideh, S. 178th


  • Celile Celil : 1880 - Şeyh Ubeydullah Nehri Kürt Ayaklanması (1880 - The Kurdish Sheikh Ubeydullah Nehri Uprising), Peri Verlag, Istanbul 1998, ISBN 975-8245-03-1
  • Wadie Jwaideh: Kürt Milliyetçiliğinin Tarihi Kökenleri ve Gelişimi (The Historical Roots and Development of Kurdish Nationalism), İletişim Yayınları, Istanbul 1999, ISBN 975-470-170-9
  • Hakan Özoğlu: Nationalism and kurdish notables in the late ottoman-early republican era , published in International Journal of Middle East Studies , Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 383-409, August 2001
  • Hakan Özoğlu: Kurdish Notables and the Ottoman State: Evolving Identities, Competing Loyalties, and Shifting Boundaries. Suny Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7914-5993-4 . Preview
  • Bilal N. Şimşir: Kürtçülük 1787 - 1923 , Bilgi Yayınevi, April 2007, ISBN 978-975-22-0215-3
  • Mehmet Fırat Kılıç: Sheikh Ubeydullah's Movement , dissertation at Bilkent University in Ankara, November 2003, online version on the Bilkent University website (PDF; 510 kB)