Found in: History of Iran
Qizilbash or Kizilbash is a name given to a wide variety of Shii militant groups (ghulat) that flourished in Anatolia and Kurdistan from the late 13th century onwards, and later helped to found the Safavid dynasty of Iran. The expression "Red Heads" is derived from their distinctive crimson headwear (taj) with twelve gores (tark), known in Persian as "Haydar's Crown" ( - Taj-e aydar),Note: Taj, meaning crown in Persian, is also a term for hats used to delineate one's affiliation to a particular Sufi order. indicating their adherence to the twelve Ithnaashari Imams and to aydar afawi, the spritual leader (sheikh) of the afawiyyah movement.Moojan Momen, "An Introduction to Shi'i Islam", Yale Univ. Press, 1985, ISBN-0-300-03499-7, pp. 101-107
Strictly speaking, the origin of the organized "Kizilbash movement" - as they were called by their Sunni Ottoman foes and later adopted the name as a mark of pride - can be dated from middle of the 15th century, when their spiritual grandmaster Haydar, the head of the afawiyyah Sufi order, organized his followers into a body of militant troops.
Theories have been put forward by scholars to connect the Kizilbash to certain religious groups and secret societies throughout history, like the Mazdaki movement in the Sassanid Empire, or the radical Persian Khurrami sect. Khurramis are said to be an early Shii ghulat group and dressed in red, for which they were termed Muammira ( "the red-wearing ones") in Medieval Arabic sources.H. Anetshofer/H.T. Karateke, Traktat uber die Derwischmutzen (risale-i Taciyye) des Mustaqim-zade Suleyman Sadeddin; Brill, 2001; ISBN 9004120483 (German original) In this context, Turkish scholar Abdulbaki Golpinarli sees the Kizilbash as "spiritual descendants of the Khurramites".
It has also been speculated that the group had its origins among the mystical Ismaili Assassin sect. However, most historians dispute this as no influence of Ismaili beliefs is obvious in Kizilbash practices.
The Kizilbash were a coalition of many different peoples of predominantly, but not exclusively Turkic-speaking Azerbaijani background, united in their belief in the Safavid doctrine of Shiism.
As murids of the Safawiyyah sheikhs (pirs), the Kizilbash owed implicit obedience to their leader in his capacity as their murshid-e kamil ("supreme spiritual director") and, after the establishment of the kingdom, as their padshah ("king"), changing the purely religious pir - murid relationship into a political one. As a consequence, any act of disobedience of the Kizilbash Sufi against the order of his spiritual grandmaster became "an act of treason against the king and a crime against the state" , for example in 1614 when Shah Abbas I put to death some Kizilbash.Roger M. Savory, "The office of khalifat al-khulafa under the Safawids", in JOAS, lxxxv, 1965, p. 501
The Kizilbash adhered to heterodox Shi'a doctrines encouraged by early Safawiyyah sheikhs, specifically sheikh Haydar and his son, Isma'il. They regarded their rulers as divine figures, and would thus be classified as ghulat extremist by orthodox Ithnaashari Shias. It is clear that Ismail I. was presenting himself to his Kizilbash followers not as a representative of the Hidden Imam, but as the Hidden Imam himself, beyond that even claiming divinity for himself. The Kizilbash would go into battle without armour, confident that no harm would befall them, while adding ''Isma'il waliyyu'llahto the Islamic Shahada''.
This stemmed from the fact that among the Kizilbash there appeared to be a substantial lack of knowledge of Twelver Shia doctrines. When Tabriz was taken for example, there was not a single book on Twelver Shiism among Kizilbash leaders, and the book of the well known Allama Al-Hilli was procured in the town library to provide guidance on new religion of the state.Moojan Momen, "An Introduction to Shi'i Islam", Yale Univ. Press, 1985, ISBN-0-300-03499-7, p. 397 Nor did any Shia ulema participate in the formation of Safavid religious policies during the early stages of the state. However later, the ghulat doctrines were forsaken and Arab Twelver Shia ulema resident in Iraq and Bahrain were brought in increasing numbers. Initially the Shia ulema kept quiet about inconsistencies in the religious stance of the monarch, but during the following century they were able to enforce a stricter version of Shia Islam on the population and the state.
"Turk & Tajik"
Among the Kizilbash, Turcoman tribes from Eastern Anatolia and Azerbaijan who had helped Shah Ismail I defeat the Aq Qoyunlu tribe were by far the most important - in number and influence. Therefore the name Kizilbash is usually applied to them only. Some of these greater Turcoman tribes were subdivided into as many as eight or nine clans and included the:
Shamlu (the most powerful clan during the reign of Shah Ismail I.)
Other tribes, such as Turkman, Baharlu, Warsak, or Bayat were occasionally listed among these "seven great uymaqs".
Some of these names consist of a place-name with addition of the Turkish suffix -lu, such as Shamlu or Baharlu. Other names are those of old Oghuz tribes such as Afshar, Dulghadir, or Bayat, as mentioned by the medieval Uyghur historian Mahmoud Al-Kashghari. The origin of the name Ustadjlu, however, is unknown and possibly indicates a non-Turkic origin of the tribe.
Lur tribes (for example the Zand)
certain Kurdish tribes
certain Persian families and clans
The rivalry between the Turkic clans and Persian nobles was a major problem in the Safavid kingdom and caused much trouble. As V. Minorsky put it, friction between these two groups was inevitable, because the Turcomans "were no party to the national Persian tradition". Shah Ismail tried to solve the problem by appointing Persian wakils as commanders of Kizilbash tribes. However, the Turcomans considered this an insult and brought about the death of 3 of the 5 Persians appointed to this office - an act, that later inspired the deprivation of the Turcomans by Shah Abbas I.Roger M. Savory in Islamic Studies: Journal of the Central Institute of Islamic Research, "The significance of the political murder of Mirza Salman", Karachi, 1964
In the 15th century, Ardabil was the center of an organization designed to keep the Safavid leadership in close touch with its murids in Azerbaijan, Iraq, eastern Anatolia, and elsewhere. The organization was controlled through the office of ''khalifat al-khulafa'iwho appointed representatives (khalifa) in regions where Safavid propaganda was active. The khalifa, in turn, had subordinates termed pira''. Their presence in eastern Anatolia posed a serious threat to the Ottomans, because they encouraged the Shi'ite population of Asia Minor to revolt against the sultan.
In 1499, Ismail, the young leader of the Safavid order, left Lanjan for Ardabil to make his bid for power. By the summer of 1500, ca. 7,000 supporters from the local Turcoman tribes of Anatolia, Syria, and Iraq - collectively called "Kizilbash" by their enemies - rallied to his support. Leading his troops on a punitive campaign against the Shirvanshah (ruler of Shirvan), he sought revenge for the death of his father and his grandfather in Shirvan. After defeating the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar, he moved south into Azarbaijan where his 7,000 Kizilbash warriors defeated a force of 30,000 Ak Koyunlu under Alwand Mirza, and conquered Tabriz. This was the beginning of the Safavid state.
In the first decade of the 16th century, the Kizilbash expanded Safavid rule over the rest of Persia, as well as Baghdad and Iraq, formerly under Ak Koyunlu control.
In 1510 Shah Ismail sent a large force of the Kizilbash to Transoxania to support the Timurid ruler Babur in his war against the Uzbeks. The Kizilbash defeated the Uzbeks and secured Samarqand for Babur. However, in 1512, an entire Kizilbash army was annihilated by the Uzbeks after Turcoman Kizilbash had mutinied against their Persian wakil and commander, Amir Nadjm.Roger M. Savory, "The significance of the political murder of Mirza Salman", in "Studies on the history of Safawid Iran", xv, pp. 186-187 This heavy defeat put an end to Safavid expansion and influence in Transoxania and the northeastern frontiers of the kingdom remained vulnerable to nomad invasions.
The Battle of Chaldiran
Meanwhile, the Safavid ''da'wa'' (propaganda) continued in Ottoman areas - with great success. Even more alarming for the Ottomans was the successful conversion of Turcoman tribes in eastern Anatolia and Iraq, and the recruitment of these well experienced and feared fighters into the growing Safavid army. In order to stop the Safavid propaganda, Sultan Bayezid II deported large numbers of the Shi'ite population of Asia Minor to Morea. However, in 1507, Shah Ismail and the Kizilbash overran large areas of Kurdistan, defeating regional Ottoman forces. Only two years later in Central Asia, the Kizilbash defeated the Uzbeks at Merv, killing their leader Muhammad Shaybani and destroying his dynasty. His head was sent to the Ottoman sultan as a warning.
In 1511, a Alevi revolt known as "Shakulu Uprising" broke out in Teke and was brutally suppressed by the Ottomans: 40,000 were massacred on the order of the sultan. Shah Ismail sought to turn the chaos within the Ottoman Empire to his advantage and invaded Anatolia. The Kizilbash defeated a large Ottoman army under Sinan Pasha. Shocked by this heavy defeat, Sultan Selim I (the new ruler of the Empire) decided to invade Persia with a force of 200,000 Ottomans and face the Kizilbash on their own soil. In addition, he ordered the persecution of Shiism and the massacre of all its adherents in the Ottoman Empire.
On the 20 August of 1514 (1st Rajab 920 A.H.), the two armies met at Chaldiran in Azarbaijan. The Ottomans outnumbered the Kizilbash two to one and had artillery and handguns. The Kizilbash were heavily defeated, and many high-ranking Kizilbash amirs as well as three influential figures of the ulama were killed.
The defeat destroyed Shah Ismail's belief in his invincibility and his divine status. It also fundamentally altered the relationship between the murshid-e kamil and his murids.
The Qizilbash and the Mughals of India
The Qizilbash warriors accompanied Mughal emperor Humayun from Safavid Empire in Iran to South Asia to reconquer his empire from Suri Dynasty. The Qizilbash tribes settled in large numbers in northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and also in Delhi and Agra, centers of Mughal administration in India.
The deprivation of the Turcomans
For almost ten years after the Battle of Chaldiran, rival Kizilbash factions fought for control of the kingdom. In 1524, 10-year-old Shah Tahmasp I, the governor of Herat, succeeded his father Ismail. He was the ward of the powerful Kizilbash amir Ali Beg Rumlu (titled "Div Soltan") who was the de facto ruler of the Safavid kingdom. However, Tahmasp managed to reassert his authority over the state and over the Kizilbash.
During the reign of Shah Tahmasp, the Kizilbash fought a series of wars on two fronts and - with the poor resources available to them - successfully defended their kingdom against the Uzbeks in the east, and against the Ottomans in the west. With the Treaty of Amasya, peace between Safavids and Ottomans remained for the rest of Tahmasp's reign.
Inter-tribal rivalry of the Turcomans, the attempt of Persian nobles to the end the Turcoman dominance, and constant succession conflicts went on for another 10 years after Tahmasp's death. This heavily weakened the Safavid state and made the kingdom vulnerable to external enemies: the Ottomans attacked and conquered Azerbaijan, the Uzbeks conquered Khurasan, including Balkh and Herat.
In 1588, Shah Abbas I came to power. He appointed the Governor of Herat and his former guardian and tutor, Ali Quli Khan Shamlu (also known as Haji Ali Qizilbash Mazandarani) the chief of all the armed forces. Later on, events of the past, including the role of the Turcomans in the succession struggles after the death of his father, and the counter balancing influence of traditional Ithnaashari Shia Sayeds, made him determined to end the dominance of the untrustworthy Turcoman chiefs in Persia. In order to weaken the Turcomans - the important militant elite of the Safavid kingdom - Shah Abbas raised a standing army from the ranks of the ghulams who were usually ethnic Armenians and Georgians. The new army would be loyal to the king personally and not to clan-chiefs anymore.
The reorganisation of the army also ended the independent rule of Turcoman chiefs in the Safavid provinces, and instead centralized the administration of those provinces.
Ghulams were appointed to high positions within the royal household, and by the end of Shah Abbas' reign, one-fifth of the high-ranking amirs were ghulams. By 1598 an ethnic Armenian from Georgia had risen to the position of commander-in-chief of all Safawid armed forces. The offices of wakil and amir al-umara fell in disuse and were replaced by the office of a Sipahsalar , commander-in-chief of all armed forces - Turcoman and Non-Turcoman - and usually held by a Persian (Tadjik) noble.
Nadir Shah and the fall of the Safavids
Kizilbash in Afghanistan live in urban areas, such as Kabul, Herat or Mazari Sharif, as well as in certain villages in Hazarajat. They are descendants of the troops left behind by Nadir Shah during his "Indian campaign" in 1738. Afghanistan's Kizilbash held important posts in government offices in the past, and today engage in trade or are craftsmen. Since the creation of Afghanistan, they constitute an important and politically influential element of society. Estimates of their population vary from 60,000 to 200,000. They are Persian-speaking Shi'ite Muslims and are usually linked to the Farsiwans and Tajiks of the country.
Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone described the Kizilbash of Kabul in the beginning of the 19th century as "a colony of Turks," who spoke "Persian, and among themselves Turkish." Described as learned, affluent, and influential, they appear to have abandoned their native Turkish language in favour of Persian, and became "in fact Persianized Turks". However, Lady Florentia Sale (wife of Sir Robert Henry Sale) and Vincent Eyre - both companions of Sir M. Elphinstone - described the Kizilbash of Afghanistan also as "Persians, of Persian descent".
The influence of the Kizilbash in the government created resentment among the ruling Pashtun clans, especially after the Kizilbash openly allied themselves with the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). During Abdur Rahman Khan's of the Shi'ite minorities in Afghanistan, the Kizilbash were declared "enemies of the state" and were persecuted and hunted by the government and by the Sunni majority.U.S. Library of Congress, "Afghanistan: The society and its environment", index s.v. Qizilbash,
Qizilbash tribes played an important role in history of Azerbaijan. During Safavid rule, most of the territory of modern Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan became Shiite and Turkic speaking.
The Kizilbash were still vital players in the success of the Safavid Empire - providing soldiers and assisting greatly in the flourishing economy, as well as in arts and literature. In addition, many Kizilbash became Ayatollahs or Mujtahids (important Shia scholars), teaching Iran's masses religious practices and belief.
In Pakistan, the Qizibash are predominantly Twelver Shia with a significant Hanafi Sunni minority. The Qizilbash are an influential group found in almost all segments of Pakistani society particularly in the fertile province(s) of Panjab, North-West Frontier Province, Balochistan andSindh. There are sizable populations in the city of Karachi, Multan, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Sialkot, Hyderabad and Rawalpindi. Estimates vary from 800,000 to 3,000,000 people may be descendants of the Qizilbash as they established several settlements principally in Pakistan in medieval times as well as in the urban centres of Afghanistan. Entire villages and sometimes districts were settled by the Qizilbash where many of their descendants can still be found to this day. Their numbers were further increased with the arrival of tens of thousands of Qizilbash from neighboring Afghanistan when they were termed enemies of the state by the then Emir of Afghanistan for supposedly siding with the British in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
In Pakistan, the Qizilbash yield considerable influence both at a local social level within the respective community and tribe they live in as well as in the government as many prominent individuals of Qizilbash decent have attained positions within the senate. The Qizilbash are known for their intellect, higher education and are well renowned as scholars all throughout Pakistan. They have produced many politicians, religious scholars, doctors, lawyers and engineers within the country. Qizilbash are also found in the province of NWFP principally in the city of Peshawer as well as in Balochistan. Pakistan's former President Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan was a Qizilbash.
Some Alevi- and Bektashi leaning religious or ethnic minorities in Anatolia go under the name of Kizilbash to the present day.
These accounts certify the connection to Safavids within Alevi-Bektashi community of Turkey; as some of their towns and villages maintain legendary connections to Sultan Haydar of Persia, even naming their towns after him. The Alevi population with connections to Kizilbash are ethnic Turks, Zaza and Kurds.