Uprising of Sheikh Ubeydullah

The Uprising of Sheikh Ubeydullah refers to a Kurdish uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1879 and the Persians (Qajar Iran) between 1880–1881. Both uprising were led by Sheikh Ubeydullah, the leader of the Semdinan Naqshbandi family who claimed descendance from Mohammed through his daughter Fatima.[1] Thus the family had a considerable influence, disposed over large amounts of donations,[2] owned several villages in the region[1] and many Kurdish tribal leaders were devout followers of him.[3] The initial cause for the uprisings were the outcome of the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-78 and the Treaty of Berlin[4] which provided the Christian Armenians and the Nestorians with considerable rights and autonomy, to which he did not agree to.[4]

Sheikh Ubeydullah uprising
Result Defeat of Sheikh Ubeydullah
Kurdish tribes Ottoman Empire, Qajar Iran

Uprising against the Ottoman EmpireEdit

The possibility of a first uprising against the Ottoman Empire was given when the Herki tribe had a dispute with the Kaymakam of Yüksekova in 1879.[5] Sheikh Ubeydullah sent out messengers to several Kurdish chieftains in order to gain their support and troops for an uprising against the Ottoman Empire. He managed to raise a small contingent of nine hundred tribes men which was led by his son Abdulkadir Ubeydullah onto Amadiya.[5] But the Ottomans were informed by a rival Kurdish chieftain ahead of the uprising, and therefore deployed troops to Amadya as well.[5] The uprising failed and was quickly subdued by the Ottomans. The Kurdish chieftains were not as trustworthy as hoped by Sheikh Ubeydullah, and preferred to expand their own areas of influence with raids.[2] Sheikh Ubeydullah then also changed his mind and reassured the Sultan of his loyalty.[2] The Ottomans reacted very to the Sheikhs pleasure, removed the Kaymakam of Yüksekova and encouraged him very cordially to find an agreement with the local Ottoman authorities.[5]

Uprising against the PersiansEdit


As then Ubeydullah was in the preparations of a uprising against the Persian empire, he could count on the support of the Ottomans.[6] The troops loyal to Sheikh Ubeydulla were still in possession of the weapons they received from the Ottomans during the Russo-Turkish war.[6] Sheikh Ubeydullah also received the support from the Christian Nestorians for a while as he presented his uprising as a mean to defend the local population against raids by other Kurdish tribes, which neither the Ottoman Empire nor the Persians were able or willing to prevent.[4] In September 1880, he wrote to Joseph Cochrane, and elaborated in it, what the Qajar Empire has done to upset the Kurds.[7] In August 1880, in a meeting of about 220 Kurdish tribal leaders, the decision for the uprising was taken.[8] The forces of Sheikh Ubeydullah were well equipped, they had a large amount of breech loading Martini rifles.[9]


80,000 men charged against the Persians and initially the uprising was a success.[8] His forces were deployed into three different forces. The first one heading to Mahabad was led by his son Abdulkadi Ubeydullah, the second one which charged against Marageh was headed by an other son of the Sheikh, Siddiq Ubeydullah, and the third group of 5'000 men was commanded by his brother in law Sheikh Muhammad Said.[9] The Persians had not such good weapons as the rebels[10] and the Kurds soon captured Mahabad and Maragheh, but then didn't capture the strategic Tabriz and instead engaged in the looting of the areas captured.[8] Sheikh Ubeydullah was involved personally in the battles only two weeks into the beginning of the uprising, and charged against Urmia. The Shia population of the town did not want to surrender to the Sunni Sheikh, who couldn't capture it.[11] Abdulkadir Ubeydullah had to retreat from Persian forces coming from Tabriz, and returned to Mahabad, which he could only hold for a few days.[12] After eight weeks of combat, the Kurds had to retreat and Sheikh Ubeydullah returned Nehri.[13] Ubeydullah eventually travelled to Istanbul asking for diplomatic support from the Ottoman Empire. Following which the Ottomans began extensive negotiations with the Persians on how to solve the conflict. The Ottomans, despite his uprising against them in 1879, did not want to loose the possibility to count on the troops of Sheikh Ubeydullah in an eventual war against the Persians in the future.[8] After all, Sheikh Ubeydullah was able to raise a considerable amount of troops.[8] Both sides, the Ottomans as well as the Persians demanded reparations from the other side due to their losses they had through the uprisings of Ubeydullah.[8]


In August 1882, Sheikh Ubeydullah lost his hopes to gain his peoples freedom by negotiations, left Istanbul and returned to his hometown Nehri.[8] The Ottomans sent to capture Sheikh Ubeydullah in October 1882,[8] as they perceived a lot of pressure from the European powers, due to Ubeydullahs treatment of the Christian Nestorians.[14] He was captured, brought back to Istanbul and from there he was exiled to Hejaz.[15]


In the words of Kurdologist and Iranologist Garnik Asatrian:[16]

In the recent period of Kurdish history, a crucial point is defining the nature of the rebellions from the end of the 19th and up to the 20th century―from Sheikh Ubaydullah’s revolt to Simko’s (Simitko) mutiny. The overall labelling of these events as manifestations of the Kurdish national-liberation struggle against Turkish or Iranian suppressors is an essential element of the Kurdish identity-makers’ ideology. (...) With the Kurdish conglomeration, as I said above, far from being a homogeneous entity―either ethnically, culturally, or linguistically (see above, fn. 5; also fn. 14 below)―the basic component of the national doctrine of the Kurdish identity-makers has always remained the idea of the unified image of one nation, endowed respectively with one language and one culture. The chimerical idea of this imagined unity has become further the fundament of Kurdish identity-making, resulting in the creation of fantastic ethnic and cultural prehistory, perversion of historical facts, falsification of linguistic data, etc. (for recent Western views on Kurdish identity, see Atabaki/Dorleijn 1990).


  1. ^ a b Özoğlu, Hakan (2004-02-12). Kurdish Notables and the Ottoman State: Evolving Identities, Competing Loyalties, and Shifting Boundaries. SUNY Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-7914-5993-5.
  2. ^ a b c Behrendt, Günter (1993). Nationalismus in Kurdistan: Vorgeschichte, Entstehungsbedingungen und erste Manifestationen bis 1925 (in German). Deutsches Orient-Institut. p. 215. ISBN 978-3-89173-029-4.
  3. ^ Olson, Robert W. (1989). The emergence of Kurdish nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion, 1880-1925. University of Texas Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-292-77619-7.
  4. ^ a b c Özoğlu, Hakan (2004), p.74
  5. ^ a b c d Jwaideh, Wadie (2006). The Kurdish National Movement: Its Origins and Development. Syracuse University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-8156-3093-7.
  6. ^ a b Olson, Robert W. (1989), p.6
  7. ^ Jwaideh, Wadie (2006). p.91
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Chaliand, Gérard (1981-01-01). Les Kurdes et le Kurdistan (in French). La Découverte (réédition numérique FeniXX). pp. 50–52. ISBN 2707110132.
  9. ^ a b Jwaideh, Wadie (2006). p.92
  10. ^ Behrendt, Günter (1993), p.221
  11. ^ Behrendt, Günter (1993), pp.222–223
  12. ^ Behrendt, Günter (1993), p.223
  13. ^ Behrendt, Günter (1993), p.222
  14. ^ Olson, Robert W. (1989), p.7
  15. ^ Özoğlu, Hakan (2004), p.75
  16. ^ Asatrian, Garnik (2009). "Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds". Iran and the Caucasus. 13 (1): 65–66. doi:10.1163/160984909X12476379007846.

Further readingEdit

  • Ateş, Sabri (2014). "In the Name of the Caliph and the Nation: The Sheikh Ubeidullah Rebellion of 1880–81". Iranian Studies. 47 (5): 735–798. doi:10.1080/00210862.2014.934151.