Martin van Bruinessen: Agha, Shaikh and State


Martin van Bruinessen: Agha, Shaikh and State

The Social and Politicak Structures of Kurdistan

Exacerbated by the Gulf War, the plight of the Kurds is one of the most urgent problems facing the international community. This authoritative study of the Kurdish people provides a deep and varied insight into one of the largest primarily tribal communities in the world.

It covers the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the great Kurdish revolt against republican Turkey, the birth of Kurdish nationalism and the situation of the Kurdish people in Iraq, Turkey and Iran today.

Van Bruinessen’s work is already recognized as a key contribution to this subject. Tribe by tribe, he accounts for the evolution of power within Kurdish religious and other lineages, and shows how relations with the state have played a key constitutive role in the development of tribal structures. This is illustrated from contemporary Kurdish life, highlighting the complex interplay between traditional clan loyalties and their modern national equivalents.

This book is essential to any Middle East collection. It has serious implications for the study of tribal life elsewhere, and it documents the history of what has until recently been a forgotten people.




How this book came to be written

Subject of this study

A note on the written sources


  1. General Information on Kurdistan


Geopolitical situation


Other economic activities: crafts/industries and trades



The Kurdish national movement, 1960-85

Iranian Kurdistan and the Islamic Revolution

The Iran-Iraq war and the Kurds

Saddam Hussein’s solution to the Kurdish question

Recent changes in Turkey’s attitude


  1. Tribes, Chieftains and Non-tribal Groups

The tribe and its subdivisions

Kurdish terms

Blood feud and other conflicts

Higher than the tribe?

Leadership and conflicts

Leadership: titles and functions

The guest-house

Economic aspects: tribute to the agha

Leadership situation among a number of different tribes

Power as a process: the colonization of the northern Jazira

Subject ’non-tribal‘ peasantry and their relations with tribal Kurds

The guran and the Guran

Nomads and peasants: one or two peoples?



  1. Tribes and the State


The incorporation of Kurdistan into the Ottoman Empire

The political history of some Kurdish emirates

Administrative organization of Ottoman Kurdistan in the sixteenth


Internal organization of the Kurdish emirates

Political changes in the nineteenth century

The rise of Bedr Khan Beg and the fall of the emirate of Botan

The new land code and its effects

The establishment of Kurdish tribal militias: the Hamidiye

Mustafa Pasha of the Miran

Ibrahim Pasha of the Milan

Changes in the early twentieth century



  1. Shaikhs: mystics, saints and politicians

Introductory remarks

God incarnate

Dervish and sufi orders

Sufi and dervish orders: organized popular mysticism

The history of the Qadiri order as an example

Qadiri shaikhs in Kurdistan

The Naqshbandi tariqa and the Naqshbandi order

Why did the Naqshbandi order spread so rapidly?

Rituals of the Qadiri order

The Naqshbandi ritual

Shaikh and khalifa: relations with other shaikhs

The shaikh and his followers


Decline of the shaikhs‘ influence

Islamic revival: the Nurcu movement


  1. Shaikh Said’s Revolt


History of Kurdish national consciousness

The end of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Republic of Turkey

The first Kurdish political organizations

Shaikh Said’s revolt

External and internal support for the revolt

The Naqshbandi order and the revolt

The religious versus the nationalist character of the revolt


Distributed for Zed Books





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