Fedayeen (فِدائيّين fidāʼīyīn, "redeemers" or "those who sacrifice";[note A] Armenian: Ֆէտայի Fedayi, Hebrew: פַדַאיוּן fada'iun, referring only to the 1950s groups) are a type of voluntary militant group in West Asian culture. Fedayeen are not normally connected to an organized government or military and often operate in areas with little or no government control.
Hassan-i-Sabbah, an Iranian from Qom, formed the first band of Fedayeen, holding the main headquarters in Alamut (modern day Qazvin). He coined the name fidāʼīyīn as the Arabic plural of fidāʼī, which means "sacrifice." A literal translation of fidāʼīyīn might be "martyrs." It is widely understood in the Arab world to mean those willing to sacrifice themselves for God. The group carried out an armed struggle against any form of enslavement with actions based on resistance.
Armed militias known as the fedayeen grew from militant elements within the Arab Palestinians. The Fedayeen made efforts to infiltrate territory in Israel in order to strike targets in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Members of these groups were largely based within the refugee communities living in the Gaza Strip (then controlled by Egypt) and the West Bank (then controlled by Jordan), or in neighboring Lebanon, and Syria.
During this time (1948-c.1980), the word entered international usage and was frequently used in the Arab media as a synonym for great militancy. In the Israeli Hebrew press of this time the term (פַדַאיוּן fada'iun) had highly negative connotations and was associated with terrorism. Since the mid-1960s and the rise of more organized and specific militant groups, such as the PLO, the word has fallen out of usage, but not in the historical context.
During the 1940s, a group of civilians volunteered to fight the British control of Egyptian land around the Suez Canal. The British had deployed military bases along the coast of the Suez Canal under the claim of protection. Many Egyptians viewed this as an invasion against their sovereign power over their country. While the Egyptian government didn't refuse the action, the people's leaders organized groups of Fedayeen who were trained to combat and kill British soldiers everywhere in Egypt, including the military bases. Those groups were viewed very highly among the Egyptian population.
Two very different groups used the name Fedayeen in recent Iranian history. Fadayan-e Islam has been described as "one of the first real Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the Muslim world". It was founded by Navab Safavi in 1946 for the purpose of demanding strict application of the sharia and assassinating those it believed to be apostates and enemies of Islam. After several successful assassinations it was suppressed in 1956 and several leading members were executed.
A Marxist-leaning activist group known as the Fedayeen (Fedayân in Persian language) was founded in 1971 and based in Tehran. Operating between 1971 and 1983, the Fedayeen carried out a number of political assassinations in the course of the struggle against the Shah, after which the group was suppressed.
In 1979 the Iranian People's Fedâi Guerrillas split from the Organization of Iranian People's Fedaian (Majority).
Beginning in 1995, Iraq established a paramilitary group known as the Fedayeen Saddam, loyal to President Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athist government. The name was chosen to imply a connection with the Palestinian Fedayeen. In July 2003, personnel records for the Fedayeen organization in Iraq were discovered in the basement of the former Fedayeen headquarters in east Baghdad near the Al-Rashid Airfield. At the time of the discovery, an Iraqi political party occupied the building; after an extensive cataloging process, an operation was conducted in Baghdad resulting in several individuals being detained.
In the 19th century, the similar name "Fedayee" (meaning freedom fighter), with the same etymology, was used by Armenians who formed guerrilla organizations and armed bands in reaction to the oppression and unchecked murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. In the early 1990s, when the dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the term was used by Armenians to describe Armenian irregular units operating in the region. The term was widely used and is still used to describe the volunteers, and can be found in literature and Armenian revolutionary songs.
Known by the same name, they operated inside the capital city, Asmara, during the last 15-20 years of the armed struggle in Eritrea against Ethiopia. They operated secretly and eliminated people who were considered dangerous to the struggle to free Eritrea.
In popular culture
- In the popular science fiction novel Dune, the elite Fremen soldiers are known as the "Fedaykin", an allusion to the word "fedayeen."
- In the novel Prayers for the Assassin, the main character Rakkim Epps is an ex-fedayeen soldier.
- Altaïr, the main character in the popular video game Assassin's Creed is a fedai, named as an assassin.
- Fedayeen is the name of an American punk rock band.
- Fedayeen and other types of fighters originating from the Middle East have been depicted in large scale iconic paintings by Ayman Baalbaki.
- In the Freespace 2 campaign Blue Planet: War in Heaven, the Fedayeen are a UEF black ops group.
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- Armenian Fedayeen: Armenian History