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Qizilbash or Kizilbash (Nastaliq: قزلباش - Qızılbāš; Ottoman Turkish for "Crimson/Red Heads"; sometimes also Qezelbash or Qazilbash) is the label given to a wide variety of Shī‘ī Islamic militant groups (ghulāt) that flourished in Anatolia and Kurdistan from the late 13th century onwards, some of which contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty of Iran. The expression "Red Heads" is derived from their distinctive twelve gored crimson headwear (tāj or tark in Persian; sometimes specifically titled "Haydar's Crown" / تاج حیدر / Tāj-e Ḥaydar), indicating their adherence to the twelve Ithnā‘asharī Imāms and to Shaykh Haydar, the spiritual leader (sheikh) of the Ṣafaviyya movement.
The origin of the Kizilbash - as they were called by their Sunni Ottoman foes, and who later adopted that name as a mark of pride - can be dated from the 15th century onward, when the spiritual grandmaster of the movement, Haydar (the head of the Ṣafawiyyah Sufi order), organized his followers into militant troops.
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Connections between the Qizilbash and other religious groups and secret societies, such as the Mazdaki movement in the Sassanid Empire, or its more radical offspring, the Persian Ḵhorrām-Dīnān (Khurrāmīyah) sect, have been suggested. Like the Qizilbash, the latter were an early Shī‘ī ghulat group and dressed in red, for which they were termed "the red-haired ones" (Arabic: محمره muḥammirah) by medieval sources. In this context, Turkish scholar Abdülbaki Gölpinarli sees the Kizilbash as "spiritual descendants of the Khurramites".
As murids of the Safaviyya sheikhs (pirs), the Kizilbash owed implicit obedience to their leader in his capacity as their murshid-e kāmil ("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 the spiritual grandmaster became "an act of treason against the king and a crime against the state" (Persian: nā-sufīgarī, "improper conduct of a Sufi") - as was the case in 1614 when Shah Abbas I put to death some Kizilbash.
The Kizilbash adhered to heterodox Shi'a doctrines encouraged by the early Safaviyya sheikhs Haydar and his son Isma'il. They regarded their rulers as divine figures, and so were classified as ghulat extremist by orthodox Ithnāʻashari Shias.
When Tabriz was taken, there was not a single book on Twelver Shiaism among the Kizilbash leaders; the book of the well known Allama Al-Hilli was procured in the town library to provide religious guidance to the state. The Shia ulema did not participate in the formation of Safavid religious policies during the early formation of the state. However, later, the ghulat doctrines were forsaken, and Arab Twelver Shia ulema resident in Lebanon, Iraq, and Bahrain were brought in increasing numbers. Initially the Shia ulema did not voice dissent about the religious stance of the monarch, but during the following century they were able to impose a stricter version of Shia Islam on both the population and the state.
"Turk & Tājīk" 
Among the Qizilbash, 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 both number and influence, and the name Qizilbash is usually applied exclusively to them. Some of these greater Turcoman tribes were subdivided into as many as eight or nine clans, and included:
- Shāmlu (the most powerful clan during the reign of Shah Ismail I.)
- Dulkadir (Arabic: Dhu 'l-Kadar)
Some of these names consist of a place-name with addition of the Turkish suffix -lu, such as Shāmlu or Bahārlu. Other names are those of old Oghuz tribes such as the Afshār, Dulghadir, or Bayāt, as mentioned by the medieval Uyghur historian Mahmoud Al-Kāshgharī. The origin of the name Ustādjlu, however, is unknown, and possibly indicates a non-Turkic origin of the tribe.
The rivalry between the Turkic clans and Persian nobles was a major problem in the Safavid kingdom. 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. 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.
The Beginnings 
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 khalīfāt al-khulafā'ī who appointed representatives (khalīfa) in regions where Safavid propaganda was active. The khalīfa, 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 Lahijan 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 Shīrvanshāh (ruler of Shirvan), he sought revenge for the death of his father and his grandfather in Shīrvan. After defeating the Shīrvanshāh Farrukh Yassar, he moved south into Azarbaijan where his 7,000 Kizilbash warriors defeated a force of 30,000 Ak Koyunlu under Alwand Mirzā, and conquered Tabriz. This was the beginning of the Safavid state.
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 (Battle of Marv). 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 (Battle of Ghazdewan). This defeat put an end to Safavid expansion and influence in Transoxania and left the northeastern frontiers of the kingdom 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, an Alevi revolt known as Shahkulu 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 1514 (1st Rajab 920 A.H.), the two armies met at Chaldiran in Azarbaijan. The Ottomans -equipped with both firearms and cannon- were reported to outnumber the Kizilbash as much as three to one. The Kizilbash were heavily defeated; casualties included many high-ranking Kizilbash amirs as well as three influential ulamā.
The defeat destroyed Shah Ismail's belief in his own invincibility and divine status. It also fundamentally altered the relationship between the murshid-e kāmil and his murids.
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 Rūmlū (titled "Div Soltān") 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 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, Alī Quli Khān Shāmlū (also known as Hājī Alī Qizilbāsh Mazandarānī) 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 counterbalancing influence of traditional Ithnāʻashari 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 ghilman 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-umarā fell in disuse and were replaced by the office of a Sipahsālār (Persian: سپهسالار, master of the army), commander-in-chief of all armed forces - Turcoman and Non-Turcoman - and usually held by a Persian (Tādjik) noble.
The Turcoman Kizilbash remained an important part of the Safavid executive apparatus. The Afshār and Qājār rulers of Persia who succeeded the Safavids, stemmed from a Kizilbash background. Many other Kizilbash - Turcoman and Non-Turcoman - were settled in eastern cities such as Kabul and Kandahar during the conquests of Nadir Shah, and remained there as consultants to the new Afghan crown after the Shah's death. Others joined the Mughal emperors of India and became one of the most influential groups of the Mughal court until the British conquest of India.
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 Fārsīwāns and Tājīks 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". Lady Florentia Sale (wife of Sir Robert Henry Sale) and Vincent Eyre - both companions of Sir Mountstuart 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 massacre 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.
|“||It has been reported that, among the Ottoman Turks, kızılbaş has become something of a derogatory term and can be applied to groups that aren't necessarily associated with the Kazilbash of Central Asia. The Bektaşi in Turkey are often referred to as Kızılbaşi||”|
See also 
- Qizilbash (name)
- Shi'a Islam
- Secret societies
- Javanshir Qizilbash
- Mirza Kalich Beg
- The Qazilbash form appears to be used primarily in Pakistan; it is attested, e.g. in Gupta, Hari Ram (editor) (1956) Panjab on the eve of first Sikh War: a documentary study of the political, social and economic conditions of the Panjab as depicted in the daily letters written chiefly from Lahore by British intelligencers during the period 30 December 1848 to 31 October 1844 Department of History, Panjab University, Hoshiarpur, India, page 199, OCLC 460671525; and Khan, Tahawar Ali (1985) "Imtiaz Ali-Qazilbash" Biographical encyclopedia of Pakistan Biographical Research Institute, Lahore, Pakistan, page 101, OCLC 14193680
- Roger M. Savory: Kizil-Bash. In Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 5, p. 243-45.
- Savory, EI2, Vol. 5, p. 243: "KIZILBĀSH (T. “Red-head”). [...] In general, it is used loosely to denote a wide variety of extremist Shī'ī sects [see GHULĀT], which flourished in [V:243b] Anatolia and Kurdistān from the late 7th/13th century onwards, including such groups as the Alevis (Alawīs ; see A. S. Tritton, Islam : belief and practices, London 1951, 83)."
- Note: Tāj, meaning crown in Persian, is also a term for hats used to delineate one's affiliation to a particular Sufi order.
- Moojan Momen, "An Introduction to Shi'i Islam", Yale Univ. Press, 1985, ISBN-0-300-03499-7, pp. 101-107
- H. Anetshofer/H.T. Karateke, Traktat über die Derwischmützen (ri̇sāle-i̇ Tāciyye) des Müstaqīm-zāde Süleymān Sāʻdeddīn; Brill, 2001; ISBN 90-04-12048-3 (German original)
- Roger M. Savory, "The office of khalifat al-khulafa under the Safawids", in JOAS, lxxxv, 1965, p. 501
- Momen, 1985
- Moojan Momen, "An Introduction to Shi'i Islam", Yale Univ. Press, 1985, ISBN-0-300-03499-7, p. 397
- V. Minorsky, "Tadhkirat al-muluk", London 1943, p. 16-18, p.188
- Roger M. Savory, "The consolidation of Safawid power in Persia", in Isl., 1965
- 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
- Roger M. Savory, Encyclopaedia of Islam, "Safawids", Online Edition, 2005
- Roger M. Savory, "The significance of the political murder of Mirza Salman", in "Studies on the history of Safawid Iran", xv, pp. 186-187
- H.A.R. Gibb & H. Bowen, "Islamic society and the West", i/2, Oxford, 1957, p. 189
- M.J. McCaffrey, Encyclopaedia Iranica, "Čālderān", v, pp. 656-8, (LINK)
- Roger M. Savory in Encyclopaedia Iranica, "Dīv Soltān", Online Edition, 2005, (LINK)
- M. Köhbach in Encyclopaedia Iranica, "Peace of Amasya", v, p. 928, Online Edition, (LINK)
- C. Fleischer, Encyclopaedia Iranica, "Allāhverdi Khān", v, pp. 891-892, Online Edition, 2005, (LINK)
- Countries and Their Cultures : Qizilbash:..Obtaining accurate population figures for the Shia Qizilbash in Afghanistan and Pakistan is virtually impossible because they claim to be Sunni, Tajik, Farsiwan, or Pashtun, or they identify themselves according to their place of origin in India. Population estimates for Afghanistan range from 30,000 to 200,000, but some suggest the figure is closer to one million. The story is similar in Pakistan. Few influential Qizilbash live in Iran, their original home...
- Library of Congress Country Studies-"Ethnic Groups of Afghanistan"In 1996, approximately 40 percent of Afghans were Pashtun, 11.4 of whom are of the Durrani tribal group and 13.8 percent of the Ghilzai group. Tajiks make up the second largest ethnic group with 25.3 percent of the population, followed by Hazaras, 18 percent; Uzbeks, 6.3 percent; Turkmen, 2.5 percent; Qizilbash, 1.0 percent; 6.9 percent other .
- Mountstuart Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, pp. 320-321
- Henry Yule, "Hobson-Jobson", London, 1886, p. 380
- Lady Sale, "A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan 1841-42", London, Murray 1843, p. IX
- Vincent Eyre, "The Military Operations at Cabul", London, Murray, MDCCCXLIII, p. XXXI.
- U.S. Library of Congress, "Afghanistan: The society and its environment", index s.v. Qizilbash, (LINK)
- J.W. Crowfoot, "Survivals among the Kappadokian Kizilbash (Bektash)", Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 30., 1900, pp. 305-20