Shabak people

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Total population
130,000 to 500,000[1][2][3]
Regions with significant populations
Shabaki, Arabic
Shabakism, Sunni Islam, Yarsani

The Shabak people are an ethnoreligious group who live mainly in the villages of Ali Rash, Khazna, Yangidja, and Tallara in the Sinjar District of the Nineveh Province in northern Iraq. They speak Shabaki, an Northwestern Iranian language of the Zaza–Gorani group.[4] In addition to the Shabaks, three other ta'ifs or sects are make up this group: the Bajalan, Dawoody and Zengana.[5] About 70 percent of Shabaks are Shi'a (Shabakism) and the rest of the population are Yarsani or Sunni.[6][7] It has also been suggested that Shabaks are descendants of the Qizilbash army led by Shah Ismail.


A 1925 survey estimated Shabak numbers at 10,000.[8] In the 1970s, their population was estimated to be around 15,000.[9] Modern estimates of Shabak population range from 130,000 to 500,000.[10]

Shabak are composed from three tribes (ashket): the Hariri, the Gergeri, and the Mawsil î.[8]



The origin of the word Shabak is not clear. One view maintains that Shabak is an Arabic word شبك meaning intertwine, indicating that the Shabak people originated from many different tribes.[8] The name "Shabekan" occurs among tribes in Dersim, North Kurdistan and as "Shabakanlu" in Khorasan, which is located in the northeast region of Iran.

Austin Henry Layard considered Shabak to be descendants of Persian Kurds, and believed they might have affinities with the Ali-Ilahis.[8] Other theories suggested that Shabak originated from Anatolian Turkomans, who were forced to resettle in the Mosul area after the defeat of Ismail I at the battle of Chaldiran.[8]

Forced assimilation[edit]

The geographical range of the Shabak people was drastically changed by the massive deportations that occurred during the Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the subsequent refugee crisis of 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami were relocated through deportations to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) located in the Harir area of Iraqi Kurdistan. An estimated 1,160 Shabaks were killed during that period. In addition, the Iraqi government's efforts at forced assimilation and Arabization and religious persecution, put the Shabaks under increasing pressure and threat. As one Shabak told a researcher:[11][12]

The government said we are Arabs, not Kurds; but if we are, why did they deport us from our homes?

Even though the Sunni Shabak community identifies itself as Kurds, Shia Shabaks consider themselves a unique ethnoreligious group.[7]

According to Hunain Qaddo, President of the Iraqi Minorities Council, Shabaks are currently undergoing a process of Kurdification.[7]

In the Bashiqa sub district of the Mosul region, where Shabaks comprised 60% of the population, half of the city council members were of Kurdish origin.[13][14]

On 30 June 2011, the Nineveh provincial council distributed 6000 lots of land to state employees. According to the head of the Shabak Advisory Board, Salem Khudr al-Shabaki, the majority of those lots were deliberately given to Arabs.[15]

21st century persecution[edit]

  • In July 2007, a Shabak MP claimed that since 2003 Sunni militants have killed about 1,000 Shabaks and another 4,000 have fled the Mosul area for fear of Sunni militants.[6]
  • On 16 January 2012, at least 8 Shabaks were killed and 4 injured in a car bomb blast in Bartilla.[16]
  • Between 4–12 March 2012, four Shabaks were killed and four wounded, in separate insidents, which occurred whithin Mosul.[16]
  • On 10 August 2012, more than 50 Shabaks were killed or wounded after a suicide bomber targeted the Al Muafaqiya village.[17]
  • On 27 October 2012, several Shabaks were killed in Mosul by gunmen who burst into their homes as part of a series of attacks during the Eid al-Adha holiday.[18]
  • On 17 December 2012, 5 Shabaks were killed and 10 wounded after a car bomb exploded in the city of Khazna.[19]
  • In 2012, Shabak deputies attempted to form a 500 men regiment consisting solely of Shabaks with the goal of protecting habitants of the Hamadaniya district, east of Mosul.[20]
  • On 13 September 2013, a female suicide bomber killed 21 people at a Shabak funeral near Mosul.[21]
  • On 17 October 2013, a vehicle rigged with explosives detonated in a Shabak populated area in the city of Mwafaqiya, where 15 died and at least 52 were wounded.[23]
  • On 12 July 2014, ISIS fighters looted the Bazwaya village, in the Mosul region. On the same day 16 Shabaks were abducted by ISIS from the Jiliocan, Gogjali and Bazwaya villages.[24]
  • Between 29–30 July 2014, ISIS abducted 43 Shabak families from various neighbourhoods of Mosul.[24]
  • On 13 August 2014, ISIS destroyed the house of an Iraqi parliament member of Shabak origin.[24]
  • During August 2014, ISIS abducted 26 Shabaks from the Hamdaniya district region.[24]

Since Nineveh Province is contested by ISIS and Iraqi Kurdistan fighters, the Shabaks are now caught in a plight duringof the 2014 Iraq Offensive.[3] Quite a number of them have fled into Iraqi Kurdistan.[25] and about 30,000 Shabak and Turkmen displaced families have relocated to central and southern Iraq.[26]


Religious beliefs[edit]

Shabakism is similar and related to Islam and Christianity orthodoxy, who many regard themseves as Shia Muslims. It is common that Shabaks themselves will say that their faith is a form of Shia Islam, but their actual faith and rituals have little to do with Islam, clearly having every characteristic of an independent religion. There is a close affinity between the Shabak and the Yazidis; for example, Shabaks perform pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines.[27]

The Shabak also perform pilgrimages to Shia holy cities such as Najaf and Kerbela.[4]

The primary Shabak religious text is called Byruk or Kitab al-Managib ('Book of Exemplary Acts'), Byruk is written in Turkoman.[8][14]

Shabaks combine elements of Sufism with their own interpretation of divine reality, which according to them, is more advanced than the literal interpretation of Qur'an known as Sharia. Shabak spiritual guides are known as pir, who are individuals well versed in the prayers and rituals of the sect. Pirs themselves are under the leadership of the Supreme Head or Baba.[8] Pirs act as mediators between Divine power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic system with such features as private and public confession and allowing consumption of alcoholic beverages. This last feature makes them distinct from the neighboring Muslim populations. The beliefs of the Yarsan closely resemble those of the Shabak people.[28]

Shabak consider the poetry of Ismail I to be revealed by god, and recite it during meetings. Several studies claimed that Shabak have practised taqiyya.[8]


The Shabaks have many special traditions. Once a year they commemorate the people who died that year. The whole city fasts that day. Shabaks bury their dead. Burial is called Jinanguan.


  1. ^ Kehl-Bodrogi, Krisztina; Kellner-Heinkele, Barbara; Otter-Beaujean, Anke (1997). Syncretistic Religious Communities in the Near East: Collected Papers of the International Symposium "Alevism in Turkey and Comparable Sycretistic Religious Communities in the Near East in the Past and Present" Berlin, 14-17 April 1995. BRILL. p. 159. ISBN 978-90-04-10861-5. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  2. ^ Martin, Bruinessen, van (2000). Mullas, sufis and heretics: the role of religion in Kurdish society : collected articles. Isis Press. pp. 259–. ISBN 978-975-428-162-0. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Mina al-Lami (21 August 2014). "Iraq: The Minorities of the Nineveh Plain". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Tore Kjeilen. "Shabak". Encyclopaedia of The Orient. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  5. ^ This is according to one "informant" to a researcher (Michiel Leezenberg, a professor of philosophy at the University of Amsterdam), as reported at the following address: Leezenberg article[dead link]
  6. ^ a b "Shabak". April 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c "SHABAK IN IRAQ: A TARGETED ETHNIC MINORITY?". 27 November 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Dr. Michiel Leezenberg. "The Shabak and the Kakais". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  9. ^ A. Vinogradov, Ethnicity, Cultural Discontinuity and Power Brokers in Northern Iraq: The Case of the Shabak, American Ethnologist, pp.207-218, American Anthropological Association, 1974, p.208
  10. ^ "Total population". 29 October 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Michiel Leezenberg, The Shabak and the Kakais: Dynamics of Ethnicity in Iraqi Kurdistan, Publications of Institute for Logic, Language & Computation (ILLC), University of Amsterdam, July 1994, p .6.
  12. ^ "Efforts to stop attacks on Shabak minority in Mosul". 22 April 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Mina al-Lami (16 August 2008). "Iraq's Shabak Accuse Kurds of Killing Their Leader". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq". 16 August 2005. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Shabak official: Nineveh province is arabizing our areas". 30 June 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  16. ^ a b "Increased attacks against Kurd Shabaks in Iraq's Nineveh". 3 April 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  17. ^ "Shabak people demonstrating following the death and injury of more than 50 Shabakis". 13 August 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  18. ^ "Iraq hit by deadly attacks on Eid al-Adha holiday". BBC News. 27 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  19. ^ "Explosion kills five Shabak Kurds". 17 December 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  20. ^ "Shabak Regiment". 6 October 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  21. ^ "Shabak Funeral". 14 September 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  22. ^ "Iraqi Kurdistan appoints Peshmerga troops to protect Shabak villages in Mosul". 3 October 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  23. ^ "Series of Bomb Blasts". 17 October 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c d "Attacks Against Shabak". 10 September 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  25. ^ "Peshmerga advance". 21 August 2014. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  26. ^ "Turkmen and Shabak displacement". 18 August 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  27. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^ A. Vinogradov, Ethnicity, Cultural Discontinuity and Power Brokers in Northern Iraq: The Case of the Shabak, American Ethnologist, pp.207-218, American Anthropological Association, 1974, pp.214,215

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