Shabak people

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Shabak Flag.jpg
Shabak Flag
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Shabaki, Arabic
Shia Islam, Alevism, Ahl-e Haqq

The Shabak people are an ethnoreligious group who live mainly in the villages of Ali Rash, Khazna, Yangidja, and Tallara in Sinjar district in Nineveh Province in northern Iraq. They speak Shabaki, a Northwestern Iranian language.[3] Their population was estimated at around 15,000 in the 1970s [4] but it is believed to be more like 60,000 today.[citation needed] Shabaks consist of three different ta'ifs or sects: the Bajalan, Dawoody and Zengana and the Shabak proper.[5] About 70 percent of Shabaks are Shi'a and the rest are Sunni.[6] It is also claimed that they are descendants of Qizilbash from the army of Shah Ismail. The religion started in the 16th century, because they were considered as the lowest and poorest people of the village. The Shabak people did not like this claim, so they started their own religion to defend their culture.[7]


The origin of the word Shabak is not clear. One view maintains that Shabak is an Arabic word شبك meaning intertwine, reflecting their diverse society. The name of Shabekan is available among the tribes in Tunceli, Turkey and as Shabakanlu in Khorasan northern east of Iran.

Arabization and Anfal Campaign[edit]

The geographical spread of Shabak people has been largely changed due to the massive deportations in the notorious Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the refugee crisis in 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami were relocated and deported to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) far away from their original homeland. Despite all these actions, Iraqi government efforts at forced assimilation and Arabization, as well as religious persecution of Shabaks has put them under increasing pressure. As one Shabak informant to a researcher put it:[8]

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

Religious beliefs[edit]

Shabak religious beliefs contain elements from Islam and Christianity. There is a close affinity between the Shabak and the Yazidis; for example, Shabaks perform pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines.[3]

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. 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.[9]


The Shabaks have many special traditions. Once in a year they commemorate the people that died that year. The whole city isn't eating that day. When the people die, they are buried. That tradition is called Jinanguan.

Shabaks after the Iraq War[edit]

On October 27, 2012, several Shabak were killed in Mosul when gunmen invaded their homes[10] as part of a series of attacks during the Eid al-Adha holiday. On September 13, 2013, a female suicide bomber killed 21 people in a bombing at a Shabak funeral near Mosul.[11] In July 2007 a Shabak MP claimed that Sunni militants had killed around 1,000 Shabak and displaced a further 4,000 from the Mosul area since 2003.[6]


  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 Shabak, Encyclopaedia of The Orient.
  4. ^ 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
  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
  6. ^ a b [1], additional text.
  7. ^ The Turkmen of Iraq: Underestimated, Marginalized and exposed to assimilation terminology, UNPO website
  8. ^ Michiel Leezenberg, The Shabak and the Kakais: Dynamics of Ethnicity in Iraqi Kurdistan, Publications of Insititute for Logic, Language & Computation (ILLC), University of Amsterdam, July 1994, p.6
  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, pp.214,215
  10. ^ "Iraq hit by deadly attacks on Eid al-Adha holiday". BBC News. 27 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  11. ^ New York Times: "Suicide Bomber Stages Deadly Attack at Funeral in Iraq’s North" September 14, 2013

Further research[edit]

External links[edit]