Shabak people

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Shabak Flag.jpg
Shabak Flag
Total population
250,000 to 500,000[1][2][3]
Regions with significant populations
Shabaki, Arabic
Shia Islam, Alevism, Yarsanism

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.[4] 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][contradiction] 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]


Their population was estimated at around 15,000 in the 1970s.[8]Modern estimates of Shabak population range from 130,000 to 250,000.[9]Approximately 400 to 500 of them reside in the Nineveh province.[10]


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 "Shabekan" occurs among tribes in Tunceli, Turkey and as Shabakanlu in Khorasan northern east of Iran.

Arabization and Anfal Campaign[edit]

The geographical range of the Shabak people was drastically changed by the massive deportations of the Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the refugee crisis of 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami were relocated and deported to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) far from their homeland. In addition, Iraqi government efforts at forced assimilation and Arabization, as well as religious persecution of Shabaks put them under increasing pressure. As one Shabak told a researcher:[11]

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.[4]

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.[12]


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.

Shabak Persecution[edit]

In July 2007 a Shabak MP claimed that since 2003 Sunni militants had killed about 1,000 Shabak and a further 4,000 Shabak had fled the Mosul area for fear of Sunni militants.[6]

On October 27, 2012, several Shabak were killed in Mosul by gunmen who burst into their homes[13] as part of a series of attacks during the Eid al-Adha holiday.

In 2012 a 500 men regiment consisting solely of Shabaks was formed,with the goal of protecting inhabitants of the Hamadaniya district, east of Mosul.[14]

On September 13, 2013, a female suicide bomber killed 21 people at a Shabak funeral near Mosul.[15]

On October 17, 2013,a vehicle rigged with explosives detonated in a Shabak populated area area in the city of Mwafaqiya, where 15 died and at least 52 were wounded.[16]

Since Nineveh Province is contested by ISIS and Iraqi Kurdistan, the Shabak are now caught in a plight in the course of the 2014 Iraq Offensive.[3] Quite a number of them have fled into Iraqi Kurdistan.[17] Further 30,000 Shabak and Turkmen displaced families, relocated to central and southern Iraq.[18]


  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 Iraq: The Minorities of the Nineveh Plain
  4. ^ a b Shabak, Encyclopaedia of The Orient.
  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. ^ 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
  9. ^ "Total population". Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  10. ^ "Nineveh population". 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. ^ 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
  13. ^ "Iraq hit by deadly attacks on Eid al-Adha holiday". BBC News. 27 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Shabak Regiment". Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  15. ^ "Shabak Funeral". Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "Series of Bomb Blasts". Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  17. ^ "Peshmerga advance". Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  18. ^ "Turkmen and Shabak displacement". Retrieved 22 August 2014. 

Further research[edit]

External links[edit]