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Fedayeen (Arabic: فِدائيّينfidāʼīyīn, "those who sacrifice themselves")[note A][1] is a term used to refer to various military groups.

Nizari Ismaili state[edit]

Hassan-i-Sabbah, who founded the Nizari Ismaili state in Persia and Syria, first coined the term to refer to the Hashshashins.[citation needed] fidāʼīyīn is the plural of fidāʼī, which means "sacrifice." It is widely understood as "those willing to sacrifice themselves for God". The group carried out an armed struggle against enslavement.


In the 19th century, the Armenian term "fedayi" was used by Armenians who formed guerrilla organizations and armed bands in reaction to the murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The term fedayi is derived from Arabic: فدائيون fidā'īyīn, literally meaning "those who sacrifice".[2][1]

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.


A demolished Israeli farmhouse, after a fedayeen attack (1956).

Palestinian fedayeen are militants of a nationalist orientation from among the Palestinian people. The fedayeen made efforts to infiltrate territory in Israel in order to strike military[3] as well as civilian[4][5][6][7][8][9][10] targets in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

Members of these groups were living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank or in neighboring Lebanon and Syria. Prior to Israel's acquisition of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War, these areas, originally destined for a Palestinian state, were under Jordanian or Egyptian occupation, respectively. After Israel's Operation Black Arrow in 1955, the Palestinian fedayeen were incorporated into an Egyptian army unit.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

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.[3] Since the mid-1960s and the rise of more organized and specific militant groups, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, 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.[citation needed]


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.[18] 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 the then 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 Rasheed Air Base. 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.


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[citation needed].

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the popular science fiction novel Dune, the elite Fremen soldiers are known as the "Fedaykin", an allusion to the word "fedayeen."
  • 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.

See also[edit]


^note A Derives from the word فداء fidāʼ, which means redemption. Literally, someone who redeems himself by risking or sacrificing his life. The pronunciation varies for the first vowel, for example IPA: [feˈdæːʔ, feˈdæːʔi], hence the transcription difference.
  1. ^ a b Tony Rea and John Wright (1993). The Arab-Israeli Conflict. Oxford University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0-19-917170-X. 
  2. ^ Middle East Glossary - The Israel Project: FEDAYEE
  3. ^ a b "Which Came First- Terrorism or Occupation - Major Arab Terrorist Attacks against Israelis Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 31 March 2002. 
  4. ^ Stein, Leslie (2014). The Making of Modern Israel; 1948-1967. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 171–172. 
  5. ^ Shapira, Anita. Israel; A History. p. 271. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Filiu, Jean-Pierre (2014). Gaza: A History. Oxford University Press. p. 92. 
  7. ^ Aloni, Udi (2011). "Samson the Non-European". Studies in Gender and Sexuality 12 (2): 124–133. doi:10.1080/15240657.2011.559441. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Four Killed In Ambush, Vancouver Sun
  9. ^ Byman, Daniel (2011). A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism. Oxford University Press. p. 22. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 2004, provides the most up-to-date breakdown of the reasons for the flight
  11. ^ Haya Regev, Dr. Avigail Oren, The operations in the 1950s, University of Tel Aviv, 1995
  12. ^ Glubb, John Bagot. A Soldier with the Arabs. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1957. p. 289.
  13. ^ 1948-1967- Major Terror Attacks. Mfa.gov.il. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  14. ^ Which Came First- Terrorism or Occupation – Major. Mfa.gov.il. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  15. ^ Remembrance Day Background. jafi.org (2005-05-15). Retrieved on 2012-05-09.
  16. ^ Fedayeen Attacks 1951–1956. jafi.org (2005-05-15). Retrieved on 2012-05-09.
  17. ^ The 1956 Sinai Campaign. Adl.org. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  18. ^ Abrahamian, Ervand, A Modern History Of Iran, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p.116

External links[edit]