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Fedayeen (Arabic: فِدائيّين fidāʼīyīn [fɪdaːʔɪjiːn] "self-sacrificers")[note A][1] is an Arabic term used to refer to various military groups willing to sacrifice themselves for a larger campaign.


The term fedayi is derived from Arabic: فدائيون fidā'īyūn IPA: [fɪdaːʔɪjuːn], literally meaning: "those who sacrifice themselves".[1][2]

Medieval usage[edit]

Order of Assassins[edit]

Hassan-i-Sabbah (c. 1050–1124),[3][4] who founded the Order of Assassins in Persia and Syria, used the term to refer to his fanatical devotees. Fidāʼīyīn is the plural of fidāʼī, which means "sacrifice." It is widely understood as "those willing to sacrifice themselves for God".

Modern usage[edit]


General Andranik Ozanian, wearing his uniform and medals with a papakha hat

Fedayi also known as the Armenian irregular units or Armenian militia, were Armenian civilians who voluntarily left their families to form self-defense units in reaction to the mass murder of Armenians and the pillage of Armenian villages by criminals, Turkish and Kurdish gangs, Ottoman forces, and Hamidian guards between the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their ultimate goal was to gain Armenian autonomy (Armenakans) or independence (Dashnaks, Hunchaks) depending on their ideology. Some of the key Fedayi figures also participated in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution that commenced during the same period, upon agreement of the ARF leaders.[5]

At the onset of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenians of Artsakh began forming small detachments of volunteers and often self-described themselves as Fedayeen, inheriting the name of the fighters who actively resisted the Ottoman Empire in the final decades of the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries. The Fedayeen during this period worked against attempts by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and OMON units of the Azerbaijan SSR to ethnically cleanse the region of Armenians.

The term has also been used to refer to members of the Armenian militant group ASALA.[6][7]

Ottoman Empire and Turkey[edit]

The Committee of Union and Progress conducted assassination campaigns and called its assassins "fedai", which originated from "feda," deriving from the first letters of "filiyas elenikis desmos anton" meaning "this is the tie of Greek friendship".[8] However, "feda" also means sacrifice in Turkish, representing the term's evolution which came to represent those who swore allegiance to CUP.[8] Within the context of Turkish history, the term fedailer is often associated with the Late Ottoman or Early Republican irregular forces, known as: Kuva-yi Milliye.[9] Those most committed Unionists who would enforce the Central Committee's regime were also known as fedailer.


During the 1940s, groups of Egyptian civilians formed fedayeen groups to contest the British occupation of Egypt, which by then was limited to the region against the Suez Canal. British forces had established numerous military outposts around the canal zone, which many Egyptians viewed as a violation of their national sovereignty. This opposition was not supported by the Egyptian government, though these fedayeen groups held broad support among the general public in Egypt.[citation needed]

In 1951 "mobs of "irregular self-sacrificers, or fedayeen", some "armed by the Muslim Brotherhood", attacked British military outposts located in the Suez Canal Zone.[10]


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 the Ethiopian government. They operated secretly and eliminated people who were considered dangerous to the struggle to gain Eritrean independence, which lasted from 1961 to 1991.[citation needed]


Two very different groups used the name Fedayeen in recent Iranian history. The 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.[11] 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 of Iran, 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 Ba'athist Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The name was chosen to imply a connection with the Palestinian Fedayeen.[12] 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, the Assyrian Democratic Movement occupied the building; after an extensive cataloging process, an operation was conducted in Baghdad resulting in several individuals being detained.


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[13] as well as civilian[14][15][16][17][18][19][20] 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 seizure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War, these areas, originally destined for a Palestinian state, were under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation, respectively. After Israel's Operation Black Arrow in 1955, the Palestinian fedayeen were incorporated into an Egyptian army unit.[21][22][23][24][25][26][27]

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.[citation needed] In the Israeli Hebrew press of this time the term (פַדַאיוּןfada'iun) had highly negative connotations and was associated with terrorism.[13] 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.

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[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 978-0-19-917170-5.
  2. ^ "Middle East Glossary - The Israel Project: FEDAYEE". Archived from the original on April 27, 2012.
  3. ^ Frischauer, Willi (1970). "Chapter II". The Aga Khans. The Bodley Head. p. 40. ISBN 0-370-01304-2.
  4. ^ Daftary, Farhad; Ali-de-Unzaga, Omar. "Hasan Sabbah". The Institute of Ismaili Studies. Retrieved 2018-02-05.
  5. ^ Tony Rea and John Wright (1993). The Arab-Israeli Conflict. Oxford University Press. p. 43. ISBN 019917170X.
  6. ^ Cromer, Gerald, ed. (2017-11-30). Insurgent Terrorism. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781351155564. ISBN 978-1-351-15556-4.
  7. ^ Atanesian, Grigor (2016-08-05). "Armenia After the Crackdown: Old-Time Warriors Ready to Take a Stand". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 2024-02-19.
  8. ^ a b Göçek, Fatma Müge (2015). Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present and Collective Violence Against the Armenians, 1789–2009. Oxford University Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-19-933420-9.
  9. ^ http://www.yumuktepe.com/kurtulus-savasinda-icel-dort-ve-besinci-bolum/ Archived 2021-02-24 at the Wayback Machine KURTULUŞ SAVAŞINDA İÇEL – DÖRT VE BEŞİNCİ BÖLÜM
  10. ^ Wawro, Geoffrey (2010). Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East. Penguin. ISBN 978-1101197684.
  11. ^ Abrahamian, Ervand, A Modern History Of Iran, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p.116
  12. ^ Seddon, David (11 January 2013). A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East. Taylor and Francis. p. 165. ISBN 9781135355616.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Stein, Leslie (2014). The Making of Modern Israel; 1948-1967. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 171–172.
  15. ^ Shapira, Anita (2012). Israel; A History. p. 271. ISBN 9781611683530. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
  16. ^ Filiu, Jean-Pierre (2014). Gaza: A History. Oxford University Press. p. 92.
  17. ^ Aloni, Udi (2011). "Samson the Non-European". Studies in Gender and Sexuality. 12 (2): 124–133. doi:10.1080/15240657.2011.559441. S2CID 143362550.
  18. ^ Four Killed In Ambush Archived 2020-02-19 at the Wayback Machine, Vancouver Sun
  19. ^ Byman, Daniel (2011). A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism. Oxford University Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780199831746. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ Haya Regev, Dr. Avigail Oren, The operations in the 1950s, University of Tel Aviv, 1995
  22. ^ Glubb, John Bagot. A Soldier with the Arabs. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1957. p. 289.
  23. ^ 1948-1967- Major Terror Attacks Archived 2018-08-22 at the Wayback Machine. Mfa.gov.il. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  24. ^ Which Came First- Terrorism or Occupation – Major Archived 2018-11-01 at the Wayback Machine. Mfa.gov.il. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  25. ^ Remembrance Day Background Archived 2014-10-24 at the Wayback Machine. jafi.org (2005-05-15). Retrieved on 2012-05-09.
  26. ^ Fedayeen Attacks 1951–1956 Archived 2015-07-15 at the Wayback Machine. jafi.org (2005-05-15). Retrieved on 2012-05-09.
  27. ^ The 1956 Sinai Campaign Archived 2007-10-16 at the Wayback Machine. Adl.org. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.

External links[edit]