Qarai Turks

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The Karai[1] or Qarai [2] (Karāʾi / Qarāʾi / Qaraei / Karā or Qarā Tātār meaning Black Tatar) Turks, calling themselves Persian: قراي تركلر[citation needed] or Persian: ترک های سیاه‎,[citation needed] are a Turkic-speaking minority mostly found in Khorasan and Iran especially Torbat-e Heydarieh.[3]

At the start of the Qajar dynasty, Qarai Turks were also scattered even beyond southern Khorasan through the desert zone of Sistan.[4] Malcolm (1829) thought the Karai of Persia arrived from "Tartary" as a result of Timur's campaigns.[5] Under Afsharid Nader Shah (r. 1736–1747), they were settled in Khorasan. Before that time, the Karai seem also to have been found in Azerbaijan. Adam Olearius, who traveled in Azerbaijan in 1638, mentions Karai as one of the tribes of Mogan.


Their name (meaning "black") may ultimately derive from the Keraites, a Turco-Mongol polity in 11th-century Central Asia absorbed into the Mongol Empire and participating in the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, but may also be connected to those of various other Central Asian groups. [6]

Since "Black" (qara) is a Turkic designation for "north" it was a frequently used tribal identifier among the early Turkic peoples, and there are numerous Kipchak groups known by this adjective. The earliest mention of these, not necessarily related, are the "Black Tatars" (Chinese: 黑韃靼), a subdivision of the Rouran Khaganate in Tang sources.[citation needed] Meanwhile, at the western end of the steppe more "black Tatars" were the Tatar troops serving the First Bulgarian Empire[7]


Their resurgence in the greater Khorasan province is identified with the Kerey (Kazakh: Керей), a Kazakh group of the middle zhuz Argyns said to descend from the Keraites.[8] They became influential there in the 18th century, after their leader, Amir Khan, was made governor of Mashad under Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1749. Their political power peaked in the early 19th century under the leadership of Eshaq Khan Qaraei-Torbati. Eshaq Khan had submitted to Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar in 1795, but under Fath-Ali Shah Qajar he achieved de facto autonomy from the central Qajar government, seizing control of Mashad in 1813. But soon later, in 1816, Eshaq Khan's tribal alliance fell apart and he was killed in Mashad.

Esḥaq Khan was succeeded by his son Moḥammad Khan, who managed to retain "a sort of semi-independent existence"[9] But in the second half of the 19th century, the Karai chiefs lost most of their wealth and influence. George N. Curzon, who visited the area in 1889, described the region as "terribly decimated both by Turkmen ravages and by the great famine".[10]


A small Qarai population is found in Kerman Province, comprising some 420 households as of 1957, centered on the village of Tangu.[11] and in Fars Province, where clans using the name Qarai are found within the Qashqai, Khamsa and Mamasāni tribal confederacies. Oberling (1960:101) cites Iranian Army Files of 1956 according to which the Qarai of Kerman and Fars were moved there from Khorasan during the Safavid dynasty.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ P. Oberling, "Karāʾi", Encyclopedia Iranica
  2. ^ Cambridge History of Iran From Michael Craycraft's "THE QARAI RUGS OF TURBAT-I-HAIDARI" Footnote 1
  3. ^ Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical gazetteer of Iran, Volume 2, Verlagsanstalt, 1981, p.325
  4. ^ Richard Tapper, Tribe and State in Iran and Afghanistan, Routledge, 2012, p.19
  5. ^ J. Malcolm, The History of Persia, 2 vols., London, 1829.
  6. ^ G. Németh, A Hongfoglaló Magyarság Kialakulása, Budapest, 1930, 264-68, cited after Oberling (2002).
  7. ^ Vásáry, István (2005). Cumans and Tatars: Oriental Military in the Pre-Ottoman Balkans, 1185–1365. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-44408-8., p. 112
  8. ^ "The further fate of our Kerei is closely linked with the fate of Argyn, although they did not play such a large role as the Argyn. The Kerei [or at least the Achamail subgroup] participated in the campaign of Barak (1420) in Tashkent and Khujand. In 1723 the Kerei (as well as the Argyns) suffered relatively less than other peoples. In the wars of Muhammad Shaybani, there is mention of a tribe called Sakhiot, obviously the Kerei who had remained among the Uzbeks of Ferghana, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva." Tynyshbaev (1925)
  9. ^ C. E. Yate, Khurasan and Sistan, London, 1900, p. 53.
  10. ^ G. N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, 1892, vol. I, p. 203.
  11. ^ Oberling (1960), 100–105.
  • P. Oberling, "Karāʾi", Encyclopedia Iranica, vol. XV, Fasc. 5 (2002), pp. 536–537.
  • P. Oberling, The Turkic Peoples of Southern Iran, Cleveland, 1960.