Shabak people

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Shabak Flag.jpg
Flag used by most Shabaks
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Largest settlements:
Mosul, Gogjali, Bartella[4][5]
Shabaki, Kurdish[6]
Shia Islam (and Shabakism)[3]

The Shabak people are an ethno-religious group in Iraq, who speak Shabaki, a Northwestern Iranian language of the Zaza–Gorani group. They have been recognized as a distinct ethnic group in Iraq since 1952.[7][8] Shabaks are culturally distinct from Kurds and Arabs. They possess their own traditions and language.[9] The Shabaks live in a religious community (ta'ifa) in about sixty-five villages to the east of Mosul. The primary Shabak religious text is called the Buyruk or Kitab al-Manaqib (Book of Exemplary Acts), which is written in Turkmen.[2]

Members of the three Kurdish tribes of Bajalan (or Bajarwans), Zangana and Dawoody have been integrated into the Shabak society but still speak Kurmanji Kurdish.[1]


A 1925 survey estimated Shabak numbers at 100,000. In the 1970s, their population was estimated to be around 15,000.[10] Modern estimates of Shabak population range from 500,000 to 550,000.[11]


The origins of the word Shabak are not clear. One view maintains that Shabak is an Arabic word شبك meaning intertwine, indicating that the Shabak people originated from many different tribes.[12] The name "Shabekan" occurs among tribes in Tunceli, Turkey and "Shabakanlu" in Khorasan, which is located in the northeast region of Iran.

Austin Henry Layard considered Shabak to be descendants of Kurds originating from Iran, and believed they might have affinities with the Ali-Ilahis.[12] Other theories suggested that Shabak originated from Anatolian Turkomans, who were forced to resettle in the Mosul area after the defeat of Ismail I at the battle of Chaldiran.[12]

Deportation and forced assimilation[edit]

The Shabak people have suffered from both deportation and forced assimilation in recent years. The geographical range of the Shabak people was drastically changed by massive deportations during the Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the refugee crisis of 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami were relocated to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) located in the Harir area of Iraqi Kurdistan. An estimated 1,160 Shabaks were killed during this period.

In addition, increasing efforts have been made to force the Shabak to suppress their own identity in favour of being either exclusively Arab or Kurdish. The Iraqi government's efforts of forced assimilation, Arabization and religious persecution put the Shabaks under increasing threat. As one Shabak told a researcher: "The government said we are Arabs, not Kurds; but if we are, why did they deport us from our homes?"[13][14] Salim al-Shabaki, a representative of Shabaks in the Iraqi parliament, said "The Shabaks are part of the Kurdish nation", emphasizing that Shabaks are ethnically Kurdish (2016).[15] On 21 August 2006, Shabak Democratic Party leader Hunain Qaddo proposed the creation of a separate province within the borders of the Nineveh Plain to combat the Kurdification and Arabization of Iraqi minorities.[16] On 20 December 2006, ten Shabak representatives unanimously voted for the non-inclusion of Shabak inhabited areas of the Mosul region into the Kurdish Regional Government. A number of Shabak village aldermans noted that they were threatened into signing the incorporation petition by Kurdish authorities.[17] On 30 June 2011, the Nineveh provincial council distributed 6,000 lots of land to state employees. According to the head of the Shabak Advisory Board Salem Khudr al-Shabaki, the majority of those lots were deliberately given to Arabs.[18] Hunain al-Qaddo, a Shabak politician, was quoted by Human Rights Watch that: "The Peshmerga have no genuine interest in protecting his community, and that Kurdish security forces are more interested in controlling Shabaks and their leaders than protecting them."[19]

Religious beliefs[edit]

A majority of Shabaks regard themselves as Shia Muslims, and a minority identify as Sunni.[3][20][21][22] However, despite this, their actual faith and rituals differ from Islam's, and have characteristics that make them distinct from neighboring Muslim populations. These include features from Christianity including confession, and the consumption of alcohol, and the fact Shabaks often go on pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines.[23] Nevertheless, the Shabak people also go on pilgrimages to Shia holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, and follow many Shiite teachings.[24]

Shabaks combine elements of Sufism with their own interpretation of divine reality. According to Shabaks, divine reality is more advanced than the literal interpretation of Qur'an which is known as Sharia. Shabak spiritual guides are known as Pirs, and they are well versed in the prayers and rituals of the sect. Pirs are under the leadership of the Supreme Head or Baba.[12] Pirs act as mediators between divine power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic faith similar to the beliefs of Yarsanism.[25]

Shabaks also consider the poetry of Ismail I to be revealed by God, and they recite Ismail's poetry during religious meetings.[25]


  1. ^ a b Kehl-Bodrogi, Krisztina; Kellner (1997). Syncretistic Religious Communities in the Near East:. BRILL. p. 159. ISBN 978-90-04-10861-5. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b Martin van Bruinessen (2000). Mullas, Sufis and Heretics: The Role of Religion in Kurdish Society : Collected Articles. Isis Press. p. 3000. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Mina al-Lami (21 August 2014). "Iraq: The Minorities of the Nineveh Plain". Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Part I: ISIS exploited the marginalized minority groups of Iraq". Rudaw. 27 April 2017. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  5. ^ C.J. Edmonds (1967). "A Pilgrimage to Lalish". p. 87.
  6. ^ Christine M. Helms. Arabism and Islam: Stateless Nations and Nationless States. p. 12.
  7. ^ Castellino, Joshua; Cavanaugh, Kathleen A. (2013-04-25). Minority Rights in the Middle East. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191668876.
  8. ^ "On Vulnerable Ground | Violence against Minority Communities in Nineveh Province's Disputed Territories". Human Rights Watch. 2009-11-10. Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  9. ^ Castellino, Joshua; Cavanaugh, Kathleen A. (2013-04-25). Minority Rights in the Middle East. OUP Oxford. ISBN 0191668885.
  10. ^ Amal Vinogradov (1974). "Ethnicity, Cultural Discontinuity and Power Brokers in Northern Iraq: The Case of the Shabak". American Ethnologist. 1 (1): 207–218. doi:10.1525/ae.1974.1.1.02a00110.
  11. ^ "Total population". 29 October 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d Dr. Michiel Leezenberg. "The Shabak and the Kakais". Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Efforts to stop attacks on Shabak minority in Mosul". 22 April 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  15. ^ "Shabak minority want only Peshmerga to liberate their homes". Rudaw. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  16. ^ "NINEWA: SHABAK PUSH FOR AN END TO KURD ENCROACHMENT". 6 September 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  17. ^ "NINEWA: SHABAK REJECT INCORPORATION INTO KRG". 27 January 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  18. ^ "Shabak official: Nineveh province is arabizing our areas". 30 June 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  19. ^ "On Vulnerable Ground". Human Rights Watch. 10 November 2009.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Kjeilen, Tore. "Shabak / Religion - LookLex Encyclopaedia".
  24. ^ Imranali Panjwani. Shi'a of Samarra: The Heritage and Politics of a Community in Iraq. p. 172. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  25. ^ a b A. Vinogradov, Ethnicity, Cultural Discontinuity and Power Brokers in Northern Iraq: The Case of the Shabak, American Ethnologist, pp. 214-215, American Anthropological Association, 1974

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Shabak people at Wikimedia Commons