The article below is by Professor Pierre Oberling. This originally appeared in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue. The CAIS site is hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav.
The version printed below is different from that CAIS version in that has accompanying pictures and descriptions.
Kurdish tribes are found throughout Iranian world including Iran-proper, eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq, but very few comprehensive lists of them have been published.The one most often cited is that of François Bernard Charmoy, which was based on the Sharaf-nāma by the 16th-century Kurdish historian Sharaf-al-Din Bedlisi (q.v.; I, pp. 55-85).
An Iranian Kurdish girl.
An attempt to present an up-to-day list of Kurdish tribes follows.
Western Azarbaijan Province
The most important Kurdish tribes in that region are Jalâli (q.v.; around Mâku), Milân (also around Mâku), Haydarânlu (on the Turkish border, southwest of Mâku), Donboli (q.v.; Azeri-speaking, around Khoy and Salmâs), Korahsunni (Kurdicized Azeris, southwest of Khoy), Shekkâk (south of Salmâs), Herki (around Urmia), Begzâda (south of Urmia), Zerzâ (on the Iraqi border, west of Ošnaviya), Pirân (on the Iraqi border, southwest of Naqada), Mâmaš (around Naqada), Mangur (southwest of Mahâbâd), Mokri (around Mahâbâd), Dehbokri (east of Mahâbâd), Gowrâk (south of Mahâbâd, around Sardašt and northwest of Saqqez), Malkâri (around Sardašt), Suseni (west of Saqqez), Fayzµ-Allâh-begi (northeast of Saqqez). (For details, see Afšâr Sistâni, pp. 137-95; Komisiun-e melli, pp. 117-29.).
East Azarbaijan province in Iran (right) and a traditional rug woven by Herki Kurds (left) (Picture source for left frame only: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).
Eastern Azerbaijan Province
In Qarâjadâgh (today Arasbârân), that is, the region between the Aras river and the Sabalân mountain range, there are six Shi’ite, Turki-speaking tribes of Kurdish origin: Ùalabiânlu (q.v.), Mohammad Khânlu, Hosaynâklu, Hâji ‘Alilu (q.v.), Hasan Beglu, and Qarâchorlu. In Khalkhâl, that is, the region between the Bozghuš mountains and the Qezel Uzen (owzan) river, there are seven Shi’ite, Turki-speaking tribes of Kurdish origin: Delikânlu, Kolukjânlu (an offshoot of the Shekkâk), Shatárânlu (also an offshoot of the Shekkâk), Ahmadlu, Shâdlu, Rašvand, and Mâmânlu. Finally, there are Shi’ite, Turki-speaking Shekkâk occupying vast areas northeast and northwest of Miyâna. (See Afšâr-Sistâni, pp. 109-25; Oberling, 1964; idem, 1961, pp. 52-57, 80.).
A stucco of Zahak in Tabriz (left) and a 14th century map which (partially) shows the city of Tabriz as it appeared at that time. The legend of the blacksmith Kaveh, the legendary hero who defeats the evil Zahak, is an ancient Iranian folklore tradition that has endured throughout Iran and among Iranian peoples. The Kurds make a special tribute to kaveh every year when they celebrate the Iranian new year – the Nowruz (Picture source: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).
The most important Kurdish tribes in this region are: Saršiv (on the Iraqi border, south of Bâna), Tilaku`i (Kurdicized Turks, around Sonnata and Zâgha), Bani Ardalân (around Senna [Sanandaj], Jâf (southwest of Senna [Sanandaj]), Hulilân (southeast of Kermânšâh), and the following tribes between Kermânšâh (present-day Bâkhtarân) and the Iraqi border: Gurân, Kalhor, Sanjâbi, Sharafbayâni, Kerindi, Bâjalân (q.v.), Nânakuli, and Zangana. (See Afšâr-Sistâni, pp. 223-59; Komisiun-e melli, pp. 130-33; also multiple entries in Nikitine and Arfa.).
Perspectives of the Moshir Divan building at Sanandaj (Picture source: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).
According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 86 and 98), the Kurdish tribes in this province are: Jamiri, Juzikân, and Shâhjân.
The tomb of Baba Taher in the city of Hamedan (ancient Ecbatana), capital of Hamedan province (left) and a Persian Tar stringed instrument (right). Baba Taher is one of the greatest writers of Persian literature – his poems were also composed in music. Professor L. P. Elwell-Sutton notes of Baba Taher that “He could be described as the first great poet of Sufi love in Persian literature. In the last two decades his do-baytis [Persian quatrains or two -bayt metre poems] have often been put to music”. Although the precise dates of his birth date and time of passing remain unknown, it is generally believed that he may have been a contemporary of other legendary greats of Persian literature such as Firdowsi and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) who is also buried in Hamedan. Baba Taher’s works are also available in other Iranian languages such as Kurdish, Luri, and Mazandarani. Baba Taher’s poems are derived from the Middle-Persian (pre-Islamic) dialects known variously as Pahlavi (Picture source: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).
According to Oskar Mann (p. XXIII), the Delfân and Selsela groups of tribes, the Armâ`i tribe of the Tarhân group of tribes, and the Bayrânvand tribe in the Piš-e Kuh speak Laki. According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 78, 86), both the Itivand and the Judeki tribes in the Piš-e Kuh are Kurdish. There is also a large tribe by the name of Kord in the Pošt-e Kuh (Rabino, 1916, pp. 40-45).
There are three groups of Zangana and one of Jalâli in the Jânneki Garmsir, northeast of Ahvâz. They were brought there by Nadir Shah (Qâ`em Maqâmi). There was also a tribe by the name of Âl bu Kord which occupied seven villages on the Kârun river south of Ahvâz (Lorimer, II, pp. 121, 1042).
There have been two important Kurdish tribes in this province: Rišvand (or Rašvand) and ‘Amârlu (q.v.). According to Rabino, the Rišvand formed part of the Bâbân tribe of Solaymâniya and were moved to Gilân by Shah ‘Abbâs I. Later, they were chased out of most of their choice pasturelands by the ‘Amârlu, who were moved to Gilân from northwestern Persia by Nâder Shah (Rabino, 1916-17, pp. 260-61; tr., pp. 304-6). The Rišvand now live mostly in Qazvin province. The ‘Amârlu occupy some fifty villages between Menjil and Pirâkuh in southeastern Gilân. (See Fortescue, pp. 319-20; Mardukh Kordestâni, I, pp. 100-1; Afšâr Sistâni, pp. 132-34.).
Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) moved the Rišvand tribe from Suleiminaya (in modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan) to Gilan. Shah Abbas also commissioned Kurdish prince Sharafeddin to write the “Sharafname”, a Kurdish epic, in an endeavor to highlight the long-standing connections of the Iranic Kurds to the Iranian realm.
There are three major Kurdish tribes in the province: Modânlu (north of Sâri), Jahânbeglu (north of Sâri), and Khvâjavand (south of Nowšahr). The Khvâjavand tribe, according to L. S. Fortescue (p. 317), “was originally brought from Garru´s (q.v.) and Kurdista´n by Na´der Sha´h.” The Modânlu and Jahânbeglu tribes were probably also moved to Mâzanderân by Nâder Shah. According to Rabino (1913, p. 441).
The most important Kurdish tribes in this province are GÚiât¯vand (q.v.), Kâkâvand, Rišvand, and Ma’âfi. The GÚiât¯vand tribe dwells along the Qezel Uzen and Shâhrud rivers. According to Parviz Varjâvand (pp. 456-57), it was transplanted from western Persia by Âghâ Mohammad Khan Qâjâr. The Kâkâvand tribe lives northeast of Qerva, on the Siâh Dahân-Zanjân road. The Rešvand tribe occupies the districts of Alâmut and Rudbâr. The Ma’âfi tribe dwells near the Qazvin-Tehran road (Fortescue, pp. 325-26). According to Varjâvand (pp. 459-60), there are also small groups of Bâjalân, Behtu`i, Ùamišgazak, Jalilvand, and Kalhor in the province.
The Pâzuki tribe is the principal Kurdish group in the province. According to Albert Houtum-Schindler (p. 50), it was once a powerful tribe residing near Erzurum in Anatolia; but it was broken up in the late 16th century, a fragment settling down around Varâmin and GÚâr. In the Tehran region are also fragments of the following tribes: Hedâvand, Burbur, Uryâd, Zerger, Kord Bacha, Nânakuli, and Qarâchorlu (Kayhân, II, p. 111); and in Sâva there are Kalhor Kurds (Afšâr Sistâni, p. 1115).
According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, p. 79), there is a Kurdish tribe in this province by the name of Bâzinjân. Moreover, the name of the town Shahr-e Kord southwest of Isfahan evidence the existence of Kurds in that region in the past (cf. Kord in Fârs mentioned below). This is reinforced by the remarks of early Muslim geographers (Mas’udi, Tanbih, p. 88; EsÂtÂakhri, pp. 98-99, 115; Ebn Hawqal, p. 265; Moqaddasi, p. 447).
According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 75-117), there are more than thirty small Kurdish tribes in Fârs. Many of these are undoubtedly remnants of tribes that followed Karim Khan Zand to Fârs; after the fall of the Zand dynasty, they were absorbed as clans by the Qašqâ`i tribal confederacy. They include the Saqqez, Zangana (five separate groups, including one that today forms a clan of the Kaškuli Bozorg tribe of the Qašqâ`i), Kuruni, Ùegini (q.v.), Burbur and Uryâd (clans of the Qašqâ`i ‘Amala tribe), Lak and Vandâ (clans of the Qašqâ`i Darrašuri tribe), Kordlu (a clan of the Qašqâ`i Qarâ Ùâhilu tribe), and Kord-Shuli. (See Oberling, 1960, pp. 76-84; idem, 1974, pp. 225-31.) References to Kurdish tribes in Fârs, as well as to a town called Kord in the Isfahan area, go back to the 10th century (Mas’udi, Tanbih, pp. 88-89; Ebn Khordâdbeh, p. 47; Estakhri, pp. 113 ff., 125; Ebn Hawqal, pp. 264-65, 269, 270-71; Moqaddasi, p. 446). According to Ebn al-Balkhi, the five major Kurdish tribes of Fârs had been annihilated during the Arab conquest, and the Kurds that were in Fârs in the 12th century, other than the Shabânkâra, had been brought there by the Buyid ‘Azµad-al-Dawla. There were many Kurds in Fârs in the 11th century, including as many as five tribes of Shabânkâra (Ebn al-Balkhi, tr. pp. 5-13). Although Ebn Balkhi distinguishes the Shabânkâra from the original Kurdish tribes of Fârs, the name of one of the Shabânkâra five clans, Râmâni (the other four are Esmâ’ili, Karzubi, Mas’udi, Shakâni), is identical with that of a Kurdish tribe of Fârs mentioned in early sources (Estakhri, p. 114; Ebn Hawqal, p. 270; Moqaddasi, p. 446). The Shabânkâra seized power from the Buyids in Fârs in 1062 and founded a dynasty of tribal rulers there (Ebn Balkhi, pp. 164-67; Bosworth, p. 156). Some of the Shabânkâra settled down in the district of Simakân, between Shiraz and Jahrom (Hasan Fasâ`i, II, p. 314). Today, there is still a district by the name of Shabânkâra near Bušehr.
An entrance road towards the city of Shahr-e-Kord [lit. City of Kurd or Kurd-city], known until 1935 as Deh-e-Kord [lit. Village of Kurd or Kurd-village], is the capital of the Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari Province. Today only a fraction of the city’s inhabitants are of Kurdish descent. Shahr-e-Kord boasts an excellent ski resort known as Bardeh as well as beautiful lagoons and numbers of small lakes (Picture source: Mani Moradi).
There are many thousands of Kurds in Khorasan, and most of them are descendants of tribesmen who were moved into the province by Shah ‘Abbâs I around 1600. The most important Kurdish tribes in Khorasan are: ‘Amârlu (in the Marusk plain, northwest of Nišâpur), Shâdlu (in the district of Bojnurd), Za’farânlu (in the districts of Shirvân and Quchân), Keyvânlu (in the districts of Joveyn, Darragaz, and Radkân), Tupkânlu (around Joveyn and Nišâpur), and Qarâchorlu (in the districts of Bojnurd, Shirvân, and Quchân). (See: Afšâr Sistâni, pp. 984-1104; Ivanow, pp. 150-52.) The recent study of Mohammad-Hosayn Pâpoli Yazdi shows the extent to which the Kurds of Khorasan have become sedentary (pp. 23-37).
According to Percy Sykes (p. 210), there was a small Kurdish tribe in the Sârdu (or Sârduya) region in 1900. Until recently, there was also a clan of the Afšâr tribe of Kermân by the name of Mir Kord (Oberling, 1960, p. 115).
There are Kurds in northeastern Persian Baluchistan, who might be the descendants of tribesmen who accompanied the luckless LotÂf-’Ali Khan Zand on his desperate flight to Bam in 1794. Until the 1880s, they were dominant in Khâš, and their leader was known as the Sardâr of the Sarhad (Sykes, pp. 106, 107, 131; see also Bestor). Today, they are widely scattered, some of them living on the southern slopes of the Kuh-e Taftân, others dwelling around Magas (today, Zâbol); and still others are settled in Sistân (Afšâr Sistâni, p. 918). Hosayn-’Ali Razmârâ mentions eight villages in the district of Bampošt that are inhabited by Baluchi-speaking Zand tribesmen (VIII, pp. 187, 248, 313, 315, 322, 372, 384). These probably moved to Baluchistan at the same time as the Kurds of Khâš.
Most of the Kurds in Turkey have become sedentary and many have lost their tribal identity. According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 75-117), at the beginning of the 20th century the principal Kurdish tribes of Turkey were the following. They are listed according to district (velâyat).
Girl from the ZaZa clan in Turkey derived from the ancient Mede tribe of the Dimili (Picture source: Mani Moradi).
For more information on Kurdish tribes in Turkey, see Ott Blau (pp. 608-9), Mark Sykes (pp. 451-86), and Badile Nikitine (pp. 161-62).
Ag¡ri: Sâderli, Khâlati, Haydarânli, Hamadikân, Zilânli, Bâdeli, Âdamânli, Bašmânli, Jalâli, Bâzikli.
Ankara: ‘Amarânli, Nâsáerli, Zirikânli, Judikânli, Tirikân.
Bitlis: Mudeki, Khâzali, Hasanânlu, Âtamânikân, Jabbarânli.
Diârbakér: Diârbakri, Musek, Shaykhdudânli, Surkišli, Dersimli, Khâzâli, Bešeri, Tirikân, Purân, Bekirân, Raškutânli.
Elazig¡: Gurus, Kulbaban, Sinân, Âšmišârt, Behirmâz.
Erzurum: Herka`i, Zirikânli, Hasanânli, Piziânli, Rašvân.
Hakâri: Kekâ, Shemsiki, Neri, Hakâri, Hasanânlu, Balikâr, Dinâri.
Kiršehir: ‘Amarânli, Tâburowghli, Barakatli.
Maraš (Mar’aš): Gugarišânli, Kikân, Vâliâni, Nederli, Nâšâdirâ, Dughânli, Delikânli, Jelikânli, Balikânli.
Mardin: Dâkhuri, Tur’âbedin.
Muš: Mâmakânli, Lulânli, Shekerli, Panjinân, Silukân, Selivân, Hasanânli, Azli, Panijâri, Zerzân, Balikân.
Siirt (Se’ert): Mirân, Musek, Kaviân, Dersimli, Dâkhuri, Hosayni, Jaziriân, Panjinân.
Sivâs: Kucheri, Âkhchešmi
Tokat (Toqat): Aruk.
Tunceli (Tunjeli): Milli, Dersimli.
Urfa: Givarân, ‘Aluš, Ùâpkasân, Abu Tâher, Emerzân, Bârân.
Van: Mahmudi, Herka`i, ‘Isâ`i, Yazidi, Sepikânli, Duderi, Khâni, Jelikânli, Tâkuli, Tâpiân, Bârezânli.
Yozgat: Mâkhâni, Khâtunoghli, Tâburoghli.
Khvarvaran & Asuristan (today known as Iraq)
There are still many powerful Kurdish tribes in Iraq. According to Mohammad-Amin Zaki (pp. 399-410), the most important Kurdish tribes in Iraq in 1931 were the following. They are listed according to geographical region (urban center).
Kurdish Jews in Rawanduz, modern-day Iraq in 1905. Interestingly, many surviving Kurdish Jews from older generations were able to speak Aramaic.
For more information on the Kurdish tribes of Iraq, see Henry Field (1940), Cecil John Edmonds, and Hasan Arfa.
Arbil: Âko, Dizâ`i, Surchi, Gerdi, Herki, Bârzân (q.v.), Buli, Shirvân wa Barâdust (q.v.), Zârâri, Khilâni, Bervâri Bâlâ, Bervâri Ûiri, Khošnâv, Pirân.
Khâneqin: Bâjalân, Zenda, Leylâni, Kâka`i, Shaykh-bazini, Bibâni, Dâwuda, Kâkhevâr, Pâlâni, Kâghânlu.
Kerkuk: Sharafbayâni, Barzenji, Dilo, Tâlebâni, Jabbâri, Shuhân, Zangana, ‘Amarmel, Sâlehi.
Mandali: Qarâ ‘Alus.
Mosul: Sheqqâq, Duski, Zibâri, Misuri, Ârtuš, Sendi.
Solaymâniya: Jâf, Marivâni, Pišdar, Hamâvand, Âvrâmi, and Esmâ’il ‘Azizi.
Kurdish man in northwest Iran engaged in the worship of Mithras in a Pir’s (mystical leader/master) sanctuary which acts as a Mithraic temple (Courtesy Kasraian & Arshi, 1993, Plate 80). Note how he stands below an opening allowing for the “shining of the light”, almost exactly as seen with the statue in Ostia, Italy. These particular Kurds are said to pay homage to Mithras three times a day.
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Hassan Arfa, The Kurds: An Historical and Political Study, London, 1966.
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Otto Blau, “Nachrichten über kurdische Stämme,” ZDMG 16, 1862, pp. 607-27.
Clifford E. Bosworth, “Shabânkâra,” in EI2 IX, p. 156.
Cecil John Edmonds, Kurds, Turks and Arabs, London, 1957.
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Idem, “The Tribes of Qarâcha Dâgh: A Brief History,” Oriens 17, 1964, pp. 60-95.
Idem, The Qashqâ`i Nomads of Fârs, The Hague, 1974.
Mohammad-Hossein Papoli Yazdi, Le nomadisme dans le nord du Khorassan, Paris, 1991.
Jahângir Qâ`em Maqâmi, “‘Ašâyer-e Khuzestân,” Yâdgâr 3/9, 1946-47, pp. 10-22.
Hyacinth Louis Rabino, “A Journey in Mazanderan (from Rasht to Sari),”Geographical Journal 42, Jul.-Dec. 1913, pp. 435-54. Idem, Les tribus du Louristan, Paris, 1916.
Idem, “Les provinces caspiennes de la Perse: le Guilan,” RMM 32, 1916-17, pp. 1-283; tr. by Ja’far Khomâmizâda as Welâyât-e Dâr-al-Marz-e Gilân, Tehran, 1978.
Hosayn-’Ali Razmârâ, Farhang-e jogrâfiâ`i-e Irân VIII, Tehran, 1953.
Mark Sykes, “The Kurdish Tribes of the Ottoman Empire,” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 38, 1908, pp. 451-86.
Percy Molesworth Sykes, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902.
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Mohammad-Amin Zaki, Kholâsa târikh al-Kord wa’l-Kordestân, Baghdad, 1939.