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Shabak people

An unofficial flag used by some Shabaks
Total population
130,000 to 500,000[1][2][3]
Regions with significant populations
Shabaki, Kurdish, Arabic
Shia Islam (Shabakism), Yarsani

The Shabak people are an ethnoreligious group who live mainly in the villages of Ali Rash, Khazna, Yangidja, and Tallara in the Sinjar District of the Nineveh Province in northern Iraq. They speak Shabaki, a Northwestern Iranian language of the Zaza–Gorani group.[4] In addition to the Shabaks, there are three other ta'ifs or sects which make up this group: the Bajalan, Dawoody and Zengana.[5] About 70 percent of Shabaks are Shi'a (Shabakism) and the rest of the population are Yarsani or Sunni.[6][7] It has also been suggested that Shabaks are descendants of the Qizilbash army led by Shah Ismail.


  • Demographics 1
  • History 2
    • Origins 2.1
    • Forced assimilation 2.2
    • 21st century persecution 2.3
  • Culture 3
    • Religious beliefs 3.1
    • Traditions 3.2
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


A 1925 survey estimated Shabak numbers at 10,000.[8] In the 1970s, their population was estimated to be around 15,000.[9] Modern estimates of Shabak population range from 130,000 to 500,000.[10]

Shabak are composed from three tribes (ashiret): the Hariri, the Gergeri, and the Mawsil î.[8]



The origin of the word Shabak is not clear. One view maintains that Shabak is an Arabic word شبك meaning intertwine, indicating that the Shabak people originated from many different tribes.[8] The name "Shabekan" occurs among tribes in Dersim, North Kurdistan and as "Shabakanlu" in Khorasan, which is located in the northeast region of Iran.

Austin Henry Layard considered Shabak to be descendants of Persian Kurds, and believed they might have affinities with the Ali-Ilahis.[8] 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.[8]

Forced assimilation

The geographical range of the Shabak people was drastically changed by the massive deportations that occurred during the Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the subsequent refugee crisis of 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami were relocated through deportations to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) located in the Harir area of Iraqi Kurdistan. An estimated 1,160 Shabaks were killed during that period. In addition, the Iraqi government's efforts at forced assimilation and Arabization and religious persecution, put the Shabaks under increasing pressure and threat. As one Shabak told a researcher:[11][12]

The government said we are Arabs, not Kurds; but if we are, why did they deport us from our homes?

Even though the Sunni Shabak community identifies itself as Kurds, Shia Shabaks consider themselves a unique ethnoreligious group.[7]

According to the US intelligence agency analysts, Shabaks are currently undergoing a process of Kurdification, though Shabak Council of Representative member Ahmed Yusif al-Shabak says that Shabaks are Kurds.[7]

In the Bashiqa sub district of the Mosul region, where Shabaks comprised 60% of the population, half of the city council members were of Kurdish origin.[13][14]

On 15 August 2005, Shabaks organised a demonstration under the slogan "We are the Shabak, NOT Kurds and NOT Arabs", demanding recognition of their unique ethnic identity.The demonstration came under fire from Kurdistan Democratic Party militia.[14]

On 21 August 2006, Shabak Democratic Party leader, Hunain Qaddo proposed the creation of a separate province whithin the borders of the Nineveh Plain.In order to combat the Kurdification and Arabization of Iraqi minorities.[15]

On 22 June 2006, members of the Assyrian and Shabak communities filed a complaint to the Iraqi prime minister, regarding the under representation of the two communities in the police force of the Niveneh region.The 711 Assyrian and Shabak policemen were sent to Mosul, while their positions in their local communities were filled with Kurds.[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 13 July 2008, A group of unidentified men, armed with machine guns, assassinated Abbas Kadhim. At the time of his murder, Kadhim was a member of the Democratic Shabak Assembly and an outspoken critic of the undergoing Kurdification process of the Shabak people.According to Shabak officials, Kadhim had received numerous death threats from members of the Peshmerga and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.[13]

On 30 June 2011, the Nineveh provincial council distributed 6000 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]

21st century persecution

  • In July 2007, a Shabak MP claimed that since 2003 Sunni militants have killed about 1,000 Shabaks and another 4,000 have fled the Mosul area for fear of Sunni militants.[6]
  • On 16 January 2012, at least 8 Shabaks were killed and 4 injured in a car bomb blast in Bartilla.[19]
  • Between 4–12 March 2012, four Shabaks were killed and four wounded, in separate incidents, which occurred whithin Mosul.[19]
  • On 10 August 2012, more than 50 Shabaks were killed or wounded after a suicide bomber targeted the Al Muafaqiya village.[20]
  • On 27 October 2012, several Shabaks were killed in Mosul by gunmen who burst into their homes as part of a series of attacks during the Eid al-Adha holiday.[21]
  • On 17 December 2012, 5 Shabaks were killed and 10 wounded after a car bomb exploded in the city of Khazna.[22]
  • In 2012, Shabak deputies attempted to form a 500 men regiment consisting solely of Shabaks with the goal of protecting habitants of the Hamadaniya district, east of Mosul.[23]
  • On 13 September 2013, a female suicide bomber killed 21 people at a Shabak funeral near Mosul.[24]
  • On 17 October 2013, a vehicle rigged with explosives detonated in a Shabak populated area in the city of Mwafaqiya, where 15 died and at least 52 were wounded.[26]
  • On 12 July 2014, ISIS fighters looted the Bazwaya village, in the Mosul region. On the same day 16 Shabaks were abducted by ISIS from the Jiliocan, Gogjali and Bazwaya villages.[27]
  • Between 29–30 July 2014, ISIS abducted 43 Shabak families from various neighbourhoods of Mosul.[27]
  • On 13 August 2014, ISIS destroyed the house of an Iraqi parliament member of Shabak origin.[27]
  • During August 2014, ISIS abducted 26 Shabaks from the Hamdaniya district region.[27]

Since Nineveh Province is contested by ISIS and Iraqi Kurdistan fighters, the Shabaks are now caught in a plight during the 2014 Iraq Offensive.[3] Quite a number of them have fled into Iraqi Kurdistan.[28] and about 30,000 Shabak and Turkmen displaced families have relocated to central and southern Iraq.[29]


Religious beliefs

Shabakism is similar and related to Islam and Christianity. Many regard themseves as Shia Muslims. It is common that Shabaks themselves will say that their faith is a form of Shia Islam, but their actual faith and rituals have little to do with Islam, clearly having every characteristic of an independent religion. There is a close affinity between the Shabak and the Yazidis; for example, Shabaks perform pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines.[30] However, The Shabak also perform pilgrimages to Shia holy cities such as Najaf and Kerbela.[4]

The primary Shabak religious text is called Byruk or Kitab al-Managib ('Book of Exemplary Acts'), Byruk is written in Turkoman.[8][14]

Shabaks combine elements of Sufism with their own interpretation of divine reality, which according to them, is more advanced than the literal interpretation of Qur'an known as Sharia. Shabak spiritual guides are known as pir, who are individuals well versed in the prayers and rituals of the sect. Pirs themselves are under the leadership of the Supreme Head or Baba.[8] Pirs act as mediators between Divine power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic system with such features as private and public confession and allowing consumption of alcoholic beverages. This last feature makes them distinct from the neighboring Muslim populations. The beliefs of the Yarsan closely resemble those of the Shabak people.[31]

Shabak consider the poetry of Ismail I to be revealed by god, and recite it during meetings.


The Shabaks have many special traditions. Once a year they commemorate the people who died that year. The whole city fasts that day. Shabaks bury their dead. Burial is called Jinanguan.


  1. ^ Kehl-Bodrogi, Krisztina; Kellner-Heinkele, Barbara; Otter-Beaujean, Anke (1997). Syncretistic Religious Communities in the Near East: Collected Papers of the International Symposium "Alevism in Turkey and Comparable Sycretistic Religious Communities in the Near East in the Past and Present" Berlin, 14-17 April 1995. BRILL. p. 159.  
  2. ^ Martin, Bruinessen, van (2000). Mullas, sufis and heretics: the role of religion in Kurdish society : collected articles. Isis Press. pp. 259–.  
  3. ^ a b Mina al-Lami (21 August 2014). "Iraq: The Minorities of the Nineveh Plain". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Tore Kjeilen. "Shabak". Encyclopaedia of The Orient. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  5. ^ This is according to one "informant" to a researcher (Michiel Leezenberg, a professor of philosophy at the University of Amsterdam), as reported at the following address: Leezenberg article
  6. ^ a b "Shabak". April 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c "SHABAK IN IRAQ: A TARGETED ETHNIC MINORITY?". 27 November 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Dr. Michiel Leezenberg. "The Shabak and the Kakais". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  9. ^ A. Vinogradov, Ethnicity, Cultural Discontinuity and Power Brokers in Northern Iraq: The Case of the Shabak, American Ethnologist, pp.207-218, American Anthropological Association, 1974, p.208
  10. ^ "Total population". 29 October 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Efforts to stop attacks on Shabak minority in Mosul". 22 April 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Mina al-Lami (16 August 2008). "Iraq's Shabak Accuse Kurds of Killing Their Leader". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c "Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq". 16 August 2005. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "NINEWA: SHABAK PUSH FOR AN END TO KURD ENCROACHMENT". 6 September 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Kurds Block Assyrians, Shabaks From Police Force in North Iraq". 22 July 2006. Retrieved 9 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. ^ a b "Increased attacks against Kurd Shabaks in Iraq's Nineveh". 3 April 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  20. ^ "Shabak people demonstrating following the death and injury of more than 50 Shabakis". 13 August 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "Iraq hit by deadly attacks on Eid al-Adha holiday".  
  22. ^ "Explosion kills five Shabak Kurds". 17 December 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  23. ^ "Shabak Regiment". 6 October 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  24. ^ "Shabak Funeral". 14 September 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  25. ^ "Iraqi Kurdistan appoints Peshmerga troops to protect Shabak villages in Mosul". 3 October 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  26. ^ "Series of Bomb Blasts". 17 October 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  27. ^ a b c d "Attacks Against Shabak" (PDF). 10 September 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  28. ^ "Peshmerga advance". 21 August 2014. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  29. ^ "Turkmen and Shabak displacement". 18 August 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  30. ^ 
  31. ^ A. Vinogradov, Ethnicity, Cultural Discontinuity and Power Brokers in Northern Iraq: The Case of the Shabak, American Ethnologist, pp.207-218, American Anthropological Association, 1974, pp.214,215

Further reading

External links

  • Encyclopedia of The Orient
  • Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq’s minority communities since 2003 London, Minority Rights Group, 2007
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