Shabak people

Shabak people

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Shabak people are an ethnic and religious minority group living in northern Iraq, who live mainly in the villages of Ali Rash, Khazna, Yangidja, and Tallara in Sinjar
Sinjar is the name of a town and district in northwestern Iraq's Ninawa Governorate near the Syrian border. Its population at the time of the 2006 census was 39,875....

 district in the province of Ninawa
Ninawa Governorate
Ninawa is a governorate in northern Iraq, and the Arabic name for the biblical city of Nineveh in Assyria. It has an area of and an estimated population of 2,453,000 people in 2003. Its chief city and provincial capital is Mosul, which lies across the Tigris river from the ruins of ancient...

 in northern Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

. Their language, Shabaki, is a Northwestern Iranian
Northwestern Iranian
The Northwestern Iranian languages are a branch of the Western Iranian language group, spoken by about 40-50 million people in southwest Asia; They are classified into about 9 groups; each group in this list contains subgroups, dialects or individual languages, eventually forming 53-54 branches.A...

 language very close to Hawraman and Gorani
Gorani language
Gorani is a Northwestern Iranian language, that includes Hewrami, and is spoken by Kurdish populations in the southernmost parts of Iranian Kurdistan and the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Some linguists classify it as a member of the Zaza–Gorani branch of the Northwestern Iranian languages...

 Kurdish. Their population was estimated at around 15,000 in the 1970s., However it is believed to be more like 60,000 today. Shabaks consist of three different ta'ifs or sects: the Bajalan
The Bajalan people also called Bazhalan, Bajarwan and Bajlan are a Kurdish tribe in Iraqi Kurdistan. However, they also have sub-groups in Turkey, Iran and Armenia.- History :...

, Dawoody and Zengana (two Kurdish
Kurdish people
The Kurdish people, or Kurds , are an Iranian people native to the Middle East, mostly inhabiting a region known as Kurdistan, which includes adjacent parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey...

 tribal confederations that also encompass some Shabak communities) and the Shabak proper. Shabaks follow an independent religion, related to but distinct from orthodox Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 and Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. It is also claimed that they are descendants of Qizilbash from the army of Shah Ismail.


The origin of the word shabak is not clear. One view maintains that shabak is an Arabic word شبك meaning intertwine, reflecting their diverse society. The name of Shabekan is available among the Kurdish Zaza
Zaza may refer to:* The Zaza people, an ethnic group in eastern Anatolia * The Zazaki language, spoken by the Zaza, also called Dimili, Dımılki, Dimli, Kirmancki-People:* Karim Zaza, a Moroccan goalkeeper* Neil Zaza, a guitar player...

 tribes in Tunceli/ Dersim Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 and as Shabakanlu in Khorasan northern east of Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...


Arabization and Anfal Campaign

The geographical spread of Shabak people has been largely changed due to the massive deportations in the notorious Al-Anfal Campaign
Al-Anfal Campaign
The al-Anfal Campaign , also known as Operation Anfal or simply Anfal, was a genocidal campaign against the Kurdish people in Northern Iraq, led by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid in the final stages of Iran-Iraq War...

 in 1988 and the refugee crisis in 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana (Kurdish group) and Hawrami (Kurdish group) were relocated and deported to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

) far away from their original homeland. Despite all these actions, Iraqi government efforts at forced assimilation
Forced assimilation
Forced assimilation is a process of forced cultural assimilation of religious or ethnic minority groups, into an established and generally larger community...

 and Arabization, as well as religious persecution of Shabaks has put them under increasing pressure. As one Shabak informant to a researcher put it:
The government said we are Arabs, not Kurds; but if we are, why did they deport us from our homes?

Religious beliefs

Shabak religious beliefs contain elements from Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 and Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. There is a close affinity between the Shabak and the Yazidis; for example, Shabaks perform pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines. The Shabaks have a sacred book called the Buyruk
Buyruk (Shabak)
The Buyruk is the sacred book of the Shabak. It is written in Turkoman....

written in Iraqi Turkmen colloquial.

Shabaks combine elements of Sufism
Sufism or ' is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a '...

 with their own interpretation of divine reality, which according to them, is more advanced than the literal interpretation of Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

 known as Sharia
Sharia law, is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia is derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah. Fiqh jurisprudence interprets and extends the application of sharia to...

. 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. Pirs act as mediators between Divine
Divinity and divine are broadly applied but loosely defined terms, used variously within different faiths and belief systems — and even by different individuals within a given faith — to refer to some transcendent or transcendental power or deity, or its attributes or manifestations in...

 power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

 system with such features as private and public confession
This article is for the religious practice of confessing one's sins.Confession is the acknowledgment of sin or wrongs...

 and allowing consumption of alcoholic beverage
Alcoholic beverage
An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits. They are legally consumed in most countries, and over 100 countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption...

s. This last feature makes them distinct from the neighboring Muslim populations. The beliefs of the Yarsan closely resemble those of the Shabak people.

Shabaks after the 2003 war

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq
2003 invasion of Iraq
The 2003 invasion of Iraq , was the start of the conflict known as the Iraq War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days of major combat operations...

, the Kurds have opened KDP offices and raised the flag of Kurdistan in Shabak villages. It is alleged that Iraqi Kurdistan
Iraqi Kurdistan
Iraqi Kurdistan or Kurdistan Region is an autonomous region of Iraq. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. The regional capital is Arbil, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr...

 wants to annex Shabak villages and the eastern side of Mosul
Mosul , is a city in northern Iraq and the capital of the Ninawa Governorate, some northwest of Baghdad. The original city stands on the west bank of the Tigris River, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh on the east bank, but the metropolitan area has now grown to encompass substantial...

 (Nineveh Plains
Nineveh plains
Nineveh plains is a region in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq to the north and west of the city Mosul. The area generally consists of three districts; Tel Keppe, Al-Hamdaniya, and Al-Shikhan...

) into its territory . Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in the Mosul area alone, 1,000 Shabaks have been killed, many by way of beheading, mostly by Sunni Arab militants. A further 4,000 Shabaks in Mosul have been driven from their homes.

The Shabaks have representatives in the mainly Assyrian Christian
Assyrian people
The Assyrian people are a distinct ethnic group whose origins lie in ancient Mesopotamia...

-dominated Bakhdida
Bakhdida , also known as Baghdeda, Qaraqosh, Karakosh or Al-Hamdaniya, is an Assyrian town in the northern Iraq Ninawa Governorate, located about 32 km southeast of the city of Mosul amid agricultural lands, close to the ruins of the ancient Assyrian cities Nimrud and Nineveh. It is connected...

, Bartella
Bartella is an Assyrian town located less than 13 miles east of Mosul, Iraq. The name Bartella is of Syriac origin, but its meaning is not fully agreed on by the historians...

 Karemlesh and Bashiqa
Bashiqa , is a town located in the Al-Hamdaniya District of the Ninawa Governorate in northern Iraq. Bashiqa's residents are mostly Yazidis, Assyrian Christians and Muslims....

 towns of the Ninawa Governorate and are offered protection from the Assyrian militias which guard Assyrian towns and villages.

Further research

  • Ali, Salah Salim. ‘Shabak: A Curious sect in Islam’. Revue des études islamiques 60.2 (1992): 521-528.
  • Ali, Salah Salim. ‘Shabak: A Curious sect in Islam’. Hamdard Islamicus 23.2 (April–June 2000): 73-78.

External links