chapter  12
13 Pages

The Kizilbaş of Syria and Ottoman Shiism: Stefan Winter

The ‘Kızılbaş’ were essentially the antithesis of Ottoman din ü devlet, ‘religion and order’. The term, which refers to the red, twelve-pleated turban emblazoned with the names of the Shiite imams that was worn by the eastern Anatolian tribal followers of the Safavid sufi order of Ardabil in the late fifteenth century, seems already to have been used by Safavid leaders of the time. In Ottoman chancery sources it is first used in a derogatory sense when a number of these tribes began to revolt and helped shah Ismail conquer Tabriz in , laying the groundwork for the establishment of a Shiite rival state in Iran.1 In the mid-sixteenth century, judicial opinions by the Ottoman şeyhülislam (chief jurisprudent) Ebussuud Efendi (d. ) and others defined the Kızılbaş as illegal heretics whose elimination was a religious duty. This permitted the state to pursue a veritable inquisition against the heterodox tribesmen whose frequent revolts continued to shake Ottoman rule in Anatolia, while also providing a legal and ideological framework for further warfare against the Safavids. Although the Anatolian Kızılbaş gradually ceased to be a major concern for the Ottoman state – the –  celali rebellions, though alluding to an earlier Kızılbaş revolt, in fact had nothing to do with them – the Iranians and their supporters in Iraq are characterized as Kızılbaş throughout the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The conflict with the Kızılbaş is thus often seen as a basic fact of Ottoman and indeed Middle Eastern history in general, as the start of the empire’s uncompromisingly Sunni identity, as the paradigm for its treatment of minorities, and as the validation of an unbridgeable political split between Sunnism and Shiism.