chapter  16
14 Pages

The Ottoman frontier in Kurdistan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: Nelida Fuccaro

The development of the Ottoman state as an imperial power was closely connected to the control of its border regions. Eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq, areas with large Kurdish populations, became part of the eastern frontier of the empire, guarding its borders with Safavid Iran, in the early sixteenth century. The distinctive feature of the ‘culture of the border’ of Ottoman Kurdistan was the military nature of the political and administrative organization of the region as a ‘buffer zone’ which protected the Ottoman-Safavid frontier. The Kurdish tribal leaders and aristocrats who controlled the local principalities, tribal areas and towns constituted the main instruments of Ottoman rule. Not only were many of them integrated into the Ottoman administrative system as frontier lords, they also provided contingents for Ottoman military campaigns. While Ottoman records provide evidence of the military and administrative aspects of Kurdistan as a border region, the literary accounts by the famous Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, the Kurdish prince Sharaf al-Din Bitlisi and the mystic Ahmad Khani are evidence of different experiences and representations of the border. In particular, the narratives of these actors provide an insight into how crucial issues of race and religious practice permeated border identities, besides offering an indication of the self-representation of both Ottoman and Kurdish elites.