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

The Shabak people (Arabic: الشبك) are an ethno-religious 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 the Bajalan, Dawoody and Zengana groups. About 70 percent of Shabaks follow Shabakism and the rest of the population are Yarsani or Sunni.[5] It has also been suggested that Shabaks are descendants of the Qizilbash army led by Shah Ismail.


A 1925 survey estimated Shabak numbers at 10,000.[6] In the 1970s, their population was estimated to be around 15,000.[7] Modern estimates of Shabak population range from 130,000 to 500,000.[8]

Shabak are composed of three tribes: the Hariri, the Gergeri, and the Mawsilî.[6]



The origins of the word Shabak are not clear. One view maintains that Shabak is an Arabic word شبك meaning intertwine, indicating that the Shabak people originated from many different tribes.[6] The name "Shabekan" occurs among tribes in Tunceli, Turkey and "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.[6] 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.[6]

Forced assimilation

The geographical range of the Shabak people was drastically changed by massive deportations during the Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the refugee crisis of 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami were relocated to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) located in the Harir area of Iraqi Kurdistan. An estimated 1,160 Shabaks were killed during this period. In addition, the Iraqi government's efforts of forced assimilation, Arabization and religious persecution put the Shabaks under increasing threat. As one Shabak told a researcher: "The government said we are Arabs, not Kurds; but if we are, why did they deport us from our homes?"[9][10]

Even though the Sunni Shabak community identifies as Kurds, Shia Shabaks consider themselves a unique ethno-religious group.[5]

Salim al-Shabaki, a representative of Shabaks in the Iraqi parliament - "The Shabaks are part of the Kurdish nation", he emphasized that Shabaks are ethnically Kurdish. (2016)[11]

According to the US intelligence agency analysts, Shabaks are currently undergoing a process of Kurdification, though Shabak Council of Representatives member Ahmed Yusif al-Shabak says that Shabaks are Kurds.[5]

In the Bashiqa sub district of the Mosul region, where Shabaks comprise 60 percent of the population, half of the city council members are of Kurdish origin.[12]

On 15 August 2005, Shabaks organized 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.[13]

On 21 August 2006, Shabak Democratic Party leader Hunain Qaddo proposed the creation of a separate province within the borders of the Nineveh Plain to combat the Kurdification and Arabization of Iraqi minorities.[14]

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. 711 Assyrian and Shabak policemen were sent to Mosul while their positions in their local communities were filled with Kurds.[15]

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.[16]

On 13 July 2008, a group of unidentified armed men 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.[12]

On 30 June 2011, the Nineveh provincial council distributed 6,000 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.[17]

Hunain al-Qaddo, a Shabak politician, was quoted by Human Rights Watch that "the peshmerga have no genuine interest in protecting his community, and that Kurdish security forces are more interested in controlling Shabaks and their leaders than protecting them." He also said that they are "suffering at the hands of the peshmerga and that the Kurdish government refuse to let the Iraq armed forces protect them and have rejected the idea of allowing them to establish their own Shabak police force to protect their people.” Kurdish forces have been implicated in some of the attacks against Shabaks. The prominent Mullah Khadim Abbas, leader of the Shabak Democratic Gathering, a group that opposes the incorporation of Shabak villages into the territory of the KRG, was killed in 2008 only 150 meters away from a peshmerga outpost. Abbas had prior to his killing angered Kurdish authorities by criticizing fellow "Shabaks working for the Kurdish agenda and denouncing Kurdish policies that in his view undermined the fabric of the community’s identity." In 2009, Shabak lawmaker al-Qaddo survived an assassination attempt in the Nineveh Plains.The attackers were wearing Kurdish security uniforms, he told Human Rights Watch. He also said that the Kurdish government will have an easier time imposing their will on the Shabak and obtaining their lands if they kill him. Shabak leaders have complained about impunity for killings. In some of these incidents, the KDP was accused of not investigating killings of non-Kurdish civilians by the peshmerga. HRW reported that "the root of the problem is the near-universal perception among Kurdish leaders that minority groups are, in fact, Kurds", and it reported that "Kurdish authorities have sometimes dealt harshly with Yazidi and Shabak members who resist attempts to impose on them a Kurdish identity". [18]

Timeline of 21st century persecution

The Nineveh Province is contested by ISIS and Iraqi Kurdistan fighters. The Shabak people were caught in a plight during the 2014 Iraq Offensive.[3] A large number of Shabaks fled to Iraqi Kurdistan[28] and about 30,000 Shabak and Turkmen refugees relocated to central and southern Iraq.[29]


Religious beliefs

Shabakism is syncretic faith with elements of Islam and Christianity, similar to Yezidism. The fact Shabaks often go on pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines is proof of this affinity.[30] However, many Shabak people regard themselves as Shia Muslims, even though their actual faith and rituals differ from Islam, and have characteristics that make it very different from Islam, as it includes features from Christianity including confession, and the consumption of alcohol, which makes them distinct from neighboring Muslim populations. Nevertheless, the Shabak people also go on pilgrimages to Shia holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, and follow many Shiite teachings.[4]

The primary Shabak religious text is called Byruk or Kitab al-Managib (Book of Exemplary Acts). Byruk is written in Turkoman.[6][13]

Shabaks combine elements of Sufism with their own interpretation of divine reality. According to Shabaks, divine reality is more advanced than the literal interpretation of Qur'an which is known as Sharia. Shabak spiritual guides are known as Pirs, and they are well versed in the prayers and rituals of the sect. Pirs are under the leadership of the Supreme Head or Baba.[6] Pirs act as mediators between divine power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic that the beliefs of the Yarsan closely resemble those of the Shabak people.[31]

Shabaks consider the poetry of Ismail I to be revealed by God, and they recite the poetry during religious meetings.


The Shabaks have special traditions, such as an annual holiday that commemorates the people who died that year. Shabaks have a traditional burial ceremony 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. ISBN 978-90-04-10861-5. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  2. Martin, Bruinessen, van (2000). Mullas, sufis and heretics: the role of religion in Kurdish society: collected articles. Isis Press. pp. 259–. ISBN 978-975-428-162-0. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  3. 1 2 Mina al-Lami (21 August 2014). "Iraq: The Minorities of the Nineveh Plain". Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  4. 1 2 Tore Kjeilen. "Shabak". Encyclopaedia of The Orient. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 "SHABAK IN IRAQ: A TARGETED ETHNIC MINORITY?". 27 November 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Dr. Michiel Leezenberg. "The Shabak and the Kakais". Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  7. 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
  8. "Total population". 29 October 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  9. 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.
  10. "Efforts to stop attacks on Shabak minority in Mosul". 22 April 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  11. "". Retrieved 2016-10-24. External link in |title= (help)
  12. 1 2 Iraqi Turkmen Human Rights Research Foundation (16 August 2008). "Iraq's Shabak Accuse Kurds of Killing Their Leader". Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  13. 1 2 "Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq". 16 August 2005. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  14. "NINEWA: SHABAK PUSH FOR AN END TO KURD ENCROACHMENT". 6 September 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  15. "Kurds Block Assyrians, Shabaks From Police Force in North Iraq". 22 July 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  16. "NINEWA: SHABAK REJECT INCORPORATION INTO KRG". 27 January 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  17. "Shabak official: Nineveh province is arabizing our areas". 30 June 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  18. "On Vulnerable Ground". 10 November 2009.
  19. 1 2 "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". BBC News. 27 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  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. 1 2 3 4 "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. Kjeilen, Tore. "Shabak / Religion - LookLex Encyclopaedia".
  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

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