Sheikh Mirza's story

How long the spirit of Mirza will see the heads of the young Yazidis fall on his knees and tears flow like rain from a storm? quote from a poem about the Yazidi genocide in Shengal. In this period of destruction, hatred and powerlessness, the Yazidi community is waiting more than ever for a liberator, a strong personality who could guide the community through this difficult period. Someone who could carry on the legacy of legendary hero Mirza.

Sheikh Mirza

Sheikh Mirza

Yazidis, because of persecution and their hostile Islamic environment, have found it very difficult to develop literacy. Rather than archiving their own history, their mythology, the characters of the past, the Yazidis were constantly forced to fight for their survival. Nevertheless, they managed to produce a sophisticated oral tradition, which they kept from centuries-old events in the collective memory of society and thus preserved part of their own history.

Poems, epics and tales, thanks to the works of many people, have been saved to this day. However, by virtue of it, one name stands out in particular: Mirza (1600-1651). His story has left echoes far beyond his death. Today, his name represents the embodiment of heroism. But its true story is poorly understood by the Yazidis themselves.

In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, which is under the control of the Islamic State militia today, there was at that time a place in honor of worship Yazidi built by Mirza. At the foot of the Tigris are still visible the ruins of its ancient castle.

So who is this man, who even hosted the famous Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi (1611-1683) and who is mentioned in the Ottoman story of Naima (1655-1716)? As often in the history of the Yazidis, the fate of Mirza is marked by persecution and death. But Mirza always manages to make of his vision of the world, a new hope. Even today, some Yazidis commemorate his memory and the legacy of the heritage he left behind.

The prince's son

In 1600, in the Yazidi village of Baschiqa, a boy was born, the youngest of three brothers: Amar and Heydar. His family belongs to a spiritual family who have the title of "Sheikh" ("Shex"), who enjoyed great popularity among the Yazidis. His parents called him Mirza - "prince's son".

His father was the highly respected scholar Sheikh Shekho. Baschiqa and the neighboring village Bahzan, still shelter the most important Yazidi communities and as such are unique: the native language of the local Yazidis, is an Arabic dialect of Syria, a specificity which will play in the history of Mirza. In these villages, we also find the "guardians of Yazidism", who pass on religious content orally to the next generation.

But a few years after Mirza's birth, in 1605, came the fateful day that would change his whole life, some would say his fate. Numerous Kurdish Soran tribes and Kurdish Goran tribes attacked the Yazidis of the principality of Sheikhan, as well as the villages of Baschiqa and Bahzan. Sheikh Shekho mobilized Yazidi fighters from Sheikhan, but the resistance organized as best they could, in terms of fighters, they were far inferior to the Kurds. The attackers massacred the Yazidi population, looting villages and kidnapping young women.

The political leader of the Yazidis, the “Mîr”, on learning of this, immediately sent other troops to help Baschiqa and Bahzan. The Soran attackers were eventually repulsed after a fierce battle and with the help of Sheikhan's Yazidi troops. Mirza and her two older brothers survived, but they had to participate in the massacres of their father and mother and most of their family members who were also killed. As an orphan, Mirza's childhood was marked by war and death. And he had to struggle with his brothers Amar and Heydar to survive.


Mirza and his brothers spent their time in the markets located a few kilometers from the city of Mosul, which at the time was under the rule of the Ottomans. As the three brothers lived in poverty, each of them often had to steal food in order to survive, which was tolerated by most traders. So, they have always escaped the consequences of thefts. One day, however, that changed: the three boys crept into a farmer's field to steal melons and onions.

The owner of the land, who noticed the thefts, decided to stay and watch his field the following night. He hid in the field, and then he saw the brothers entering his field to steal it. This time the farmer catches the siblings and brings them to the Ottoman soldiers.

The Ottoman guards and soldiers questioned the boys about their parents and their origin, and so their Yazidi identity became apparent. The Muslim soldiers then put them in prison and beat Mirza and his brothers. One of the soldiers took the cruelty to the extreme: they told Heydar that they would save his life if he killed his brothers. But Heydar refused. And as well as Amar who refused to kill his younger brother.

The soldiers then turned to young Mirza who did not quite understand what was going on. They put a knife in Mirza's hand and forced him to cut his brothers' throats. As a result, the soldiers threw Mirza on one of the streets of Mosul.

Wandering in tears and covered in blood, in the streets of Mosul, Mirza was recognized by a well-known merchant. The trader asked what had happened. Mirza then recounted the events that took place in the prison. The merchant then brought Mirza back to Baschiqa and Bahzan. The story quickly spread throughout the community, and soon everyone knew what the Ottoman soldiers did to Mirza and his brothers.

A few Yazidis stood up and vowed revenge, but in reality they were powerless against the numerically superior Ottoman forces in Mosul. The orphan Mirza had lost his last direct parents that day - and the worst part was that it was by his own hands.

Mirza, whose family is the direct descent of the prominent Adani-Sheikh family, was taken from the Yazidi clergy. Mirza was trained as a religious and learned, unlike the majority of Yazidis, to read and write the Arabic language. Once a grown man, he married and became a teacher himself.

The Yazidis were respectful to Sheikh Mirza. But Mirza, however, began to take an interest in more than religion: he was passionate about military strategies and tactics. The constant attacks by Muslims on the Yazidis and his own life story showed Mirza that military tactics and strategy were essential to victory.

The first victory

15 years after the last major attack on Baschiqa and Bahzan where Mirza lost her parents, the community was attacked again by Kurdish and Arab tribes. Although there were more of them, the Yazidis, and especially Mirza, took up arms to defend their villages. Mirza could now prove how strategically he was in the war. He mobilized the best fighters under his command and prepared the counterattack. Mirza used their numerical inferiority to his advantage, on top of that the Yazidi fighters were familiar with the local villages.

This allowed the Yazidis under the command of Mirza to lead enemy troops into the villages where they were cornered and inflicted a devastating defeat on them. Due to heavy losses, the attackers withdrew so as not to lose their entire army. The victory spread like wildfire throughout the region, and also to Shengal, the second major Yazidi settlement area, where Mirza's victory was celebrated. At 20, Mirza has become a hero. Ottoman sources report that Mirza later ordered the training of around 3,000 Yazidi fighters to be ready for future attacks. In the region, his fame spread, the name of Sheikh Mirza became notorious.

At the age of 25, Sheikh Mirza was appointed head of the community of Baschiqa and Bahzan. In addition, he maintained a fraternal relationship with the Yazidi prince Mir Zaynal Javkhali. When the war between Ottomans and Safavids broke out in 1623 and lasted until 1639, the Yazidis found themselves in the crossfire of the two warring blocs. Sheikh Mirza, who has since been recognized as the military commander of all Yazidis knew that Yazidis could not survive this war if they were hit from both sides.

However, the Yazidis have found themselves in spite of themselves in this struggle which only involves them because of their location between the two camps. In the advance towards the ottomans, the Safavids had massacred thousands and thousands of Yazidis and took many prisoners. None of the prisoners, says the legend, never came back. In addition, the Ottoman front was stationed near the Yazidis, the Ottoman commanders set up a scheme to involve the Yazidis in this war in order to put all the chances on their side and in addition the villages of the Yazidis would themselves become the front. against the Safavids.

In the reports of the Ottoman chronicler Naima, it is reported that Sheikh Mirza was received personally as the commander of around 3,000 Yazidi fighters by Sultan Murad IV. In the Ottoman report, Sheikh Mirza is glorified for his heroic actions during the Battle of Baghdad between the Safavids and the Ottomans.

The siege of Baghdad

The troops of the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV were besieged in Baghdad, surrounded by the Safavids. In 1639 the large-scale attack began. During the fighting, Yazidi troops not only kept their positions and defended the city, but they also advanced the front to the positions of a Safavid commander. After a heavy and bloody struggle against the Safavid units, the Yazidis led by Sheikh Mirza won the battle and killed the Safavid commander. After this key victory Sheikh Mirza decided to advance further and attack the Safavid commander Saru Khan, especially as the demoralization of the Safavid troops was becoming more and more heavy.

Led by Sheikh Mirza, the Yazidi fighters won important victories without heavy losses and ended up killing the commander of the Safavid armed forces. Sheikh Mirza's successes did not go unnoticed among the Ottomans. The new power and Sheikh Mirza reached an agreement excluding any attacks against the Yazidis by the Ottomans, Kurds and Arabs. The Sheikhan region then experienced a period of peace and security.

So there was a peace treaty after the victory between the Ottomans and the Yazidis. However, this did not last long. Already in 1640, Ottoman troops attacked the Yazidis in Shengal. But the Yazidis of Shengal did not give up, and they killed among others the Ottoman commander Nasuh Pasha, as well as about 7,000 Ottoman soldiers, according to the military reports of Evliya Çelebi.

At that time the Yazidis controlled all trade routes in and around Shengal, Muslims in particular were afraid to venture there. The Yazidis also refused to pay taxes levied by the Ottomans to subdue them in full. The Yazidis also attacked and sacked without fear of Ottoman freight convoys.

This prompted the governor of Diyarbakir, Melek Ahmad Pasha, who was known for his extreme hostility to the Yazidis, to besiege the city of Shengal with 70,000 troops. He called on the Yazidis to return stolen goods and pay the tax to the Ottoman government. The Yazidis decided to retreat to the mountains and resist. A war ensued between the two camps. Despite the superiority of 70,000 soldiers, the Ottomans suffered heavy losses before they could conquer the Yazidis who had entrenched themselves in the mountains.

Despite these circumstances, Sheikh Mirza was able to consolidate his power during the following decade. In this position of power Sheikh Mirza could have taken the power of the secular head of the Yazidis, that is to say to become a Yazidi prince. But he refused to ask for this position. On the contrary, he legitimately recognized Zeynal Javkhali as prince of the Yazidis, and he always consulted the prince for major decisions. With his success in the Siege of Baghdad and his combat-trained Yazidi troops, Sheikh Mirza ensured that there were fewer attacks on the Yazidis by hostile tribes all around.

Appointed Governor

His might and his power reached a climax in 1650. This year Sheikh Mirza met Kara Murad Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Sultan and the second most powerful man in the Ottoman Empire. Mirza used his power and asked to be appointed governor of Mosul. Indeed, the Ottomans appointed him governor of Mosul. It was the highest position ever held by a Yazidi within the Ottoman Empire.

The course in search of power, however, Sheikh Mirza has always put the Yazidi tradition strong above all personal motives.
After he was appointed governor of Mosul, Sheikh Mirza began to avenge his two brothers. Mirza first ordered to destroy the farm of the farmer who had delivered them to the Ottoman soldiers.

But the new Governor Mirza had become even more cruel against his enemies: he ordered all the descendants of the Ottoman soldiers and guards who had mistreated them in prison to be taken prisoner. Mirza confronted with the events of his childhood, had all the members of the Ottoman soldiers massacred.

In Mosul, at the foot of the Tigris, Sheikh Mirza restored a Yazidi shrine and also had a temple built in honor of Saint Pir Qedibilban. Sheikh Mirza now resided in his castle in Mosul. The ruins of the castle are still visible.

During his brief reign, the Yazidis enjoyed the rare security and protection that emanated from Sheikh Mirza's position. They could without much fear of repression, work and trade and thus build a certain prosperity within Yazidi society. But a year later, Kara Murad Pasha was relieved of his functions, as well as Sheikh Mirza who lost his position.

Sheikh Mirza decided to go to protest against his expulsion in Istanbul. However he saw that Melek Ahmad Pasha, who was responsible for the great attack on Shengal, became the new grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire. His hatred for the Yazidis, pushed him to do everything possible to dismiss Skeihk Mirza.

When Mirza learned of the latter's plans, he began a rebellion against the Ottomans. Sheikh Mirza returned with 60 of his fighters to Sheikhan, but on the way back to his native village, the Ottomans ambushed him. Sheikh Mirza and his fighters were surrounded and attacked. At the age of 51 Sheikh Mirza was killed. Evliya Çelebi reported that Ottoman soldiers beheaded Sheikh Mirza and took his head to Grand Vizier Melek Ahmad Pasha.

When the Yazidis learned of his death, great uncertainty erupted among them and so did anger. Sheikhan's Yazidis refused to pay taxes and continued the uprising planned by Sheikh Mirza. This gave the motives for the Ottomans, including Melek Ahmad Pasha, to attack the Yazidis.

But Sheikh Mirza's fighters were well prepared. Now their commander was the Yazidi leader Imadin Hakkari. Hakkari was supported by Mir Zeynal Javkhali. The Yazidi army consisted of around 6,000 trained and well-armed combatants. The Ottomans relied as often on their numerical superiority. Imadin Hakkari decided to avenge Sheikh Mirza. Under Hakkari's command, Yazidi troops not only struck down the Ottoman-Kurdish alliance, but they also conquered large areas such as the Kurdish region of Bervari. With these significant losses the Ottomans opted for peace talks.

Over the following centuries, countless other attacks and extermination campaigns against the Yazidis followed. But the Yazidis never regained the power they had under Sheikh Mirza. Sheikh Mirza's achievements still live on in poems, songs and stories. For the Yazidis, he is considered a hero. Sheikhan's Yazidis had a statue built in his honor in 2006 in Baschiqa, but it was destroyed by the “Islamic State” terrorist militia in 2014.

Since the genocide perpetrated by the Islamists of the Islamic State against the Yazidis of Shengal, the Yazidis have established their own combat units to defend themselves. In their songs and slogans Sheikh Mirza finds his place as a model. The Shengal Resistance Units (YBS) call themselves “Sheikh Mirza's grandsons”.