Sheikh Ahmed Barzani V (1896 – 1969)

  • - By Ayoub Barzani
  • 24/09/2008 00:00:00

Translated from Arabic by Butan Amedi (23 September 2008): It is difficult to establish his exact date of birth; it was uncommon to register birthdates in Barzan during those days. It is however gathered that he was born in 1896 in Barzan and died in 1969.

Sheikh Mohammad Barzani had five sons: Abdulsalam (who was executed by Turks in 1914), Ahmed, Mohammad Sadiq, Babo (Mohammad) and Mullah Mustafa.

Sheikh Amedi did not enjoy a peaceful childhood. The tribal chieftains (Aghas) of Zebaris were frustrated with the growing influence of his father, Sheikh Mohammad, among the Zebari tribes. Sheikh Mohammad was perhaps deterring the abuses of Zebari Aghas against the powerless villagers. The Zebari Aghas always attempted to have the backing of the Ottoman Governor of Musel against the Sheikh of Barzan.

Due to the increasing pressures from the Governor of Mosul and continuous threats from the neighboring tribes, Sheikh Mohammad had to leave his home in Barzan four times during 1985-1895.

Sheikh Ahmed grew up in a sound Sufi environment in the picturesque nature of Kurdistan. He was very tolerant of other religions, where in his village also lived Jewish and Christians in harmony. All of the villages were working together and had mutual interest in agriculture, stockpile and light creativities such as plowing, harvesting, irrigation and certain textile for local needs.

The village of Barzan lies on the edges of Mount Shirin, facing the sun. The village was multilingual and multicultural: The Jewish, Christian and Muslim temples were apart from each by only tens of meters, and each group has its own separate cemetery. The village itself constituted a big family, as people knew each other very well. They were taking part in social events such as weddings and condolences together. They were very cooperative with each other in regulating a schedule for watering their farms to accommodate the needs of the entire village.

Ahmed was spending long times outside of the village, discovering the rugged terrain of Mount Shirin with gullies, valleys, caves, labyrinths, coral, dense forests and wild animals such as, tigers, bears, wolves and poisonous snakes. W. A. Wigram, the Canterbury reverend.

Loyalty to Sheikh Ahmed and teachings were of high importance for his followers. The loyalty extended to the brothers of the Sheikh as well. The famous Assyrian Mar Sham’on recites the following story, which emphasizes the extent of the loyalty of Barzanis to their Sheikhs: “A [Turkish] military unit was chasing the Sheikh Abdulsalam. During the chase, they arrested a young man who could not catch up with his team. The military order the arrestee to show them the path in which the Sheikh followed. The boy responded saying: ‘I swear by the Sheikh that I will never tell you.’ With coincidence, the commander of the unit was humane and ordered the release of the boy. However, the commander did not hesitate to conclude a lesson from the behavior of the young man. He told his commander that they will not win this battle. ‘You can realize this from the reality of the men we are fighting. This kid was under my mercy. No one would have held me accountable if I had him killed. He defied me and swore by the name of his Sheikh as if he was swearing by God,’ the commander told his soldiers.”

Sheikh Ahmed was six years old when his father (Sheikh Mohammad) passed away. The duty of looking after the family fell on the shoulders of Sheikh Abdusalam, the oldest son of Sheikh Mohammad. Later after five years, Sheikh Ahmed’s mother lost her life as well, so he became completely dependent on his brother, Sheikh Abdusalam.

The village of Barzan was surrounded by a combination of Turkish forces and Kurdish tribal mercenaries as a result of its upraising against the Turkish authorities in 1908. At this time, Sheikh Ahmed was twelve years old. The Turkish army was only 5 Km away from Barzan, to the southern border of the village. The Barzanis were consulting with their Sheikh Abdusalam, and most of them agreed to resist the Turkish army to the end. The Sheikh convened with his followers and told them, “I do not want to inflict damage to the entire region. If I hide, they may leave the villagers with no harm. Whoever feels unsafe must hide in the mountains. God will help us.”

When Sheikh Ahmed learned about the decision of his brother, and he was just twelve years old, he told him: “Please, accept my plea. I want to escort you.” His face was brimming with sadness. Sheikh Abdusalam rejected his plea saying, “You’re still a kid. You can’t endure the difficulties that we’ll be facing. Those who join us must be strong. My conscience doesn’t allow me to have you escorting us.”

Before disappearing from sights, Sheikh Abdusalam arranged for his brothers and sisters to hide within the Mizoris, one of the Barzani Tribes, then escaped disguising as a poor Darwish. The Turks offered an award to whoever leads them to his whereabouts, dead or alive.

During the search for the family members, a spy found a step-mother of the Sheikh along his child, including Mullah Mustafa. They were arrested and transferred to a prison in Mosul. The rest of the family members remained in undisclosed locations and the traces of the Sheikh were lost. By now, Barzan was under direct mandate of the Turkish army.

The Barzanis learnt to deal with difficult circumstances that result from resistance. It became part of the Barzani tradition to resist oppression, whether from governments or tribal mercenaries who were treating their people like slaves.

In his early years of age, Sheikh Ahemd had to live through hard political events, taking place around him. His religious ideas developed under the influence of his older brother and the men surrounding him, let alone attending the mosque to receive spiritual lessons. It became evidence to him that justice and oppression cannot coexist. It became imperative for him to confront the reality, which was an reflection of a war between good and evil.

The Sheikh of Barzan [Abdulsalam] reign lasted from 1902 to 1914. Despite the fact that his rule was short, Barzan became an important force to resist local and governmental oppression.

Sheikh Ahmed was tall, handsome with a very calm and patient personality. He never feared facing challenges. He strongly believed in God and his will. He lived according to Naqshabani instructions, whether in battle, prison or living in Diaspora. His life breaks up to the following periods:

1- Being a kid until the execution of his brother in 1914

2- The Years of Diaspora and the reduction of influence of Barzan until 1919

3- Spiritual renaissance

4- The disruption of spiritual activities, the resistance to the Anglo-Arab invasion and seeking asylum in Turkey in 1933

5- Years of displacement in Hilla [Southern Iraq], Nashiriyah [Southern Iraq] and Sulaimaniya.

6- The Barzani upraising of 1945 and moving across the border to Iranian Kurdistan.

7- Surrendering to Iraqi government in 1947, where he was sentenced to death then life imprisonment and his spiritual activities in the prison until the July 1958 revolution.

8- The years of the revolution until 1967.

9- The spiritual renaissance and combating corruption (1967-1968) until his departure in January 1969

The Sheikh was the center of focus of the British, Iraqi and Turkish discontent. He was very sympathetic to the Kurdish movements in the North leas by Khoyboun (The Arrarat Revolt) He received many Northern Kurds who were seeking sanctuary in Barzan, including Kor Hussein Pasha. In September 1930, A Turkish military attaché in Baghdad told Nuri Said [Iraqi Prime Minister]: “The Turkish military operations in Ararat were very successful. The army will carry similar operations to the west of the Lake of Wan. We expect these operations to come to an end soon. The Turkish army will mobilize along the Iraq-Turkey border if the Iraq Army moves against the Sheikh Barzan. In fact, Ismet Inono complained to Nori Said in Ankara that Sheikh Ahmed was supporting the insurrection in Ararat (see Archive E4976/1932/93, dated 4SEP1930)

The British government archives contain many documents about Sheikh Ahmed. For more information review “Iraq: The state of Violence” by Peresh, year 1986.

Sheikh Ahmed was very indignant of Simko Shikak [Smayil Khani Simko] and refused to receive him in Barzan for murdering Mar Sham’on. He was very modest and humble when dealing with people and was highly respecting the people around him. He was very frank with his friends and against his enemies. He treated each type accordingly. He followed similar course when dealing with poor and rich or powerful and week. There was a major difference between Sheikh Ahmed and his brother, the late Mullah Mustafa, when dealing with politicians. Sheikh Ahmed did not glorify an individual he needed: he never wrote a glorification letter to British officers. He labeled government officials as hypocrites and liars. Sheikh Ahmed refused wealth. This is what made Barzanis to endorse him as their unique leader.

When he was imprisoned in Basra, two of his sons were imprisoned with him, one of them, asked his father (Sheikh Ahmed) to write a letter to the King of Iraq to ask for mercy, perhaps to escape the death penalty. Sheikh Ahmed rejected the suggestion and said: “I scrounge no one but God. You may write the letter for yourself.” He remained the in death-penalty room for three years then spent nine years in prison. Throughout this period, Sheikh Ahmed never begged the King or a minister of the Iraqi Kingdom. He was released upon the 1958 revolution in July.

During the RAF air campaigns to invade Barzan, Captain V. Holt went to see Sheikh Ahmed in a bid to convince to surrender himself to the authorities. Sheikh said: “I would prefer to surrender myself to my overt enemies, the Turks, than to you.” (See British Betrayal of Assyrians – by: Yousif Malik P. 42).

Sheikh Ahmed attempted to enforce certain regulations to maintain a clean environment. He disallowed:

1- Cutting down fruit trees and other trees that stood along the pathways which provided shade for travelers;

2- Taking out excessive honey from hives to endanger the bees;

3- Killing the non-poisoned snakes;

4- Fishing with dynamites;

5- Hunting during reproduction seasons; and,

6- Killing animals when drinking water.

These regulations were enforced during a period when people during the revolt of 1961-1975 had access to guns, they were firing at Partridges and other animals for fun. The animals were on the verge of extinction, as there lacked a sense of responsibility within people to preserve the environment.

The French journalist Chris Kutschera asked me wondering about the lack of written the history of Sheikh Ahmed. He said it was very important to write about him, and he said there are many documents in the British archives about his resistance to the Anglo-Arab occupation. In fact, there is only so much written about him, for example: How he organized the followers of the Naqshabandi Order, Spiritual teachings and the organization of social relations, helping widows and orphans of the village, organizing the agricultural industry in Barzani villages, and the philosophy of the Sheikh of Barzan about life and others issues. It is very noteworthy to mention that the villages which were subordinated to his direct authority were very united and just. In the contrary to the villages which ruled by worldly authorities where injustice and corruption were major challenges.

Sheikh Ahmed truly believed in dialogue and was against the use of force unless there was no other option. It is important to lighten that the Barznis who worked with Mullah Mustafa were based on the idea, even Mullah Mustafa emphasized this fact, he [Mullah Mustafa] was acting under the order from Sheikh Ahmed. Mullah Mustafa left the British authorities with the same impression: Read Achieve, FO 624 71, (Dated, 22 April 1945).

Sheikh Ahmed was the symbol of unity among the Barzanis. There is a consensus among Barzanis that if he was alive, he would not surrender in the aftermath of the Algeria Agreement in 1975. It is very likely that the Kurdish movement would have taken another path rather than defeat and humiliation.

We believe that it is impossible to understand the rule of Barzan in the Kurdish movement without understanding the rule of the Sheikh Ahmed, to which the media has given little attention.

Sheikh Ahmed rejected the traditional way of maintaining leadership within the same family. He emphasized that whoever takes the lead must be qualified for such a job. He always condemned corruption which was beginning to take part within the Kurdish Movement and was highly critical of ignoring the oppressed masses who were the victims of the movement’s failures. After his departure, the Barzani family broke apart, in the event conspiracies, competition and struggle for power became dominant.

The Naqshabani Order is ideology, hard work and combating injustice. Not every individual who wears a Red-Turban, a traditional Barzani turban, is from the Barzani family or follows the Barzani traditions.

  • - By Ayoub Barzani
  • 24/09/2008 00:00:00