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Shabak Iraq.jpeg
Shabak in traditional clothes in northern Iraq[citation needed]
Total population
200,000–500,000 (2017 estimation)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Largest settlements:
Mosul, Gogjali, Bartella[2][3]
Shabaki, Arabic, Kurdish[4]
Shia Islam (and Shabakism)[5]
Shabak on a demonstration in Mosul, Iraq (2005)[citation needed]
Shabak on a demonstration in Germany

The Shabak people (Arabic: الشبك‎, Kurdish: شەبەک‎) are a people with a disputed origin. While some scholars argue that Shabaks are an ethnic group[6] others argue that they are an ethnic Kurdish group.[7] They live in Iraq and speak Shabaki, a Northwestern Iranian language of the Zaza–Gorani group. The Shabaks live in a religious community (ta'ifa) in the Nineveh Plains. The ancestors of Shabaks were followers of the Safaviyya order, which was founded by the Kurdish mystic Safi-ad-din Ardabili in the early 14th century.[8] The primary Shabak religious text is called the Buyruk or Kitab al-Manaqib (Book of Exemplary Acts), which is written in Turkmen.[9]

Members of the three Kurdish tribes of Bajalan (or Bajarwans), Zangana and Dawoody live in the same villages as the Shabaks and are commonly mistaken for being Shabak.[10]


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. Austin Henry Layard considered Shabak to be descendants of Kurds originating from Iran, and believed they might have affinities with the Ali-Ilahis.[7] Anastas Al-Karmali also argued that Shabaks were ethnic Kurds.[11] Another theory suggest that Shabaks originated from Anatolian Turkomans, who were forced to settle in the Mosul area after the defeat of Ismail I at the battle of Chaldiran.[7]

Deportation and forced assimilation

After the 1987 census, the Iraqi regime started a revenge campaign against those Shabaks who chose to declare themselves Kurdish.[7] The campaign included both deportation and forced assimilation and many of them (along with Zengana and Hawrami Kurds) were relocated to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) located in the Harir area of Kurdistan Region. An estimated 1,160 Shabaks were killed during this period. In addition, increasing efforts have been made to force the Shabak to suppress their own identity in favour of being Arab. 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?"[7] Shabak politician Salim al-Shabaki, a representative of Shabaks in the Iraqi parliament, said "The Shabaks are part of the Kurdish nation", emphasizing that Shabaks are ethnically Kurdish.[12]

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.[13] On 20 December 2006, ten Shabak representatives unanimously voted for the non-inclusion of Shabak inhabited areas of the Mosul region into the Kurdistan Regional Government. A number of Shabak village aldermans noted that they were threatened into signing the incorporation petition by Kurdish authorities.[14] 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.[15] 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."[16]

Religious beliefs

A majority of Shabaks regard themselves as Shia Muslims, and a minority identify as Sunni.[5][17][18][19] Nevertheless, the Shabak people also go on pilgrimages to Shia holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, and follow many Shiite teachings.[20]

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.[7] Pirs act as mediators between divine power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic faith similar to the beliefs of Yarsanism.[8]

Shabaks also consider the poetry of Ismail I to be revealed by God, and they recite Ismail's poetry during religious meetings.[8]


List of Shabak–majority settlements in the Nineveh Plains:[10]

  • Abbasiyah
  • Ali Rash
  • Badanat Sufla
  • Badanat Ulya
  • Basakhrah
  • Basatliya Saghirah
  • Baybukh
  • Bazgirtan
  • Bazwaya
  • Chunji
  • Darawish
  • Dayrij
  • Gogjali
  • Gora Ghariban
  • Judaydat
  • Kahriz
  • Khazna
  • Kiretagh / Qaraytagh
  • Manara Shabak
  • Mufti
  • Qara Shor
  • Qara Tappa
  • Sadah
  • Salamiyah
  • Shaqoli
  • Shahrazad
  • Sheikh Amir
  • Tahrawa
  • Tawajinah
  • Terjilleh
  • Tiskharab

List of mixed settlements in the Nineveh Plains:[10]

  • Abu Jarwan (Shabak–Bajalan Kurdish)
  • Bartella (Shabak–Assyrian)[21]
  • Basatliya (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Bashbitah (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Bashiqa (Shabak–Yezidi)
  • Bir Hallan (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Birma (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Fadila (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Hasan Shami (Shabak–Kurdish–Arab)
  • Jilu Khan (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Kabarli (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Kanunah (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Kharabat Sultan (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Khorsabad (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Orta Kharab (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Bakhdida / Qaraqosh / Hamdaniyah (Assyrian-Shabak)[22]
  • Qarqashah (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Shamsiyat (Shabak–Turkmen)
  • Summaqiyah (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Tall Akub (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Tallara (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Topzawah (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Tubraq Ziyarah (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Umar Qabji (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Umarkan (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Yangija (Shabak–Kurdish)
  • Yarimjah (Shabak–Turkmen)
  • Zara Khatun (Shabak–Kurdish)

As of March 2019, all of the above–mentioned settlements are under federal control and part of the Disputed territories of Northern Iraq.[23]


  1. ^ "Crossroads: The future of Iraq's minorities after ISIS" (PDF). Minority Rights Group International. p. 9. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  2. ^ "Part I: ISIS exploited the marginalized minority groups of Iraq". Rudaw. 27 April 2017. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  3. ^ C.J. Edmonds (1967). "A Pilgrimage to Lalish". p. 87.
  4. ^ Christine M. Helms. Arabism and Islam: Stateless Nations and Nationless States. p. 12.
  5. ^ a b Mina al-Lami (21 August 2014). "Iraq: The Minorities of the Nineveh Plain". Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  6. ^ Geoff Hann, Karen Dabrowska, Tina Townsend-Greaves. Iraq: The ancient sites and Iraqi Kurdistan. p. 16. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ a b c d e f Leezenberg, Michiel (December 1994). "The Shabak and the Kakais: Dynamics of Ethnicity in Iraqi Kurdistan" (PDF). University of Amsterdam: 6–8. Retrieved 30 March 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ a b c Amal Vinogradov (1974). "Ethnicity, Cultural Discontinuity and Power Brokers in Northern Iraq: The Case of the Shabak". American Ethnologist. 1 (1): 207–218. doi:10.1525/ae.1974.1.1.02a00110.
  9. ^ Martin van Bruinessen (2000). Mullas, Sufis and Heretics: The Role of Religion in Kurdish Society : Collected Articles. Isis Press. p. 3000.
  10. ^ a b c عبود، زهير كاظم، (2009). الشبك في العراق. AIRP. ISBN 9789953362700.
  11. ^ The Shabak, Bektashis, Safawis, and Kizilbash (1 ed.). Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 1987. ISBN 0-8156-2411-5.
  12. ^ "Shabak minority want only Peshmerga to liberate their homes". Rudaw. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  13. ^ "NINEWA: SHABAK PUSH FOR AN END TO KURD ENCROACHMENT". 6 September 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  14. ^ "NINEWA: SHABAK REJECT INCORPORATION INTO KRG". 27 January 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  15. ^ "Shabak official: Nineveh province is arabizing our areas". 30 June 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  16. ^ "On Vulnerable Ground". Human Rights Watch. 10 November 2009.
  17. ^ []
  18. ^ []
  19. ^ []
  20. ^ Imranali Panjwani. Shi'a of Samarra: The Heritage and Politics of a Community in Iraq. p. 172.
  21. ^ "'Trust is gone': Iraqi Christians fear returning due to Shiite militia". The Daily Star - Lebanon. 12 February 2019.
  22. ^ Erica Gaston (5 August 2017). "Iraq after ISIL: Qaraqosh, Hamdaniya District". GPPi. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  23. ^ "US State Dept. says Iraq's takeover of disputed areas caused 'abuse, atrocities'". Rûdaw. 14 March 2019. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

Further reading

  • Ali, Salah Salim. ‘Shabak: A Curious sect in Islam’. Revue des études islamiques 60. 2 (1992): 521-528. (ISSN 0336-156X)
  • Ali, Salah Salim. ‘Shabak: A Curious sect in Islam’. Hamdard Islamicus 23. 2 (April–June 2000): 73-78. (ISSN 0250-7196)