Qashqai Tribe Origins

Thoughts on the origin of the Qashqai Confederation

I set out to pull together my notes on the Kilims of the Qashqai. As I started to put my notes together I was amazed by what I saw. Over the last several years I have suggested that Qashqai is a dialect of Azeri. Then I postulated that Northern and Southern Azeri, Turkmen, Qashqai, Salghur and a few others were all in a group that I have proposed that for now I call Oguz/Seljuq. This is an outgrowth of my theory of Weaving as non-verbal language. So when I applied the theory to Qashqai Kilims something became apparent that I never noticed when I was was focusing on Qashqai rugs. The Qashqai are closely akin to the Shahsavan. Furthermore the Qashqai must be from Azerbaijan and must have drawn members from many of the same Ethno-linguistic groups that the Shahsavan drew upon when they were formed.

In the sixteenth century the predecessors of the Qashqai were in what is now the Azerbaijan/Iranian Azerbaijan area. They were related to the predecessors of the Shahsavan. In the Caucasus at that time Iran and Turkey were striving to dominate the region. Some of the tribes sided with Turkey or at least used Turkey to maintain their independence from the Persians. The Kazaks for instance were a group of Oguz/Seljuq tribes that left the authority of the horde. It is a hard concept to describe in English but they went Kazak meaning they went independent. Add to this mix religion. The Azeri were Shia and the Shahsavan were Sunni who sided with the Safavid monarchs who of course were Shia. Lost in this mix were the kinsmen of the Shahsavan who were Shia.

Qashqai Woman Weaving

In The Qashqai of Iran (pg. 42) Lois Beck cites Balayan a Russian scholar who wrote that the Qashqai were descended from Shahsavan. I am not sure how Balayan reached his conclusions but it matches with what I see using my theory of non-verbal linguistics.

The Qashqai came into existence after the Shahilu came to Fars So if we want to look at the early history of the Qashqai we have to look to the Shahilu.

The Shahilu descend from the leading family of the Aqquyunlu Turkmen confederation. They descend from the family of Uzun Hasan Aqquyunlu who ruled western Iran and eastern Anatolia from 1453 to 1478. The first Shahilu by name was a grandson of Uzun Hasan named Amir Ghazi Shahilu.
Amir Ghazi Shahilu was both a grandson of Uzun Hasan the Aqquyunlu khan but also his aunt (father’s sister) was married to Ismail Shah Safavi the head of the Safavi Sufi order and the first Safavid Shah of Iran. In essence the story of Amir Ghazi Shahilu is the story of the Safavi rise to power.

Ismail Safavi was also the close relation of the Aqquyunlu khans, but his relationship was adversarial. The Aqquyunlu Turkmen were able to best the Qaraquyunlu and by the late 15th century were the undisputed rulers of western Iran and eastern Anatolia and north through the Caucasus.The Aqquyunlu were a confederation of tribes from the Oguz/Seljuk people and as such spoke Azeri, a language in the Oguz/Seljuk language family. The only real opposition to the Aqquyunlu Turkmen was the paramilitary Sufi order controlled by The Safavi family. Ismail’s father Sheykh Heydar Safavi led an unsuccessful revolt in 1488 but was able to escape with the Safavi power still intact.
Ismail Safavi set about to build a new coalition to defeat the Aqquyunlu. Instead of buying and building alliances with the powerful tribal leaders loyal to the Aqquyunlu he used the Safavi Sufi order to create a neo-tribal coalition that came to be called the Kizilbash. Using the Sufi order he pulled together the younger sons and relatives who were not in positions of power and authority in the Aqquyunlu political structure. With promises of land and power he forged a new coalition of bright ambitious leaders who sought to rise above their old rank. The mortar that held this coalition together was religion. The Aqquyunlu were Sunni and the Safavi were Shia. The religious component was important to the struggle and Kizilbash. leaders took the honorific “Ghazi” meaning in that context “Holy Warrior”

woman spinning
Qashqai Woman Spinning

One of these leaders was Amir Ghazi Shahilu. His two older brothers Yaqub and Hasan were the two final leaders of the Aqquyunlu before they fell to the Safavi led Qizilbash. Amir Ghazi Shahilu on the other hand was a member of the Safavid Sufi order and he broke with his brothers to join his kinsmen Ismail Safavi.

Even today Amir Ghazi Shahilu is remembered as a religious man and his descendents took the name Sufizadeh. This is Persian for “son of a Sufi” or “born of a Sufi”. From roots in a Sufi order the Kizilbash created a new tribal structure. Many of the old tribes virtually disappeared while others sprang from nothing. In Azerbaijan Shah Ismail had to deal with several large groups of people. The people we know today as the Azeris of Azerbaijan are a large block of Shia Oguz/Seljuq who lost their strong tribal identities after the Safavi defeated the Aqquyunlu. Then there were the Sunni tribes that were loyal to the Shah. This group the Shahsavan was created as a Kizilbash group and was assigned to a ruling elite who controlled the tribes for the Shah. Another group closely related to the Shahsavan but Shia rather than Sunni was confederated as a Uymaq group under the Shahilu.

How the Shailu/Qashqai got to Fars
The Aqquyunlu was a confederation of tribes held together by the elite Bayandur tribe from which the Khans were chosen. The second tribe in terms of stature in the confederation were the Purnak tribe. The Bayandur married from the Purnak tribe but not from the other tribes. The Purnak controlled the land north of Shiraz in Fars and also a section in Arabian Iraq. The Purnak were militarily powerful and intensely loyal. They stayed loyal after the Safavi victory in 1501 and stayed the chief ally of the Bayandur until the massacre at Baghdad in 1508.

Once the Purnak were defeated their lands were divided up between the Kizilbash Ghazi. Amir Ghazi Shahilu was given the land north of Shiraz in Fars. Under the Uymaq system clans were placed under a leader through whom the Safavi Shah could exert control. The Shahilu Uymaq came to be known as Qashqai. The truth is that the Shahilu/Qashqai were heroes who helped the Safavi come to power and who stayed loyal first to the Safavi and then to Iran.

I fully realize that this theory will be a little difficult for some people to grasp at first glance. I also realize that this is incomplete and in need of refinement. That will come over time. As far as source material I drew heavily on three authors. First of all Lois Beck has been generous over the years with her vast knowledge. Her book The Qashqai of Iran has been very influential in this effort as has John Woods’ The Aqquyunlu Clan, Confederation, Empire. Balancing these out was James J. Reid’s Tribalism and Society in Islamic Iran. So in addition to years of independent study you will see threads from those important works woven into my work. On a careful reading one will notice that while I use theiir data I draw my own conclusions. As such I alone am responsible for errors and inaccuracies.