History of Cizre, Kurdish island of Turkey

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Cizre is an essential place if you want to try to fully understand the Kurdish epic, experienced entirely by the city

The words of Ibn Battuta

“Then we passed through a town called al-Muwayliha to reach Jazira ibn ‘Umar, a large and beautiful city all surrounded by the river (Tigris) – so much so that they call it Jazira (Island). market and an ancient mosque solidly built of stone – as is the stone wall around the city. “

At the origins of Cizre

According to Yaqut al Hamawi, Cizre was founded at the end of the 9th century by al Hassan ibn Umar al Taghlibi, then emir of Mosul, who placed it a short distance from the ancient Roman settlement of Bezabde, once a crucial site of clashes between the Roman Empire and the Sasanian Empire. The name derives from the Arabic “al Jazira”, or “island” (in Turkish the “c” is pronounced “j”) and refers to the particular conformation that the city had at the beginning of its existence; located on the left bank of the Tigris, it was once surrounded by a canal, which gave it the appearance of an island. It was disputed since its birth between Hamdanids and Buyidi, then passing to the Marwanids, Kurdish lineage that will become a vassal of the Seljuks. From these made his way ‘Imad al-Din Zengi, initially atabeg of Mosul who managed to expand his domain also on Aleppo and some parts of the County of Edessa, giving life to one of the most interesting dynasties of the entire Middle Ages; some of their most famous commanders were in fact Ayyub and Shirkuh, the father and uncle of Saladin, founder of the Ayubbid sultanate, destined to take the place of the Fatimids and, at least in the territories of Cizre, of the Seljuks. The city was then conquered by Badr al-Din Lu’lu, former atabeg of Mosul under the Zengids who, killing his ancient masters, became lord of Mosul and Cizre, all immediately before the arrival of the Mongols.


With their subsequent collapse, in 1335, the Kurdish emirate of Bohtan became established and reigned here almost continuously until 1847, the year of important changes inside the Sublime Porte.


There is no complete certainty among historians on the origin of the Emirate of Bohtan, with some believing it was born around the 8th century thanks to the union of some Kurdish tribes from the Bohtan Valley, and others who attribute its birth to Izzeddin al-Bohtî, placing its foundation around 1330. At that time, the future emir was already the master of the legendary castle of Finik and, thanks to his powerful army and a great alliance with Hasankeyf, he was first able to drive out the last Mongolian dignitary, confirming his power following a major victory against the Emirate of Mosul. After a series of clashes with other local realities, including Hasankeyf’s ancient allies, the young potentate swore confidence in Tamerlane, only to change his mind and bring the wrath of the powerful ruler over the entire region; however this period did not last long and, soon after, the territory returned to the Bohtan. In the second part of the 15th century it fell briefly into the hands of the Ak Koyunlu, and then briefly became the prey of the Safavids.


The clash with Shah Ismail I will prove more decisive than ever for the region, representing a real turning point for the latter, the Sunni world and the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The Emirate of Bohtan, and in general all the Kurdish emirates, were in fact placed on the border of today’s Iran and Turkey, gaining the incredible strategic value of “border protector”. These emirates were mainly Sunni and this led many of the local rulers to support the Ottomans rather than the Safavids, who had also already shown that they were inclined to “forced population displacements”, which is certainly not fascinating for the Kurdish people, who have always been more closely linked. than ever to its origins. Thanks to their loyalty and the leading role played by the latter in the conflict, the Emirate of Bohtan will be granted a sort of almost total autonomy with respect to the sultan’s government and this condition will last until the first part of the 19th century.

Turkey and the Ottoman Empire

Following the invasion of Syria by Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Emirate of Soran took the opportunity to expand its domains on Botan and this caused, with a 6-year delay, an intervention of the Sublime Door, which will appoint Bedir Khan Beg as the new lord of these lands. The subsequent period of political reforms, however, will absorb and change the borders of all the Kurdish emirates, causing a growing popular anger that is ever stronger and destined to explode. From the tensions already in the air, starting from the 19th century the Kurds were subjected to a new novelty that disturbed and worried them not a little: the appearance of more and more missionaries. With the progressive decline of the Ottoman Empire, more and more missionaries went here to get to know the local Christian communities, also building new schools and meeting places. Their constant presence, combined with the recent Greek War of Independence, increased the Kurds’ distrust of the Assyrians, which, unfortunately, will prove to be the condemnation of the latter. In 1842 several local emirates united to try to obtain greater independence from the Ottomans and the refusal of Christians to participate, coupled with the bitter defeat, will prove to be the final spark for all tensions to explode, leading to the Hakkari Massacres of 1843 and 1846. , both with Bedir Khan Beg as the absolute protagonist; it is estimated that at least 10,000 Assyrians were killed in the latter. The Kurdish lord will then be forced to surrender following the arrival of the Ottoman army, with the Sublime Porte taking advantage of it to definitively sweep away local power and centralize it in his hands, so much so that, starting from that moment, Cizre will become one of his favorite places to exile enemies.

Bedr Khan

Unfortunately, during the First World War, it was one of the places where more Armenians and Assyrians were massacred, so much so that at the end of the conflict their number here was really reduced to the bone. With the birth of modern Turkey, this will become one of the places of greatest confrontation between the Turkish services and the YPG, with the first clashes that will see the light in the 90s, growing exponentially between 2014 and 2015. Following the Siege of Kobane / Ayn al ‘Arab, there were many Kurds who wanted to cross the border to fight, a project blocked by the Ankara authorities, with almost starting a violent conflict that lasted several months and in which several curfews were imposed on the city, which ended only in 2016. It must be said that these interventions, although they were actually launched against the PKK, have long been criticized both for the dozens of civilians who died and for the unclear modalities with which everything took place.

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