The Provinces Ottoman Period of Mosul and Shahrizor

The Province of Mosul

A similar development took place in Mosul with the emergence of autonomous family rule: While largely contesting Ottoman rule, the local dynasty was also subordinate to Ottoman ideology. Between 1726 and 1834, one family more or less became the law of the land in Mosul Province.

The Jalilis were a local family from Mosul, whose members became Ottoman valis (also spelled walis), or governors, and were duly rewarded with land (iltizams, essentially “state” property that was granted to offi ceholders to defray their costs in offi ce and to bring revenue to the state). Eventually the Jalili family (which consisted of 15 separate households) was able to transform state land into private property (mulk).

They and several other important landholding families with whom they had developed alliances were able to further increase their considerable wealth and power through taxing or renting land from cultivators throughout the greater province. As landowners, and no longer landholders, they invested in land and began developing a system of commercialized agriculture that, in the Jalilii case, was to underpin their costly wars and their “pacifi cations” of tribal and/or village communities.

The system that the Jalilis and other notable families put in place relied on the growth of commercial crops such as olives, grapes, or other fruit in groves and farms; the investment in watermills (and the lands watered by them) in the countryside; and, above all, the promotion of regional trade with Baghdad and Basra as well as the region of Kurdistan and northern Syria (Khoury 1991, 157–158). As with the Mamluks, the Jalilis also became patrons of religious learning and invested in a literary and cultural revival that provided support to Mosul’s religious establishment, as well as its historians, poets, and litterateurs.

Among the most important religious notables to emerge in Mosul was the Umari family, some of whose members joined the Jalililed provincial government in important administrative and fi nancial posts. For example, Uthman al-Umari (1721–70) was an administrator (in Mosul as well as Baghdad) but was also a poet and a belle-lettriste (adib, in Arabic). Meanwhile, a cousin of Uthman’s, Amin al-Umari (1738–88), was a professor of law and a historian. An even greater historian was Amin’s brother, Yasin (1745–1820), who wrote 17 historical chronicles (Kemp 1981, 310).

Historian Dina Khoury makes the point that the Jalilis and the Umaris, like several other large families in Mosul, staked their prominence on extended family networks, or households, which, in the Umari case, combined intellectual and administrative infl uence with some fi nancial resources. The Jalilis, on the other hand, were among the richest proprietors of Mosul; they also held a monopoly on military force, which compelled respect (Khoury 1997, 114–133).

The Province of Shahrizor

Iraqi Kurdistan came under Ottoman rule in 1550, and its leading families, represented by their mirs (Kurdish tribal chieftains or princes), became the advance guard for the Ottomanization of northwestern Iraq. Granted plots of land (timars) by Istanbul in return for bringing out the cavalry in times of war, Kurdish chieftains made expedient alliances with the Arab and Turkmen population in the region to buttress their power.

From the mid-16th century onward, the frontier arrangements between the early Ottoman commanders and the mirs remained more or less the same, except during the wars between the Safavids and the Ottomans, when some Kurdish tribes would change sides and resettle on either side of the border, precipitating the migration of tribes from Ottoman Iraq to Safavid Iran or vice versa. The Kurds were always in a precarious position, because they were susceptible to the power of rival empires; living as they did in the borderlands between Iraq and Iran, they were often manipulated to fi ght for one side or another.

There were many tribal families of great infl uence in the Kurdish highlands, as well as sufi (mystic) brotherhoods led by leaders of some of the greatest Islamic fraternities (turug) in Islamic Asia, such as the Qadiri and Naqshbandi. For our purposes, the Baban family of southern Kurdistan serves as a useful example with which to describe 17th- and 18th-century northern Iraq. With a few exceptions, in which rival leaders of the Baban emirate, or principality, switched sides and became Persian vassals, the Baban princes were usually Ottoman allies from the mid-16th to the 19th century.

Exceptionally for Kurdistan, the Baban emirs received the Ottoman title of pasha (the highest military rank) in the 17th century and were large landholders, holding sway over hundreds of villages as well as the tribal countryside through their deputy governors and district chiefs. The tribal peasantry, meanwhile, was as oppressed as any other in the region.

Because the Babans had been an independent dynasty at the time of the Ottoman conquest in the mid-16th century, they possessed a certain cachet that distinguished them from other Kurdish mirs; however, that distinction was more often theoretical than real. The Babans, like other Kurdish dynasties, were not a politically stable unit.

Family members often conspired against one another and, on some occasions, even fought drawn-out battles against rival members, often instigated by Persian guile. Sometime after 1787, one of the Babans, Suleyman, built the defi nitive capital for his fi ef and named it after himself. Today, Suleymaniya functions as the focus of southern Kurdistan.

In the early 19th century, traveler and diplomat Claudius James Rich described Suleyman Baban’s administration as a miniature of the Ottoman court: It had a prime minister (a hereditary offi ce), several court offi cials with ceremonial roles, a guardian of the harem, an astrologer-astronomer, and a master of the horse (Bruinessen 1992, 172).

The latter was an important post dating back to the Roman Republic, magister equitum. As the title declares, its holder was responsible for royal and/or military horses in an empire or kingdom, not a small post in the age before mechanized military. The master of the horse held close council with the emperor or king, but today, where it still exists, it is largely a ceremonial position.