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Black Sheep Turks

The Black Sheep Turks, also known as the Kara Koyunlu or Qara Qoyunlu, are Turkmens who live in a region centred on Tabriz, living in both Iran and Turkey. They speak the same language as the people in Turkmenistan on the other side of the Caspian sea.

Most are Sunni Muslims. They write their language in Roman letters.

They are cousins of the Ottoman Turks, the Turks in Turkey, but their language is different. This makes them stick out. In 1958 Turkey passed laws to stamp out their language, to make them forget about being Turkmens. But the Black Sheep Turks have not forgotten. They still remain.

The Black Sheep Turks once had their own country, back in the 1400s. They ruled Tabriz and Mosul and, for a time, even Baghdad (from 1409 to 1469). They supported the arts. Tabriz in those days was famous for its miniature painting.

They had two great rulers:

  • Kara Yusuf, who ruled from 1390 to 1400 and from 1403 to 1420.
  • Jahan Shah, son of Kara Yusuf, who ruled from 1438 to 1455.

Kara Yusuf won their freedom when he took over Tabriz in 1390 and made it their capital.

The year 1400 brought Tamerlane, who set out from Samarkand to take over the world. He crushed the Black Sheep Turks along with everyone else. Kara Yusuf went to Egypt to ask for help, but was thrown in prison instead. Tamerlane ruled the land. It was all over, it seemed. But then on his way to China in 1405 Tamerlane died suddenly and his empire, built on terror and destruction, quickly fell apart.

One of Tamerlane’s sons, Shah Rokh, got Persia and helped Jahan Shah to overthrow his brother and become the ruler of the Black Sheep Turks in 1438.

After Shah Rokh’s death in 1447 Jahan Shah extended his rule east into Persia. His armies got as far as Herat, Shah Rokh’s capital in what is now western Afghanistan. Jahan Shah also overthrew his brother Esfahan in Baghdad and took over what is now southern Iraq and Kuwait.

The Black Sheep Turks were now at the height of their power, but Jahan Shah was hated. His own sons rose up against him. So did the Shiite Arabs south of Baghdad, led by a holy man who said the Mahdi was coming to rule the world and bring peace. In time they would take Basra and Najaf, cities south of Baghdad.

But neither his sons nor the Shiites did him in: it was his own pride. He overreached himself.

In 1467 Jahan Shah marched west on Diyar Bakr, the capital of the White Sheep Turks. His army was defeated and he was killed. Over the next two years the White Sheep Turks took over the lands of the Black Sheep Turks, dividing them with the Persians.

The Black Sheep Turks have been ruled by foreigners ever since.

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