In what is probably the most difficult period in Ezidi history, he directed the political and religious affairs of the Ezidi community for over 70 years. With his death not only a personal era ends, but possibly also the position of the traditional Mir dignity. A portrait.
In order to understand the significance of the person of Mir Tahsin Beg and his position, a historical overview of the history of the Ezidi princely family and of the Mir office in general is indispensable. Afterwards, the childhood, youth and work of Mir Tahsin Beg will be discussed.
The Principality of Sheikhan
One of the main settlement areas of the Ezidis is still located in the northern Iraqi region of Sheikhan. There is also the sanctuary of Lalish, where the secular and religious head of the Ezidis resides. For 300 years this dominion of the Ezidis has been known under the name Sheikhan. Some western travellers, who repeatedly visited the Ezidi principality in the 19th century, also called the region “Yezidkhane” (Ezidkhane) – the land of the Ezidis. In the Ottoman Empire, from the 16th to the early 18th century, the principality of Sheikhan was managed as a separate administrative district – a so-called Sanjak – which was known as “Sanjak Dasini”. Dasini was the old name of the principality of Sheikhan, which was also used synonymously as the name of all Ezidis. Therefore, Ezidi princes also used the designation Dasini in their names, such as Mir Hussein Beg Dasini (murdered in the 1530s) or Mirza Beg Dasini (1600 – 1651).
Very little is known about the beginnings of the principality. Arab chroniclers, such as al-Kalby, report that shortly after the demise of the Ummayads and the subsequent seizure of power by the Abbasids, an uprising erupted in 838 on the territory of today’s Sheikhan. The insurgents were called Dasini. Unlike among the Ummayads, in which the different peoples lived more or less peacefully together with their different religions, the Abbasids marked the beginning of an era of persecution of non-Islamic communities. The Dasinis’ uprising under their prince Mir Jafar is said to have lasted three years before it was bloodily suppressed. Nothing is known about the whereabouts of the Dasinis and their territory after the uprising, but many researchers consider this to be the foundation of the subsequent principality of Sheikhan.
In this area around 1112 the Ezidi saint Sheikh Adi (1073 – 1162), the central figure of Ezidism, appeared and allied the local tribes under his Adawiya order. For a long time, his followers were also known as “Adawis”, besides today’s self-designation “Ezidi”, and until the late 19th century also as Dasinis. More than a hundred years after Sheikh Adis’ influence, the Ezidis in Sheikhan were led by his great-grand-nephew Sheikh Hassan (1195 – 1246). According to contemporary reports, the principality of Sheikhan flourished and gained significant military influence under Sheikh Hassan – according to an Arab historian, Sheikh Hassan’s power even threatened the city of Mosul as an Islamic cultural asset. The Arab rulers feared Sheikh Hassan’s Ezidi army would destroy the Islamic city of Mosul.
Sheikh Hassan went down in history because he succeeded in centralizing and de facto nationalizing the principality. In order to govern and administer the principality properly, he founded a religious council, which still exists today under the name “Civata Ruhani” (spiritual council). The Spiritual Council became the most important institution in Ezidism, which was presided over by Mir Tahsin Beg until his death. Sheikh Hassan is said to have worked on a book for six years that was written to serve as a religious and legal code for Ezidis. Today, some documents written by Sheikh Hassan still exist as so-called “Mishurs”, which are kept by Ezidi clergymen.
It did not take long and the governor of Mosul, Badr ad-Din Lulu (died 1259), viewed Sheikh Hassan’s influence as a serious threat. In 1246 he invaded Sheikhan with a huge army, destroyed Lalish, massacred the Ezidis and captured Sheikh Hassan. As a deterrent, 200 people of Sheikh Hassan’s followers were publicly executed. Sheikh Hassan refused to accept Islam and thus also an islamization of the Ezidis and was finally executed in Mosul. A few years later, in 1254, Badr ad-Din Lulu led another campaign against the Ezidis in Sheikhan.
In this part of Ezidi history Sheikh Hassan’s son, Sheikh Sherfedin, took the leadership over the Ezidis. Sheikh Hassan’s descendants, the Adani Sheikhs, ruled the Ezidis for a long time until a military conflict broke out between the Adani and Shamsani Sheikhs between the 13th and 14th centuries. The third Sheikh group of the Ezidis, the Qatanis, distant side relatives of the Adanis who, however, remained neutral in the conflict, were ultimately able to seize control of Sheikhan. The Ezidi theocracy, which still stands today, was founded. Mir Tahsin Beg also belonged to the Qatani family.
The Ezidi “theocracy”
Mir Mihammad Batini, one of the first heads of the Qatanis, played a central role in the emergence of Ezidis’ theocracy. Mir Mihammad Batini was a descendant of the Ezidi saint Mir Ibrahim Adem. The father of Mir Ibrahim Adem, Dervish Adem, was a disciple of Sheikh Adi. Mir Mihammad Batini was neutral during the conflict between the Adanis and Shamsanis and thus became the prince and secular head of the Ezidis. In this stage of development the warlike conflict between the Ezidi Sheikh families ended and the Ezidi theocracy was created. The Shamanis received the task of the religious leadership which representative and religious head of all Ezidis is called “Baba Shekh” (father of the Sheikhs). The Adanis were appointed to the Peshimams of the Ezidis, which carry out important religious rituals. From the family of Mir Mihammad Batinis and thus from the group of Qatanis the secular leader was appointed, who at the same time took over the chairmanship of the religious council.
Mir Mihammad Batini had two sons, Mir Melik and Mir Mansur. The older one of the two brothers, Mir Melek, followed his father as the new leader of the Qatanis. Since then, the secular leader of the Ezidis has been a member of the Qatani group, more precisely the family of Mir Melik’s descendants. Mir Tahsin Beg is a direct descendant of Mir Melik. This distribution of tasks, the religious council and the Ezidi “theocracy” have proved themselves until today.
Sheikhan was completely independent until the middle of the 18th century, before the principality was attacked and subjugated by the Kurdish principality of Bahdinan.
At the end of the 18th century for the first time outsiders, in this case the Kurdish Princely House of Bahdinan, under which the Ezidis suffered fatally, interfered in the choice of the Ezidi princely role and appointed Khanjar Beg, a descendant of Mir Mensur, Prince of Sheikhan. But the reign of Khanjar Beg did not last long. After only one year it had ended and the old succession had been restored.
Family tree of Mir Tahsin Beg
The family tree of Mir Tahsin Beg is – at least in written form – badly handed down before the beginning of the 18th century, with one exception. From the 18th century, however, it is extensively and also in written form handed down, which is why the direct succession in the family tree is considered here only:
As one can see from the family tree of Mir Tahsin Beg, only a few Ezidi princes of Sheikhan died a natural death. Many were murdered. Two assassination attempts were carried out against Mir Tahsin Beg, which will be addressed later.
One of his ancestors, his great-great-grandfather Mir Ali Beg I, belongs firmly to the collective memory of the Ezidis today and is probably one of the most famous Mir in their history. The main reason is his martyrdom in 1832 during the Soran massacre by attackers from the Soran region. During his imprisonment Mir Ali Beg I was tortured. Under this torture they tried to convert him to Islam. But Mir Ali Beg I refused and remained faithful to his religion, which is why he was executed. The Ezidis regarded this as a victory despite the murder of their Mir.
In the family tree only the male heirs were considered. However, a woman from the princely family played a special role and led the Ezidis for several decades as secular head: Mayan Khatun (1873 – 1956), grandmother and mentor of Mir Tahsin Beg.
Childhood and youth of Mir Tahsin Beg
Tahsin Beg was born on August 15, 1933 as the third eldest son of the secular head of the Ezidis, Mir Said Ali Beg, in the Sheikhan region in present-day northern Iraq. Although Tahsin Beg was only the third oldest of his five brothers, he was proposed and appointed as successor to the Mir dignity by the elders present, and in particular by his grandmother Mayan Khatun, after the murder of his father on the day of the funeral in 1944. At this time Tahsin Beg was eleven years old. Although he was officially the secular head of the Ezidis, in reality his grandmother Mayan Khatun directed all the affairs of the Ezidis.
Mayan Khatun was extremely popular among the Ezidis and enjoyed great respect, probably unique in the history of the Ezidis. An Iraqi official in Sheikhan wrote about his meeting with Mayan Khatun in 1948: “A few days after I took over the position of the district director in Sheikhan, an old lady, perhaps over 70 years old, appeared in my office to congratulate me on taking office and to express her full support for my work in the region. Although she was very old, she did not seem frail. On the contrary, her charming appearance and wonderful charisma were fascinating. She was a personality to be respected.”
After the sudden death of her son Mir Said Beg in 1944, Mayan Khatun succeeded her eleven-year-old grandson Tahsin Beg, although only third eldest son, as the new secular head of the Ezidis. Mayan Khatun had a significant influence on him and prepared him for his work until he actually took office.
Mir Tahsin Beg will probably be the last in the over 700-year history of the Mir-dignity and will have to lead the Ezidis through an era marked by migration, flight, social transformations, political upheavals and a devastating genocide. From 1944 until January 2019, he held the office of the Mir uninterruptedly, which has been dominated by his family since the 14th century.
Until Mir Tahsin Beg was mature enough to act independently as head, Mayan Khatun took over the guardianship. From 1913 until her death in 1956, Mayan Khatun ruled de facto as the secular head or princess of the Ezidis.
Mayan Khatun educated her grandson extensively in order to prepare him best for his future tasks. During this time the young Mir Tahsin Beg learned how important diplomatic relations can be. A lesson that he will try to put into practice again and again later on, and which also attracts the displeasure of many Ezidis.
His grandmother and mentor Mayan Khatun herself lived through one of the bloodiest episodes in Ezidi history at the side of her husband Mir Ali Beg II. From 1893 Omar Wahbi Pasha, also called Firik Pasha, led a campaign of extermination against the Ezidis in Sheikhan and Shingal. Ten thousand Ezidis were massacred, women and children enslaved and over 15,000 Ezidis forcibly islamized. Sheikhan was almost razed to the ground. Mayan Khatun witnessed her husband, who refused to accept Islam, being tortured and humiliated before both were exiled.
During this time she gave birth to a child who had already died in the womb. Only with great effort and overcoming numerous hurdles Mir Ali Beg II could organize her return to Sheikhan, and together with his wife they began to lead back to old strength and order. They spent an enormous fortune to bribe the Ottoman authorities and officials in order to provide the Ezidis with a time of peace as far as possible. They began to rebuild the destroyed Ezidi sanctuaries and villages and were able to reconquer Lalish, which had been occupied by Muslims during the war of extermination.
This terrible period of life formed the young Mayan Khatun into a woman with a strong character, which also affected her grandson Mir Tahsin Beg.
Mir Tahsin Beg recalled his grandmother in 2013: “My grandmother, Mayan Khatun, a very capable and intellectual woman, has twice led the princely role of the Mir in Ezidi history. After my grandfather Ali Beg died and my father was still a minor, my grandmother Mayan Khatun took over the secular leadership of the Ezidi community. She was the first contact point both for her own people and for political representatives of other ethnic groups. At the age of 18 my father Said Beg officially took over the dignity of the Mir and the duties and rights connected with it. My grandmother continued to enjoy great recognition and esteem within the Ezidi community. She was also an excellent diplomat. […]
My grandmother Mayan Khatun was an intelligent woman and also the political circumstances of that time made her leadership possible.”
After the death of his grandmother in 1956, Mir Tahsin Beg, who had meanwhile matured into an adult man, took over the sole leadership of the Ezidis. And shortly thereafter a torture began that would last his whole life – a torture he shared with his forefathers.
Reign of Mir Tahsin Beg
Unlike many Ezidis of his time, Mir Tahsin Beg received a good school and political education. In order to fulfil his political duties, he learned several languages and finally spoke six languages fluently, including English.
He said he had a friendly relations with the Iraqi king Faisal II. After the fall of the Iraqi King and the abolition of the monarchy in the 1950s, Mir Tahsin Beg was targeted by the new military dictatorship under Abd al-Karim Qasim.
Mir Tahsin was finally captured and imprisoned before immediately joining the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq after his release. In the ensuing first Kurdish-Iraqi war between 1961 and 1970, Mir Tahsin Beg led the Ezidis in a leading role alongside Mustafa Barzani, the Kurdish leader of the rebellion. The war ended with a victory over the Iraqi troops.
With the takeover of Saddam, a new war of Iraq against the Ezidis flared up. Saddam’s regime destroyed dozens of Ezidi villages. Again this time Mir Tahsin Beg joined the Kurdish Peshmerga with an Ezidi army and fought against Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror.
In 1975, Mir Tahsin Beg fled from Saddam’s henchmen to Iran and from there to exile in Great Britain. It was not until 1985 that he returned to Iraq and, as leader of the Ezidis, assumed far-reaching political functions in the Ezidis regions of the later Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He gained even more influence in 1992 when the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was established in northern Iraq and he exerted direct influence over the Ezidi tribes and territories. In the following years, however, this power was systematically taken away from him by the Kurdish autonomous government in order to limit his influence. Later he will condemn the actions of his former comrades and accuse them of assimilating the Ezidis.
When the new Iraqi constitution was drafted in 2005 after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Mir Tahsin urged that the Ezidi should be explicitly named in the new constitution and that constitutional freedoms should be guaranteed. His influence finally reached so far that the Ezidis were also recognized as a minority in the Iraqi constitution and the Ezidis were assured at least a compensatory minority seat in the Iraqi parliament.
It will remain his last great political success before he falls ill and gradually leaves the leadership to his son Hazim Beg.
From 2013 onwards, Mir Tahsin, who is already in poor health, settles down and receives treatment in Hannover, the capital of Lower Saxony. Over the next few years, he returned to Iraq only sporadically and for a short time if urgently needed.
As the head of the Ezidis, the Mir came into the firing line of radical-religious and political extremists. On February 14, 1992, during an armed attack, he was hit by several bullets from an automatic weapon and seriously injured. His driver and companion were killed in the attack.
On September 17, 2003, the Mir’s vehicle was attacked by a hand grenade from an approaching vehicle on its way to Alqosh. The grenade barely missed the Mir’s car and the attackers started shooting at the vehicle. With Kalashnikovs they tried to kill the Mir of the Ezidis. His bodyguards returned the fire and urged the attackers to retreat. The Mir survived slightly injured.
In both cases the perpetrators or backers were never caught. As a Mir you live dangerously, but he never felt fear, says Mir Tahsin later. His grandfather, Mir Ali Beg, was murdered, like many other Mir’s of the Ezidis. The attacks were directed not only against the Mir’s person himself, but against him in his function as head of the Ezidis.
Personal and social tragedies
During his tenure, Mir Tahsin Beg experienced many personal and social tragedies. Several of his children died, the attacks on the Ezidis in Iraq intensified.
The devastating Al-Qaeda attack in 2007 and the continuing genocide since August 2014 represent a severe setback for him. They make his already difficult task of uniting and strengthening the Ezidis almost impossible. Despite his health situation, however, he is trying to do everything in his power to call for international aid for the Ezidis.
Many Ezidis hoped for a strong personality to guide them through this difficult time. However, the political circumstances of the time made it virtually impossible for the Mir to speak openly about political issues that threatened the Ezidis. So, many Ezidi complained that the Mir was too much under the influence of the ruling Kurdish PDK party. He himself, however, has never seen himself in this position, openly talking about problems behind closed doors and trying to find diplomatic solutions instead of open verbal attacks. Not infrequently he had been able to prevent so many political retaliations against the Ezidis, while the Ezidis criticized him more and more wrongly in public. Also this episode of his people’s lack of understanding for diplomatic necessities belongs to the personal tragedies of Mir Tahsin Beg.
Constant field of tension
Since taking office, Mir Tahsin Beg has moved in a field of tension between Ezidis’ needs and political reality. In addition to his illness, the genocide of 2014 visibly affected him. Until the end he hoped to make it possible for the Ezidis from Shingal, who had been in refugee camps for almost five years, to return. In countless interviews and discussions with political and social actors, he tried to explain the plight of the Ezidis to them.
Under his leadership, however, the Ezidi community lost more and more of its cohesion. This was also due to the first flight abroad from all traditional settlement areas in the history of the Ezidis. The Mir increasingly lost influence within the Ezidi community in Iraq, also because the political upheavals led to divisions within the Ezidis, which weakened the Mir’s position.
Within the Ezidi communities, now living in different states, different social dynamics developed which were almost impossible to control. The efforts of the Mir in Germany to bring together and unite the Ezidis of different political convictions were torpedoed by Ezidis themselves. But the failure was blamed on the Mir.
The Ezidi head did not lack visions. He was often far ahead of his society in educational policy and social views and always had to fight for understanding. He was also open to reform proposals from a religious point of view, but left the decision to society itself. Again and again he emphasized how important education would be for the survival of the Ezidi community and encouraged young Ezidis to assume leading roles in society. Despite his own position, he spoke out against many patriarchal influences within the Ezidis.
Due to the increasing globalization of conflicts in the traditional homelands of the Ezidis, Mir Tahsin Beg was faced with almost insoluble tasks, since the Ezidis had neither political, military nor economic influence. To represent, defend and enforce Ezidi interests in such a tense environment resembled a monumental task facing Mir Tahsin Beg as the first Mir in history. He had to lead the Ezidis into modernity without having direct access to the Ezidi communities usually concentrated in conurbations.
His successor, too, should not be inherited as usual, but should be determined by a Ezidi parliament, which, however, has not been founded in recent years for political reasons.
His successor, he said in 2013, was to be determined by the Ezidi community itself. In the years that followed, his son Hazim Beg took over as his father’s representative. The Religion Council in Lalish will now have to discuss the final succession.
However, it is almost impossible that the Ezidis will accept the new Mir to the same extent as Mir Tahsin in the decades of his reign. The Ezidis are on the verge of collapse. To provide stability in such a situation will become a lifelong task for his successor.
Also for this reason Mir Tahsin Beg will probably take his place as the last Mir in the history of the Ezidis.
When the news of the death of Mir Tahsin Begs became known on January 28, 2019, even his greatest critics were deeply shocked. Mir Tahsin Beg has shaped Ezidis’ history in the past decades like no other. An epoch ends with his death and every Ezidi, already in a state of helplessness since the genocide of 2014, feels that another pillar of the Ezidis has collapsed.
Worldwide political, religious and social representatives express their condolence with the family of the Mir but also with the Ezidis. Those who met Mir Tahsin Beg saw him as an advocate of peace and tolerance. The Ezidis will painfully lack his diplomatic skills in these difficult times. Mir Tahsin Beg is to be transferred to Lalish and buried at the side of his ancestors.
© ÊzîdîPress, 29th January, 2019