Shabak people

The Shabak people is a minority group of Iraq who live in the province of Ninawa. Their language, Shabaki, is a Hawrami dialect, similar to Gurani, with many borrowings from Turkish, Persian and Arabic. They are scattered in 35 villages located in the east of Mosul. Their population was estimated at around 15,000 in the 1970s..

A large part of the Shabaks follow a faith, which has every characteristic of an independent religion and distinct from Islam. It contains elements of Islam, as well as Christianity and other religions. There is a close affinity between the Shabak and the Yazidis, and Shabaks perform pilgrimage to Yazidi shrines. The Shabaks have a sacred book called the Buyruk written in Iraqi Turkmen colloquial. The Shabaks consist of three different ta'ifs or sects: the Bajalan, the Zengana, and the Shabak proper.


The origin of the word shabak is not clear. One popular view maintains that shabak is an Arabic word meaning intertwine, reflecting their diverse society. The word shabak also in Kurdish means light in the darkness which probably is a more proper name for a religious sect.

Arabization and Anfal Campaign

The geographical spread of Shabak people has been largely changed due to the massive deportations in the notorious Al-Anfal Campaign in 1988 and the refugee crisis in 1991. Many Shabaks along with Zengana and Hawrami people were relocated and deported to concentration camps (mujamma'at in Arabic) far away from their original homeland. Despite all these actions, Iraqi government efforts at forced assimilation and Arabization of Shabaks (and Zengana and Hawramis), only led to a strengthened sense of a common Kurdish identity among them. As one Shabak informant to a researcher put it:
The government said we are Arabs, not Kurds; but if we are, why did they deport us from our homes?

Religious beliefs

The distinctive features of the Shabak culture is due to their special religious beliefs and practices. Shabaks combine elements of Sufism with their own interpretation of divine reality, which according to them, is more advanced than the literal interpretation of Qur'an known as Sharia. Shabak spiritual guides are known as pir, who are individuals well versed in the prayers and rituals of the sect. Pirs themselves are under the leadership of the Supreme Head or Baba. Pirs act as mediators between Divine power and ordinary Shabaks. Their beliefs form a syncretic system with such features as private and public confession and allowing consumption of alcoholic beverages. This last feature makes them distinct from the neighboring Muslim populations. The beliefs of the Yarsan closely resemble those of the Shabak people..

Shabaks after the 2003 war

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Kurdish millitias have opened KDP offices and raised the flag of Kurdistan in Shabak villages. It is alleged that Iraqi Kurdistan wants to annex Shabak villages and the eastern side of Mosul (Nineveh Plains) into its territory. There have also been allegations of voter fraud and intimidation of Shabaks and other minority groups by Kurdish authorities in Ninawa Governorate.

On August 15, 2005 in Bartella, two Assyrians were killed and four Shabaks were wounded by the Pêşmerge forces in a demonstration organized by the Democratic Shabak Coalition which wants separate representation for the Shabak community.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in the Mosul area alone, 1,000 Shabaks have been killed, many by way of beheading, mostly by Sunni Arab militants. A further 4,000 Shabaks in Mosul have been driven from their homes. The number of Shabak deaths in Iraq is approaching genocide levels, as is the case for many of Iraq's minority groups (Turkmens, Yazidis, Palestinians, Assyrians, Armenians, many others), which have been caught between the political aspirations of Iraq's main three groups (Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds).

The Shabaks have representatives in the Bakhdida, Bartella, Basheqa, Tel Keppe and Nimrod municipalities of the Ninawa Governorate.


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