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Internal and foreign policy of Shah Ismail I

One of the leading tendencies in the interior policy of the founder of Safavids state was the aspiration to the centralization of state governance. It was dictated with the necessity of restoration of the destroyed economic life, animation of agriculture, craft producing and trade. Centralization demanded the strengthening of positions of Azerbaijan state and its relations with neighborhood powers, especially with the Ottoman Empire as well.

Major measure of Shah Ismail I was the implementation of religious reform. Since the first days of the entrance to Tabriz (in the autumn of 1501) Shiite persuasion of Islam, more exactly imamit trend (12 imams – “isna ashara”) had been proclaimed the official denomination. According to the historian, who was the contemporary of these events in the eve of coronation, at night Ismail declared to emirs and Shiite ulemas his decision about bringing Shiite creed to the capital. They did their best to hold on sheikh in realizing this step, taking into account the possibility of popular disagreements in Tabriz, as essential part of the settlers here – 200 thousand from 300 thousand – were faithful sunnits. Neverthless Ismail stayed in his own thought and replied: “If raiyats tell even a word, I will derive my sword with the help of Allah and will kill each settler”. In the other day, when the people assemlied in the mosque, Ismail ordered to read khutba to the honour of prominent Shiites. He stood with sword over Tabriz population on the foot of the mosque. His supporters were next to him and they were ready to press any resistance. But nobody dared to express his open disagreement. Since that time, Shiite persuasion of Islam (more exactly the persuasion of imamits, which payed homage to twelve imams, including the secret one) had been proclaimed the official creed.

There were brought the coins with the symbol of Shiite belief to the monetary by Shah Ismail – the coin reform served to the goals of propaganda of Shiite trend, accuration of its leading circumstance in the state.

But, dissemination of Shiite persuasion beyond Azerbaijan was not realized easily. During the extension of Kizilbashes to the Iran regions, where sunnit trend was leading one among ulemas, aristocracy and urban settlers, resistance against Shiite persuasion increased.

Kizilbashes had to press the opposition of urban settlers in Isfahan, Shiraz, Kazerun and Yezd.

By Kizilbashes, sunnits were examined as the supporters of the dynasty of Aghqoyunlu, ShirvanShahs or the foreign enemies of Safavids – the Ottoman Empire and the state of Sheybanids. Besides of political essence of the implementation of obligatory shiitezation, kizilbashes obtained “legal right” to capture lands and wealth of sunnit clergy and secular feudals, who rejected to convert to Shiite persuasion.

There had been collected big amount of land foundation in the hands of the first Shah of Safavids dynasty. Due to rule this foundation, there was created special vazirat, which chief was called “vazir of high divan” and he was differed from the vezir, who governed other part of the country. Along with Shah, the khans of the tribes, which took an active part in the establishment of Safavids state and the Shiite clergy became big land-owners; such Shiite sanctuaries, as Meshed, where was located the graves of prominent imams, as Kum, where according to a legend was located the grave of the sister of this imam and other religious centres became big vaqf possessions.

Shiite trend, which became the leading creed, lost its previous role of ideology of popular mass soon and it became the pillar of feudalism.

Shah was considered not only the secular ruler and the spiritual head of all muslim-shiites, but also “the refuge of belief” for the whole population of the state. Kizilbash aristocracy and ordinary soldiers were considered the murids of Shah Ismail as the leader, murshid of Ardebil orden of “Sefeviyye”, that is why the relation of Shah with kizilbashes was tighter and more transparent than usual tie of the sovereign with his obediants. As the scientists – specialists mentioned, in the Safavids state it was not casual that one of the most important posts in this state was the post of caliphate al-khulafa. I.P.Petrushevsky noticed that many representratives of kizilbash aristocracy used the sufi-dervish tytle of caliph (caliph, in the essence of the deputy of supreme sheikh of the orden). After V.F.Minersky, I.P.Petrushevsky also mentioned the  essence of the post of caliphate al khulafa and wrote: “The one of the most prominent posts in the state was the post of” caliphate al khulafa (“khalif of khalifs”), which was used by one of the prominent kizilbash emirs and he was the first deputy of Shah in the governance of internal issues of the orden of “Sefeviyye”.

There was studied the content of major moving powers in kizilbash movement in the special literature. Achievements of kizilbash movement and the result of the activity of Ardebil sheikhs and their supporters – the establishment of Safavids state were related with the support of the majority of the population from various cathegories of the country. This support was provided not only by “kizilbash tribes”, murids and sufies, but also by trade-craft circles and partly by feudal stratum. Shah Ismail I, the founder of the state also understood this circumsatance well and in one of his poetic works, Shah Ismail mentioned that “namely akhies, gazies, abdals confirmed the sons of sheikh”.

Akhi communities were in the process of confluence with sufi organization in political life of Azerbaijan cities in 15th-16th centuries. As sufies, they also had their own statutes (futuzzatname). As in sufism, each akhi should possess four steps of moral-philosophic cognition (shariat, tarikat, hagigat, marifat). All of these assisted to the transformation of akhi communities inside – in one side, to the radical khurrufit branch, in the other side, to dervish – kizilbash teaching. Obviously, this process had began long ago. It was seen from that even in the 14th century, Safavids sects diverted peasants of Northern Azerbaijan from implementation of obligations and payment of taxes; among peasants, there were some akhies, which considered that regicide could be possible.

There were known many masters-craftsmen, called akhies among Safavids murids since the presence of Sheikh Safiaddin. After that when Shah Ismail came to the throne, he attracted dervishes to various craft unions by special order. At the result of it, akhi communities converged with sufi-dervish stratum. Former akhi communities, which turned into feudals and were in the minority began to pass to the line kizilbash military nobility. So, one of the three social stratums, which were the pillars of Safavids state, were the akhi communities – urban craftsmen and nomadic landowners, who blended with sufi-dervish stratum later.

The second stratum, which was the pillar of young state consisted of gazies. The cognition of “gazi” meant “fighter for the belief”, “fighter against adherents of different faith”. Turks fought with Christian world on the frontiers “for belief” even in the period of caliphate reign. These fighters, called “eren”, “alp-eren” turned into gazies in the presence of Safavids.

In the kizilbash army, gazi was the major striking force. The historian of the 16th century, Zeynalabdin Ali Abdibey in his work, called “Takmilat ul-akhbar” described the victory over Farrukh Yasar as the service of gazies. According to Shah Ismail all enemies were defeated by the forces of “heroes-gazies” and the state was established by their vehicle.

Abdals, which were mentioned in the paragraph above, were one of the ancient Turkish tribes that settled in the Caucasus and Front Asia. In the Middle Ages, there was created sufi community, called abdal in the Middle East. Probably, ethnonim of ancient huns-“abdal” mixed with sufi-dervish term and later was transformed into dervish cognition.

The communities of abdal-kalandars played an important role in the fight for the establishment of Safavids power in the first decades of the 16th century. That is why, the founder of this power called himself dervish and wrote: “according to tarikat I am sufi, but in reality I’m abdal”.

Shah Ismail, who was intransigent in the relation to sunnits-his political enemies simultaneously protected Christian population, enlarging their activity. That was dictated by real political interests and obligatory course of Safavids, which was directed to the converge with European states.

For the final confirmation in Azerbaijan and Iran, Ismail had to defeat the governor of the second part of Aghqoyunlu state-Murad, who had the residence in Isfahan. In the spring of 1503, Ismail sent his murid to the padiShah with the demand of subordination. Murad rejected and collected 70 thousandth army. Then Ismail moved from Tabriz to the South, to Hamadan with 12 thousandth troops. Decisive battle took place in the location of Almagulaghi, not far from Hamadan, in June of 1503; Aghqoyunlu troops were destroyed, lots of generals were killed. Murad was able to escape. At the result of this victory Ismail obtained the whole district of Fars and big part of Persian Irag. Shiraz, Isfahan, Kashan, Kum passed to the authority of kizilbashes till the end of this year. In the next year Yezd and Kirman subordinated to them. In the years of 1506-1507, the troops of Shah Ismail managed to conquer Diyarbakir and Kurdistan, and in 1508 – Baghdad and the whole Arabic Irag were captured, although these events were accompanied by difficult military-political events and by the fight with the governors of local dynasties in Eastern Anatolia.

One of the prominent representatives of such dynasties was Zulkadar oghullari (1339-1521), with whom Safavids began the war soon.

Alauddavle bey Zulkadar wanted to subordinate the lands of Aghqoyunlu in South-Eastern Anatolia to his authority. With this aim, after the death of Alvend Mirza (15050 he sent the son of Ughurlu Muhammed-Zeynal, his brother Abdurrazak and his sons Ahmed and Shahrukh to Diyarbakir. Amid, Mardin and other districts were conquered by them. Soon, Alvend Mirza’s beyle bey, Emir bey made them retreat and normalize the situation. Due to be saved from the further pressure of Zulkadar oghlullari, Emir bey accepted nationality of Shah Ismail. In order to spoil the plans of Alauddovla about the conquest of Diyarbakir, Ismail sent his envoy, Ustaclu Ummet there but he was killed by Alauddovla Zulkadar oghlu. Shah used from this, as the excute for the beginning of hostilities.

For the final strengthening in these conquests, in 1509, Shah Ismail got the permission from the Ottoman governor in order to pass from his possession and directed to Erzurum and Erzincan, reached to Albistan with campaign. Alauddovla, who retreated to Turnadagh mountain, appealed to the mamluks of Egypt and Ottoman Sultan for help. But Egyptain mamluks did not aid him, and detachments of Sultan Beyazid II, which were interested in the involvement of their potential enemies to the conflict, did not move far from Ankara. In the beginning of winter, Kizilbashes captured Kharput. Local governor came to Ismail’s camp, recognized vassal dependence and he was appointed the mohurdar (keeper of the stamp) – the governor. Such big Turkish tribe as mosullu accepted kizilbash trend, which was the great success. The region of Diyarbakir became under the authority of Safavids and Muhammed Ustaclu was appointed its governor. He was very brave soldier. He defeated Kurdish emirs and the army of the son of Alauddovla, Sari Kaplan (in 1509). In 1510, when Ismail I conquered Baghdad, Muhammed Ustaclu defeated the second army of Zulkadars. Alaudovla’s sons – Ahmed and Shahrukh, who were captivated were killed; Shah Ismail was definitively confirmed in Arabic Irag and Diyarbakir.

From the beginning, relationship of Azerbaijan state of Safavids with Ottoman Turkey and Middle Asian state of Sheybanids was accompanied by Shiite – Sunnite enmity. Sultan Beyazid II inclined Aghqoyunlu emirs to fight against “rebelling kizilbash tribes” and aided them directly, but he avoided from open severange with Safavids. He was scared that Minor Asian kizilbashes – murids of Ardebil oredn, which obeyed to him would be able to rise against the Ottoman Empire.

Sheybani khan, who utilized from that Shah Ismail was engaged in the struggle with local feudals of Iran, put the end to the Teymurid dynasty, captured Khorasan in the years of 1507-1508, and in 1509, he made robbery raid to the possession of kizilbashes-Kirman. Shah Ismail was in Shirvan campaign at that time, which provided Uzbeks to leave this land without obstacles. Ismail sent his envoys to the sovereign of Sheybanids twice and called him to stop these raids. Correspodence between Safavids and Sheybanid sovereigns caused to their confrontation. In the story of “Alam ara-i Safavi” there was mentioned that Sheybani khan sent to Shah Ismail humiliating letter, in which he noticed that Shah had to accept his governor well and emphasized that he regarded himself the caliph of the epoch, deputy of the prophet.

Sheybani khan demanded from Ismail to include his name to the coins and khutbas in mosques, to repair the destroyed bridges, where he would pass during his pilgrimage to Mecca, also to prepare rations in each passage for his troops. In the letter Sheybani khan appealed to Ismail as “dervish and the generation of dervishes” and demanded from him to be engaged in prayings, not govern the state. In his replying letter, Ismail noticed that, he as “dervish” would visit the tomb of the eighth imam, Rza in Meshed (i.e. in Khorasan), where he would come with troops. The struggle between Safavids and Sheybanids was related with the possession of Teymurids – Khorasan, through which district passed more essential trade ways that connected Front Asia with India and the countries of Far East.

In 1510, Sheybani khan was in Herat. At that time Shah Ismail’s troops entered to Western Khorasan. Major part of Sheybani khan’s troops stood in Maverennehr, that is why, after advising with his emirs, the sovereign of Shebanids retreated to Eastern Khorasan – Merv. All uzbek khans that had been in Khorasan escaped from Kizilbashes to Merv. Shah Ismail conquered Astrabad, Meshed, Serakhs. Then, Shah Ismail besieged Merv, there happened small confrontations, but he did not manage to capture the city.

Then Ismail decided to deceive uzbek leaders and to entice from the fortress for the decisive battle. He applied military stratagem, retreated to the city of Mahmudabad and sent letter to Sheybani khan “Regarding yourself the caliph of the epoch, deputy of the prophet, you  disturbed me with your letters; if you have courage, then don’t hide inside of the fortress and come to the field of the battle, or I am leaving now (Shah Ismail heard that, the son of Turkish Sultan, Beyazid – Selim attacked to Tabriz). I did not want to occupy Khorasan. I wanted to present this land to the sons of Sultan. But your humiliating letter offended my self-respect and made me come here. Now I’am returning to Azerbaijan and I have no any pretends to you. You can manage Khorasan as you want”.

Military stratagem of Shah Ismail worked and on December 2, 1510 he was able to defeat Sheybani khan by Merv. Uzbek troops were destroyed and Sheybani khan was killed in the battle. This victory gave the whole Khorasan and the territories till Amu-Darya to the authority of Safavids. So, only for ten years Ismail turned from homeless sheikh into mignificant ruler of great power.

After the destruction of Sheybani khan under Mahmudabad, Shah Ismail entered to Merv with his troops. Wealthy city-dwellers, under the chief of Khoca Kamaladdin greeted him ceremonially and in the hands of these people were jars with golds. Shah Ismail ordered not to touch the population of Merv. Researchers mention that as other rulers of that period Ismail could give a chance to his soilders to plunder Merv, but he did not do it only because of political aims. Shah, wanted to gain the sympathy of local population, especially Merv aristocracy, as Merv was solidly strengthened fortress on the way to Maverennehr and Ismail aimed to make this fortress one of his pillars in Khorasan and further, possible moving to the East.

Reconcilation between Shah Ismail I and Sheybanids and the solved struggle for Khorasan (on behalf of Safavids) gave Ismail the chance to activate his policy, related to the Ottoman Empire. Ismail I, who wanted to weaken Turkey, instigated the Ottoman prince-Ahmed against his brother-Selim I, who came to Ottoman throne in 1512.

Besides of this, Safavids utilized from the Shiite uprising in Minor Asia, under the leadership of Shahkulu for the invasion within Ottoman Empire. Kizilbashes, commanded by Nurali Rumlu destroyed the troops, sent by Selim I.

Safavids understood well that Turkish Sultan did not refuse from his aggressive goals about Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan and knew that they would not able to prevent Ottoman conquests lonely. That is why, Shah Ismail did his best to shape military alliance with several countries of Europe, which were also interested in it, especially with the Venesia Republic.

Sultan Selim I’s coming to the Turkish throne brought hostile character to Safavids-Ottoman relations. Before opening hostilities against Safavids state, Selim I united his hands in Europe by concluding peace with Venesia, Hungary, took the promice of help from Sheybanids. Sunnite ulemas declared war against kizilbashes under the name of jihad – holy duty of all muslim-sunnites, which provided Ottoman feudals “legally” to rob and to kill Shiites that were proclaimed “unfaithful”. Selim I protected himself against Minor Asian Shiites, adherents of the orden of “Sefeviyye” by realizing mass massacre against them. Approximately 40 thousand people were killed.

The Ottoman army, which began the campaign was much more than Shah Ismail’s troops. That is why, at first Ismail I avoided from open confrontation with the enemy. Kizilbash generals retreated according to the order, migrated the population, destroyed rations and pastures and water sources too. With the tactics of “scorched earth” Ismail I tried to incline Ottoman army to the empty lands and deprive of them from the equipment of coming winter. But those tactics worked partly. Sultan Selim did not stop in front of mass executions and made Ottoman soldiers move on the East.

General battle took place not far from the city of Maku, in Chaldiran plain on August 23, 1514. Ottoman and Kizilbash sources increased the number of other side and decreased number of their own army. According to the most accurate information of Idris Bidlisi, the Ottoman army was constituted by 100 thousand soldiers and kizilbash army by 40 thousand people. Sultan’s army surpassed in kizilbash army not also with amount, but only with military organization on European sample and with its weapons; Ottoman soldiers possessed the most part of best weapons of that epoch, which kizilbashes did not have. Main force of Ismail – kizilbash cavalry was powerless in front of weapons and yanichars of the Ottoman Empire. Namely, these features solved this bloody battle behalf on Selim I. Ismail was able to escape from the besiege and retreat with his detachment.

Chaldiran defeat did not get its strategic continuence, but it stroke the military-political prestige of Ismail and resulted with the lost of large possessions of Kizilbashes in Minor Asia and Arabic Irag. Simultaneously, that event proved that Ismail’s aim about utilizing from Minor Asian kizilbashes, which obeyed to Sultan was impossible.

Soon, Sultan Selim left Azerbaijan and retreated to Tabriz, where he stayed only a week.

Till the Chaldiran battle the border between Safavids and Ottoman states was through the city of Su in the region of Sivas. The fortress of Kemakh, cities of Kharput and Urfa were the boundaring cities of Safavids. Sultan Selim, who returned from the Chaldiran battle in the years of 1514-1515, passed the winter in Amasia and on his way to Istanbul he conquered the key of Anatolia – the fortress of Kemakh.

The commandant of the fortress, Muhammed bey Varsak did not conceal and fought till the death with 300 soldiers. Sultan Selim charged the conquest of Eastern Anatolia to Biyikli Muhammed Aghqoyunlu. In 1515, in the location of Tekir he defeated Nurali Caliph. Nurali Caliph and many other soldiers died in this battle. Soon Sultan, who believed to the being doomed of Aghqoyunlu dynasty, completely annexed their lands in Erzincan and Diyarbakir to his own possessions, although they never belonged to the Ottoman Empire.

After the Chaldiran battle Shah Ismail activated his policy in the South Caucasus. His interference to the affairs of this region was related with the aim of enlargement of his possessions and strengthening of his positions against Ottoman expansion. The excute for this interference was the appeal of Georgian tsars for help against one another. Kizilbash emir, Div-soltan Rumlu realized campaigns to Georgia for three times (in 1516, 1517 and 1521). The last campaign was related with the raid of the Cakhetian tsar, Levan to Sheki, which governor-Hasan bey appealed to Ismail for help. In 1521, Georgian tsars-Levan, Kvarkvare, Davud and Manuchar came to Nakhichevan and recognized themselves the vassals of Ismail. In 1591, the governor of Shaki, Hasan bey, who leaned on Ismail in his struggle with western neighbours, accepted vassal dependence of the Safavids sovereign.

After the death of ShirvanShah Farrukh Yasar in 1500, one of his sons, Bahram bey occupied the Shirvan throne on the battle with kizilbashes but he died after one year’s governance, in 1501. After him, his brother Qazi bey came to the throne in Shirvan but was able to govern the country only one and a half year (in the same year, i.e. in 1501). Historian Hasan bey Rumlu wrote that there were kept only the coins, called “Qazibeyi” from him.

Qazi bey was killed by his own son, Sultan Mahmud who occupied the throne. Historiographer Munaccimbashi characterized him with these words: “He was ferocious, liar and blood thirsty tyran”. According to numismatic evidences, Sultan Mahmud’s reign surrounded not only the year of 1503 but also the first half of 1502. Shirvan population, which was exploited by Sultan Mahmud sent the invitation to his uncle, sheikh Ibrahim, who was known as SheikhShah and requested him to accept the governance of the country. Sultan Mahmud, who learnt about coming of SheikhShah, escaped from Shamakha and found refugee in Shah Ismail, who confirmed his authority in Tabriz at that time.

Simultaneously, SheikhShah who survived in the Cabani battle came to Shahrinov (“New city”) on the shore of the Caspian Sea, where he began to the collection of his father, Farrukh Yasar’s troops. But when he learn about coming of Khadim bey Khulafa, SheikhShah escaped to Gilan, to the palace of the governor of Resht-emir Khusam ad-din, who was in hostile relations with Ismail Safavids. In 1502, SheikhShah returned from Gilan and ascended the Shirvan throne under the official name of Ibrahim I.

After the leaving of Kizilbashes from Shirvan in 1501, there were put their representatives here. One of the most influencive supporters of Shah Ismail, his tutor, Hussein bey Lele Shamlu was appointed the Safavids governor of Shirvan. Hussein bey put here his trusted servant – “cilovdar”, Shahgeldi agha, who was differed with that during the pursuet of destroyed Shirvan soldiers, he pursued Farrukh Yasar, killed him and brought the head of ShirvanShah to Ismail. Since that time Shahgeldi agha stayed in Shirvan court and coutrolled the delivering of “bac and kharac” to Tabriz. But ShirvanShah SheikhShah, who strengthened in the throne and utilized from the absence of Ismail in the capital, his being in the campaign of internal provinces of Iran and his preparation to Khorasan campaign, decided to liberate from vassal dependence and stopped the payment of taxes.

Simultaneouslty, Sultan Mahmud, who was in the palace of Ismail, asked him for military aid, in order to return the throne of ShirvanShah.

So, Ismail I decided to help Sultan Mahmud and in 1509, he sent kurchibashi Abdulbey Dede with him to Shirvan. For that help, Sultan Mahmud promised to recognize vassal dependence of Shah Ismail and mint coins from his name.

Sultan Mahmud encircled SheikhShah in the fortress of Gulistan with kizilbash troops. Circumstances of the besiege became strained.

But suddenly, Sultan Mahmud was killed by his lovely servant, called Kara-bey in the dream. His head was presented to SheikhShah. Shirvan people, who was inspired from this, destroyed kizilbash troops, most of them survived by escaping and a part of them was captivated.

After this event, SheikhShah sent his people to Ismail and assured him in his devotion and finally attained that, Ismail “gave him the  governance of Shirvan”. After several years, SheikhShah, who relied on the strength of his fortresses and troops, again attempted to liberate from the dependence of Ismail and stopped the payment of taxes. This circumstance caused to the next campaign of kizilbashes to Shirvan, at the beginning of winter of 1517. Shah Ismail himself commanded this campaign. Kizilbash troops crossed the Kur near Javad and entered to Shirvan. SheikhShah, who avoided from the confrontation with Ismail’s forces, hid in the fortress of Bughurd. Ismail, who sent a part of troops to Shamakha, directed to Baku with another part.

Cammandants of Baku and Shabran brought the keys of fortress gates to the Safavids Shah. Other commandants of Shirvan acted in such way and came to Ismail with presents. The exceptions were the governance of Derbent, Yar Ahmed and Agha Muhammed bey, who rehied on the height and strength of fortress walls, did not came to Shah and even did not send traditional “pishkesh”. Kizilbashes moved to Derbend and besieged the city. During 5 days, there were realized 12 undermining under the walls of the fortress. The defenders, who saw this concealed.

As we see, after the Chaldiran battle Shah Ismail intended to peace relations with shirvanShahs, neither in the first nor in the second campaign he encroached on the dynastic rules of shirvanShahs. The exchange of amicable embassies between two ruling dynasties of Azerbaijan caused to the marriage of SheikhShah’s son Sultan Khalil with Shah Ismail’s daughter, Perihan-khanum. These relationships continued in the favourable direction: after the death of SheikhShah in 1524, Sultan Khalil came to the Shirvan throne under the name of Khalilullah II.

About Ismayil bey Zardabli

Author of t extbook for the higher educational institutions "THE HISTORY OF AZERBAIJAN, from ancient times to the present day"