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 Kirkuk: Divided Bizeni Tribe Hopes to Reunite

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Kirkuk: Divided Bizeni Tribe Hopes to Reunite  20.5.2012  

Members of the Sheikh Bizeni tribe in Turkey. Photo Bizeni family archive
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May 20, 2012

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region, — Members of the Bizeni tribe, originally from Kirkuk, were separated during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. A Bizeni writer says he has asked the Kurdistan Regional Government to find a legal way for his tribesmen to return to their original home.

Bizenis live in different parts of Kurdistan, particularly Kirkuk city. Today, a large group of Sheikh Bizenis live in Anatolia’s Heymane area, 65 kilometers southeast of Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

Historical sources indicate that Sheikh Bizenis were partitioned during the 15th century, under Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Selim’s tenure.

Opinions differ regarding whether Sheikh Bizenis were forced to move to Ankara or moved there voluntarily.

Emrullah Susli, a Kurdish Sheikh Bizeni, believes his tribe migrated voluntarily to Chamchamal then to Cizire and Diyarbakir and finally to Palo in Turkey. He believes the migration was due to the strong relations Sheikh Bizenis had with the Ottoman Sultan at the time.

Susli told Rudaw, “According to research and stories passed down from our ancestors, Sheikh Baziyan, the father of the Sheikh Bizenis, supported the Ottomans during the Ottoman-Safavid war. After the war ended, the Sheikh Bizenis were facing difficulties due to their geographical closeness to the Safavid Empire. Therefore, Yavuz Sultan moved the Sheikh Bizenis to Cizire and then to Diyarbakir. Later, the Sheikh Bizenis moved to Palo.”

Due to the lack of pasture lands, the Sheikh Bizenis moved to central Anatolia and settled in Heymana, 65 kilometers southeast of Ankara. Susli says, “I have a document that is a decree from Abdul Hamid II that commands the Sheikh Bizenis be pardoned from taxes and military conscription. The decree also orders that the Sheikh Bizenis be free to live and settle wherever they want.”

Historical documents show that Heymana and central Anatolia were home to Armenians. During the Armenian genocide, the Ottomans brought Kurds to live in the Armenian lands.

“Stories passed down from our forefathers indicate that when we moved to this area in 1750, there were some Armenians living in the area,” Susli says. “Even today, remains of the Armenians can be seen in our area. The area was an Armenian area.”

Mala Shakhi, a veteran Peshmerga and former Iraqi MP from the Sheikh Bizenis tribe, has researched the subject and says the Sheikh Bizenis were forced to move out of Kirkuk.

“The goal was to de-Kurdify Kirkuk,” Shakhi says.

He adds, “The Sheikh Bizenis were forced to move to Turkey. They were moved there during the Armenian genocide.”

The forced migration was done in several phases, according to Shakhi. “First, they were moved to Kalaki Yasin Agha (near Erbil), then to Kawrgosk (Erbil). Some of the tribesmen escaped military conscription back then and remained in Kawrgosk. That is why we have a number of Sheikh Bizenis villages in that area and in Badinan. The villages were formed by those who escaped military conscription.”

Even though the Sheikh Bizenis in Heymana are geographically distant from Kurdistan and deprived Kurdish language studies, they have protected their language and still speak it. Susli says they speak the Kalhur dialect of Kurdish.

“Today, Sheikh Bizenis do not deny their Kurdish origins,” Susli adds. “All of our children speak Kurdish before they go to school. But once in school, the assimilation process and Turkification starts.”

Susli says he is the first Sheikh Bizeni member from Turkey to contact the Sheikh Bizenis in the Kurdistan Region, and that a growing national awareness of Kurds in Turkey has prompted several questions.

“Who are we? Why were we made to migrate here? Who made us migrate? These questions arose in my mind,” Susli says. “To find answers, I visited the Kurdistan Region for the first time in 2006. After several visits, I met a number of Sheikh Bizeni intellectuals. The dialect we speak in Turkey is very similar to that of the Khanaqin area in the Kurdistan Region. In the Kurdistan Region, there are two villages named Khur Khur and Qaya Bashi; we have two villages with the same names in our area.”

The progress that has been made between the Sheikh Bizenis of Turkey and the Kurdistan Region makes Susli believe a unified leadership for the tribe will be established in the near future.

Dr. Rashid Mahmood Yosif, a professor at Mosul University, says the Sheikh Bizenis were forced to migrate to Turkey and that he has a document that addresses the Ottoman Empire’s involvement in the migration.

Today the Sheikh Bizenis live in seven different areas in northern Kurdistan and Turkey. Dr. Yosif told Rudaw, “The largest group of the Sheikh Bizenis lives in Heymana. There are more than 45 Sheikh Bizeni villages in Heymana. There are also six villages between Qamishlo and Hasaka.”

Dr. Yosif attended a meeting between Sheikh Bizenis from Turkey and Kurdistan, and says, “In the meeting, we suggested a council be formed to run the affairs of the tribe. In the near future, we will establish the council.”

Mala Shakhi has different advice for the Sheikh Bizenis. He says he has submitted a proposal to the Kurdistan Regional Government that asks them to find a legal mechanism to allow the Sheikh Bizenis in Turkey to come back to their hometown, Kirkuk.

Shakhi says, “Their forced migration was to eradicate the Kurdish identity of Kirkuk city. I have talked to many of the Sheikh Bizenis in Heymana. Some of them are businessmen and have indicated a willingness to come back to Kurdistan.”

He adds, “We are also thinking about carrying out a Sheikh Bizeni annual festival, like the one for the Jaffs.”

By Hemin Khoshnaw

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