Simko, Ismail Agha

   Ismail Agha Simko was considered by many a notorious Iranian Kurdish adventurer and tribal chief par excellence. For some others, however, he was a nascent Kurdish nationalist who established an autonomous Kurdish government in the area south and west of Lake Urumiya in northwestern Iran for much of the period from 1918 to 1922. To do so, he created a strong army that for several years proved superior to government troops and on numerous occasions actually defeated them. For a short period Simko even formed a cross-border alliance with Sheikh Taha of Nehri in Turkish Kurdistan and was in contact with other Kurdish nationalist leaders in Iraq and Turkey.
   Simko exploited the instability of the frontier region at the end of World War I to build his power. At one time or another, he took aid from Russia and the Soviet Union, Turkey, Great Britain, and Iran. In March 1918, Simko also treacherously killed his guest, the Assyrian leader Mar Shimun. (The Assyrians had fled from their mountainous home in Hakkari in Turkey and settled in the region claimed by Simko.) By February 1920, however, Iranian government forces temporarily defeated him, chased him into exile, but then gave him clemency. Soon Simko was building an even greater force. He was at the height of his power in 1921 and even published a newspaper in Sawdj-Bulak (Mahabad).
   Many Kurds feared and disliked Simko, however, and on 9 August 1922 he was dealt a sharp defeat by the Iranian government, from which he never really recovered. He spent his remaining years trying to regain his former position, moving from Iraq to Turkey while mending fences with Sheikh Taha of Nehri and Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji. In the spring of 1925 Simko returned to Iran and replaced Amr Khan, his rival, as the chief of the Abdui Shikak tribe. Soon he was again in open rebellion. When half of his troops defected to Amr Khan, however, Reza Khan's modern government troops easily defeated him. In 1930, the government tricked him into returning to Iran and killed him in an ambush, a fate also suffered in 1924 by his brother Jafar Agha and subsequent Kurdish Iranian leaders such as Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in 1989.
   Simko's main strength and weakness was the Kurdish tribal system. While he was in ascendance, the tribes gave him a great deal of support, which, however, quickly melted away as soon as he was defeated. In retrospect, Simko had neither clear nationalist goals nor any political party organizational base to support him. He remained at heart a tribal leader who had little but disdain for urban livers and sedentary nontribal peasants. In the end, Simko was defeated by the modernizing government of Reza Shah Pahlavi, which successfully sought to break tribal power and centralize the state. Nevertheless, after Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou and Qazi Muhammad, Simko was probably the best-known Iranian Kurdish leader during the 20th century. All three, however, ended up being killed by the Iranian government.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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