Ubeydullah of Nehri, Sheikh

(1831-1883)
   Sheikh Ubeydullah of Nehri, the son of Sheikh Sayyid Taha I of Nehri, was one of the most powerful Kurdish leaders of the 19th century. In 1880, he led a famous, but ultimately unsuccessful, revolt, which is sometimes said to have been the prototype for subsequent Kurdish nationalist revolts. Explaining his actions, Sheikh Ubeydullah famously wrote the consul-general of Great Britain in Tabriz that "the Kurdish nation . . . is a people apart. . . . We want our affairs to be in our own hands."
   After his two sons had already commenced attacks within the Persian Empire—apparently because of the way the Persian government had been treating local tribal leaders who acknowledged Sheikh Ubeydullah's religious authority without consulting the sheikh—Ubeydullah himself crossed the border from the Ottoman Empire into Persia. After initial success, however, Ubeydullah's tribal forces broke up before a determined Persian counterattack.
   The Ottomans dealt rather leniently with Ubeydullah, simply exiling him first to Istanbul and then, after his escape in 1882, to the Hi-jaz, where he died in 1883. This is because Sheikh Ubeydullah probably had the sultan's tacit consent to prevent the emergence of any Christian Armenian state and prevent the encroachment of Western reforms into the sultan's eastern domains. Earlier, Sheikh Ubeydul-lah had been appointed commander of the Kurdish tribal forces in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. As a Naqshbandi, he not only would defend Sunni Islam against the Christians and Shiite Persians but also support the Ottoman Empire.
   In retrospect, therefore, Sheikh Ubeydullah's revolt was more of a large Kurdish tribal revolt partially manipulated by the Ottomans to contain Western pressures for reform that might threaten their empire. On the other hand, Sheikh Ubeydullah clearly sought an autonomous domain similar to that enjoyed earlier by the Kurdish emirates. Thus, his revolt did indeed bear some seeds of emerging Kurdish nationalism.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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