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Kuzzlebash Kurd crossing the Euphrates on inflated sheepskin

Kuzzlebash Kurd crossing the Euphrates on inflated sheepskin 
(Kızılbaş Kürt, şişirilmiş koyun derisi [şişme tulum] üzerinde Fırat nehrini geçiyor) – 1902

Ellsworth Huntington, “Through the Great Canon of the Euphrates River”, The Geographical Journal THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY, Vol. XX. — July to December, London 1902., p.193


The Euphrates, now turning south, skirts the base of the western extension of the Harput mountains, entering but slightly the great Malatia plain which stretches 20 miles to the west. The inhabitants on both sides are for the most part Kurds, those on the left of the river being largely Zaza, those on the right, north of the Euru Chai (Chai= brook), being Eizilbash, and those on the right, south of the Tokma Su, Kurman ; while the area between the Kuru Chai and the Tokma Su, very fertile, but not easily irrigated, is practically un-inhabited. The Eizilbash are the most interesting of these three divisions of the Kurds. They are a mixed race, the foundation being some tribes of a stock allied to the Persians, who advanced into Turkey along the central highlands. These mountains were inhabited by Armenian Christians,who under stress of persecution became nominal Mohammedans and intermarried with the invaders. The Kizilbash in the district near Mala tia, unlike their brethren in Dersim, are peaoeable, well-behaved agriculturalists, most of whom have entirely given up nomadic life. In general the Kizilbash are a frank, good-natured people, eager to be amused, very ready to ask and answer questions, hospitable, easy to deal with, industrious when work is necessary, and faithful when they have given their word, although very ready to rob and even to kill those to whom they are not under obligation. Morally they are superior to their neighbours. They deteriorate rapidly under new or adverse conditions, becoming more suspicious and treacherous. When among the Turks, they swear that they are good Sunni Mohammedans, although in reality their religion is a mixture of Shiite Mohammedanism and Christianity, with perhaps a trace of primitive paganism. Accurate information is hard to obtain, because in talking with a Christian they try to make their religion appear like Christianity. For instance, a prominent agha, or village chief, said to me, *’ We have four great prophets, Adam, Moses, David, and Jesus, of whom Jesus is the greatest. We have four holy books, the Gospels. All religions are but different roads to the same end — one long, one short — one easy, one hard. You go yours, and we go ours.” When I tried to talk about Mohammed, he avoided the subject as though it were unpleasant, so that I could learn nothing. The Kizilbash never pray in private, but only when led by one of their sehids, or religious chiefs, who have great influence among them, and who go freely and safely from tribe to tribe even during times of fead. So common are fends, and so respected are the sebids, that the business of conducting travellers or of carrying freight is wholly in their hands. At certain times they observe a sort of sacrament, which closely resembles the Christian Communion Service. No competent observer seems to have witnessed this, and it is known only by report The Kizilbash reverence all Christian sanctuaries and churches, and will even go into a church where service is being conducted, and take part, kneeling and bowing with the people. To be sure, they will do the same thing in a Sunni mosque, but in the latter oase it is for fear of persecution, while in the former it is a matter of their own inclinations. 

Ellsworth Huntington, “Through the Great Canon of the Euphrates River”, The Geographical Journal THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY, Vol. XX. — July to December, London 1902., p.187-188

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