Ismail I

Ismail I

Shāh Ismā'il Abu'l-Mozaffar bin Sheikh Haydar bin Sheikh Junayd Safawī (PerB|شاه اسماعیل - _az. شاه اسماعیل) (July 17, 1487 - May 23, 1524), was a Shah of Iran and the founder of the Safavid dynasty, which survived until 1736. Shah Ismail started his campaign in Azerbaijan in 1502, and had re-unified all of Iran by 1509. [ [ Encyclopedia Iranica. R.M. Savory. Esmail Safawi] ] He was a Shia Muslim from Ardabil in Northwestern Iran and reigned as Shāh Ismā'il I of Irān from 1502 to 1524. He is revered as a spiritual guide in Alevism, as well as playing a key role in the rise of the Twelver branch of Shia Islam over the formerly dominant Ismaili.

Shah Ismail was also a prolific poet who, under the pen name Khatā'ī, contributed greatly to the literary development of the Azerbaijani language. [G. Doerfer, "Azeri Turkish", Encyclopaedia Iranica, viii, p. 246, Online Edition, ( [ LINK] )]

Life and Political History

The language used by Shah Ismail is not identical with that of his "race" or "nationality" and he was bilingual at birth. Dubious|date=March 2008V. Minorsky, The Poetry of Shah Ismail, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 10, No. 4. (1942), pp. 1053)] Ismāil was of mixed Turkic, Iranic, and Pontic Greek descent, [ [ Encyclopaedia Iranica. R. N. Frye. Peoples of Iran.] ] although others speculate that he was non-Turkic. He was a descendant of the Sufi saint Safi Al-Din (1252-1334) of Ardabil, a man of obscure but possible Kurdish Roger M. Savory, Encyclopaedia of Islam, "Safawids", Online Edition, 2005] or Persian [Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, Vol. XII, p. 873, original German edition, " Persien (Geschichte des neupersischen Reichs)" ( [ LINK] )] origin. As such, Ismā'il was the last in line of hereditary Grand Masters of the Safaviyeh Sufi order, prior to his ascent to a ruling dynasty. As a boy only a year old, he had lost his father Haydar Safavi Sultan, Sufi Grand Master and belligerent leader of a swelling Shi'a Islam community in Azerbaijan region of Iran who was killed in battle. Ismā'il's mother was an Aq Qoyunlu noble, Martha, the daughter of Uzun Hasan by his Pontic Greek wife Theodora, better known as Despina Hatun. [Peter Charanis. "Review of Emile Janssens' "Trébizonde en Colchide", "Speculum, Vol. 45, No. 3,", (Jul., 1970), p. 476] Theodora was the daughter of Emperor John IV of Trebizond whom Uzun Hassan married in a deal to protect Trebizond from Ottomans. [Anthony Bryer, "open citation", p. 136]

As legend has it, infant Ismā'il went into hiding for several years. With his followers, he finally returned to Tabriz, vowing to make Shi'a Islam the official religion of Iran. Ismā'il found significant support among the people of Azerbaijan as well as some parts of the Ottoman Empire, mainly in eastern Anatolia. Ismail's advent to power was due to Turkoman tribes of Anatolia and Azerbaijan, who formed the most important part of the Qizilbash movement. [ [ Encyclopaedia Iranica. R. N. Frye. Peoples of Iran.] ] Centuries of Sunni rule followed by non-Muslim Mongol hegemony lent fertile ground for new teachings. In 1501, Ismā'il I proclaimed himself Shah, choosing Tabriz, in Iran's northernmost province of Azerbaijan, as his capital. In that year he also defeated the Aq Qoyunlu (White Sheep Turks).

When the Safavids came to power in 1501, Shah Ismail was 14 or 15 years old, and by 1510 Ismail had conquered the whole of Iran. [BBC, ( [ LINK] )]

In 1510 Ismā'il I moved against the Sunni Uzbeg tribe. In battle near the city of Merv, some 17,000 Kizilbashs ambushed and defeated a superior Uzbek force numbering 28,000. The Uzbek ruler, Muhammad Shaybani, was caught and killed trying to escape the battle, and the shah had his skull made into a jeweled drinking goblet.

In 1514, Selim I, the Sunni Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, attacked Ismā'il's kingdom to stop the spread of Shiism into Ottoman dominions. Selim and Ismā'il had been exchanging a series of belligerent letters prior to the attack.

Selim I decisively defeated Ismā'il at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514, in modern-day East Turkish province, City of Van, only a few miles from the town of Maku. Ismā'il's army was more mobile and their soldiers were better prepared but the Ottomans prevailed due in large part to their efficient modern army, and possession of artillery, black powder and muskets. Ismā'il was wounded and almost captured in battle. Selim I entered the Iranian capital in triumph on September 7, but did not linger, a mutiny among his troops forcing him to withdraw. This saved Ismā'il, and allowed him to recover. Sultan Selim I also took Ismā'il's favorite wife hostage, demanding huge concessions for her release. Ismā'il refused to cede to the Ottoman demands, and is said to have died of a broken heart in 23 May 1524 at the early age of thirty-six, never having seen his beloved spouse again.

Ismail was a broken man after battle of Chaldiran. He retired to his palace and withdrew from active participation in the affairs of the state, leaving this to his minister, Mirza Shah-Hussayn. [Momen (1985), p.107]

Ismā'il's reign was marked by enormous conquests, shaping the map of Iran up to the present day. Baghdad and the holy Shi'a shrines of Najaf نجف and Karbalā' كربلاء were seized from the Ottoman Turks, lost and reconquered again.

He was succeeded by his son Tahmasp I.

The Poet Khatā'ī

Shāh Ismā'il was also a prolific Sufi poet and wrote under the pen name Khatā'ī. He wrote in the Azerbaijani language, as most of his followers at the time spoke Turkmen Turkish V. Minorsky, The Poetry of Shah Ismail, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 10, No. 4. (1942), pp. 1053)] , and in the Persian language. His Azeri "dīvān", or collected poems, numbers about 400 "ghazal"s, together with some 100 "qasīda"s and "rubā'ī"s, and it remains popular to this day. His surviving poetical output in Persian is much less sizeable: all that remains of his Persian verse are four "bayt"s, or couplets, and one "mukammas", a kind of poem written in cinquains.

Most of the poems are concerned with love — particularly of the mystical Sufi kind — though there are also poems propagating Shia doctrine and Safavi politics. His other serious works include the "Nasīhatnāme", a book of advice, and the unfinished "Dahnāme", a book which extols the virtues of love.

As Ismā'il believed in his own divinity and in his descent from `Alī, in his poems he tended to strongly emphasize these claims:

:"Yedi iqlimə oldi hökmũ fərman":"Əzəldən yoluna can-başî fədadir"

:"Ki, hər kim on iki imami bildi":"ona qīrmīzī tac geymək rəvadur"

:"Şah-i mərdan "Əliyyi" ibn-i talib":"Xətaini yuridən pişvedur"

:On all seven climes has His judgment become a decree:Since forever all lives are forfeit for His sake:For whoever knows twelve imams:It is only fitting that he shall wear the Red Crown:For, the King of Men, Ali ibn Abu Talib:Is the leader of Khatā'ī in his walk.

Along with the poet Nesîmî, Khatā'ī is considered to be among the first proponents of using a simpler Azeri language in verse that would thereby appeal to a broader audience. His work is most popular in Azerbaijan, as well as among the Bektashis of Turkey. There is a large body of Alevi and Bektashi poetry that has been attributed to him. The major impact of his religious propaganda, in the long run, was the conversion of many in Iran and Azerbaijan to Shiism. []

The following anecdote demonstrates the status of vernacular Turkish and Persian in the Ottoman Empire and in the incipient Safavid state. Khatā'ī sent a poem in Turkish to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I before going to war in 1514. In a reply the Ottoman Sultan answered in Persian to indicate his contempt. Here is the excerpt from poet's letter to Sultan Selim I::"Mən pirimi hak bilirəm,":"Yoluna qurban oluram,":"Dün doğdum bugün ölürəm",:"Ölən gəlsin iştə meydan"."

:I know the Truth as my supreme guide,:I would sacrifice myself in his way,:I was born yesterday, I will die today,:Come, whoever would die, here is the arena.


In Alevism, Shah Ismail is seen as a religious figure, and a moral spiritual leader. His teachings are in the Buyruk.


*R.M. Savory, "Esmā'il Safawī", Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, ( [ LINK] )
*Mirză Răsul İsmailzadä, Şah İsmail Säfävi (Xätai) küllüyyatı : qäzällär, qäsidälär, näsihätnamä, dähnamä, qoşmalar / Xätai ; mätnin elmi-tänqidi täktibatçısı; Alhoda Publishers, Iran, 2004 (in Azeri), ISBN 964-8121-09-5, OCLC|62561234
*M. Momen, "An Introduction to Shi'i Islam", Yale Univ. Press, 1985, pp. 397, ISBN 0-300-03499-7

See also

* [ Sheikh Safiaddin Ardabili's Mausoleum Virtual Tour (Ismail I tomb)]
* List of Turkic Languages poets




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