Dr. Zorab Aloian


The Kurds in the Ottoman Hungary



„The were – and are – cultures and nations whose location is in the East, and their lives, histories, and customs have a brute reality obviously greater than anything that could be said about them in the West“.

Edward W. Said [23:5]


The Kurds are rightfully viewed and studied in the context of the Middle East. However, Europe has never been a terra incognita to the Kurdish people, neither did the Kurd appear in Europe from ‚nowhere’. The centuries-long European theme is attested in Kurdish folklore and written sources alike.

Thus, in one of the legends concerning the origins of the Kurds, King Solomon who ruled over the supernatural world called his angelic servants and ordered them to fly to Europe and to bring him five-hundred beautiful women. When his servants were back, they learned that their master had already passed away. Then they retained those women for themselves, and they gave the birth to the Kurdish nation.

There are two more popular traditions linking the Kurds with Europe: stories of Alexander the Great and the image of Constantinople in legends about Kurdish saints and warriors. This has been attested in the written and oral sources alike and later excessively recorded by Western scholars. The continuity of the Byzantine Empire in Kurdish eyes was so apparent that even now they call Turkey ‚the Black Rome’ (Roma Resh) as a contrary to Rome/Byzantium.

Furthermore, the most prominent Kurd in the world history was Salah ad-Din Ayyubi, or Saladin who, with the support of his countrymen, took over the position of the ruler and unifier of the Islamic world. According to the historians, Saladin may be characterised as the second most important personality in Islamic history – after the Prophet Muhammad. Saladin’s image was elaborated in European literatures and his Kurdish descent was also referred to in Lessing’s Nathan the Wise, Walter Scott’s Richard the Lion Heart and other books. Voltaire even maintained that Saladin had been of greater dignity and significance for humanity that Alexander the Great.

With Europe experienced transition from the Middle Ages, the Near East was becoming less advanced politically and economically. A new political revival in the region took place with the creation and advance of the Ottoman Empire. It was the period when many of the Kurdish aristocrats and men of letter played a vital role in the Ottoman army, administration and European campaigns, chiefly in the Balkans. During that period, the Kurds again were closer to European reality.

A more substantiated political and economic interest towards Kurdistan in Europe has been taking place since the eighteenth century with the growing political importance of the Kurdish problem. Unequivocally, there have been romanticist and humanistic constituents of the Kurdo-European affairs, though geo-strategic factor remains dominant.

Taking into consideration the general state of the oppression against Kurdish identity and scholarly activity, it is hardly surprising that the topic of the role of the European theme in Kurdish tradition has never been the subject of special studies. I believe that its cultural and historical dimensions may lead us to unexpected findings. In this respect, Hungarian material on the Kurds may be a case study within the general European context.

As is known, the two peoples – Hungarians and Kurds – have never had extensive socio-cultural and political relationships. However, the available Hungarian material demonstrates an intensive Kurdish presence in the Ottoman history of East and South Europe. The current paper is based on my research entitled “The Image of the Kurds in Hungary” which has been generously supported by the research Support Scheme grant (RSS No 486/1998) of the Open Society Foundation in Prague. I use this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who contributed to my research.

As far as technical details are concerned, I refer to Hungarian words and names according to original variants and to Oriental ones in simplified forms.       


Analyses of Sources

“... there is no such thing as a merely given, or simply available, starting point: beginnings have to be made for each project in such a way as to enable what follows from them”

Edward W. Said [23:16]


Apart from exploring Hungarian libraries and archives, I also took up trips to the settlements with the Ottoman traces, especially where certain hints on the Kurdish subjects of the Sultans could be found. Thus, on September 18-19, 1998, I have visited the village of Kurd to collect material on its legendary and factual history. I had a conversation with the local residents and the mayor Mr. István Cser, who was very helpful and provided with the village court of arms and copies of manuscripts [8], [10].

With regard to the literature referred to in the current paper, the main Kurdish historical sources is Sharaf-name written by Sharaf Khan Bidlisi. He was a descendant of the ancient Kurdish family of Ruzaki, the long-term rulers of the city of Bidlis, now in Turkish Kurdistan. By the time of composition of his famous work, Sharaf Khan had retired from administrative positions in the Ottoman system and dedicated his life to historical writings. I use here the first volume which deals with the Kurdish history. The second volume of Sharaf-name describes general developments in the Ottoman Empire and is rightfully regarded as a major historical source for the Middle Eastern history of the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries. Three aspects distinguish Sharaf Khan’s book, translated into many languages:

1.Though written in Persian and in accordance with Persian medieval historiography, it does not advocate the official politics of Persia.

2.Being a Kurdish prince by birth, the author views general trends from national prospective. Therefore, a half of Bidlisi’s book deals with Kurdish principalities and dynasties as well as legendary and religious history of Kurdistan.

3.A vassal of the Ottoman Sultan, Bidlisi nevertheless does not demonstrate any particular zeal in his unavoidable protestations of loyalty.

Out of the Ottoman Hungarian historical sources, I first of all refer to The Hungarian Letters of Ali Pasha of Buda edited by Gustav Bayerle. They contain interesting comparative information about Hungarian and Kurdish realities during the Ottoman period. The Ottoman sources indirectly referred to the Kurdish theme are analysed by Klára Hegyi and Pál Fodor in An unsuccessful Turkish attempt at imposing taxes.

I use also two literary sources written after the Ottoman rule in Hungary but referring to it. Miklós Zrínyi’s epic poem Szigeti veszedelem (A Threat to Sziget) in a couple of places refers to a certain Kurt aga, an Ottoman military chief of presumably Kurdish origin. The famous novel of Géza Gárdonyi Egri Csillagok (Star over Eger) several times mentions the Kurds who were on the Ottoman side.

On the other hand, to involve historical and cultural context of Kurdish participation I refer to Martin van Bruinessen’s Agha, Shaikh and State. I have chosen this work because it is one of the most comprehensive studies on the social and political life of Kurdistan, although written in a sort of Orientalistic discourse. Yet, I disagree with van Bruinessen’s simplified concept that the Kurdish tribes have not been autonomous, but creations of the surrounding states.

In order to update the historiography of the Ottoman rule in Hungary, the following works are also used: Parvev’s Habsburgs and Ottomans between Vienna and Belgrade; Evliya Chelebi’s Siyahet-name; Várkonyi’s Turkish world and Hungarian foreign policy; Fodor’s Apocalyptic tradition; Szakály’s Hungarian institutions during the Turkish rule and the collection of the Proceedings of the colloquium The pro-Turkish orientation of the Hungarian politics.

Certainly, general material on the Kurdish theme is also involved: Nikitine’s classical Les Kurdes; Guest’s Survival among the Kurds as well as the article of the President of the Belgium-based Kurdistan National Congress Ismet Chériff Vanly entitled Between Europe and Asia.

Some outstanding works of the renown authors provide a theoretical frame to my findings: The Muslim Discovery of Europe by Lewis; Turkey by Zürcher; History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey by Shaw; Muslim Society and Nations and Nationalism by Gellner; Orientalism by Said and Imagined Communities by Anderson.


Historical Data

“[For Muslims] there was in principle only one state, the caliphate, and only one sovereign, the caliph, the legitimate head of the House of Islam and the supreme sovereign of the Muslim polity”.

Bernard Lewis [19:201]


In Hungarian tradition, the Ottoman army and administration is viewed as a monolithic system of Turkish occupation, just as the Soviet era is now perceived as the age of Russian domination. In both cases, ethnic and regional diversities are largely underestimated to concentrate on politics of the colonial power. Even today, it is usual for some Hungarian historians to use exclusively török, Turkish, instead of oszmán, Ottoman. Therefore, the Ottoman Empire in general and the Ottoman rule in Hungary in particular might require clarifications for historical terms. Here I quote Ivan Parvev:

„Ottoman empire“, ‘Ottomans’ instead of ‘Turkey’, ‘Turks’ is another example for terminological preference, which aims at stressing the different connotation of the words. ‘Ottomans’ is a generalizing super-name for all Muslims in the Empire, irrespective of the ethnic origin, i.e. Arabs, Kurds, Bosnians, Albanians, the descendants of the Ottoman Turks and all the other European Christians, converted into the faith of Mohammed. Thus the curious notion that Muslims in the Empire were only the Ottoman Turks could hardly get ground” [22:IX,introd.].

As is known, not the whole historical Hungary was under the Ottoman administration. The firm Ottoman rule expanded over the region between the great Hungarian Plain (Alföld) and the eastern half of the Transdanubia (Dunántúl). But since it was a pivotal part of the Hungarian Kingdom, the Ottoman colonisers and later sources alike applied the word Hungary to this part of the country. Nevertheless, as early as in 1543 Tercüman Mahmut, the author of probably the first historiography work on Hungary, composed in Ottoman Turkish, implies the term Tarih-i Ungurus (A history of Hungary) to the whole former possessions of the Hungarian kings [20:34-42].

For centuries afterwards, this period of Hungarian history has been the subject of academic and political discussions. Whatever the positions are, everybody would agree with Pál Teleki about the “tremendous influence of the Turkish occupation on the fate of Hungary. Its effects we have felt ever since, especially at the outbreak of the World War [I] and its consequences. It will never cease to be the greatest causal element in the determination of our fate” [26:50].

A more arguable in the modern world is the definition of Kurdistan. The political circumstances compel even the renown Hungarian scholars to avoid this word, which has been in political and administrative use at least since the twelfth century, and instead speak of the so-called Eastern Anatolia [20:44].

It is a commonplace that the name of Turkish Kurdistan, known as North Kurdistan (Kurdistana Bakur) to the Kurds themselves, is often dismissed and replaced by East- or Southeast Anatolia. ‘Anatolia’ is actually an old Greek name, purely geographic, meaning „the land of the rising Sun“ which was originally limited to the east-Aegean coast area – an appellation which had never covered Kurdistan before the advent of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This can be easily verified by consulting any good encyclopaedic dictionary prior to Kemalism, as well as Ottoman archives, all of which refer to the Kurds and Kurdistan without reservation [28:10].

In both cases, in line with the historical reality, the contemporary authors primarily, though not exclusively, meant Hungary as the country of the Hungarian nobility, and Kurdistan as the homeland of the Kurdish aristocratic families. This idea goes through Sharaf-name in the Kurdish case and A Threat to Sziget in the Hungarian one. The Count Miklós Zrínyi dedicates his work to “the Hungarian nobilitiy, to who, God willing, I shall offer the last drop of my blood with the use” [6:1].

Consequently, Pál Teleki would notice that the political nation today is what used to imply nobility in the past [27:9].

In order to disclose the earliest contacts between the Kurds and Hungary, the history of the Ottoman expansion in these two countries as well as the Sultans’s rule over them also deserves a special observation. The basic question is why the Kurdish aristocrats, military units and men of letter were so active in supporting the Ottoman campaigns in Europe including Hungary.

Even today, when the Turkish intellectuals discuss how to solve the Kurdish problem, they propose the idea of the ‘Ottoman federation’. According to my Kurdish informants from Turkey, this is a covert term for a higher status for the Kurds within the country. Certainly, Turkish Islamists would rather stress the common Sunni Islamic heritage in order to diminish the degree of Turko-Kurdish political hostility. Apart from the fact that three quarters of the Kurds are Sunni Muslims with the rest being adherents of Shiism, Christianity or traditional Kurdish religious beliefs – Yezidis, Kakais, Sarliis and others, this argumentation reflects historical experience.

In general, the Ottoman imperial system, especially in its early period, had to look for unifying ideological premises in addition to military and economic factors. “To the Muslim subjects the Ottoman ruler also appealed for and secured loyalty on various grounds... To the non-Turkish Muslim subjects such as Arabs and Kurds, the sultans further stressed their positions as imams, leaders, and as gazis, or ‘warriors of the faith’” [24:164].

The Ottoman Turks encountered Kurdish tribes and leaders on their way to Anatolia. By the time of the creation and expansion of the Ottoman statehood, there were numerous Kurdish principalities with local administration and court culture. This may explain the prevailing view in the modern scholarship expressed by Ernest Gellner that the Kurds are one of the examples of “the blending of old tribalism based on social structure with the new, anonymous nationalism based on shared culture” [13:85].

The two factors contributed to the siding of the Kurds with the Ottomans. First of all, the Sultans were gradually winning the hearts of the Kurdish leaders through luxurious gifts and positive gestures towards them. Secondly, the majority of Sunni Kurds, being anxious and tired of the Shiite domination of the Safavid Monarchy in Persia, naturally saw the Turkish orientation as more preferable.

In practical terms, the activity of the Ottoman administrator of the Kurdish origin, Hakim Idris, also known as Idris Bidlisi, a native of the ruling family from the already-mentioned principality of Bidlis (Bedlis in Kurdish), played a decisive role. His diplomatic activity contributed to the Ottoman victory over the Safavids in the battle of Chaldiran, which shaped the modern border between Iran and Turkey. Since the majority of the Kurdish military units sided with the Ottomans, Idris of Bitlis proposed a deal accepted by both the Kurdish ruling families and the Ottoman Sultan Selim I. The real reason was that Sultan “Selim realized that any effort to conquer them would have required considerably more military force than he could commit” [24:82].

According to the agreement signed in 1514, the twenty-three Kurdish rulers preserved various degrees of their semi-autonomous status within the Akrad Beiligi (the Kurdish Principality) and Kurt Hukumet (Kurdish Government).The Ottomans promised not to interfere with the local affairs including the hereditary policy. In exchange, the Kurds had to provide troops during the military campaigns and pay tributes to the Sultan’s finance office. This policy lasted for 150 years, until the Ottoman military failure during the siege of Vienna in 1683 [21:185-187].[1]

Ion other words, the most active period of Kurdish-Ottoman co-operation falls on the period between the early sixteenth century and 1683, which a historian would describe as “the Age of Ottoman supremacy” [22:289].

Thus, in the period of the Ottoman rule in Hungary, the Ottomans succeeded in involving the Kurdish upper strata – and accordingly the people – into their statehood. That the incorporation was partial, has been demonstrated by the contemporary travellers and administrators as well as Kurdish material on the principalities of Bidlis, Baban and Botan. This material suggests that Kurdish emirates had preserved a considerable degree of self-rule [9:195-215,222-228].

For instance, Bidlis “appeared like the capital of a vassal state rather than as province of the empire... At the time of Tavernier’s passing the mîr [hereditary ruler] recognized neither Ottoman nor Safavid [Persian] sovereignty, and both empires found it necessary to entertain seemingly cordial relations with him...” [9:206].

Are we right to assume that the Kurds had a policy of their own in the Ottoman Empire? In such a conglomerate of peoples and religions, every group would pursue its own interests, though the movement space could be rather limited. It is in this sense that the Hungarian historiography can speak of the pro-Turkish orientation of a part of Magyar elite during and immediately after the Ottoman rule [20], [29].

It is in this sense that we are entitled to discuss the policy of such a numerous ethnic groups as the Kurds, or making it precise – the political interests of Kurdish military, administrative and intellectual elite within the Ottoman imperial structure.

There is a remarkable Hungarian material – the letters of Ali Pasha – which suggest that some Kurdish lands were less integral parts of the Ottoman Empire than the eyalet (province) of Buda. Ali Pasha, borne to the family of the chief judge in Temesvár (Timisoara in the present-day Romania), Buda and Belgrade, was the Ottoman governor of the province of Buda between 1602-1616. Ali Pasha wrote in Hungarian and loved his post. When he was in 1612 assigned at Cizre (the principality of Cizîre, now divided between Turkey, Iraq and Syria), he had his deputy, Ahmed Kethüda, implore Matthias II to intercede on his behalf at the Sublime Porte and request his reinstatement at Buda. As a result, in November, 1614, to his great pleasure, Ali Pasha was re-appointed to his former province. He devoted the next two years to normalising the relations between the Ottoman and Habsburg Emperors, to improve public order, and especially to maintain peace as laid down in the treaty of Zsivatörök on November 11, 1606 [5:vii-x,introd.].[2]

Ali Pasha’s 209 letters are the principal Ottoman sources for the preliminary talks which led to the negotiations and offer a valuable corpus for Hungarian epistolary style of the early seventeenth century [5:xxii introd.].

In our case, the two letters of Ali Pasha’s deputy, Ahmet Kethüda, written from Cizre (Cizîre) in 1612 are a certain historical source for the Ottoman rule in Kurdistan. Thus, Ahmet Kethüda describes Cizîre as a place bordering the Persian Empire, where the Ottoman troops under the leadership of Ali Pasha raided and stayed for three months: “az Kazul Bas Feyedelemnek orszaga mellet cizre neveo helyen” [5:186-187, also 209].

It must be noted that the name of Kazul Bas refers to the Shiite religious adherence of the Persian monarchs, or ‘Red-hat warriors’ (Kizil Bash). The same term is to be found in other Hungarian sources, including Zrínyi’s epos: “Ezek Kazul basra jártak Szulimánnal” – “These [troops] joined Suleyman in his campaign against the Kizil Bash” [6:I,78].

In another letter, written by Ali Pasha himself and addressed to István Illésházy, the former mentions the new Ottoman possessions taken from the Safavids, including Kurdish regions of Erzurum and Van [5:81-83].

In general, Ali Pasha felt less comfortable in Cizîre than in Buda, the fact which may be interpreted not only by his personal attachment to his Hungarian post, but also by the less predictable environment for the Ottomans in Kurdistan than in Hungary.

As many historians emphasised it, “in contrast to their string of victories over weak Christian states, the Ottoman had expanded with difficulty to the east” [15:46].

Erik J. Zürcher, an expert on the Turkish history, makes a comparison of this sort: in 1815 “the new Serbian leader, Milos Obrenovic, reached agreement with the Ottomans on autonomy for a Serbian principality between Belgrade and Nish. The Ottomans retained the right to garrison the major towns and to receive a yearly tribute (this, if should be remembered, amounted to the same degree of influence as the central government had enjoyed in, for instance, Kurdistan or the Arab provinces in the eighteenth century” [30:33].

As far as the Ottoman advance in Europe is concerned, as soon as in the second half of the fourteenth century, the Ottomans subdued, one by one, the Balkan states and in 1389 defeated the most powerful one, the Serbian Kingdom on the famous Kosovo Polje. After that, starting from 1390s, the Ottoman units made first attempts to violate the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom.

Here again, prior to the Ottoman occupation of the part of Hungary, we have a Kurdish factor in the Ottoman-Hungarian relationships. Thus, in the battles of 1440s, the Beg (chieftain) of the Germiyan tribal coalition, Osman, under unfavourable conditions fought against the pressing Hungarian army and was finally defeated in 1442 [14:55].

The historical annals have passed to us the story of the Germiyan groups. It was one of the first tribes of Kurdistan to serve as frontier guards before the incorporation of its bulwark into the Empire. The Germiyan tribesman originally consisted of the Kurdisised Turks and the Yezidi Kurdish majority. The Germiyan had been moulded into a tribe d’origine confuse around 1275, and emerged as a separate principality with its capital at Kütahya around 1300 AD [9:193-194,436ff].

The early Ottoman expansion in Europe, by irony of history, coincided with the peak of the Hungarian Kingdom. The latter had been one of the biggest European powers with admirable cultural and military achievements. Its Christian population – respublica Christiana – took up the task of defending southern and eastern borders of what Jacque Le Goff would call la Civilisation de l’Occident Medieval. Not surprisingly, the Hungarian kings wear the honourable titles of defensor Christianitatis and ‘the soldiers of the Christian faith’ – miles fidei Christiane [11:23].

The Magyars knew that the Ottomans will go on with their attempts to occupy the country and believed that these „pagans“ must be thrown away from Europe [11:23].

One has to bear in mind that such illusion were characteristic of the fifteenth century Europe, where a comprehensive coalition of Christian states was seen as capable to withhold the Ottoman advance. This thought became so deeply rooted in the Hungarian popular consciousness that even in the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the Ottomans were powerful international players and any hope for quick victory over them was no longer a realistic option, some writers continued inspiring the Magyars to “destroy the back of the name of the Turks” [11:23-24].

After the battle of Mohács in 1526, described by historians as a ‘tomb of the nation’, the way for the Ottoman rule in Hungary was opened and gradually the image of the Turks and other allied Muslim groups has been shaped. This image combined two factors: the conviction that the Ottoman expansion threatened with the loss of the country’s Christian identity and the placing the advancing Ottomans in eschatological dimensions. The Turks were considered to be the apocalyptic people of the Last Day, the embodiment of the Antichrist [11:49].

Some historians even maintain that afterwards, in the Early Modern Age, it might be incorrect to underestimate the opposition between Christianity and Islam and the fear of the ‘hereditary enemy’ if we want to see through the actual motives of decision making in Europe and the Middle East [22:225].

Kurdish participation in the Ottoman administration in Hungary can be detected in two sorts of references: political and military figures whose Kurdish descent is known and people bearing the name of Kurd/Kurt/Kurth who might or might not have been ethnic Kurds.

Thus, the already mentioned letters of Ali Pasha refer to a certain Kurd who committed crimes at Kanizsa as well as to a ruler (Voivode) with the name Kurth. Nothing more elaborate could be obtained at this point about these two men [5:153,275].

Another source, dealing with the Ottoman tax collection in the sancak (province) of Hatvan, mentions 67 villages where the cizye (poll-tax) of 1562-1563 failed. Among these three villages we find an interesting reference: Simola (now Szomolya), east of Eger, and Sedrekin (now Szederkény), south of Ónod, both being a timar possession of a certain Diváne Kurd (‘a crazy Kurd’ may be the translation of his name); and Also Kajma (Alsókázsmárk), north-east of Miskolc, belonging to ‘Kurd Izvornik’ [16:99-100].

Yet, the most direct hint on the Kurdish factor in Hungary is the village of Kurd in Tolna county. Having visited the village and interviewing its mayor, Mr. István Cser and other residents I came to the following conclusion: even if the name proves not to be a derivation from the ethnonym, the  very possibility, in popular mind, of such a link is remarkable. Even more intriguing were the words of the local school-teacher Mrs. Ilona Tarr who in a private conversation reflected on the Abdullah Ocalan abduction scandal: “Though we are not Kurds – just the residents of the village of Kurd – we have been following the Ocalan affair. We took it personally, God knows why!”

The court of arms of the village depicts the wolf, referring to the Turkish word kurt for wolf. However, the name of village is Kurd, not Kurt. Then we can turn to the popular tradition which mentions an Ottoman military chief of Kurdish stock – Kurd Pasha – who is supposedly buried in the nearby forest. The idea of Kurdish settlement, in my view, could be highlighted due to the fact that previously there have been another village, only two kilometres away, named Láz. It is not excluded that the two villages bear the ethnic allusion of their settlers, who might have come here as Ottoman soldiers. The possibility becomes even more solid if we take into consideration that for some time during the Ottoman rule the village has been deserted and that until 1729 there is no data on the village population and their taxation.

The name appears as Kurtu in the taxation letter of Dömösi and is to be found in similar forms later on. In 1542, the village belonged to Kaposment, but in 1543 a big portion of the population left it. In 1559-1560 a part of the residents came back. The rest, who moved to other places, kept their family names as Kurdi, and now one of the well-known Hungarian writers bears the name Imre Kurdi.

In 1730, decades after the Ottoman withdrawal from Hungary, the name Kurd were to be found in a source indicating on neopopulata possessio Kurd. But starting from 1729, new migrants came from central Hungary and were mostly of Slavic, Serbian and Slovak, as well as Magyar ethnic background. Since the midst of the eighteenth century and until the end of the World War II, the majority of the population were the Rheinland Germans, At present it is mixed: German, Hungarian and Gypsy. Yet, all of the 2000 residents proudly refer to themselves as Kurdi, a local patriotic definition which has lost any connotation with the legendary Kurd Pasha [8], [10], [17].

As in the case with the already mentioned Germiyan military unit, there are some general facts about the Kurds participating in the Ottoman campaigns on the territory of Hungary. Thus, the Ottoman infantry troops called sipahi, who were active in Hungary, were partly recruited from the Kurds [24:125].

Furthermore, in 1687, the Hungarian notables elected the Habsburg prince Joseph as their king. The following summer, the Habsburgs crossed the Danube and despite the Ottoman attempts to negotiate cease-fire, rapidly conquered much of the Balkans. This event was speeded up by the Serbian revolts and the support of the local population and rulers alike. Then, having offered inducements to the Kurdish tribesmen to join with other forces which had assembled in Edirne, in 1690, the Ottomans mounted one of the most astonishing counteroffensives and drove the Habsburgs all the way back across the Danube [22:219-220].

Besides, Sharaf Khan Bidlisi presents direct references to the Kurds in the Ottoman-Hungarian history. In 1583, ther was a conflict between two Kurdish families over the already mentioned Cizîre. The broter of the executed Emir Nasir – Emir Muhammad b. Khan Abdal – as a token of punishment was sent to Buda (Budun) by Farhad Pasha, who was himself a Kurd and occupied a high Ottoman position of the Grand Vezir. There, Emir Muhammad had to stay without the right of regaining his former possessions, but with a worthy financial backing. However, the luck was on the side of Emir Muhammad: he, with the support of Muhammad Pasha Busnavi, the Kurdish ruler of Diyarbekir, succeeded to obtain his former district. It appears that the name of Muhammad Pasha Busnavi might have referred to his military activities in Bosnia. At any rate, grateful to the Ottoman authorities and familiar with the Hungarian realities, Emir Muhammad b. Khan Abdal would participate in the conquest of Agria (Eger) against ‘the infidel Magyars’ [1:198-201].

Bidlisi’s Sharaf-name gives another example of the Kurds siding with the Ottomans. Djan Fulad Beg, the ruler of Kurdistan, and his warriors accompanied the Sultan during the occupation of Belgrade in 1521. His brother, Husayn Beg, led the Kurdish troops at the battle of Sziget in 1557 and as a reward for his military success was later appointed the ruler of Kurdistan replacing his deceased brother [1:276-279].

Finally, there is an interesting observation made on the basis of Evliya Chelebi’s information. Kuntush, the outer clothing wide-spread amongst the Poles in the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries, was borrowed from the Hungarians. A similar clothing can be found amongst some Oriental people including the Kurds. The characteristic of the kuntush clothing was sleeves with cuts which were dangling around one’s shoulders and back. It was made of expensive material, sometimes ornamented with furs [2:249ff].          


Literary References

“There are a couple of hundred thousand troops our there [in Eger]. Not all of them know even the names of the officers. Nor do they all speak the same language. There are Persians, Arabs, Egyptians, Kurds, Tatars, Serbs, Albanians, Croats, Greeks, Armenians – a thousand nationalities”.

Géza Gárdonyi [4:430]


While speaking of the indirect references to the Kurds in the Ottoman Hungary we may go back to Zrínyi’s Threat to Sziget.  It must be noted that the author does not include the Kurds into the list of the peoples supporting the Ottomans [6:I,78-102]. Yet, we come across a certain Kurt aga, or rather Kurd Agha, who fought against György Turi. Kurt aga and his soldiers, numbered by 1510, were killed by a sudden attack of Turi [6:II,11-12]. Then, we witness the reaction of the Ottomans:

“Reaching the camp, many of them pray

To Prophet Muhammad in responding:

Strip the skin of Turi, immediately and severely,

To the honour of Kurt aga’s burial” [6:II,18].

A major literary monument of the nineteenth-century Hungary directly mentions the Kurds within the Ottoman context. Géza Gárdonyi (1863-1922) was one of the writers who contributed to what Anderson described as ‘awakening from sleep’, or the intellectual attempts to look for historical and linguistic definitions to assert Hungarian identity. He involved the Kurds as heroes of his famous novel Egri Csillagok (Stars over Eger).

It is important to bear in mind that Gárdonyi is known for his sensitivity for details which encouraged him to make research in Vienna and Constantinople and to learn Ottoman Turkish. Therefore, his references to the Kurds must have had historical grounds. Indeed, as we have already observed, the Kurds have been participating at the siege of Eger, also known as Agria in Latin and Erlau in German..

The historical records of the siege of 1552 contain all the ingredients of a good adventure story. 2,000 Hungarian defenders, including civilians, for thirty-nine days successfully held out an Ottoman force at least twenty times as great. It was the first successful attempt to oppose the Ottomans in Hungary since the disastrous Battle of Mohács in 1526. Eger had an exceptional commander, István Dobó, who together with Gergely Bornemissza would capture the imagination of Gárdonyi.

First references to the Kurds are in the Ottoman Empire, before the famous battle takes place. In the Seven Towers fortress, Yedikule, at the Sea of Marmara, the life of prisoners of the Sultan, among them the Hungarian ruler Bálint Török, is depicted:

“A Persian prince was sitting under the plane tree; like them, he had been a prisoner for a long time. And there was another Asiatic prince there who was almost mouldering with grief and boredom. They were playing chess. They had played chess from morning till night for years, and they never said a word to each other.

To Bálint and his companion the two chess-players were like the marble gate shining white between the Tower of Blood and the Tower of Gold, or that gigantic old Kurdish dignitary who was then wearing the heaviest chains for having cursed the Emperor, and dropping under the weight of iron sat or lay till dusk in the iron-barred prison of the Tower of Blood. Only his eyes moved as he followed the prisoners walking among the bushes” [4:244].

Gergely Bornemissza and his companions want to release Bálint Török using the tricks:

“They were another thousand or so paces away, walking towards the shore. Gergely was dressed as a dervish, Eva as a Gypsy girl, Jancsi as a Persian merchant, Matyi as a Kurdish biscuit-seller and Meksey as a fishmonger” [4:276].

“The bey strolled calmly down to the beach with master Bálint. They passed the Kurdish biscuit-seller without so much as a glance at him...” [4:277].

However, the main Kurdish hero appears later, during the very siege of Eger. The Hungarians make a surprising attack against the Ottoman soldiers and catch ‘a gigantic Kurd’ with ‘big face’ and ‘blonde moustache’. He “roared... squirmed and wriggled, but strong hands held him” and took to István Dobó. The latter interrogated him using Gergely Bornemissza’s interpretation [4:376].

Then, Gárdonyi interchanges the words Kurd and Turk implying either the man’s ethnic background, or his military belonging. Therefore, when captured, the Kurd would call for help in Turkish: “Yetishin!”. His name is Djekidj, in the original text Dzsekidzs; he is an infantryman (piad) from the army of Ahmed Pasha. He participated at the battle of Temesvár (nor in Romania). In the conformity with the image of the Turks, Gárdonyi depicts him as a person who is ready to save his neck by revealing the secrets of the Ottoman army, but who has no doubts whatsoever in the final victory of the warriors of Islam. After the interrogation, the soldiers tie him up and throw into the prison [4:376-380].

These details are interesting since there were Kurdish infantrymen in the Ottoman army and since his name might be either a distortion of Chekan, popular amongst the Kurds, or Chakuch meaning ‘hammer’.

The Kurd would be eventually released to arrange the exchange of Gergely Bornemissza’s son for the talisman ring, which has been taken from another hero. Another interesting reference: Djekidj is ordered by István Dobó to lay “his hand on the Koran” and take the oath [4:451-453].

He does his utmost to carry out the task and therefore deserves István Dobó’s generosity and is allowed to go away [4:454-455].

To the best of my judgement, Géza Gárdonyi correctly shows the Kurds of the sixteenth century as faithful Ottoman subjects, who nevertheless reserve the tight to revolt against the Sultan. He depicts them ‘gigantic’, blonde and trustworthy – probably a reflection of their fame as being brave and proud people of the Indo-European stock. The Kurds are not only warriors, but also cooks and traders. Their basic weakness comes from the fact that they are on the side of the Ottoman conquerors, which makes them not very much different from the pious Muslim Turks.



“No scholar... can resist the pressures on him of his nation or of the scholarly tradition in which he works”.

Edward W. Said [23:271]


The current paper makes a try to disclose both the prehistory and factual history of Kurdish participation in the Ottoman affairs in Hungary. Such contacts, however limited and indirect, started well before the Ottoman occupation of the part of Hungarian Kingdom: in the battles of 1440s, the chieftain of the Yezidi Kurdish Germiyan tribe fought against and was defeated by the pressing Hungarian army. As for today, the chief sources for the topic are Sharaf-name, A Threat to Sziget and The Letters of Ali Pasha of Buda. As far as the letters of Ali Pasha are concerned, they suggest that Kurdish lands were less integral parts of the Ottoman Empire than the province of Buda. The sources in general indicate on two sorts of Kurdish references: political and military figures whose Kurdish origin is beyond any doubt and people bearing the name of Kurd, Kurt or Kurth who might have been ethnic Kurds.

Thus, one cannot claim with certainty that the village of Kurd in Southern Hungary is bound to Kurd Pasha, a legendary military chief whose grave is located nearby. Yet, the fact that the residents of Kurd are interested in Kurdish affairs deserves to be highlighted.      

On the basis of my general research on Image of the Kurds in Hungary I have published several articles in Kurdish literary journal “Havibun” (Berlin-Arbil), “Hiwa” (Neu-Isenberg), “Deng” and “Azadiya Welat” (both issued in Istanbul). I hope to arrest attention to the fact that the European context must be included into Kurdish studies. On the other hand, Hungary’s contacts with the East need a more elaborated approach that would be emancipated from political cliché.            

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2. Chelebi, Evliya. Kniga Puteshestviia. Izvlecheniia iz sochineniia turetskogo puteshestvennika XVII veka [Siyahet-name. The book of the Turkish traveller of the seventeenth century], II, trans. from Ottoman Turkish into Russian. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo vostochnoi literatury, 1979.
3. Gárdonyi, Géza. Egri Csillagok [Stars over Eger]. Budapest: Európa, 1996.
4. Gárdonyi, Géza. Eclipse of the Crescent Moon, [original title Egri Csillagok], trans. from Hungarian into English and ed. George F. Cushing. Budapest: Corvina Books, 1997.
5. The Hungarian Letters of Ali Pasha of Buda: 1604-1616. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1991.
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[1]„The year 1683 marked the beginning of a long period of military supremacy for the Christian states over the Sultan Empire. This was also the beginning of the Ottoman withdrawal from South-Eastern Europe which went on till World War I...“ [22:43].

Bernard Lewis goes further in his „extreme level of generalisation“ (Edward W. Said’s expression). He would describe the Ottoman policy in Europe as the second wave of Islamic advance which „culminated in the expansion of Europe which has come to be known as imperialism“ [19:33]. 

[2]„In the first half of the seventeenth century the Habsburg-Ottoman relations were comparatively peaceful. The last military conflict between them had ended with the Peace of Zsivatörök...“ [22:22].