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Manuscript L, folio 266v

Qarā Ḵān Confronts the Ottomans at Mārdin

Date of this event: 922/1516-17.
Shah Esmāʿil and the Safavids were decisively defeated by the Ottomans at the battle of Čālderān in 920/1514 (see folio 249), and many of the qezelbāš emirs, including Khan Moḥammad ʿOstājlu the governor of Diār Bakr, were killed. After his victory, Sultan Selim triumphantly entered Tabriz, but occupied the city for only a few days before returning to Ottoman territory. When news of the Ottoman withdrawal reached the shah, he returned to his capital Tabriz, and commenced repairing the damage wrought by the Ottomans.

Qarā Ḵān, the brother of Khān Moḥammad, was appointed to the governorship of Diār Bakr, and went to take up residence in Mārdin. But the city of Āhmed, under the control of one Aḥmad Čelebi, continued to remain loyal to the Ottomans. In 922/1516-17, two years after his appointment as governor, Qarā Ḵān decided to take punitive action against Aḥmad Čelebi and wrest the city of Āhmed from his control. Before Qarā Ḵān could carry out his plan, however, Aḥmad Čelebi summoned the Ottomans for assistance, which arrived in the form of 20,000 troops commanded by Moṣṭafā Pāšā Biǧlu Čāleš. Subsequently, Qarā Ḵān ordered the town surrounded and its water and food supply interrupted. After the plan had some effect, the Turkish commander sent a contingent of 5000 troops out of the fortress in an effort to break the Safavid stranglehold, but this force was readily defeated by the troops under the command of Ǧodurmiš Solṭān (Eskandar Monshi records his name as Durmiš Ḵān Qājār).
Several days later word reached Qarā Ḵān that the main force of 20,000 Turks had emerged from the fortress and were prepared to fight. Simultaneously, a message was received from Esmāʿil advising Qarā Ḵān not to engage the Ottomans until Safavid reinforcements had arrived. Durmiš Ḵān convinced Qarā Ḵān that their arrival would be too late to be effective, and the following day attack orders were issued. The Safavid onslaught was successful, and the Ottoman escape route was apparently obstructed by their supply train which had been chained together, permitting the ǧāzis to inflict heavy losses. Perchance, however, Qarā Ḵān was struck by a stray bullet and died. Stupefied by this sudden reversal, the qezelbāš scattered in all directions, and the Ottomans were able to convert total defeat into victory. Reinforcements arrived from Turkey and the Ottomans annexed the province of Diār Bakr. Upon hearing of the untimely death of Qarā Ḵān, Esmāʿil cancelled the order to send reinforcements, apparently having already lost his taste for battle at Čālderān.

As one might expect, the painting depicts the battle at the height of the Safavid near-victory. The qezelbāš occupy the right half of the composition, and are pursuing their adversaries with a vengeance, swords and arrows flying. Altogether five mounted ǧāzis take part in the action; three others, holding standards, converse while observing the battle from behind a ridge in the upper right. Nine Ottomans, or at least parts thereof are depicted. One is falling headlong from his horse. Two dead Ottomans are stretched out at the bottom with their heads intact, but alongside of them two additional heads without bodies are rolling about beneath the feet of an advancing Safavid horse. An Ottoman commander, identified by his tall headgear -- there is no indication that this is Biǧlu Čāleš, not any mention in the text that he may have died in this battle -- has been run through by a sword from behind. To his left another more diminutive combatant has been decimated by a sword that has penetrated his head. Only two Ottomans remain unscathed by the qezelbåsh onslaught, both archers, who turn to the rear to fire arrows at their pursuers. The setting is simply rendered as sloping ground that rises to a craggy ridge in the upper right. In the upper left are the forequarters of three well-drawn camels.

Painting: 14.4 x 12.0 cm. Two lines of text above and below the painting. Frame enclosespainting and text; two standards protrude beyond the frame into the right margin, near the top. Except for normal wear and a few smears in the lower margin and the adjoining text. There may have once been an artist’s signature in the bottom margin.

Painting references:

Text X-references:
See Savory, SA_1979, p.72 for this event in the History of Shah ʿĀbbās.

Robert Eng
Last updated: November 24, 2010

Photo: © The British Library, London