When we started translating Jalaleddin, we could not find information on anyone by the name of Sheikh Jalaleddin (as of today, March 2, 2019, you are not likely to find nothing online aside from a few of our blog posts and a recently updated Wikipedia page). Given that Jalaleddin is a work of fiction, we initially suspected that Sheikh Jalaleddin may have been a fictional character…
Then, we found the book Armenia and the Campaign of 1877 by British war correspondent Charles B. Norman, which referenced Sheikh Jalaleddin and his massacres of the Armenians, almost exactly as Raffi described in Jalaleddin (we summarized the key correspondences between the books here). These correspondences are surprising not only because Raffi was writing a work of fiction, whereas Norman was writing a work of non-fiction, but also because Britain was on the Ottoman side in the Russo-Turkish War, and would have therefore had an interest in downplaying what was happening to the Armenians at the hands of the Kurds. (Besides, Norman didn’t think all that highly of the Armenians…).
As we increasingly learned that much of what Raffi had described in the book was real, in terms of the historical backdrop of the story, we got curious about other parts of the book…
For example, we described here how we followed one small line in the book about the Assyrians of the region, which led us to suspect that the Assyrians had also been massacred alongside the Armenians at the hands of the Kurds as part of these events, and found that this was probably true, given the presence of little-known Assyrian communities in Van at the time, as described by Nicholas Al-Jeloo in this talk. So, too, for the Yezidis.
Al-Jeloo also helpfully pointed us to some Turkish source material about Sheikh Jalaleddin, from which we learned that:
- Sheikh Jalaleddin of Arvâs 1 was born to Sheikh Sıbğatullah as one of eight brothers. A man named Sheikh Taha of Hakkâri was a second father to Sheikh Jalaleddin (not clear if this is because his biological father passed away or more symbolic).
- Sheikh Jalaleddin was considered a great hero by the Kurds, and a fearless leader by Kurds and Armenians alike.
- Sheikh Jalaleddin did, in fact, lead Kurdish tribes to attack, plunder and destroy about two dozen villages near Aghbak2, as Raffi described.
- Sheikh Jalaleddin appeared to be in cahoots with the local governors and police, which may explain why there was never any intervention on the part of the local government.
This is all very consistent with Raffi’s and Norman’s account.
We also discovered some inconsistencies with Raffi’s account:
- Although Raffi points to a man named Sheikh Ubeydullah for instigating the entire attack, other source material does not implicate Sheikh Ubeydullah, instead pointing the finger at a man named Sheikh Abdurrahman, who “encouraged his followers and caliphs to Jihad and himself joined the Jihad.”
- Although Raffi states that Sheikh Jalaleddin led over 10,000 troops and cavalry, other source material estimates that Sheikh Jalaleddin himself was only responsible for leading 1,400 soldiers.
Finally, we learned that Sheikh Jalaleddin died a peaceful death in 1878, the same year that Jalaleddin was published.
Çakir, M. S. (2016). SEYYİD SIBĞATULLAH ARVÂSÎ HİZÂNÎ VE GAYDA TEKKESİ. CİLT, 2, 24-39.
Bardizaktsi, V, Natanyan, B, & Sırvantsdyants, K. Palu-Harput 1878: Çarsancak, Çemişgezek, Çapakçur, Erzincan, Hizan ve Civar Bölgeler.