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The King of Kurdistan: Shaikh Mahmud and the Kurdish Revolt of 1922

The King of Kurdistan: Shaikh Mahmud and the Kurdish Revolt of 1922

Richard Wilding & Dr Ako Shwani 17 May 2023

We mark the 100th anniversary of the Kingdom of Kurdistan with an illustrated talk by film-maker Richard Wilding and historian Dr Ako Shwani.

The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I left Britain controlling the three Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. However, because the British occupied Mosul after the armistice was signed, Turkey continued to claim Mosul province until 1926. Britain sought to counter these claims by setting up Kurdish entities in Mosul province to be loosely attached to whatever administration might ultimately be established in the rest of Mesopotamia.

In 1919, Britain appointed Shaikh Mahmud, from one of the leading Sufi dynasties of Kurdistan as ruler in Sulaimani. But Mahmud found the restrictions placed upon him too severe and led a Kurdish revolt. After suffering an initial defeat the British returned with reinforcements, defeated Shaikh Mahmud and exiled him to India.

The following year, Britain installed Amir Faisal of the Hijaz as King of the newly created state of Iraq. However, the Kurds in Sulaimani did not recognise this new ruler in Baghdad or accept their inclusion in the new Kingdom and Turkey encouraged a series of Kurdish tribes to rebel. Britain needed a Kurdish leader to quash the unrest and act as a bastion against Turkish incursions into Iraq.

After considering other options, the British reluctantly brought Shaikh Mahmud back from exile, with assurances of good behaviour. The rapturous reception that greeted him on his return to Sulaimani encouraged Mahmud to lead a second rebellion with even higher ambition. In October 1922 he proclaimed Sulaimani as the capital of Kurdistan, formed a cabinet and declared himself King.

Richard Wilding is producing a film about Shaikh Mahmud and the history of Kurdish/British relations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Kingdom of Kurdistan. In this presentation he will tell the narrative using British accounts and photographs from the period. Dr Ako Shwani from the University of Sulaimani will then discuss this same history from the perspective of Kurdish sources.

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